We return today to Lawrence Boadt’s commentary on Ezekiel….
The major portion of the Book of Ezekiel is given over to oracles of judgment similar to those of Jeremiah. Since Ezekiel only preached in the last few years before the fall, from 593 to 586, he lacks the great depth of Jeremiah born from years of disappointment, but he makes up for it with the fierce power of his images and words. He also gives us a fuller picture of the conditions in Judah under King Zedekiah. Chapter 8 reveals how pagan cults had even reached the temple grounds and were being supported by the priests themselves; chapter 13 attacks the widespread use of magicians and fortune-tellers and other false voices of authority; chapter 14 shows the number of prophets who went about preaching that all would be well despite widespread evil. Again and again Ezekiel returns to the same theme that had occupied Jeremiah before him: pagan idolatry. Judah is worse than Samaria had been, and even worse than Sodom (chapters 16 and 23). He describes the weak and uncertain nature of the king trying to escape in the middle of the night while the rest of the city perishes (chapter 12). He takes up the theme of the day of the Lord, used by the prophets before him, to predict God’s final and total rejection of his people (chapter 7). Nor does he neglect to condemn the sins against justice so common in other prophets. He often speaks of them in general terms—bloodshed, violence, evil conduct—but on occasion he gets very specific—bribery, usury, stealing from the poor (chapters 5, 6, 7, and 18). At times he mentions concrete violations of religious worship: failing to honor the Sabbath, breaking the law, building idols, eating at high places (chapter 18).
This last group of sins calls attention to the central characteristic of Ezekiel’s thought—it most closely resembles the Priestly source in the Pentateuch, especially the famous Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-26. Many of the same words and phrases found in Leviticus 26, for example, are found sprinkled thoughout the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel often repeats certain formulas such as “I the Lord am holy,” or “I am the Lord your God,” both present in Leviticus. Most of all, Ezekiel uses the expression, “so that you (or they) will know that I the Lord am God.” It captures the essence of the thought of Ezekiel, and he ends almost every single oracle with it. Only when the people turn back to God and recognize the divine hand behind events that are happening will they understand these events. This reflects both the Priestly tradition that Israel must always act in an obedient and holy manner because God himself gives us the lesson and model to follow by his holiness toward Israel, and also the prophetic spirit of Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah that Israel’s sin come from not-knowing its God. They have forgotten God, that is, given up the love relationship with him.
I want to come back to this theme of “knowing God” later in our study of Ezekiel. For now, let me just say that I am reminded of the words of a modern day prophet, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who said,
Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”