Hear and Do: Ezekiel

Hear and Do: Ezekiel

Hear and Do: Ezekiel.

“As for you, son of man, your people meet on street corners and in front of their houses, and they say to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying. Let’s go hear the latest message from God.’ So my people come to you and sit in your company. They listen to you speak, but they are only pretending to be sincere. They have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful desires, for all they care about is making money and getting ahead. They flatter you, but their hearts are set on their own self-interest. To them you’re merely entertainment, like someone who sings a sensual love song with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it! They hear your words, but they do not practice them. In fact, they love to listen to you talk, but nothing ever comes of it. They hear, but they do not do.” (Ezekiel 33:30-32).

Babylon. Ezekiel was called to be in exile with all the other Israelites in Babylon. They all felt abandoned, defeated, and hopeless. They were in enemy territory 600 miles from their homeland, and everything they once had was now gone…. the comforts of home, their close-knit families, their livelihoods, and most of all, the presence of God. The Israelites were cut off from their Temple, and they felt spiritually dead with no hope of recovery. They were beyond discouraged, for they had nothing  left that felt life-giving. They too were subdued with guilt, knowing that their Temple was desecrated by the Israelites before even the destruction of Jerusalem. God had abandoned their Temple even before they were exiled. As Ezekiel reported in chapters 10 and 11, the glory of the Lord left the Temple because of their desecration. Added to their sense of hopelessness and their shame, they had to endure for over 100 years the devastating fracture within  the house of Israel. There was the nation of  Israel in the north, and the nation of Judah in the south, a broken nation of God’s chosen people. And there was no hope of reunion any time soon.

A Word about Ezekiel. He was one of God’s unforgettable holy fools, showing remarkable trust in the directions given by the Lord. He proved to be a faithful prophet as God asked him to do one outlandish thing after another. Ezekiel was tapped on the shoulder by the Lord to be a prophet, priest and street preacher in Babylon during the exile, which meant he was doing his job sometime between 586 BC – 538 B.C. God appointed him at the age of 30, and he continued in these assigned roles for about 22 years. God seemed to have a larger list of expectations for Ezekiel than most other prophets, and so Ezekiel had the widest spectrum of methods as he spoke and demonstrated what God had on His mind. You name a method and he did it: visual aid, demonstration, show and tell, poems, proverbs, parables, direct prophecies, and visions that were other-worldly and difficult to comprehend. Just some examples of what Ezekiel was told to do by the Lord… Eat a scroll that contained the words of the Lord, filling himself full; lock yourself into your house and bind yourself together with ropes for about seven and a half years, remaining tongue-tied most of that time; lie on your  right side for 390 days, and then on your left side for another 40 days; while on your side, bake a special flat bread by baking it over a fire fueled by human excrement (thankfully, the Lord finally relented and allowed him to use cow dung); shave your head and your beard and walk around in  mourning, humiliated with your hairlessness, to represent God’s grief and man’s shame; pack a traveling sack with necessities, sneak through a hole in the wall in the middle of the night, and walk away for parts unknown for an uncertain amount of time. It appears that Ezekiel was a good sport through these attention-getting theatrics. Unfortunately, the people didn’t respond anyway. It helped that God showed a sense of humor when he told Ezekiel that He is going to make him just as stubborn as the Israelites, “I have made you as obstinate as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as granite. So don’t be afraid of them.” (Ezekiel 3:8).

Like a Song. It’s no wonder the Lord is comparing the Word of Yahweh to a sweet love song. Time and again in the Hebrew Bible, God has spoken His Word in the context of a song, like Moses (Deut. 31:19), David (the Psalms), or many of His prophets. Faithful Jews have a long tradition of considering the Word, the Torah, to be a love song written by God for His Chosen People. The Jews have always believed that the Word is a song to be sung, not merely a word to be recited. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks claims that song is central to the Judaic experience. Orthodox Jews do not read the Torah, they chant it, they sing it, each word having its own note. Sacks explains that, “Music is the map of the Jewish spirit, and each spiritual experience has its own distinctive melodic landscape. Without music, Judaism is a body without a soul. The Torah is God’s libretto, and we are His choir. We are the performers of His choral symphony. When Jews speak, they often argue, but when they sing, they sing in harmony, because words are the language of the mind, but music is the language of the soul.” The Orthodox Church of Christianity have continued this practice of singing the Scripture during their services. The priest and people sing the Bible passage in worship, rather than recite it. The Word continues to be a love song to the Orthodox Christians.

This passage from Ezekiel is one of the Jewish roots to James’ admonition to do the Word and not merely listen to it (James 1:22). This is a biblical principle that is central to the Judeo-Christian faith, to living into the Scripture. When we hear the Word, we are listening to God sing a song to us. When we don’t put this song into practice, if we don’t act on what we hear, the song goes flat, it goes off key, and there is no harmony between faith and life. The Lord is telling Ezekiel that when the people have no intention of putting into practice the words they hear form the Lord, judgment will surely come.

Those who hear the Word but do not act on it, those who don’t take heed, are like people who hear a song merely to be entertained for the moment, but then soon forget not only the lyrics but the melody, they forget the Person who sang the song, and they ignore the importance of the song as well.

HOPE. Soon after this word from the Lord, Ezekiel spoke words of hope and consolation to the Israelites. He said that Israel would be restored as a nation one day, and the people would return home (Ezek. 36). The people probably found this hard to believe, since everything looked so hopeless. Ezekiel also spoke God’s promise to judge the nations who were used to punish Israel. But God didn’t stop with those hopeful words. Ezekiel went on to say that God would purify His people in a dramatically unique way. “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my teachings and be careful to obey my commands.” (Ez. 36:26-27). God promised to transform, renew, and empower His people to do His will. This promise reflects the New Covenant with Jesus and the Holy Spirit given to us by God.

No matter how strongly Ezekiel preached about the holiness and moral perfection of Yahweh, the people wouldn’t respond. They were consistently stubborn, rebellious, and they simply wouldn’t admit their sinfulness, just as the Lord had warned at Ezekiel’s calling. Ezekiel closed his autobiographical book by preaching messianic prophesies about the new Kingdom of God and the new Temple. His somewhat discouraging book closed on a high note of hopefulness. The name Ezekiel means “God strengthens,” and his life is a powerful testimony to that fact.