Being A Light During Troubled Times

Ezekiel 1 – 3.

Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, prophesied in Babylon. He was part of the exilic retinue, together with Judah’s King Jehoiachin, taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC. At 30 years of age, six years before the final destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was called as a prophet and served as a trustworthy beacon to Yahweh’s people during those tumultuous times. As ‘the light of the world’ to our generation (Matt 5:14-16), we can draw some lessons from Ezekiel’s encounter.

Ezekiel’s vision was decidedly symbolic, as he attempted to describe in simple human language an extraordinary visual relationship of an apocalyptic scenario. The Jews had always linked the seat and presence of God with Jerusalem, and so it was deeply reassuring to Ezekiel and the exiles to know that Yahweh would ‘travel’ on His throne in all His glory in a great cloud to Babylon. Altogether, the imagery undergirded God’s irresistible majesty and total commitment to His suffering people: His formidable transportable sapphire throne; the emblematic four living creatures representing wisdom (the human), royalty (the lion), strength (the ox), and compassion (the eagle); His indomitable presence moves purposefully in whichever direction, with graceful yet palpable kinetic power, under His watchful eyes (c.f., 2Chron 16:9; Heb 4:13); and the indistinct appearance of a man whose radiant glory completely floored Ezekiel into worship (Ezek 1:22-28). Yahweh’s overwhelming objective was to reveal Himself as Israel’s Almighty Lord over all creation, One who was capable of delivering them when the time came. It invariably elicited humility and his willing obedience. Ezekiel’s incontrovertible witness steeled his heart and made him fearless as he is called to speak for God to His obstinate people.

In a spiritual vacuum where it is conspicuously unpopular to speak God’s truth of judgment to a rebellious and perverse generation, what more living among a vicious and antagonistic Babylonian culture, Ezekiel’s natural reaction would be one of fear for his own life from the probable hostile upshots to his words. God knew his thoughts, and immediately clarified that the outcome of His judgment was His concern, for “they will know that a prophet has been among them … shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not.” And Yahweh repeated that three times (Ezek 2:3-7; Ezek 2:7). Nevertheless, it took courage for Ezekiel to break his silence (for his silence was interpreted as a rebellion by God; Ezek 2:8) to articulate the need for the Jews to repent, thereby enabling God to carry through His work. Our failure is, therefore, prevaricating God’s word or being voiceless in the face of sin and injustice among God’s people (c.f., 2Tim 3:16-17).

It was unusual for scrolls to be written on both sides (as its crafting ensured that pen-strokes on its back would go against the grain of the parchment), but its allegory is unmistakeable – God’s lamentations, mourning, woes and judgment against Israel were entirely detailed on a single parchment to be executed collectively. And when Ezekiel swallowed it, as commanded, it tasted sweet! Wouldn’t you have expected it to be extremely bitter and difficult to consume? Again, the metaphor implied that by having heard all of the judgments against his people, Ezekiel’s heart and mind had identified with God’s legitimate conclusion at this juncture; fully empathising with God’s inexorable pain of betrayal by Israel repeatedly, and he “went embittered in the rage of his spirit, and the hand of the Lord was strong on him” (Ezek 2:8-15). Yet, when he arrived at the River Chebar at Tel-abib among the exiles, he remained silent for seven days; possibly reflecting on God’s impending judgment on a people already stripped of all dignity and rights. A benevolent pastoral heart is inevitably empathetic towards his people with deep compassion, not unlike Yahweh, even at the point of divine punishment. As servants of God, purchased by His blood and whose thoughts, words and behaviour are defined by His Holy Spirit, it remains a tough call to be bearers of the Christ-light in the midst of a contradictory world and to speak with lovingkindness a need to repent.