My Crappiest Lesson Yet
What do you love about your hometown? Where are the places you made special memories? How about your grandma’s house where she baked your favorite cookies and always met you at the door with a hug? Or the auditorium where you sank the winning slam dunk? How about the park where you went on that amazing picnic date or went sledding with your children? And that favorite restaurant that always hits the spot? These kinds of places are the landscape of a life. Now imagine if that landscape and all it represented were razed to the ground, leaving nothing but smoldering ashes and scorched rubble. How might overlooking that vista of utter destruction make you feel? What would you be willing to do to save it?
(Suggestion for Teachers: Consider making paper models of beloved local landmarks. Have people share their special memories and associations with those places. Then tear those models up, crumple them, and set them on fire. Let the surprise set in and the smell waft over the room.)
Ezekiel prophesied during a time of great political and religious upheaval. Israel had been destroyed by Assyria, then Babylon swept in followed by Egypt, leaving Jerusalem a crumbling mess. The southern kingdom of Judah wasn’t faring much better. It was a time of war, exile, loss of identity and freedom. Why did God allow tis to befall his covenant people? The prophets make clear that this was discipline for Israel and Judah’s sins. Ezekiel was tasked with bearing the news that Jerusalem, the seat and symbol of their national identity, would fall. Their only hope would be reestablishing peace between themselves and God. This message comes to and through Ezekiel in a series of visions and symbolic gestures.
Today we’ll be concentrating on Ezekiel chapter 4. Let’s start by concentrating on verses 1-3:
1 “Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. 2 Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. 3 Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.”
1) If I were a prophet and performed the elaborate siege and destruction of your city in the middle of town where everybody could see what I was doing, what sort of message do you think that would send? (Maybe that I’m an enemy or threat to the community. My sanity would be questioned. It might be taken as performance art or a joke.)
2) If a prophet of God were to say to you, “I myself am against you,” how do you think you would react? Would your first thought be to question the prophet’s legitimacy, or your own sins?
But the visual aid doesn’t stop there. Let’s look at verses 4-8:
4 “’Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.
6 ‘After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.”
3) Describe what’s happening here. What is God instructing Ezekiel to do?
4) Imagine if your local pastor were to lie in front of Town Hall for over a year, calling attention to all the sins of your hometown. What sort of response would people have?
5) What message is this meant to communicate to the people of Israel and Judah?
Of course, whether you’re up moving around or bound up in a public square, there are certain functions your body needs to perform in order to survive. God accounts for those things in his directions. Let’s read verses 9-13:
9 “’Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. 10 Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. 11 Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. 12 Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” 13 The Lord said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.'"
6) What do you make of this instruction/system?
7) Why do you think God asked Ezekiel to go to such dramatic lengths to communicate his message?
We know the people of Israel responded to symbolism. Much of their religion, law, and culture was bound up in rites, rituals, and images symbolizing their covenant with God. Jerusalem had been a prized symbol of their national identity. God is about to allow that symbol to be stripped away by brute force and is trying to convey the seriousness of the situation through the symbolism of Ezekiel’s actions.
8) Considering the graphic nature of this message, how disgusted must God be with his people’s sin?
9) How would you describe God based on this passage? What does it show us about his character?
10) Living in the New Testament era, we often emphasize God’s love and compassion, his grace and mercy. How do we hold in balance that he is also a God of wrath and judgement?
11) As Christians, we are about the business of becoming godly people. God is angered by and acts to rectify sin. If we are to strive to be like God, does it follow that we are to develop and act in righteous anger? Could it be that we sometimes err in not being angered enough by sin?
After listening to these increasingly dramatic and graphic instructions, Ezekiel finally interjects. Look at verses 14-15:
14 “Then I said, ‘Not so, Sovereign Lord! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.’
15 ‘Very well,’ he said, ‘I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.’”
12) What exactly is it Ezekiel takes issue with? (It’s the idea of defiling himself, corrupting his purity. It’s a spiritual matter, not necessarily a concern about his dignity, comfort, or privacy.)
13) What does this tell us about Ezekiel?
14) How does God respond to Ezekiel’s protest?
15) Here we have a human asking for compromise from a wronged and wrathful God displaying his judgement against his wayward people. How might you expect God to respond to Ezekiel differently?
16) What does God’s willingness to honor Ezekiel’s request tell us about God and his relationship with Ezekiel?
Verses 16-17 read:
16 “He then said to me: ‘Son of man, I am about to cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, 17 for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.”
17) Does God sound like he’s taking any delight in doling out this punishment? Why or why not?
God does not enjoy punishing his children. This is the final warning. He is giving his covenant people a merciful opportunity to turn away from the consequences of their sins and reconcile with him.
18) When have we as a Body of Christ, nation, or community been given this kind of warning or opportunity for repentance? (Bear in mind, there is a danger in ascribing divine meaning to worldly events or natural circumstances.)
19) What danger is there in ignoring or downplaying God’s righteous anger against sin?
20) What difference would a clearer understanding of God’s wrathful side make in our day-to-day lives?
For personal meditation, consider these questions:
Am I vigilant against sin in my own life?
How open am I to God’s correction?
What step of repentance do I need to take?