The Return: Ezekiel 40 – 48

Restoration of the Temple.

A little over a week ago, I decided to give church another try.

My motivation came from a few sources. My happiest memories from childhood involve the community of my church, and I missed that. Say what you will about Christian culture, but in my experience, they always nail the fellowship experience. Also, so much of this blog so far has been based in self; I thought it was time to venture back in, to see what actual Christians are talking about, what Christian pastors are preaching about. And finally, I was just curious.

I did my research. “Gay churches” brought up quite a few results. But then, no, I should go to something more traditional. “Non-denominational churches,” okay, which one is… No, I should go to a gay church, but, no, I should harken back to childhood.

I ended up at a large United Methodist Church in the center of town, one that provides a “traditional” atmosphere (hymns, calls to worship, scripture readings, etc) while still embodies a “welcoming” approach (gays are okay).

I sat in the parking lot for thirty minutes beforehand. I almost drove away.

No, I didn’t want to be there anymore. Seven years without any sort of consistent church going, and I felt right as rain with it all. Why then was this suddenly so important to me? Was it community? Yes, but no. The culture, the blog? Sure, but no.

Yes, it was the curiosity.

So I went in. And I plan to go again. Yes, I have comments, but I don’t want to judge on one trip. Give me a couple, and I’ll get back to you.


Ezekiel closes out with a detailed description of the restoration of God’s temple and people. It harkens back to the pages upon pages of specs that God provided for the building of his first temple, all the way back in the Torah. You remember: Burnt offering this, ten cubits by 15 cubits that, priests walk through this door and you go through that one, you get the drift. When it all comes to a close, God passes one more change to his people. When Jerusalem is returned, he says:

“And the name of the city from that time on will be:
                            The LORD Is There.”
Ezekiel 48:35b (NIV)

Copy that, God. I hope You are.

Distractions: Ezekiel 30 – 39

Egypt to Fall. The Watchman. God’s Flock Will Return to Him. Zombie Army. A Feast of Kings. Revelation Comes Early.

It’s true, I get bogged down by the details. It would happen in church all the time.

I never liked altar calls, which for the uninitiated is when a pastor asks members of the congregation to come forward to the altar in order to make a spiritual commitment. It usually occurs immediately after a particularly stirring sermon – usually at the end of a high school ski retreat or summer camp. It comes as a culmination of emotion. For a religion that hinges on the moment of salvation, altar calls are an enormously effective strategy to win souls. With such a public declaration, it inclines the person towards permanence, rather than with a quiet prayer only within the mind.

But they always felt manipulative to me, even at a young age. It was the context – typically, a pastor would deliver a message based primarily in guilt, about humanities inherent weakness and our useless place in the universe. But the hope… the hope came from Jesus, riding in with the gift of eternal life. And then:

If you want that gift, then come up here in front of everyone and kneel in prayer.

I don’t know, it always felt phony to me – a product of exaggerated circumstance, not a changed heart.

Anyway, those moments stuck with me, and when I fell out of Christianity, I used them as weapons to prove my case against faith. It’s manipulative, I said. They prey on emotions, I said. And then I would tell the stories, about the altar calls, the request for alms, the vilifying sermons, the social scare tactics. It sounds scary recalled back-to-back over a cup of coffee.

But then I realized that these negative experiences constituted a small fraction of my experience. They were distractions, momentary diversions from the actual message being presented. I’m no good with distractions. They end up being the most and only reported factor in my experience – not fair but I’m a devil’s advocate, it’s what I do.

The Old Testament is full of distractions.

Take Ezekiel 37 for instance, which finds our protagonist in a valley filled with the bones of fallen men. God tells him to breathe life into their nostrils and raise the dead. He prophesizes, bringing together bone with sinew with muscle with flesh until… an army of zombies stands before him.

And then, on to the next chapter, with no explanation or action taken. I can only assume that army is still standing there thinking, Really? We’re zombies and that’s all that they’re going to do with us? Make us stand here?

Then, later in chapter 39, the Lord predicts the ultimate destruction of mankind and the ultimate redemption of Israel. When His enemies of Gog receive their due punishment and are annihilated, God declares, “You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls—all of them fattened animals from Bashan.” (18)

Really? More cannibalism?

Distracting.

Lumped Together: Ezekiel 20 – 29

The Judgment on Israel. The Two Prostitutes. An Extreme Sign.
Prophecies Against… Laments Over…

Then I said about the one worn out by adultery, ‘Now let them use her as a prostitute, for that is all she is.’

Ezekiel 23:43 (NIV)

A STORY ENTITLED “TWO ADULTEROUS SISTERS”

Two sisters named Oholah and Oholibah engaged in prostitution in their native land of Egypt. God held onto them fondly, describing them as His daughters. After their youth, they continued in their prostitution rather than tossing it off as a childhood passionate fling. They lusted specifically for the Assyrians, handsome in body and great in power. Oholah succumbed to the dark path of sexual immorality and soon became entranced by the foreign gods presented by her lovers. God dealt with her severely for her sins, delivering her into the arms of her lovers. Her children faced the sword first, and then her.

Oholibah went even further in her sin. She turned her sights to the Babylonians and in her lust called upon them to visit her. These were incredibly handsome and sexually astute men, which sent her passions berserk. All of this stemmed from the lewdness of her youth, continued straight on into adulthood. God laid down an even harsher punishment for her behavior. He allowed the Babylonians to come upon her from all sides, where they cut off her ears and nose and threw her in the fire.

