The Book of Ezekiel is the most disturbing book of the Bible I read so far.
It begins grounded in reality, both the physical reality (where Ezekiel is among the captive elders of Israel) in the celestial reality (the Throne of God among the Angels). But the relentless power of heaven gives way to greater fury, and the destruction intensifies. Surrounding countries as well are condemned, the small and the great, until…
Well, it’s not clear until what. Nations of this world eventually fade into Gog and Magog, known geography transforms into something non-Euclidean. The other latter prophets end in ways that seem relatively normal — the promise of Salvation in Isaiah, the romantic comedy of Jeremiah, the despair of Lamentations.
Ezekiel appears to use the “distancing effect,” which is sometimes invoked in fiction to force the reader to confront a reality more real than what is on the stage, or the page. The other notable example of this in scripture is the Gospel of John, with its incantations of you… you… you… (The Gospel of John and the Revelation of John also gives us the only clue of what becomes of the threat posed by those Palm-like Angels. The Revelation also lets us say goodbye to Gog and Magog…)
The remainder of this post is me trying to grapple with these themes. I am aware I am missing much. For instance, the Threefold Office of Priest, Prophet, and King is held in part by Melchizedek (Priest and King), Saul (King and Prophet), and Ezekiel (Prophet and Priest). What is to be made of that?
Why can we identify with no one?
In the Old Religion of the Hieberu, the Stars were the celestial Department of Defense. Created by God the Father as part of the conquest of nothingness, they still served EL and bathed his enemies in fire. The stars fought for Jacob, and it was a star in human form that initiated this military-military alliance with the Israelites. We as humans see these hyperdimensional stars only in their dimensions that intersect our space-time, our “reality”: as the nuclear furnaces that light the night sky, as the military attache to the Twelve Tribes.
The Angels are the civilian counterparts to the Stars, the celestial State Department to the celestial Military. They include high-level diplomatic guards, messengers, and special operators. In our world the State Department subsumes the Central Intelligence Agency. In the Book of Ezekiel, the Angels conduct the greatest coup in the history of the world: the overthrow of the Kingdom of Israel, the desecration of the Temple, and the Babylonian Exile.
The Book of Isaiah made clear that Nebuchadnezzar is the LORD’s implement. The Book of Ezekiel shows how he used that asset: through his manipulative and murderous angels.
But first, before the wonder, the reality.
The King is in prison.
The priest is a captives.
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
The End is now
An end has come,
The end has come;
It has dawned for you;
Behold, it has come!
This isn’t the humorous divorce satire of Jeremiah. This is the nightmare of Lamentations.
Then He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.’”
The Angels directly achieve the destruction of Jerusalem. It is directly ordered by the LORD
To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city.
The killing is done off-camera
Just then, the man clothed with linen, who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, “I have done as You commanded me.”
Our poor narrator, Ezekiel the Priest and Prophet, is alone with his thoughts
So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, LORD God! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?”
Some thoughts on the nature of God are appropriate here.
Ezekiel takes the creation stories that we see in Genesis and Job, and twists them with the legal satire from Jeremiah. The LORD says to Israel, to the reader:
“And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
The meaning may be the same as the famous Doxology
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
but the tone is surely different. This is not an exhortation. This is come across a wounded traveler, a foreigner, kicking in his blood, and being disgusted by death. This echoes not Moses’s exhortation to live, but a parable spoken later.
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
Certainly a spiritually dead priesthood would be familiar to Ezekiel the Priest
Disaster will come upon disaster,
And rumor will be upon rumor.
Then they will seek a vision from a prophet;
But the law will perish from the priest,
And counsel from the elders.
And this is the crux of it. The hardest article of faith to accept is that The Unhuman God is not an Inhuman God. The Book of Ezekiel, with its angelic attack on the daughters of Eve, dwells on this horror.
Against all of that, we only have this:
Yet you say, ‘The way of the LORD is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair?
The truth of this statement is left as an exercise to the reader.
In the written Torah, God ate dinner with Abraham and his family. He spoke to Moses face-to-face, like a friend. In the New Testament, he is still a baby when he is seen by his mother, her spouse, and even the magi of Persia. He came eating and drinking, he ate dinners with Pharisees and with crowds.
But the LORD’s intention, in meeting face to face in the Book of Ezekiel, is not so friendly
“As I live,” says the LORD God, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.
