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.” Reading this book may come across this way but it has to be remembered Ezekiel had a vision of the indescribable Holy God. Seldom as believers do we revere God in his proper authority, holiness, otherness, and awe he deserves. That would be incomprehensible to describe and when we do we can only describe God in words we know and quite frankly the eternal triune God is unknowable except through his revelation to us, his incarnate Son and what the Holy Spirit reveals. Other biblical authors, Isaiah, Daniel and John had the same challenge when inspired to write about the throne of God and heaven. The book of Ezekiel begins and ends with a depiction of the glory of God.
Luther’s reference to this prophetic books is due to the unusual association of language used in depicting the Divine and divine images. The condemnations and warnings that come out of this are not for the fainthearted. Ezekiel was a unique prophet and many then, as now, probably thought, using a 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 at 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 their idolatry of false gods, the one and only 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 the 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 (Ezek. 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 the creation of man with God’s breath in Genesis 2.
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 successive steps needed for personal growth. While his theory has been criticized as not being scientifically based, there is some spiritual basis to it. Jesus often healed people meet them at their needs (some in desperate situations, Matt. 4:23-25, 8:28-34, 9:1-8) before they were believers. The proponents against the hierarchy of needs model insist that spirituality needs to supersede all and aren’t progressive after our bodily needs are met. In a perfect environment, no illness, no poverty, no danger, this is true. To first meeting physiological needs for food, water, health and wellbeing, love/belonging, and then esteem, ends with the ultimate stage of self-actualization. Maslow did say “I think of the self-actualizing man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away.” I would disagree with that, I believe to be genuinely self-actualized the Holy Spirit needs to be invited into your life to help enable complete actualization. Discernment of needs is part and parcel, particularly when serving a given population while making sure I am not enabling their plight. Maslow also 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 that 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.”