An unexpected biblical woman sighting as the book comes to a close! “And Hilkiah and those whom the king [sent] went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath the son of Hasrah, the keeper of the raiment, and she was sitting in Jerusalem in the study-hall, and they spoke to her accordingly (Chronicles II 34:22).” Um, what?! So many thoughts! Huldah, a woman, is being consulted for her knowledge and wisdom by the king’s emissaries. And to top things off, they find her in the study hall in Jerusalem. All of this is being reported nonchalantly, and I completely agree that all of these things should be matter of course – obviously women should be in the study hall, and treated with respect as colleagues and authority figures and experts. But unfortunately, both in biblical times and even today, this is far from clear to everyone, and merits mention and excitement. I don’t know anything about Huldah, which seems like a loss and a missed opportunity on my part, but I’m excited to see her mentioned here, and to have a new thing to explore as the final days of 929 dwindle down.
Another chapter, another world-altering vision. “In the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar, and the word was true, and for a long time, and he understood the word and he understood it in the vision (Daniel 10:1).” Daniel has been in mourning for three weeks, for unknown reasons, and he’s by the river when he sees a man wearing linen, gold, and jewels. Daniel is the only one who can see him, and everyone else with him only senses his presence, which is intimidating enough, because they all immediately go hide. The experience is overwhelming, to say the least. Upon hearing his voice, Daniel collapses to the ground. The man/angel has come to help Daniel understand what will happen to the people at the end of days.
I guess this is my ignorance showing, because I had no idea that the book of Daniel was so full of esoteric, apocalyptic things. I knew about the lion’s den, and had also heard the story about his friends in the furnace, albeit with little context, but all of these dreams and visions full of angels and prophecy, were not something that I had ever really come across before. Realizations like these are what I love about Project 929, because had it not been for this project, I probably wouldn’t have read this on my own in its entirety, and now I feel like I’ve been exposed to a whole new layer of the Jewish canon. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been considering what I want to study next, as this project marches towards the close, because rather than satisfy me, I find it’s only whetted my appetite for more reading and learning.
“In the eighth month in the second year of Darius, the word of the lord came to Zechariah son of Berechiah, son of Iddo the prophet (Zechariah 1:1).” With this brief introduction, we enter into the book of Zechariah, the second to last prophet. God tells him to tell the people to return to God so that He will return to them – basically to be the partner in the relationship who makes the first moves towards reconciliation.
A few months later, Zechariah receives another prophecy. That the times are noted is interesting in and of itself. I kind of had the image of prophets being in constant communication with God, rather than receiving sporadic heavenly calls. I’m kind of wondering what they did in between messages then – what does a prophet do in his off-time?
Regardless, the second prophecy is weird. “I saw tonight, and behold! A man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtles that were in the pool, and after him were red, black, and white horses (Zechariah 1:8).” The angel of God tells Zechariah that these are the ‘ones’ that God has sent to walk around the earth. Are these horses messengers of God on earth? Could there be animals or other creatures who are here with a godly purpose that we don’t even realize? It’s apparently because of these horses that the world is able to be at rest. It definitely hits home that everything has a purpose, even if we can’t personally see it.
“And it shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your elders shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions (Joel 3:1).” This verse encompasses all of the people, telling us that any one of them, regardless of gender or age, or, as the next verse adds, socioeconomic status, can be a vessel for God’s words and teachings. Based on my reading of this verse, it’s a perfect example of how in its purest form, religion is not meant to be limited to a formal leadership, or the appointed [men] who have appointed themselves its gatekeepers. Boys and girls, men and women, rich and poor, all have the capacity to speak God’s words if they are so called upon. God’s spirit is in each of us, and it’s up to us to listen for it and act accordingly.
As soon as I read the opening verse of this chapter, I had a flashback to sitting next to my father in synagogue as a young girl. I loved going to services with him every week, and enjoyed singing along to the prayers and listening to the rabbi’s sermon. The only part where I ever became bored was during the haftorah, the weekly reading from Neviim. Unlike the Torah readings which had plots and characters, the haftorah was weird, obscure poetry, and I never really “got” it. But one portion always intrigued me, and it was the Valley of the Bones – this chapter.
“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley, and that was full of bones (Ezekiel 37:1).” As a child, this was a gruesome, but fascinating chapter. God brings Ezekiel to this place, and gives him a prophecy about the eventual resurrection of the dead. All of a sudden, in classic movie fashion, the prophecy comes true and the bones come to life, but in almost zombie form, with no spirit in them. But that comes a few verses later, and there’s a veritable army of these bones.
Of course, it’s all meant to be a metaphor for the people, and the new life that they need breathed into them. And in many ways that’s equally as beautiful and impactful. But in this case I honestly don’t care if the deeper meaning is that of a physical or a spiritual resurrection. I just remember chapters like this inspiring my interest in Judaism, and am so happy to have returned to it in this capacity.
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 weirdness continues! Ezekiel is told to take a sharp sword and shave his head and beard, and then to divide his hair into three parts on a scale. 1/3 will be burned in the middle of the city, 1/3 will be struck with a sword, and 1/3 shall be thrown to the wind and scattered. It’s in no way clear to me what the hair is supposed to represent, or what this will mean to the people. A few verses later, part of the question is answered – the fire is representative of Jerusalem. “Therefore, so said the Lord God: Behold, I too am upon you, and I shall execute judgments in your midst before the eyes of the nations (Ezekiel 5:8).” The judgment will take the form of horrible abominations. We are told that children will eat their fathers, and vice versa. That seems to be the ultimate low to which a society can sink – cannibalism within the tribe.
