Martin Luther once said, “The prophetic books have a queer way of talking like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next so that you cannot make heads or tails of them or see what they are getting at.”
The reference to prophetic books is probably because of the unusual language, images, and stories. The condemnations and warnings are not for the fainthearted. Ezekiel was a unique prophet and many then, as now, probably thought, using an old euphemism, he was touched by God. The reality is he was, grappling with how to reveal the inspiration he had from God. It makes me stop and wonder about someone, who is not quite like others (part of the masses, the hipsters) that sees the world differently and what they have to offer.
It is good to keep in context that the books in this segment were written over a six hundred year span and by prophets who overlapped each other’s timeline. Reading these books of foresight tells of Jesus’s birth, atonement, and return. There is some beautiful symbolism, as these prophets were poets in their right.
This book was written the same time as the prophet Jeremiah and Daniel. Ezekiel was married and lived a relatively free existence before and after the fall of Jerusalem with other exiles. He, like Jeremiah, saw things unfold as God warned. Because of the idolatry worship, God left the temple and allowed for its destruction. When he left, however, He went with the Jewish exiles into Babylon. Today, that makes sense that God is with his people, but back then He was thought to reside in the temple. In chapter 11, He removes this hard heart the Jews had developed with a softer (humbler) one.
Two classic stories (out of 22 analogies, images and allegories provided) in Ezekiel are his first vision about the wheels and the other about the valley of dry bones.
The first vision is about wheels turning within wheels evoking a mental image of a gyroscope. In my mindscape, I can imagine a gyroscope’s three wheels constantly moving as how God is relentless in our life. This mechanism contains a wheel within a wheel, spinning simultaneously yet there is this base surrounding it that is stable and secure. I have discovered the gyro is in a double axed gimbal mount so that the force of gravity acts on the wheel’s center of mass with no torque or spinning on the wheel. Without the torque to change its direction of motion, a spinning gyroscope wheel will ultimately remain pointing in the same direction. In my less than scientific mind, this picture conjures up a symbol of God showing His character trait of omniscience (all-knowing) as the spin axis, His omnipresent (at all places at once) as the gyro’s frame and His being omnipotence (all powerful) are represented by the gimbal. All the mechanics move simultaneously, adjusting itself to steer life. I visualize the wheel moving in all these different directions with life events to be balanced out to the will of God. French polymath (sage in mathematics, physics, inventor and Christian philosopher) Blaise Pascal said God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.
Ecumenical theologian Robert Jenson in his article “Can These Bones Live?”, adds meaning to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezk. 37) with his description, as the “Turning the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Lord’s answer to Ezekiel vision. Since the dry bones are the whole of the people chosen to be God’s instrument in history, it leads to contemplation of ‘Does death win?’ Many suppose theology itself is a heap of dead bones, and some attention is given to this possibility.” The vision of the dry bones recalls God’s breath on man in Genesis 2.
Truth: Sometimes you can’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. This can depict the dry bones. While living in South Korea, I taught conversational English to the nationals. It sounds naïve, but this experience was my first-hand discovery in finding similar attributes in foundational things with foreigners such as in loving and providing for family, friendships, concern over health and education just to name a few. The culture, to say the least, is different than mine. Being a guest in their country I tried to honor their ways. Fortunately, I could experience the joy of celebration with them in their holidays and special events in the hospitality of their homes.
When I returned stateside, I saw with fresh eyes the difference between the two countries, some not so flattering of Americans that I had grown accustomed to. The main things I saw were what was taken for granted: the abundance and quality of our medicine, clean water, and food. I saw how consumptive Americans were. I wish everyone could experience life abroad for perspective about different cultures. I am willing to bet if they furrow just a little, they will find people are the same everywhere just different in appearances, perhaps languages and spiritual beliefs: but as humans, we all have red blood cells and other common denominators and there is nothing to really fear about others from other countries.
As my life includes doing community service and volunteering, it’s humbling to witness those who are destitute, marginalized, and downtrodden. Some people bring hard situations of life on themselves, but they are the minority of this population. Most of them are living a life that is the results of things that have spun out of control (through abuse, unforeseen health challenges, economic issues, etc.). When I would return at night to the sanctuary of my home after my endeavors, I would become aware of my daily provisions (water, food, shelter, health, income, transportation, and someone to love) that I take for granted. I had the very things that this population was asking in prayer. I try to daily remember, be grateful and appreciative for these provisions. Most things in life are temporal, can be gone suddenly and without warning.
In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, his progressive steps indicate the basic steps that need to be met for personal growth. Meeting the basic needs (food, water, health) come first, followed by safety, love/belonging, and then esteem, ending with the ultimate stage of self-actualization (development of a sense of a mindful life through an action with the goal to live into who we are). Discernment of these needs is part and parcel in my philosophy when serving a given population to make sure what I am doing is not enabling their plight. It is difficult for someone to be secure or safe if they have a pressing need of hunger or poor health.
Maslow sums up living life well when he says, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”
Jesus knew this and healed a blind man before He healed His soul (Jn. 5:8-14). His grace came before salvation. Grace is a hard practice for Christians to emulate; our human judgment is always biting at the heels of it. When I perceive a prayer of mine is answered to move forward it confirms that I can be part of a service God is blessing. I don’t have to have achieved each step before I can experience the final stage called authenticity. Maslow lists it as helping others or giving back to society altruistically. It can breathe life into our dry bones.
It is common to hear a person’s first response to what were the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Usually, it’s thought to be sexual sins, a topic that catches the attention. The sin was impiety and wickedness. Educator and writer Brian Fikkert points out another. I first heard of Fikkert from his book When Helping Hurts (co-written with Steve Corbett) recommended by a class member who was a missionary in South America.
Fikkert includes reasons for part of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah from Ezekiel 16:49 “Now this was the sins of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, overfed and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy.”