|A Reflection on Ezekiel 36:1-15|
Wine Before Breakfast
Tuesday January 22, 2008 | 7:30am
As I read through this passage over the past few weeks, I found one thing particularly peculiar. One translation of the scripture we just read relates verse 3 in this way:
“For good reason they have made you desolate and crushed you from every side that you would become a possession of the rest of the nations.”As I stared at this passage, after having contrasted it with other versions quite similar to the one we read together this morning, I looked at it in some sense of disbelief. Over and over I repeated to myself the phrases, “You have been made desolate. You’ve been made desolate for a reason, and a good one at that.”
And it just didn’t click. What was the reason? What could have been the good reason? And more directly, what interpretive point were they hoping to make by putting this particular spin on the text?
If the mountains had been able to join us this morning, I would want to ask them. As it was, the mountains thought that today might be a good day to sleep in.
To my ears, first off, it sounds like crazy talk, the whole scenario. The mountains, if you caught all six mentions of them in the passage, are being addressed as though they, of all, uhhh, people, might have ears to hear. If no one else would listen, if no one else would hear the word of the Lord, perhaps the mountains would hear.
So. We either we have Ezekiel addressing the mountains, or we have a prophet who’s gone of his rocker. He’s just lost it, and the next thing you know, he’ll be talking to a valley of dry bones. Whatever the case, if the mountains were listening, I suspect that they had some questions of their own.
The mountains sit there in silence, perhaps surprised, perhaps somewhat aghast to hear these words. They are dumbfounded. And so for now, they listen. And as they listen along with us this morning, I wonder if you can just hear their thoughts racing…
For what good reason have we been made desolate? For what good reason have we been taken advantage of, used, abused, and raped? For what good reason have our fruitful soils been ravaged, our life-giving waters polluted, our teeming, creative cities forsaken? For what good reason have we been treated with scorn of soul, with the utter contempt of a predator for its prey?The good reason should, perhaps, be put in quotation marks. The good reason of the Edomites to possess the land, to take it under control, to use it, abuse it, throw it away as though it were worthless, is, in the final analysis, no good reason at all.
Here is the tension. Much earlier in the book of Ezekiel – the sixth chapter – God turned against the mountains of Israel. God turned against them because of Israel’s false and empty worship. Because they prostituted themselves before idols, the oracles of God pointed to the fact that the mountains of Israel would be laid waste. So God had foreordained Israel’s loss. The problem is that the Edomites had jumped on the bandwagon in a moment of opportunistic fervour, and taken advantage of this situation for their own pleasure, for their own greed.
While Israel was to be exiled from the land (and Israel, throughout the Old Testament always has a tenuous relationship with the land). While Israel did have a price to pay for infidelity, Edom went too far. Edom’s sword was vengeful. It was vicious. And it took joy in laying waste to a people and their inheritance. It took joy in making prey of the mountains and all they contained. And slanderously, it took joy in insulting these very mountains of Israel that for so long had pointed to God’s glory.
The way Ezekiel paints this portrait, the Edomites justify their actions, abuses and infidelities in the name of possession. Possession is, after all, some significant portion of the law. Isn’t it? If that field is mine, if that ox is mine, if that woman is mine, nine-tenths of the law says I can do whatever I want with that land, ox, or woman. Or so the Edomite theory at work in this portrait seems to go…
There is no mention of carbon offsets in the Edomites’ occupation of Judah. There is no mention of financial compensation, as if God’s land, the land he had given to (and, to be fair, taken away from) his chosen people could be bought and done with as some self-important king or a marauding army wanted.
With no justification, with no real reason, the Edomites dredge up an ancient quarrel, and knock Israel while she’s already down. Catching her on the rebound, they take advantage of her. And then they spread insults far and wide because, well, they can.
And the Lord, the living, creating, inspiring God of Israel, seeing all of this, finally says that enough is enough. Enough with the rampant killing and the chronic abuses. Enough with the rape of Israel’s daughters. Enough with the pollution of the fresh mountain air water and soil. Enough.
The point that God seems to be making is this: if you didn’t get it before, if before you were so ignorant as to discount my many good statutes, and my wisdom, if you thought that you could act independently, if you thought that your actions have no bearing on my interconnected, interwoven, interdependent creation. If you thought any of these things, well, today I will show you differently. Today I will show you that I am the Lord.
The mountains listen. And I suspect that as Israel eavesdrops on the conversation, they listen up too. Where Israel had been caught in its own infidelity, now Edom, caught in a web of self-seeking pride, will soon know what they possess, who holds the power, and who is the Lord.
Three times in this text, we encounter the word “possession.” But possession as understood by the Edomites is different from possession under Torah. Possession, as God’s law understands it leaves little room for self-serving, reductionist utilitarianism.
Land possession throughout the Old Testament is covenantally linked both to Yahweh and to the integrity of community. If any of these relationships suffer, all will suffer. If the land suffers, God and community suffer. If the community takes a hit, then God and the land take a hit. And, if God is wounded, then perhaps it follows that both the land and the community are in some way wounded. All pieces need to be in place. All relationships need to be maintained. And for renewal to occur, relationships must be repaired.
For God in Ezekiel, this relationship repairing enterprise is precisely how renewal takes place:
But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home. 9See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; 10and I will multiply your population, the whole house of Israel, all of it; the towns shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt.
These verses, particularly, draw us back to the creation narratives in Genesis. They remind the mountains of Israel, and they remind us of the way in which God, creator, sustainer pauses mid-stride to bring about human life before allowing creation to continue. They seem to draw on that passage in Genesis 2 where:
No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the ground.
Before the water can flow, before the plants can flourish, the land requires people to tend it. And this is where our text brings us today. To a memory of the earliest songs of creation and the promise of a new song to be sung of a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Our text brings us to a dream of the future, where God, partnering with the covenant communitybring forth new life in a land that once was barren. A land that has been marred, ruined and insulted. And yet, this is now a land in which the people find themselves humming the tune, and bursting forth in song:
I lift my eyes up to the mountainsNo longer will the insults mean anything when God, for God’s own glory restores land and community. Throughout the passage, neither the people nor the land are the primary agents of renewal. God says, time and again, to the mountains and to all who will listen, “I will turn to you,” “I will multiply the people on you,” “I will cause your inabitation,” “I will not let you hear insults from the nations.” The great I Am, the God of Israel, is also the great I Will, the one who through the faithful covenant community, grows something new, in intimate relationship with all of creation. And this is perhaps what this passage most demands of us, that:
In a world seeking power unhinged from restraintThis passage, and the God who as at work throughout the passage simply asks that we recognize where our hope, where our help and our strength come from.
To acknowledge that in the end there, is no such thing as autonomy. In the end, we are left with interdependence and a choice. Responsible or Irresponsible. Responsive or Irresponsive. What’s your pick?