Without a doubt, Ezekiel is one of the weirdest books of the bible. It juxtaposes extremely misogynist, violent passages with some of the most exquisite prose on healing and redemption ever written. It is a strange read indeed and perhaps one of my favorite texts – perhaps because of this very contrast between horror and transcendence.
Ezekiel is rarely preached on. After all, how do you explain that God alludes to Jerusalem as a whore, for aligning herself with other nations and that for this unfaithfulness, God basically decrees she is brutalized, raped, stoned, and cut to pieces?
Ezekiel 16:35 – Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38 I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39 I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42 So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm, and will be angry no longer. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, I have returned your deeds upon your head, says the Lord God.
Yeah. That’ll preach…
I’m not a biblical scholar so I’m not going to exegete this text or provide a long historical context for this particular book of the Old Testament. Yet current scholars speak of the prophet as being traumatized himself, as a Hebrew in exile, and that some of the violence of his exhortations reflects his own experiences of victimization. Scholars claim Ezekiel’s own internalization of the oppressor. What I’m more focused on are the healing and the redemptive components of the book. How do traumatized people restore their hearts and souls? How do humans find meaning, hope, and life after profound brutality? How do cultures that have been decimated, exterminated and/or marginalized ever experience wholeness again? How do survivors survive? How do people face the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man and not have hearts of stone? How do people receive new hearts? These are the challenges of healing trauma on personal and political levels. More often than not, we need God’s redemptive grace for transformation to occur.
If God is the breath – the spirit – the ruach – how do we breathe in new life?
Is it not in breathing that emotions release and life force begins to flow again?
We see in Ezekiel 37 a profound shift in language and message:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Ezekiel 36:26 states: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
I love these passages for as I watch the news each night and take in what I know of the world, the amount of trauma truly overwhelms. The degree of suffering in the world is beyond belief. But somehow, the spirit endures. It lives and transforms and there is a message of hope – despite it all.
While I don’t condone the misogynist language of this ancient patriarchal text, the violent metaphors, contrasted with healing and redemption, nonetheless exerts its power.