Everything Israel tries to limit this attack fails. The angels are too effective. The magic charms may work, but only increase the fury
“Likewise, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart; prophesy against them, and say, ‘Thus says the LORD God: “Woe to the women who sew magic charms on their sleeves and make veils for the heads of people of every height to hunt souls! Will you hunt the souls of My people, and keep yourselves alive? And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies?”
‘Therefore thus says the LORD God: “Behold, I am against your magic charms by which you hunt souls there like birds. I will tear them from your arms, and let the souls go, the souls you hunt like birds. I will also tear off your veils and deliver My people out of your hand, and they shall no longer be as prey in your hand. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
It is a measure of the despair of the Israelites that worship of Tammuz, the Living-and-Dying god, is taken up in the temple
And He said to me, “Turn again, and you will see greater abominations that they are doing.” So He brought me to the door of the north gate of the Lord’s house; and to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.
Tammuz cannot even save himself, spending half of each year in the underworld. To these women he was their best hope. A hope against Whom?
The Angel attack is comprehensive. It includes a specops disinfo campaign, in which the spirits the King of Babylon intends to communicate with are intercepted, and messages detrimental to Israel are inserted into the channel
The word of the LORD came to me again, saying:
“And son of man, appoint for yourself two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to go; both of them shall go from the same land. Make a sign; put it at the head of the road to the city. Appoint a road for the sword to go to Rabbah of the Ammonites, and to Judah, into fortified Jerusalem.
For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the road, at the fork of the two roads, to use divination: he shakes the arrows, he consults the images, he looks at the liver. In his right hand is the divination for Jerusalem: to set up battering rams, to call for a slaughter, to lift the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to heap up a siege mound, and to build a wall.
And it will be to them like a false divination in the eyes of those who have sworn oaths with them; but he will bring their iniquity to remembrance, that they may be taken.
The Angelic weapons are made of fire
Then it happened, when He commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, “Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,” that he went in and stood beside the wheels. And the cherub stretched out his hand from among the cherubim to the fire that was among the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed with linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings.
Angels are gigantic. What fits in their hands is large enough to destroy a nation
I will pour out My indignation on you;
I will blow against you with the fire of My wrath,
And deliver you into the hands of brutal men who are skillful to destroy.
You shall be fuel for the fire;
Your blood shall be in the midst of the land.
You shall not be remembered,
For I the Lord have spoken.’”
And then, more terribly
“Woe to the bloody city!
I too will make the pyre great.
Heap on the wood,
Kindle the fire;
Cook the meat well,
Mix in the spices,
And let the cuts be burned up.
“Then set the pot empty on the coals,
That it may become hot and its bronze may burn,
That its filthiness may be melted in it,
That its scum may be consumed.
And then, most terribly
“Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.”
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Let us step back for a second from the hell angels have brought to our world.
We can take a break, and laugh at a lewd joke
Elders of Gebal and its wise men
Were in you to caulk your seams;
All the ships of the sea
And their oarsmen were in you
To market your merchandise.
The joke, written with the use of “in” to fly over the heads of children, is part of a litany against the nations, similar to Isaiah’s letter. In a few short lines Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Phlistia are condoned too. Tyre, the merchant city, comes up for castigating. Except there’s these… glitches.
“All who handle the oar,
All the pilots of the sea
Will come down from their ships and stand on the shore.
Another would stand by the shore of the sea….
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
He stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
And later, the Threefold Identification — that some lands, some angels, and some demons:
“You were the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The sardius, topaz, and diamond,
Beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.
The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes
Was prepared for you on the day you were created.
“You were the anointed cherub who covers;
I established you;
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.
You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created,
Till iniquity was found in you.
“By the abundance of your trading
You became filled with violence within,
And you sinned;
Therefore I cast you as a profane thing
Out of the mountain of God;
And I destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the fiery stones.
After this the worldly litany continues. Sidon is condemned. Egypt is condemned. The Pharaohs will see his soldiers in the deep. The monsters are at work.
Yet, maybe there is hope? God will save the people. David will be a prince in the royal house once more
Therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
The imagery almost- — briefly — matches that of the romantic comedy in Jeremiah
Therefore thus says the LORD God: “I have raised My hand in an oath that surely the nations that are around you shall bear their own shame. But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are about to come. For indeed I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. 11 I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
And then, not eros, but thanos — not romantic love, but dead bones:
Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord
Yet the dead shall come back
Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
It feels like the ending, a glorious and wonderful promise.
Even the Royal Line of David will return!
