Sunday, April 21
Ezechiel 19: This is a "lamentation" (19:1,14), descriptive of JerusalemŐs recent history, in a tripartite allegory. The lioness, Judah, gave birth to two kings, the two lions, whose stories are told in the first two parts of this allegory. The first king (19:3f) is Jehoahaz, who took the throne when the great Josiah was killed in 609 at the Battle of Megiddo. His very short reign (only two verses here) came to an end that very year, because he was deposed by Pharaoh Necho and taken in bondage to Egypt (2 Kings 23:31-34). The second king (19:5-9) is Jehoiakin, deposed by the Babylonians in 597, after an unsuccessful rebellion on his part, and carried away to exile in Babylon, along with the cream of JudahŐs leadership, including Ezechiel himself (2 Kings 24:8-16). At the time of this oracle, both of these "lions" are still alive, but they are impotent to help their mother, Judah. This mother is then portrayed as a vine in the third and final section of the oracle (19:10-14), which describes the devastation attendant on the inept and irresponsible government of JudahŐs last king, Zedechiah.
Monday, April 22
Ezechiel 20: This oracle, delivered on August 14, 591 B.C., was occasioned by an inquiry made to Ezechiel by a group of exiled Jewish elders, apparently not deterred by their earlier failure in 14:1-11. So Ezechiel answers them: Beginning with IsraelŐs ancient sojourn in Egypt, prior to the Exodus, idolatry has been an abiding sin of GodŐs Chosen People. That rebellion against the Lord in Egypt was simply continued during the peopleŐs wandering in the desert of Sinai. During both of those periods God spared His people, so that their enemies (and His) might not take comfort from their destruction. Indeed, because Israel constantly violated the LordŐs ordinances, these ordinances proved not to be good for them, inasmuch as the very disobedience rendered the people morally worse 20:23-26). (This is a motif, of course, that St. Paul will later develop in his Epistles.) Then, even after their settlement in the Promised Land the people continued their ancient infidelities. Now, after all this, do they dare to come and "inquire of the Lord"? They are told that this amounts to a mockery. They have always known GodŐs will, yet they have decided to disobey it. Why should the Lord have anything further to say to them? (We should particularly observe here that, among the sins of Israel specifically named, child sacrifice is very prominent. Since the murder of unborn children is one of the most serious offenses of our own society, this oracle seems especially relevant today.) Even after conveying this oracle, however, Ezechiel goes on in verses 32 to 44 to deliver a prophecy of IsraelŐs eventual restoration. Although IsraelŐs kings have brought the nation low, God is still IsraelŐs true king (20:33).
Tuesday, April 23
Ezechiel 21: The deep, very personal lamentation in this text will remind the reader of EzechielŐs older contemporary, Jeremiah, who expressed very much the same sentiments during that decade immediately preceding the fall of Jerusalem in 586. There are four oracles in this chapter (the first oracle actually beginning in 20:45), three of them against Jerusalem, and the fourth against the Ammonite capital of Rabbah (the present city Amman, capital of the modern country of Jordan). Even as Ezechiel speaks, the Babylonian army, with its "well polished sword," is already on the march toward those two cities. The imagery alternates between fire (particularly a forest fire, with Jerusalem being the timber) and sword, both images combined in that of the lightning. The references to the "Negev" in the first oracle (20:45Ń21:7) should be understood simply as "the south," which is often the case in Ezechiel. The invading army, marching from Babylon, did not go directly westward toward Jerusalem, a march through the Arabian Desert being quite prohibitive. Instead, it marched up and around the Fertile Crescent, following the course of the Mesopotamian and Syrian rivers, so that now it has turned southward, in the direction of the Negev Desert, tramping toward Jerusalem and Rabbah. In the second oracle (21:8-17) Ezechiel addresses the Babylonian sword itself, which is the instrument of GodŐs vindication. The Babylonians, though they are acting as GodŐs instrument in history, do not know this, no more than a sword recognizes who wields it. The third oracle (21:18-27), continuing the image of the Babylonian sword, portrays another of EzechielŐs symbolic actions, which must be explained to those who witness it. It pantomimes a fork in the road; which city, Jerusalem or Rabbah, will Nebuchadnezzar strike first? The final oracle (21:28-32) addresses to Rabbah the same threats that have been spoken to Jerusalem.
