This chapter provides us with an extended metaphor of shepherds and their flocks. It’s the obvious precursor to many sermons and writings about God as the shepherd of the people, and the people as sheep, for better or for worse.
“As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his separated flocks, so will I seek out My flocks, and I will save them from all the places where they have scattered on a cloudy and dark day (Ezekiel 34:12).”
What I love about this verse is that God is the one actively seeking the people. Most of the time, it feels like we are the ones who have to drive our relationships with God if we want them to exist. We’re the ones who have to actively pursue moments of connection, religion, spirituality, and if we do that, great. But this reading indicates to me that to the contrary, God is looking for us. He is tracking us down in the times when we need Him the most, when we’re scattered and alone. To me, this means that while we still need to be intentional and active on our end of the partnership, we aren’t alone in longing for this type of connection.
After several chapters, Ezekiel’s prophecies are once more directed back towards the Israelites. “Son of man, speak to the members of your people and say to them: When I bring armed attackers upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among themselves and appoint him for them as a lookout, and he sees the army coming upon the land, and he sounds the shofar and warns the people, and whoever hears the sound of the shofar and does not take heed, and the army comes and takes him, his blood will be upon his own head (Ezekiel 33:2-4).” That seems fair to me – if you choose to ignore an informed warning, it’s no one else’s fault.
The narrative goes on to say that if the lookout fails to sound the alarm, though, then the blood of anyone who dies in the oncoming attack is his fault. No pressure. In a classic twist, we are then told that Ezekiel is the [spiritual] lookout for the people. He is the one responsible for informing them of coming events and dangers, which is actually a really nice way to sum up his role as a prophet. He has to tell the people what’s coming, so that way if/when they don’t repent, their punishments are their own fault.
The Egypt conversation continues, but I’m not going to delve into it today. I’m consciously choosing to take a verse out of its context and to find meaning for it on my own. While listing out the various calamities that will befall the Egyptians, one verse jumped out for me. “All the bright lights in the heavens – I will darken them because of you, and I will cast darkness upon your land, says the Lord God (Ezekiel 32:8).” This line made me think about the impact that our actions have on everything around us, from the people we interact with to our environment to the entire world when it comes down to it. I don’t know if I believe in things like karma, but I do see everything as connected, and I don’t think anything, particularly behaviorally, happens in a vacuum. The actions of the Egyptians reverberated so much that the heavens themselves were impacted. I wonder, if we all operated with the understanding that our actions could make that much of an impression, how would it change what we do?
The Egypt saga continues. Egypt is compared to Assyria, which is compared to the cedars of Lebanon, the iconic trees of the ancient world. “Water nurtured it; the deep made it grow tall; its rivers flows around its planting, and its canals it sent forth to all the trees of the field (Ezekiel 31:4).” The trees grow taller than any others, and stronger, and more beautiful. However, because the trees grew so large and imposing, they grew arrogant, and therefore needed to be cut down. This metaphor provides an explanation for why the Egyptians needed to be similarly cut down to size. It wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion by this reading. Their size and power wasn’t the problem, it was the attitude with which they approached things. This seems to say that our fates are essentially up to us and how we treat our circumstances.
In this chapter, God continues to outline His plan for the destruction of the Egyptians, and throughout, there are many direct parallels to the fate of the Israelites. In particular, it’s the Babylonians who are the instruments for carrying out the deeds, just as it was in Israel when the people were exiled to Babylon.
“And I shall scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and I shall disperse them among the lands, and they will know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 30:26).” This is exactly what happens to the Israelites as well. These similarities can’t be a coincidence in the context of biblical history, so they must mean something. As I’ve written previously, it’s clear that despite the Israelites being the chosen people, God has relationships with other nations as well. I’m sure there are those who would take issue with that, but it actually really works for me. If one does believe in the concept of one universal deity, it makes total sense that our God would have relationships with every people in their own way, and would be invested in their ultimate successes and failures as well.
