I've been working my way through the Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel this summer--little bit by little bit--taking comprehension notes (including poignant quotations from my sidearm friend Charles Feinberg) in one column. But then making personal action notes in a second column. Typically I'm several chapters ahead in my devotional read-through as compared to where I'm actually at studying Feinberg's commentary and typing up notes. But this system is working well for me (thankfully), and I feel like I'm digesting it better by reading just the Word first, and then going back to study. Plus, it's so nice to have the chart to look back over.
As I started Ezekiel, I immediately felt a connectivity to this thirty-year-old servant of God (1:1). I too am thirty, and God's been kneading into my heart His calling on my life to be His servant.
Ezekiel's was a ministry of communicating God's message, both written and spoken, to God's people. And along the way I've jotted down notes regarding communicating: the power of drama to draw in an audience (12:1-16), to illustrate creatively (4:1-8; 12:17-20), to use parables or riddles to peak interest, but then to be sure to clearly explain the analogy (17); that there's a place for repetition, even if it's just because I am overwhelmed with the awesomeness of God's glory (10); and that even my personality is such that God knows will be effective for His purposes for me (3:4-11, God equips to deal with what He is sending His servant to face).
Over and over again, the theme of God's awesome glory has surfaced--His all-consuming desire that every individual and nation would truly know who He is. Woven into that theme is the seriousness of sin and its impending consequences, as well as the extended and oft-repeated invitation to mercy. I've been amazed throughout the book as I've seen the two great qualities--truth and mercy--kissing.
In 11:1-4, it seems that Jerusalem's elders were counseling self-preservation in the midst of impending doom. This was not God's counsel. The only way to save one's life is to give it up, we're told in the NT. And their only hope, as ours, is repentance and forgiveness of sins. God wins at word-play and turns the wicked counselors' metaphor (about the city being a cauldron and the people, meat) back on them, telling them they'll wish they were meat boiled in a cauldron, but instead they'll be taken out of the pot (the city of Jerusalem)--exiled and slain (11:5-12). In the very midst of this prophecy, God strikes one of the leaders dead. And right in the middle of this speech, Ezekiel is completely overwhelmed, again. Right there and then, Ezekiel gives is our example of how we should respond when overwhelmed by God's message: he falls down and cries out to God. "Ah, Lord God! Will You make a full end of the remnant of Israel?"
And God hears the sincere prayer of His servant. After ten and a half chapters, God offers "the first promises of restoration in the book" (Feinburg). And it's a beautiful passage in which God foretells the recalling together of His scattered remnant back to redeem the desecrated land and promises unity, renewal of spirit and a tender heart. How important it is in the darkest of times to look to the Lord and His promises of "hope and a future."
And I've got plenty of notes that say, "Study this more."
But I've seen ... The importance of being faithful. The individual responsibility of each soul. The necessary purging of rebellion from each heart. The tragedy of others' sins affecting those around them. These are a few of the lessons I've noted.
Another: The reality that by sinning--whether it's treating parents with contempt; wronging those who aren't from around here, taking advantage of widows or orphans; disregarding or despising things God has called holy, including the day of rest; committing or commending lewd or impure acts--I am dishonoring God and usually a fellow human being as well. The phrase from "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" comes to mind: "How could I now dishonor the ones that You have loved?" And the reality is, by sinning, I am forgetting God. "Me you have forgotten." (22)
In that same chapter, God promises that "every heart will melt" ( verse 7), just like "every knee shall bow" (Philippians 2). And I would much prefer my heart melting in love and awe of Him than in the fire that will consume. Think ... the difference between fresh-from-the-oven, golden-brown chocolate-chip cookies ... and a renegade chunk of cookie dough, now indistinguishable, fallen to the bottom of the stove, burnt to a crisp. Which do you long for?
But of all the passages that God has moved my heart with this summer, none has equaled Ezekiel 24:15-27.
Perhaps part of it is the timing. We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary this past week. And turning thirty didn't even phase me. But I ran right into this tenth anniversary milestone as if it were literally a slab of granite. "I've been married a third of my life. Wow." (Yes, that's what happens when you get married at twenty.) And I got contemplative.