We’re back to the three parts analogy. 1/3 of the people will die through pestilence, 1/3 by the sword, and the final third will be scattered. It’s amazing to see that in this case, being dispersed around the world is to be taken as the equivalent fate to death. It puts the diaspora experience in a different light when one considers how awful of a punishment it was meant to be. In some places, some times, it was, but as I’ve written before, it’s also how the Jewish people managed to thrive. So how does that work when it comes to prophecies like this?
This chapter gives us God’s first words to Ezekiel. When God speaks, it’s an all-encompassing experience. “Now the spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and it stood me on my feet, and I heard what was being spoken to me (Ezekiel 2:2).” It makes sense, given the multidimensional nature of God, that an encounter with Him would not be frontal, but rather both internal and external at the same time. Ezekiel feels God within him in a real sense, something that many of us can only aspire to in our own lives.
Now, the message. “And He said to me; ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to rebellious nations, which rebelled against Me; they and their fathers rebelled against Me to this very day (Ezekiel 2:3).” The two most interesting things for me here are how Ezekiel is referred to, and that he is given this mission. Son of man to me indicates that Ezekiel is not just a person on his own, but a representative of humanity in God’s eyes. It is in this light that he is given the mission of conveying God’s messages to the people. He’s told not to be afraid of them, which is challenging to believe considering what happened to Jeremiah. But Ezekiel doesn’t shy away, and the chapter concludes with God handing him a scroll. I love that even in this esoteric prophecy, there’s a narrative arc of some kind, so that I know what to look for and follow up on tomorrow. I hope it continues!
Our new book begins with Ezekiel introducing not himself, but his time and his vision. “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year in the fourth [month] on the fifth day of the month, as I was in the midst of the exile by the river Chebar – the heavens opened up, and I saw visions of God (Ezekiel 1:1).” This encounter being described isn’t a prophecy like Jeremiah and Isaiah’s, where God speaks to them, but rather something that seems even more profound, an actual God sighting.
Ezekiel himself is introduced a few verses later. He’s the son of Buzi, a priest, and is in the land of the Chaldeans at the time of his first prophecy. Ezekiel sees a tempest, a windy storm, coming, with a fire around it. “And from its midst was the likeness of four living beings, and this is their appearance; they had the likeness of a man (Ezekiel 1:5).” Each of these creatures seems fantastical. They’re described as having 4 faces apiece, as well as 4 wings, one straight leg, and human hands. Regarding their 4 faces, we hear that each one had the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. These creatures come off as mythic, and I’m wondering why these are the 4 faces given to them. Out of all of the animals and living things on earth, why these 4? It definitely feels like a “create your own midrash” opportunity, because there are plenty of explanations I could come up with for why the nature of these 4 things together produces an angel, but I’m sure there are plenty of other answers as well. What do you think?
Anyway, these angels go wherever living things go. “Wherever there was the will to go, they would go; there was the will to go, and the wheels would lift themselves correspondingly to them, for the will of the living being was in the wheels (Ezekiel 1:20).” While in movies, guardian angels are usually beautiful women in white dresses, or fairy godmothers, this to me seems like the real origin of a guardian angel story. These beastly angels follow living beings around, coming from God to follow and watch us, and give us a glimpse of connection with the divine. Ezekiel saw them directly, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there for those of us who don’t see them as well.
Above the angels, Ezekiel sees a throne, and a man on it. He seems to attribute this likeness to God, which feels awesome, and at the same time a little blasphemous. How could God take on a human form when He is supposed to be beyond us? Or was He in this form just so Ezekiel, a human, would have some conceptualization of understanding what he was seeing? Regardless, the chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and tomorrow we’ll read God’s first words to Ezekiel. Already I’m intrigued by this new narrator, and the mythic poetry of this book. I’m excited and reinvigorated, and ready to delve deeper into it tomorrow!
Now, it’s Ammon’s turn to be mentioned in the prophecy. It seems that the Ammonites have taken possession of some of the Israelite cities. It’s not clear how this happened, or why. But it’s a big deal. “Therefore, behold days are coming, says the Lord, and I will cause an alarm of war to be heard against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and it shall become a desolate mound, and its villages shall be burnt with fire, and Israel shall possess those who have possessed their possessions, says the Lord (Jeremiah 49:2).” As I say regularly, it seems like this is a very harsh pronouncement. We don’t know if the Ammonites took the cities by force, or if they were invited or something, but they somehow are given this very harsh punishment.
A second nation is mentioned in this chapter, the Edomites. The Edomites are the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, and are therefore cousins of the Israelites. But bad times come to the Edomites as well, so this is clearly no protection. “And Edom shall become a desolation; whoever passes by her shall be astonished and shall hiss at all her plagues (Jeremiah 49:17).” Ouch.
More and more nations are cursed as the chapter continues, and it almost seems that God has some kind of new rage towards the whole world. Every nation seems to be at risk for destruction, and there’s no end in sight.