Wednesday

11 August 2010

"Ah Lord God! will you destroy all who remain of Israel as you pour out your wrath upon Jerusalem?" (v.8)

Background

This is the kind of passage that gives God a bad name! How could a sovereign Lord order such wholesale and pitiless slaughter? On the other hand, how could a responsible ruler allow vice to persist in the realm?

Ezekiel pleads that not all the people will be destroyed and indeed that is the case. Those who acknowledge the error of their ways are marked out for saving from death. This is a message to those who remained in Jerusalem after the first deportation to Babylon in 597 BC. They were under a puppet king - Zedekiah - who the people regarded to be illegitimate, and they were rebellious. They had given up on the Lord God. Something had to be done and drastic measures were called for. And in Ezekiel's vision, this was certainly the case.

The slaughter started with the priests, who should have known better than to give up on God. They lost their lives, their livelihood, and the Temple, which was desecrated by their own corpses. Not even the young or old were spared from the wrath of God if they did not lament for what they had done.

We need to look at this phrase - the wrath of God - and think about what it could possibly mean. There is quite a debate going on at the moment about a new song that is going into the new Methodist Hymn Collection that includes this exact phrase. For some it conjures up a picture of an angry God dishing out cruel punishment to misbehaving subjects and sacrificing God's own son to deal with their behaviour.

That picture needs to be jettisoned. The word 'wrath' does not have to mean the anger of some distant god. The 'wrath of God' belongs to a god who is with us and in us. It is the other side of the coin of the 'love of God'. The Lord wants us to live that love but when we don't, when we go our selfish ways, spurn the love of God, we find ourselves out of relationship with others and with the Lord. Then we feel the full force of the wrath of God. That is just what the people of Israel who disobeyed the Lord felt, and Ezekiel reminds them of it.

To Ponder

'The priests should have known better.' How many responsibilities do we load onto our Church leaders (ordained, commissioned or voluntary) today? To what extent do we overload them?

Think about the understanding of the 'wrath of God' described here. Does it make any sense to you?

Is it at all possible today to ascribe death and destruction resulting from political decisions as an 'act of God'? How?

Bible notes author: Revd Dr John CA Emmett

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