In the midst of the contemplation, I dug in here.
In this passage, Ezekiel's wife dies. Nothing says "Happy Anniversary" like thinking about "till death do us part," right?
Ezekiel's wife dies as a symbolic lesson for the people of Israel. God gave him the heads-up, sure. But it wasn't like they got a sabbatical to make their final memories. I'm sure they would have loved that had God given them that opportunity. But instead, he preaches in the morning, and that night, she dies.
I wonder if Ezekiel told his wife that she would die soon. I wonder if she knew, if He told her too. But I have no doubt, either way, she was ready.
I would love to know more about this woman. Actually, maybe someday I'll get a chance to sit and talk with her, sip some heavenly beverage, listen to her story. I want to hear her side of The Prophecy of Ezekiel ....
She must have supported and encouraged him through so much. Were they married during that time when he lay on his side for months on end? Did she take his dishes, bring him his portion of "wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt" bread? What cruel things were said to her about her husband as he obeyed God, to communicate His message, through what looked to most like mental illness? His was a difficult ministry. And she was "the delight of his eyes."
For her life to be extinguished in order for her husband's sermon to hit home--incredible! And we tend to get hung up on his not being permitted to weep. Feinberg notes: "Faced with this directive Ezekiel exhibited complete subordination of his own will and feelings to his prophetic office in the will of God. In spite of the fact that he knew his wife's hours were numbered, he went about the ministry committed to him. What an example of obedience!" But even this was not what gripped me, this time through.
As the wife of a man who is committed to serving the Lord in a teaching/preaching ministry, this particular passage sunk deep in my heart. Alan's ministry will no doubt be a difficult one. He's finishing up his PhD in NT with the hope of equipping African nationals to effectively communicate God's Word in their culture. Our heart is to see God's Kingdom advance in that land and around the world.
And the Holy Spirit questions came:
As his wife, will you encourage him even in the darkest times when no one is listening?
Will you be "the delight of his eyes?"
And the clincher: Are you willing for your life to be extinguished in order for the people to listen to his (My) message?
Missions becomes much less romantic, much less an adventure, and much more a surrender of myself to God and a submission to the ministry God has given my husband, when put in these terms.
Am I willing?
If this is God's purpose, His will, for us ... am I willing to DIE so that my husband's ministry will be more effective? As a corollary, am I willing to LIVE in such a way that my husband's ministry will be more effective (Proverbs 31:23)? Sometimes, this is harder.
But as it was, Ezekiel's wife died so that he might preach.
His obedience to God got the attention of the people. They knew by this time that his actions meant something for them. And they understood that just as Ezekiel's wife was the "delight of his eyes" so the sanctuary was their "pride [and] delight." That--and their children--the two things most precious to them--would be taken from them, just as Ezekiel's wife was taken from him. And they, in their captivity, would be given no allowance for the customary grieving process or traditions.
I have no doubt it was difficult for Ezekiel to carry on without his wife. This prophecy and its initial fulfillment in the death of Ezekiel's wife marked a temporary change in the ministry of Ezekiel. Surely any man's life and ministry changes somewhat when his wife passes on, perhaps especially in a sudden moment with little warning, but I would think regardless of the circumstances. And it appears there is a pause for Ezekiel--a muting of his voice for the interim--until he hears from a messenger that the purpose of his wife's death and the further prophecy of the sanctuary's destruction has been fulfilled. Even after, when he starts preaching again, there's been a transition: his preaching for the next significant chunk of the book is directed toward neighboring nations. And I haven't finished studying, let alone reading, the rest.
But I've had plenty to chew on, things hard to swallow. And it's taken me to my knees. But it's been so good, so rich. And I have felt God drawing me closer to Him, purifying my Oholibah-prone heart.
I pray that while I live, I will be the kind of wife Alan needs me to be--the rib of his side, the fruitful vine in his home, "the delight of his eyes."
And I long for God to use my life--& my death, if He tarries His return--to bring Him glory, to make His message clear to those who need to hear, and to grow His kingdom in our hearts.
Praying for you as you live and love,
By the grace of God,
What passage of Scripture has God been using to melt your heart recently? I'd love to hear from you.