Good morning! Today in Ezekiel 11-14 we hear retold many of the same narratives we’ve read before, just from a different prophet’s mouth. We see a sign-act that dramatizes the desertion of Zekediah and the succeeding events that ended his reign, as demonstrated in Ezekiel’s highly visible departure from Jerusalem. We hear also about divine judgment, false prophets, and God determining to put hearts of flesh in place of stone hearts. All these have been shared before in different contexts. But what strikes me as different in these chapters of Ezekiel is an emphasis on the individual over against the community—first the prophet himself, and then other exemplary individuals from Hebrew history.
In at least the New Revised Standard Version, God or “the spirit” addresses Ezekiel repeatedly by the name “Mortal”. To my ear, this emphasizes the singularity of the man Ezekiel, and effectively sets him apart from the rest of the Hebrew people. He was the mouthpiece of God, a tool for divine use and therefore set against the rest of the people. The prophet must have built up tremendous self-confidence in order to trust the inner voice that addressed him as “Mortal”. He needed to be so confident in his own skin that he could withstand people thinking he was unhinged, given that he was talking as the voice of God. Maybe he felt delusional himself, going for rides between Babylon and Jerusalem on the magic carpet ride of cherubim. Yet the existence of Ezekiel in the canon of inspired Scripture testifies to the power of an iconoclast, singular voice to reveal the truth in memorable ways. Whereas earlier notable individuals existed in Hebrew history (like King David or the priest Samuel), they did so as representatives of the whole people, the head of pack (in canine terms). Here though, the solo leader represents God and not humanity. The prophet stands apart from the people, and achieves a sort of differentiation from them that would not have been possible or successful in an earlier era.
In the time of independent judges and kings, a people’s success or failure was pinned on whether or not a leader was righteous or not. Hence, the many chapters in Chronicles that evaluated a ruler’s faith and by that judged whether Israel prospered or failed. It was as though the king’s activities could stand in for all the actions of the people hidden in his train, as it were. But not so here in Ezekiel any more, as chapter 14 makes clear. Three exemplary men from Hebrew history are listed: Noah, Daniel and Job. (We’ll read about Daniel shortly, but apparently he was already known to those in Ezekiel’s audience.) Yet at least twice we’re told that God won’t spare the land on their account, or the people either. Even if those men were in Jerusalem, their virtue would only save them, not the people nearby or those they led. (Contrast this with Abraham trying to save the whole city of Sodom if just five righteous people could be found in it.) Here in Ezekiel, individual righteousness is what counts, and what merits salvation. Noah, Daniel and Job could save themselves from impending disaster by their virtue, but nobody else. In other words, there’s no such thing as “herd immunity” from sin or destruction—each person must observe righteousness for themselves.
There’s much more to discover in the writings of Ezekiel, but that’s what jumped out at me today. Please share below what you found note-worthy; I look forward to learning from your insights too. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ezekiel 15-17. Thanks for reading!