Ezekiel’s focus shifts to Egypt. “Speak and you shall say; So says the Lord God: Behold I am upon you, O Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great crocodile that lies down in the midst of its rivers, who said, ‘My river is my own, and I made myself (Ezekiel 29:3).'” God will make Himself known to the Egyptians, which seems like an interesting emphasis to have to make. Being that it was the Egyptians who felt God’s wrath during the 10 plagues, I can only imagine that the God of Israel must have achieved some kind of mythic status amongst their people throughout the generations. If one looks at the Pesach story from an Egyptian perspective, it’s terrifying to say the least, so I can’t imagine that the Egyptians forgot the power of God. Yet for some reason, Egypt needs to be punished again, and the land is cursed to become desolate and ruined. Only after 40 years will the Egyptians be gathered from their own exile, and return together. They’ll have to build up a new nation once again. Why is Egypt’s punishment so well-defined, while Israel is condemned to suffer indefinitely? I guess it’s always easier to be harsh on your own, and to give strict punishments within, rather than without. Still, it seems that being ‘chosen’ is a tough burden to bear for the Israelites, and provides high expectations to live up to.
The Tyre saga continues. Now, Ezekiel needs to speak to the prince of Tyre. The prince has apparently set himself up to be a god, or at least god-like, and as a result he needs to be punished. “Therefore, behold I am bringing foreigners, the strong of the nations, upon you, and they will draw their swords on the beauty of your wisdom and profane your brightness (Ezekiel 28:7).” The prince will be slaughtered, and will die as a man, not as the god he pretended to be. Last night was the third presidential debate in one of the worst political climates ever. One candidate in particular seems to be reminiscent of the prince of Tyre in that he’s placed himself above the populace as a self-declared demigod. In ancient literature, we have many examples of people reaching too far and getting punished for this, and I think the whole country is waiting to see how the upcoming election will potentially cut one of the candidates down to size. Like the prince of Tyre, this arrogance is able to impact countless people, and needs to be kept in check.
Tyre’s fate is lamented. “In the heart of the seas are your borders; your builders perfected your beauty (Ezekiel 27:4).” It’s described as a place of great beauty and wealth, and we’re clearly meant to feel sad that it’s now being destroyed. The destruction is terrible, particularly as it immediately follows the reminiscing about almost mythic loveliness of the once-great nation. “And they will tear out their hair because of you, and they will gird themselves with sackcloth and weep over you with a bitter soul, with a bitter lamentation (Ezekiel 27:31).” I’m intrigued by the detail that the text goes into regarding Tyre, which clearly demonstrates its importance in the ancient world. While ancient Israel has continued through the generations and currently manifests itself in the Jewish people, what became of Tyre?
Following on the back of the Ammonites, Tyre is now being destroyed due to its decision to take advantage of the destruction of Jerusalem. “And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and demolish her towers, and I shall remove her earth from her and make her a smooth rock (Ezekiel 26:4).” Tyre is going to become a place that other nations plunder, and the people will be massacred by the king of Babylon. “With the hoofs of his horses, he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people with the sword, and the monuments of your strength will descend to the earth (Ezekiel 26:11).” It’s interesting that so many other nations somehow found ways to benefit from the destruction of Jerusalem, and therefore of Israel. I think we often do something similar today – sitting by and watching the tragedies of others unfold, rather than doing anything to help. It’s a sad part of human nature, that we’re so complacent, even in the face of true need.
Ezekiel is given a prophecy about the Ammonites. He is supposed to tell them to listen to God’s words, and their punishment for finding joy in the destruction of Israel. “Therefore, behold I am delivering you to the children of the East as a possession, and they will settle their palaces in you, and they will set up their dwellings in you; they will eat your fruit, and they will drink your milk (Ezekiel 25:4).” The Ammonites are essentially going to be destroyed for their compliance in the pillaging of Israel. It’s interesting to me that God has enough of a personal relationship with them that He would direct words to them, and that they would be concerned by them. In the ancient Near East, one nation wouldn’t have automatically been concerned by another’s deity. Does this mean that our God was so superior that other nations feared Him too? Or that He was universal from the beginning, and had relationships with each people separately?