Holy Chutzpah – Ezekiel

Holy Chutzpah – Ezekiel

Holy Chutzpah – Ezekiel.

“…As He spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard Him speaking to me… Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which He unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel, and He gave me the scroll to eat. Then He said to me, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3). 

Chutzpah (hoots-pah) is a Yiddish word that long ago entered English usage. It is from the Hebrew word, “hutspah,” which means insolent or audacious. Chutzpah is a neutral word that can be either positive or negative. Chutzpah can be righteous or unrighteous, holy or unholy. It is an idea difficult to define, so there are a lot of synonyms for it, especially in the biblical sense: spiritual audacity; brazen gall; tenacious stubbornness; headstrong persistence; outrageous guts; shameless nerve; feisty assertiveness; brazen impudence; unyielding boldness; courageous spine; expectant defiance. The Holy Scriptures, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, are overflowing with examples of holy chutzpah. One wonders not only if it’s a job requirement for saints and prophets, but also a faith requirement for all believers. In fact, God seems to love chutzpah in us when it is based on our ultimate trust in Him and His character, our unselfish motives, our yearning for justice and mercy. Chutzpah in front of others becomes holy when it is done in obedience to the Lord and is an outworking of our faith in Him. As Rabbi Schulweiss once said, “Spiritual audacity toward God finds a place of honor in Jewish religious thought.” The rabbis of old have always insisted that chutzpah is a valid expression of faith. Just a quick glimpse at the Gospels reveals that Jesus and His followers fully embraced the ancient Jewish ethic of holy chutzpah. When Jesus saw chutzpah in action, He usually said things like, “Great is your faith!” Maybe Christian scholar Dr. Brad Young said it best. “True faith requires bold perseverance. Sometimes it is expressed by brazen impudence. Faith can be defined as chutzpah. Persevere with unyielding tenacity.” (Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian).

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 with extraordinary holy chutzpah 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.

God showed a sense of humor when He told Ezekiel that He is going to make him just as stubborn as the Israelites in exile. “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.” (3:8). Here are some of the theatrics the Lord asked of Ezekiel. If you don’t believe me, which I understand, read his book of the same name.

  1. At the start of his ministry, God told Ezekiel to lock himself into his house and bind himself with ropes so he couldn’t move. Not only that, but God told Ezekiel that He will make him tongue-tied as well, and He would loosen his tongue only when He had a message to give to the people. Interestingly, this takes Ezekiel out of a public ministry while this was going on. According to Scripture, Ezekiel was out of circulation for about seven and a half years. So God chose him to be  public spokesman, then locks him in the house. The Lord works in mysterious ways. (chapter 3).
  2. This turns out to be a rather uncomfortable assignment from the Lord. God told Ezekiel to lie on his right side for 390 days. In this way, he was to illustrate the sins of Israel, one day for each year of Israel’s sinfulness. But he wasn’t done with this ministry of lying on his side. God then wanted him to lie on his left side for 40 days, representing Judah’s sinfulness, one day for each year. Ezekiel seemed to take this assignment in stride without an objection. (chapter 4).
  3. While lying on his side, Ezekiel was to bake a flat bread composed of God’s special recipe. He was to bake this bread over a fire fueled by human excrement. You heard me right, human waste. Ezekiel complained to the Lord that this would violate the priestly purity laws (that God made up in the first place), so God relented and said, okay, you can use cow dung for your fuel. That’s the Lord being flexible. (chapter 4).
  4. God then asked Ezekiel to take a sharpened sword and shave his head and his beard. Ezekiel wasn’t thrilled about this, because shaving in his culture represented grief and shame. It was humiliating for him to shave, but he did it anyway. I wonder if he had a tough time looking people in the eyes during this object lesson. (chapter 5).
  5. The Lord then asked Ezekiel to act out the movements of those going into exile. So Ezekiel had to pack up his bare necessities, whatever he could carry in a sack over his shoulder. He then was instructed to climb through a hole in a wall with his sack in the middle of the night, and walk away from home for parts unknown. All this was done in public so the people wouldn’t miss the point. (chapter 12).
  6. Later on Ezekiel was told to stand up in the middle of the street in a public setting and sing a long solo, a funeral song. The problem was that no one in particular had died. He might have looked a little foolish doing this. And then later, when he had a good reason to sing a funeral song, God told him not to mourn his wife’s death in public. She had just died, and he wanted to mourn properly, but he was told to refrain from all the funeral rituals, no grief, no tears. So when there was good reason to mourn with a funeral song, Ezekiel wasn’t allowed to do it. And when there was no reason whatsoever to sing a funeral song in public, there he was singing his solo on a street corner. All this is exactly the opposite of what the people were expecting, and they no doubt were all scratching their heads. (chapters 19 and 24).

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.