Ezekiel 23 recounts this story in odd fashion. As a book comprised almost entirely of prophecy, the writer takes a sharp turn away from his prior subjects towards this moralistic parable, presented without much context. After the story concludes, Ezekiel gives us a bit of analysis, positing that these sisters condemned themselves for:

…defiling themselves with idols (30)
…turning their backs on God (35a)
…prostituting themselves (35b)
…committing adultery (37a)
…sacrificing their children and eating them (37b)
…defiling God’s sanctuary (38a)
…desecrating the Sabbath (38b)

That is quite the laundry list of offenses, one that goes far beyond what is described in the story itself. All judgment aside about what constitutes offensive behavior, I felt oddly betrayed by this passage, especially with the “additional sins” tacked onto the end. Because the questions that kept coming to mind was:

WHY WASN’T THIS PASSAGE CALLED “TWO CANNIBAL SISTERS”?

“All sins are equal in the eyes of God,” I often heard as a kid in church. And as children do, we went to extremes. “So murder is the same as lying?” We quipped back. “Yes,” the stoic adult often replied, “It is all the same in His eyes.” But that statute always felt phony to me, because it seemed then that God wasn’t very intelligent. Intellectually, we must know that a woman who prostitutes herself cannot be held to the same standard as someone who KILLS AND EATS HER CHILDREN.

Maybe it’s just me.

And why is the sex firing squad always aimed at women?

SIDENOTE OF THE DAY

Apparently the men of Babylon were… ahem… well endowed:

There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. (23:20) 

Yeah, that does nothing for me.

You Will Know: Ezekiel 10 – 19

God Withdraws from Jerusalem. The Day Is Coming. Metaphors for the Useless Jerusalem. A Lament.

“You (or ‘They’) will know that I am the Lord.” 

         – God, over 70 times in the Book of Ezekiel

The wrath of God has been an ever present over these past few books; that makes sense considering the context – God’s roaring punishment for the rebellious Jerusalem. God allowed both Judah and Israel to collapse under the weight of their malice without lifting a finger of judgment against them, all so that he could bring down the hammer now in an effective away. And this will not be an opportunity wasted, as God makes it clear 70 times in this book that His people “will know” that He is God by His actions.

A few examples:

They will know when “inhabited towns will be laid waste.” (12:20)
They will know when “the fire [will] consume them.” (15:7)
They will know when “all his choice will fall by the sword.” (17:21)
And so on…

So the strategy here is shock and awe – no mercy for the wicked. Show power through tremendous and far-reaching retribution. Effective.

Very effective, actually, as it appears that God has changed His mind once again with regards to morality/mortality question. Consider this passage:

“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die.” (18:19-20a) 

This passage adjusts two long-held viewpoints in the culture. Firstly, a child should not pay for the sins of a previous generation. We have seen several instances of the opposite, including most recently when God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to kill all of Zedekiah’s sons for his refusal to surrender. While some passages in the Law showed exceptions to this custom, it appears (for now, at least) that each will be held responsible only for him-or-herself.

Secondly – and a contender for the hold-the-phone moment of the day – is that God will “surely” allow the good to live, while “surely” condemning the evil. Didn’t Job teach us anything? …that God can do as He pleases, meaning no correlation between holiness and continuity of life?

With that logic though, God can just change His mind again given the circumstance. So wily.

Also, it’s entirely possible that God only refers to this instance in time. Maybe not-so-wiley.

SIDE NOTE OF THE DAY (although much of this entry could be defined as a “side note”):

Read this little gem:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (16:49)

According to this prophet, the sin (singular) of Sodom was not helping the impoverished. I know other prophets/disciples have differing opinions, but for this close-minded and opportunistic writer, the matter is closed.

This Is Going to Be a Good Book: Ezekiel 1 – 9

Psychedelic Calling. Utmost Responsibility. Curse to All!!!!!!!!!

With the states of Israel and Judah in exile and a reigning monster of Nebuchadnezzar at the helm, it is time for God to appoint a new prophet. And since the name of this book is “Ezekiel,” I have to imagine that this is our guy. As is standard rigmarole for Bible books based around a character, it begins with the calling of said character. So what does the call of Ezekiel look like?

I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings.

Ezekiel 1:4-6 (NIV)

Holy hell, Ezekiel, you’re not messing around! This sounds like its straight out of an acid trip, or Revelations, or the acid trip that inspired Revelations.

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” (3:1)

EAT THIS SCROLL? THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!

But eating the word of God is the least of what God asks of Ezekiel. It seems He is sick to death of the crap that His people have done.

When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (3:18)

Oof… This doesn’t look good for our new buddy Ezekiel. If God calls you to be a prophet, you become responsible for every soul that you reach (or don’t reach). Could you imagine being single-handedly responsible for the most rebellious generation ever conceived? If you have trouble conceptualizing that, imagine being single-handedly responsible for this generation, which is now the most rebellious generation ever conceived. I certainly would not want that responsibility.

But God goes on to describe the other sacrifices that Ezekiel must make:

  • His tongue will stick to the roof of his mouth while he is tied up so that he only speaks when God warrants it.
  • He must lie for 390 days lying on his left side, and then 40 days on his right (to symbolize the years of wickedness of Israel and Judah, respectively), eating a very specific and scarce diet.
  • He must cook his food on fire fueled by human excrement (though, this gets nixed shortly thereafter.

So far in this book, we have angels with four faces, a fire powered by crap, and a man eating a scroll that tastes like honey.

This is going to be a good book.