“David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”’”
But what to make of these new enemies, not the Amalekites or the Sidonians, but lands never heard of on this world, Gog and Magog?
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.
The wars exceed any known historical massacres, and are all against all
I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the LORD God. “Every man’s sword will be against his brother. And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
The substance of the angels — fire — directly consumes the weapons of men
“Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and bucklers, the bows and arrows, the javelins and spears; and they will make fires with them for seven years. They will not take wood from the field nor cut down any from the forests, because they will make fires with the weapons; and they will plunder those who plundered them, and pillage those who pillaged them,” says the LORD God.
And once more, we may look upon God face to face… like a friend
then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the LORD God.”
The world — the prism through which we see reality at least — is now changed. The Temple somehow is back. Carved with angels and trees
And it was made with cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Each cherub had two faces, so that the face of a man was toward a palm tree on one side, and the face of a young lion toward a palm tree on the other side; thus it was made throughout the temple all around. From the floor to the space above the door, and on the wall of the sanctuary, cherubim and palm trees were carved.
the stuff of nightmares in our world
With alters, two for three, somehow the numbers do not quite make sense
In the vestibule of the gateway were two tables on this side and two tables on that side, on which to slay
the burnt offering,
the sin offering, and
the trespass offering.
In the old days of the Kingdom the bodies of the Kings would be on the hills outside Jerusalem, such as the Place of the Skull
And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places
In the old days of the Kingdom the bodies of young bulls would be in the Temple inside Jerusalem, on Mount Zion
You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the LORD God.
In the new days, every day, the lamb will be made present, the bread is made present, the Holy Oil will be made present, as a sacrifice fo the LORD
“You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning. And you shall prepare a grain offering with it every morning, a sixth of an ephah, and a third of a hin of oil to moisten the fine flour. This grain offering is a perpetual ordinance, to be made regularly to the LORD. Thus they shall prepare the lamb, the grain offering, and the oil, as a regular burnt offering every morning.”
The Hebrews were shepherds and agriculturalists. Kings and Warriors. Yet in this depiction of the impossible and the incredible, the Kings and Alters and Sacrifices, a bizarre promise to a marginal population, that fishermen will be successful.
Why is this the penultimate promise?
And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
Why are the stripes of the land, the lashes of Israel, the ultimate promise?
“Now these are the names of the tribes: From the northern border along the road to Hethlon at the entrance of Hamath, to Hazar Enan, the border of Damascus northward, in the direction of Hamath, there shall be one section for Dan from its east to its west side; by the border of Dan, from the east side to the west, one section for Asher; by the border of Asher, from the east side to the west, one section for Naphtali
What does God mean by any of this?
A last thought. One of the images above comes form the animated television show, Neon Genesis Evangelion (“The Gospel of a New Beginning.”) Evangelion and Ezekiel share a conceit of an angelic attack on the world, inexplicable destruction, sacrifice, and a style of writing sometimes known as “Epic” or “Brechtian.”
Both end in ways that make the ‘plot’ fade into meaningless. The everyday nations of Ammon and Egypt fade into Gog and Magog, as any semblance of a sane geography leaves to a river flowing from Zion and an Israel divided into twelve equal stripes. Similarly, the angelic monsters and human headquarters in Evangelion somehow fade into an infinite plane and a mysterious railroad car.
The reason for this form of writing, what Bertolt Brecht called the “distancing effect,” is to separate the audience from the main story. The main story is not your story. The purpose is not an emotional catharsis, but a change in the audience. The goal is reflection. When we read of Gog and Magog, when we see the infinite plane, or the railroad car, the point is to emphasize the passingness of the ‘main plot’ but the enduring, and perhaps corrupted, experience of the audience.
The reaction to Brechtian art, rather Evangelion or The Chinese or other such works, is often anger. A story without a sensible catharsis is not fair, says the audience. The director’s response is often a variation of, “it is the audience that is not fair!”
Reality itself is epic. And Ezekiel distances. The impossible ending, the reader’s infinite distance to the Sacrifice and the Priests, the Bull and carcass of the King, break our reality itself. The ending, Israel lashed and fisherman with large nets, barely makes sense (unless you read ahead).
It is the next time man meets the LORD, face to face, like a friend, that the palms are broken
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’[d]
The King of Israel!”
And in the end that is after all the ends of Ezekiel, all the ends of time, the stripes of Israel, the broken palms, God and His Lamb, are given to us together
of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”