September 21: Ez 24
September 21, 2010
Something is cooking on Ezekiel's stove (Ezek. 24:3b; cf. 11:3). It is a "parable" (24:3a) in which God's people and they are being boiled. And the smell coming from the pot is nasty! The pot is corroded (24:12) and instead of producing a tasty soup, the resulting stew is inedible. The cook, perceiving the concoction to be useless, pours out the liquid leaving the pot on the fire. The dry remnants now burn due to the heat of the blaze, eventually scalding the contents and melting the pot itself. The scene, instead of one of domesticity, is one of destruction. They are to make no mistake about it: Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. Jerusalem (aka the people of God) is a "bloody city" and God's wrath is kindled against her (24:7, 8, 9). Ezekiel is predicting the events that accompany the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the Exile of the sixth century B.C.
It is at this point that something quite extraordinary occurs in the life of Ezekiel himself. Ezekiel's wife dies and the prophet is told to hide his grief. It is one of Ezekiel's greatest qualities that his obedience was so complete that he complied with this unusual request.
Ezekiel is told beforehand of his wife's imminent death (24:16). It is possible that she may have been ill for some time, but the passage seems to infer that the death was sudden: she was fine in the morning and died that evening (24:18). Death can be sudden. It is a reminder that none of us knows what the next hour may bring. Without so much as a moment's notice we can find ourselves in eternity. It behoves us to be ready to die. 'Live each day,' urged Bishop Ken, 'as if thy last' and he was right.
Ezekiel loved his wife. God spoke of her as 'the delight of your eyes' (24:16). 'God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it' (1 Cor.10:13).
Ezekiel was not allowed to mourn in any way. Five typical ways are mentioned: groaning, removing his priestly turban, removal of sandals, covering one's mouth and eating a funeral meal (c.f. Jer 16:7). It was when folk noticed his lack of morning that they asked as to what this might signify (24:19): just as Ezekiel did not mourn the loss of his wife so the Israelites in captivity were not to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem (24:22-23). Others have suggested that no amount of mourning would be adequate to reflect the catastrophic loss Israel suffered at the hands of the Babylonians. In the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, it effectively meant that God had abandoned Israel and that God's presence would be no longer among them. The event would be too great for resort to formal grief.
Some of God's servants are asked to very difficult things. If asked, what would your response be? Would it be the response of Jim Elliot: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."