I want to pick up where we left off two days ago with Lawrence Boadt’s commentary on Ezekiel from his book, Reading the Old Testament….
Another striking side of Ezekiel’s message is the importance he attaches to individual responsibility. He quotes a proverb, used also by Jeremiah, “The fathers ate the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth shuddered” (Ez 18:2; Jer 31:30). He then forbids anyone to speak it again. No longer will one generation have to bear the sins of another, nor the whole people suffer because of the sins of a few. It is important to recall that Israel had often demanded responsibility on the part of individuals—all the law codes show that; but it also had a general belief that God did at times hold the entire people guilty of the acts of a few. Achan had sinned against Joshua in Joshua 7, and the entire army had met defeat as a result. Amos had warned that God would leave a remnant of northern Israel when he brought punishment, but it would be no more than a piece of an ear or two tips of legs in the mouth of a lion (Am 3:12)—not very much and by no means the best part. Of course, Ezekiel does not reject the idea of Israel as a nation. He has a strong sense of Israel as a community of faith and foresees both loss for all and restoration for all. But at the same time he gives a new accent to the role of the individual person in the community. Each must decide for or against God; each must take the law into his or her heart and be able to keep it no matter what the community is doing. In chapters 14, 18 and 33 he repeats this forcefully so that when the exile came, and the community was broken up—no temple, no king, no land of their own—each would still be able to find God and his promises and law as something to live by.
This brings us to the last note of his theology of judgment. Chapter 20 retells the history of Israel from the days of the exodus. But Exekiel does not praise a people who held close to the Lord and remained faithful during the long forty years in the desert as does Hosea 11 or Jeremiah 2. He instead asserts that Israel has always been unfaithful to the covenant, and that God had to punish Israel repeatedly in the desert years for rebellion and sin. God had acted for the sake of “his name” in saving them from Egypt and guiding them through the wilderness and giving them their land—not because they were such a worthwhile people, but to show his fidelity and his power as God. Yet they would not recognize this and obey him, but constantly turned from him. More than once his wrath could have destroyed them but each time he had compassion and forgave. Ezekiel then asks what right they have now to come near to God and seek mercy (Ez 20:31). Instead God will make a judgment in a new wilderness and purge out the rebels from the midst of the people. Before there can be restoration, the evil must be purified from Israel. It is Ezekiel’s way of saying that God would not stop the Babylonian invasion, but would use them to make Israel know the Lord their God (Ez 20-44).
As was the case with Jeremiah, Ezekiel did not oppose Babylonian power. He saw it as an instrument that God used to bring about his purpose. Chapter 21 described God giving Babylon the signal to attack Jerusalem rather than the Ammonites (Ez 21:18-23); a short while earlier he utters a final prophecy condemning the king: “I will strike man and beast, the dwellers of this city; they shall die of pestilence. After that I will hand over Zedekiah and his ministers and all the people who survive the pestilence, sword and famine in this city, to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon” (Ez 21:6-7). Only after all was destroyed would God begin his work of rebuilding.
Tomorrow we will pick up with Boadt’s comments on Ezekiel 25-32….