Wednesday, April 24
Ezechiel 22: This chapter contains three oracular prophecies, joined together by a common theme: ritual uncleanness, understood either literally or as a metaphor. Ezechiel, as a priest dedicated entirely to the correct worship of the true God, was particularly sensitive to this matter of cleanness, or purity, in both the sacrifice and the priest. The first oracle (22:1-16), directed against Jerusalem, is full of the imagery of blood, any flowing of which rendered a person ritually unclean. Blood is, however, also an image of violence. The second oracle (22:17-22) is directed against all unfaithful Israelites, who are described as dross (that is, metallic impurities), which God will clean away in the coming smelting process of His historical judgment. Ezechiel doubts that any true metal will be found once this process is complete. The third oracle (22:23-31) is against the Holy Land itself, which suffers uncleanness because of those who live there. These have defiled GodŐs land with bloodshed and other forms of impurity, rendering the land unholy and no longer fit to contain the LordŐs true worship.
Thursday, April 25
Ezechiel 23: About to see the ruin of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, Ezechiel thinks back to the year 722 B.C., when the Assyrians had destroyed Samaria, the capital of Israel. How closely the two cases resembled one another, he reflects, both cities unfaithful to God, like two loose women who could not be trusted. This comparison of the two cities is the basis of the long allegory that fills the present chapter. Once again, Ezechiel traces the problem back to Egypt, where the Israelites first learned the seductions of idolatry (23:3). Samaria, having handed herself over to Assyrian seductions, was finally destroyed by Assyria (23:5-10). Jerusalem was worse, falling under the idolatrous sway of both Assyria and Babylon in turn (23:23:11-18). In addition, as a final irony, Jerusalem was now turning once again to the gods of Egypt (23:2318-21), EzechielŐs reference to King ZedechiahŐs recent appeal to Egypt against the Babylonian overlord. The various nations of the Fertile Crescent (23:23), all now part of the Babylonian Empire, will attack Jerusalem from the north (23:4). History, Ezechiel saw, was about to be repeated. Thus, in this chapter the prophet extends the metaphor of marital fidelity that was the theme of Chapter 16.
Friday, April 26
Ezechiel 24: This chapter is constructed of two quite separate parts, the first being the allegorical oracle of a pot cooking on the fire, the second a prophecy and prophetic action connected with the death of EzechielŐs wife. The first oracle (24:1-14) is dated on January 15, 588, the day that Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem. This siege is compared to the flames surrounding a pot until its contents are cooked. This pot is, of course, Jerusalem, where the long siege has begun. The rust on this metal pot, which is the same color as blood and is likened to blood, carries forward the image of dross from Chapter 22. The second oracle (24:15-27) is occasioned by the sudden death of EzechielŐs wife. He is not the only biblical prophet whose "home life" becomes part of the prophetic message. Thus, Hosea was obliged to marry a prostitute as part of his prophetic vocation, both Hosea and Isaiah were told to give strange and symbolic names to their children, and Jeremiah is commanded to remain celibate as a witness to the imminent passing of the era. In the case of Ezechiel, he is ordered not to mourn at the death of his wife, no matter how grieved he feels. He must then interpret this strange behavior to his neighbors, giving him the opportunity to explain why, in their concrete historical circumstances, it would be inappropriate for them to mourn, even though their hearts are broken. Thus, in his grief Ezechiel himself becomes a "sign" to the people who are soon to see their beloved city destroyed.
Saturday, April 27
Ezechiel 25: Chapters 25 through 32 of Ezechiel contain oracles directed against the other nations with whom the Lord has reason to be displeased, IsraelŐs neighbors to the east and west (Chapter 25), the north (Chapters 26 to 28), and the south (Chapters 29 to 32). Chapter 25 is critical of the neighbors to the east (the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites) and to the west (Philistines). Those to the east are criticized in order, going from north to south. Since the oracles refer to the unseemly and unconscionable rejoicing of these nations at JerusalemŐs destruction, they should be dated no earlier than the summer of 586. Otherwise, the oracles in this chapter are not dated. Oracles of this sort, scathing moral criticisms of IsraelŐs neighbors, go back to the earliest of IsraelŐs literary prophets, Amos, in the eight century before Christ. EzechielŐs references to the "people of the East," who will punish these offending nations, may refer to the Babylonians, but the reference is perhaps more probably to the marauding Bedouin tribes that frequently attacked from the Arabian desert.