For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 2 – Ezekiel 17:22-24 (Related)
The event of the Exile of Judah in the 6th century casts a long shadow in both directions throughout the OT. Before it happens the people are warned again and again about the possibility, and during and afterwards there is a sense that everything has changed, and can never be the same again. 2 Kings 25 tell the tragic story of Nebuchadnezzar’s end game, and he is indeed a master strategist. Twice before his greed to conquer Judah has been thwarted by their forming alliances with the powerful nation of Egypt, but this time he is not going to let them slip through his fingers. He is concerned to dash all hopes of a future for the nation, so he publicly shames their king, Zedekiah, by blinding him, after having had his sons his sons killed in his sight. The monarchy and David’s dynasty are no more: there can be no restoration, no hope. He also burns down the Temple and destroys the city walls: the people will have no worship, nor any protection from the hostile world around. He is deliberately trying to cause as much displacement as he can, in order to wring from God’s people any last drops of hope for the future.
Many today are feeling a similar sense of displacement from the world in which they felt at home. Britain no longer belongs in Europe, and from the Eurovision Song contest to Sausages the hostility of the nations from whom we have chosen to separate ourselves is increasingly being felt. We no longer feel we can trust a word which issues from the mouths of any politicians, the Royal family is in disarray, social problems are on the increase, and all of that is made infinitely worse by the continuing onslaught from a microscopic virus which has besieged us as Nebuchadnezzar did Jerusalem, and which shows signs of renewing its attack. So what theological resources does Ezekiel offer us for such times of social dislocation?
First of all, he gives validity to grief. The natural and appropriate response to being in such a mess is tears, rage, despair, and the whole gamut of feelings which come with any bereavement. Jeremiah is the prophet par excellence who articulates our grief for us, but Ezekiel has this kind of lament as a theme too. It’s not just OK to feel like we do, it’s perfectly natural. Jeremiah is quick to silence those who try to pretend that this is just a blip, or that things will be OK simply because we’re Jewish (or English). I wonder to what degree these kinds of emotions are allowed to be felt and expressed in our public worship in church.
But secondly, and this is where we focus in on our passage, this chapter speaks of the sovereignty of God over all that is going on for us. The chapter uses a series of parables or allegories to show that God knows what he is doing, and that he is perfectly capable of regrafting a small part of a tree into a new and fruitful setting, where it will both flourish itself, but also provide shelter for others who choose to nest there. Known in other parts of the OT, from Noah to Isaiah and Elijah, as ‘remnant theology’, this motif demonstrates again and again that God will never let his people vanish completely from the face of the earth, and that from the last remaining bits of a dying tree new growth and flourishing can spring forth. The mountain on which it is to be planted is significant too: it clearly symbolises Mount Zion, the home of both Israel and the Lord himself. It has lain desolate for decades, but it is soon to be the place of restoration.
But the third motif is perhaps the most powerful. There, in a place of security, God’s people will be free to stop worrying about enemies and concentrate instead on being that blessing to all nations which was part of God’s original call to Abraham all those centuries ago. In a church which, post-Covid, is in many places fearing for its existence, and in others continuing to sing the songs about walking in faith and victory, this text gives a reminder to our true calling, the calling which has been ours since the beginning. We are to call dislocated and fearful, angry people home.
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