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“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16)
I’m wondering if when we sit down and read Ezekiel if we really understand what it was like for him? What was it like for the people? What was reality? I mean, I ‘m here in chapter 24 within a month or two of reading in the mornings and meditating. But what about Ezekiel? When was the last time I stopped to think about how long You were taking Ezekiel through these things with You? Maybe today was the first time. And just to get to this point of Chapter 1 up to what’s happening in chapter 24 is a span of a man’s life of about 5 years. Imagine that. How would I feel after 5 years of being a prophet and going through all this? But how would I respond to this day in Ezekiel’s life, to this day when Ezekiel becomes the most personal picture of God He could ever imagine?
Oh, let the word of God come unto me. Really? Have you counted the cost? Do you really understand what that could mean? Are you really ready to stand for God no matter what? Ezekiel was. Ezekiel was fully Yours, Lord, in such a way that so greatly inspires me and tests me today. You know, I’ve read Your word lots of times. But I don’t remember this. I don’t remember this ever being significant before and I don’t understand how I ever could have read this before and not been stopped by it. This is hard stuff. This is the stuff of real faith, of make it or break it faith. This is that moment of love tested and love proved. This is purging and testing and creating the man or woman we really are and not just who we want to be. This is the making of a servant of God. This is true worship, true devotion.
It’s one thing to declare Your words and judgment on a people who deserve it. It’s easy for us to get smug, and holier than thou, and detached, and emotionless. It’s easy to get like Jonah who cared less if the “nasty Ninevites” got what was coming to them. Or if the Jews who had prostituted themselves from their God and involved themselves in atrocities paid the price. But You, God, don’t become detached and emotionless in the midst of it. In the midst of judgment You stay off Your pain for them because You must, not because You feel no pain. After all, here are the ones You would have brooded over and hidden under Your wings like a mother hen but they won’t have it.
Now here’s the clincher today. Ezekiel is setting up another picture of the judgment of the people. Jerusalem is like this nasty pot filled with nasty stuff and being purged over a fire. Right away, that word purge conjures up negative thoughts for me. But it shouldn’t. The Hebrew word, taher, means to be bright, to be pure. Let’s look at that kind of purity a little closer. It means physically sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically uncontaminated; morally innocent or holy; at least according to Strong’s Concordance. It’s about ritual cleanness which prepares us to enter the presence of God undefiled. That’s what David was asking for when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) He understood that only God could prepare him for that. That’s still true for every one of us today.
It’s not a scary truth. Even Noah Webster defines purging as a positive thing. It’s “to cleanse or purify by separating and carrying off whatever is impure, heterogenous, foreign, or superfluous…to clear from guilt or moral defilement…to clear from accusation or the charge of a crime…to remove what is offensive; to sweep away impurities.” When did that become negative? Maybe when it became painful to do so because it means passing through the fire and passing the test.
Why would I think a prophet doesn’t have to pass through the fire to be purged? Why would only a renegade nation or person have to pass through? Don’t we all have to pass through because we all need to be purified by God His way? Who makes us holy? Who makes us pure? Who makes us sound? Does it just come easy and naturally? I think not. I think the Divine is not natural or easy at all. I think the Divine takes reliance on the Divine and not on me or my way or the prophet or his way or the will or strength of a nation and a people and their way. I think that purity, Divine purity, is a foreign affair that we have to learn the culture of and that even prophets like Ezekiel still had room to learn.
Here’s the clincher that hit me today. I was OK with judgment being foretold and the the image of the pot over the fire. But now You speak to Ezekiel these words: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16) Do you know what that means. To paint a picture for Ezekiel and the people, God was going to take from Ezekiel the wife that he so loved. And Ezekiel was going to have to withhold his mourning for her. Imagine that. “My faithful servant, I’m going to take your wife now, the one you love so much. In the midst of all your other suffering and the suffering to come, I’m taking her suddenly today. And you can’t cry or do the normal funeral stuff.” What? This is a loving God? Really?!
Yes. This is. This is a loving God who must serve justice as well as grace. You can’t separate them from who You are. This is a God who understands the pain of those you love rejecting You. This is a God who understands what it is to sacrifice that which You love the most for the good of those who don’t get it or value the sacrifice. This is a God who understands love but because we don’t, He gives us experiences where we can come to understand what He feels and what He has done for us.
So Ezekiel and his wife became a picture of God’s love. There is this tremendous poem written a long time ago by Barbara Miller called Ezekiel. It’s too long to share here, but I would if I could. This story of Ezekiel effected her too and she wrote a poem about Ezekiel and his wife and what it must have been like. And she shares this through the eyes of Ezekiel’s wife:
“If God had willed,
I would have gladly stayed; but we are His,
And it is sweet to do a little thing
For Him who loves us so. He needeth me
To be a sign for Him, –my death to stand
A figure to my people, of the things
Which He will do on them, except they turn
And seek His face. And I am so content
To die for this! I could not speak for God,
As thou hast done so well; but I can die
For God, and for my people,– and for thee–
To aid in thy great work.
