I noticed the words that start this chapter: “The word of the Lord came to me.” The phrase is used over and over again in Ezekiel’s book, and it occurred to me as I thought over the Old Testament stories I’ve read thus far that the Lord never speaks directly to his people. His words always need mediation. He dealt directly with the Patriarchs, but as soon as they are to be lead out of slavery in Egypt, Yahweh picks a man to be his representative. And none can enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest, and that only once a year. Right after he tells us the Lord’s word came to him, the Lord says, 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them:”
Why can’t or doesn’t the Lord speak directly to his people? The simple answer is that he is holy, and wholly other. There can be no confusion between Creator and created, and we by nature confuse the two. In fact, in our fallen nature and hubris, we want to usurp the Creator’s position and prerogatives, to be, as Satan said, like God. Most importantly, all OT mediators point to Christ because he is The Word. So when “the word of the Lord” comes to Ezekiel, it is Christ himself coming. The ultimate mediator on the cross, or because of it, becomes God himself become man. As Paul tells us:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus . . .
And through this mediator we were given direct access to the Holy of Holies when “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” and thus to God himself. To get this access we simply pray in Jesus name. No more prophets, no more priests. But the people in Ezekiel’s day didn’t have Jesus, so they had to go to prophets, or prophets to them, to hear the word of the Lord.
This word from the Lord tells Ezekiel he is to be a watchman, warning the people of the coming destruction. He is to tell them that they should turn from their sin, and if they don’t the destruction will be payment for their sin. But if they do turn from their sin, they can save themselves from the sword. What the Lord is doing is reminding them of their accountability, and that he doesn’t judge whimsically. The reason for the reminder is that the people are doing what is typical of all humans, saying the Lord is unjust, that he’s punishing them for nothing. But the Lord is very clear: they can turn from their wicked ways and live, or continue doing them and die. He implores them to turn from their evil ways in verse 11, then asks this:
Why will you die, O house of Israel?
An intriguing question, that. The Lord has established that the people are morally accountable for their actions. The question raises two assumptions that come to us from Pelagius and Augustine: the people either have the ability to turn from their wicked ways, or they don’t. Which assumption does Israel’s history support? I think we are driven to the conclusion that Augustine got it right. The answer to the Lord’s question might be that their impending physical death is a result of a current spiritual death. The inability of Israel to fulfill the demands of the covenant is the whole story of the OT, and points us to the one who did! And in our place (Isaiah 53). This is not to say that doing right has its own reward, and evil its consequences, only that we cannot attain true life, eternal life, of our own accord.
The remainder of the chapter tells us Jerusalem has finally fallen, and that the Lord plans to make it a desolate waste because of Israel’s sin. We’ve seen the message before, that the people say the right religious stuff, but their hearts aren’t in it, but are far from the Lord. They hear the prophets words, but deny their truth. They have itching ears that hear only what they want to hear. I love the way it’s put in the penultimate verse:
32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
As Jesus tells us, wisdom is proved right by her actions.