Thursday, November 29, 2012

God's People Gone Conventional (Ezekiel 22:23-31)

Yahweh created us in his image. He created us as creatures capable of sharing a relationship of freedom, truth, love, and vitality with him, one another, and the rest of creation.

When Adam and Eve ruptured this relationship with Yahweh, we humans lost that image. We became victims of parasitical powers who forced us to model their image. The six false gods of Olympianity did this by threatening us with insecurity, misery, guilt, insignificance, and meaninglessness. They also did this by falsely promising us security, happiness, justification, importance, and meaning in exchange for our loyalty.

When Yahweh had had enough of this foolishness, he invited Abraham (in 1921 BC) to enter with him into a conspiracy of goodness. Yahweh said that he would be god to Abraham. He would speak the truth to Abraham and his descendants that would free them from the power of the Olympian gods. Thus liberated, Abraham and his descendants would be able to serve Yahweh. This would lead to blessing for all. Abraham affirmed his freedom by leaving the gods and walking with Yahweh.

Centuries went by. Yahweh’s people Israel first formed one kingdom (1095 BC), then split into two kingdoms (975 BC), then saw the larger kingdom disappear from history (721 BC). By 595 BC, the second tiny kingdom of Judah faced that same disastrous future.

Yahweh didn’t want that disaster to befall his people. He invited Ezekiel to enter with him into a conspiracy of goodness. Through Ezekiel, Yahweh would tell his people why they faced disaster. Ezekiel affirmed his freedom by leaving the gods, walking with Yahweh, and speaking to the people of Jerusalem on his behalf.

These are some of the words shared by Yahweh through Ezekiel with the leaders and people of Jerusalem:

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, say to her, ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’ There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her. Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain. Her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord God (New American Standard Version, here and following).

Let us remember that Yahweh and Ezekiel entered into a conspiracy of goodness to liberate the leaders and people of Jerusalem from the power of the gods. Ezekiel spoke those words, and Yahweh empowered them, to save those who heard them from impending disaster.

Yahweh's people faced disaster, and at Yahweh's own hands, because they insisted on remaining loyal to the Olympian gods. They persistently spoke Yahweh’s name, and performed the prescribed rituals, but acted like Olympians. Yahweh warned them that, if they refused to stop acting like Olympians, then he would allow them to suffer the consequences of being Olympians.

How did Yahweh’s people act like Olympians? Let us count the ways.

First, its leaders, the members of its ruling class, regarded all less powerful people as legitimate prey. They practiced a redistribution of wealth by taking what little belonged to others and adding it to their own perversely huge heap. They implemented policies and pursued practices that led to impoverishment and death. This was all very conventional, typically Olympian behavior, and would not have been the least bit shocking had those doing it not called themselves the people of Yahweh, the god of life.

Second, its religious authorities, those understood to be the mediators between Yahweh and Yahweh’s people, violated Yahweh's teaching. The normative witnesses to Yahweh’s words and ways violated both by turning religious practices into means of serving the Olympian gods.

Third, its functionaries, the members of its managerial class, mirrored the image of their leaders as these embodied the false gods they adored. Like their leaders, these functionaries hurt marginal people to help themselves.

Fourth, its prophets, those understood to be speakers of the liberating word of Yahweh here and now, lied without even knowing it. They lied by proclaiming that the Olympian ways of Yahweh’s leaders and people were, in truth, Yahweh’s ways. They lied by justifying parasites as virtuous and the powerless as losers deserving their punishment.

Fifth, and finally, even its laborers, the members of its working class, acted like those above them by taking what they could from others; that is, by treating other human beings simply as means to their own Olympian ends.

As Yahweh brooded over his people, he found that all of them—leaders, religious authorities, managers, prophets, and even workers—thought of themselves as his people while adoring the Olympian gods and living as ardent witnesses to them.

What was Yahweh, alone committed to life, supposed to do when confronted by this glaring absurdity? I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one (Ezekiel 22:30).

It would be comforting to say that people claiming to serve Jesus today no longer pursue such absurdities; comforting, but false. But the question for us is this: if Jesus comes looking once again for companions with him in conspiracies of goodness, if today he again invites people to repair walls, stand in breaches, and save the land, will any of us join him? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8).

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.