“Forbid me not;
Deny me not to Him. A day shall come
When He shall give His Dearest to the death,
For thee and me!” The clouds had parted now,
The love of God was shed abroad, within
My broken heart. I could not say Him , Nay;
Or question Him. I laid my sacrifice
Upon His altar, not denying Him
Mine only one.”
I really don’t know that Ezekiel’s wife understood about how Jesus, God’s own Son, His own beloved, would be the sacrifice for our sins or not. Did Abraham fully understand when he was willing to offer up his only son? Did Ezekiel understand? Am I supposed to always understand You God, or am I called to trust You, to listen and hear and act upon that hearing showing that no matter what, whether sacrifice of pain or joy unspeakable, You are God and Your plans for Your kingdom, for me and for every person on this planet is a plan for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope? (Jeremiah 29:11) Is that future and hope, is that welfare worth being purified? What is my future and my hope? Is it You? Because You alone are that future and that hope and if my future and my hope is anything else, I am lost and filthy and defiled from my purpose.
Could I respond like Ezekiel’s wife? Could I respond like Ezekiel? Any other response is wrong and not just wrong. Any other response is sin because it places something else before God. The twenty-four elders worshipping before Your throne remind us continually, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation and that “by Him all things were created; in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
So what does that matter? Through Him the fullness of God dwells and through Him God is reconciling us to Him. Jesus is our purifier. God makes known to us His love not only through words but through His actions. Am I called to less? Am I only to love God in words and not my actions? Is there a limit to my love? A price it won’t go beyond to pay? Did God have a limit for me? No! He makes known His love. And in demonstrating and not just telling us about His love, He makes us able to reciprocate that love through our lives. He enables us, in Him, to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” He strengthens us with all the power and might and endurance and patience it takes to go through the fire with Him so that we shine just like Him.
It’s this kind of stuff that makes us or breaks us as believers. This is the stuff that causes those around us to stop and rethink the status quo. Responding to God when it goes contrary to the world, causes people around us to stop and ask, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting like this?” (Ezekiel 24:19) Does it seem senseless or pointless? It’s not. It means more than we could ever imagine and maybe more than we’ll ever know on this side of heaven. But how far am I willing to demonstrate my love? All the way or only as far as it doesn’t hurt?
So, I thought I was finished with this yesterday, but I can’t get it off of my mind. And then I heard Psalm 62. I can imagine Ezekiel saying these words, just as David did, and I’ve heard myself cry them out. “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at ALL (emphasis my own) times; you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah”. But then David doesn’t stop. He shares, “God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God. Also unto You, O Lord, belongs mercy: for You render to every man according to his work.” What was Ezekiel’s work that it was worthy of the sacrifice of his beloved wife?
What if our work isn’t just about what we do or how we act? What if our work, our maaseh or maiseh is more about the story, the real story of who we are in God. That word, Maaseh Bereishit, is used when You God worked the creation of the universe. In Yiddish it’s the word for a story. Literally, it means an act or deed and ones from the word for making or doing. In Hebrew, stories are always synonymous with doing. In Greek I think of the word poeio which is the doing that flows out of being, like that of an artist or one who knows God. And I’m thinking that is the concept of work and doing and acting that David is talking about here.
Ezekiel knew God. He knew what it was to have God’s spirit flow through him. But he still had to trust in God. I am sure his heart told his soul to cry out to this God he trusted, to his rock and his salvation even in the midst of the loss of his wife, his beloved wife. Because maybe Ezekiel’s work was understanding and knowing and experiencing the heart of God. And when you finally start, I mean even start to understand and know and experience the heart of God, your actions and thoughts and hopes and dreams change. And your life can be turned upside down, and you can sacrifice your only son or beloved wife and give them back to the God who gave them to you in the first place, trusting, just trusting that God is God and You will still be God to those we love and those of us left behind. It’s what You do because it’s who You are. You render, You complete, You befriend and reciprocate and amend, and finish, and fulfill, and perfect and perform and prosper and restore and reward all that place themselves in You. It’s not just about prophets and kings. It’s about anyone trusting wholly in You so much that we place our whole being inside of You and accept You as You are. That’s when we receive You back as who You are. That’s the only deed, the only work that is acceptable in us, that let’s You do Your work, Your will, Your way in us, even if we must let go of our beloved. Because nothing should be more beloved than You.
So, Lord, what will I walk away with today? Will I remember this and will my life and thinking be changed by this? Where am I in You? Who is my most beloved? Is my heart so entwined with Yours that I know how You feel and that my actions flow from You? What story is my life displaying? Thank You, Lord, for the true story of love, commitment, and devotion that Ezekiel and You and even his wife display before us. May I love You that much, Lord. And may others be changed by the love that You have given me.