By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ezekiel 1.1-24.27
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Ezekiel in conjunction with this article.
As the readers are aware, this author encourages everyone to read the Bible book under examination during our month-long discussion. This month our book is from the prophet Ezekiel. Reading through the prophets (first Isaiah, then Jeremiah, and now Ezekiel) has to be some of the most difficult sections of Scripture to be studied back-to-back. Isaiah and Jeremiah have some bright spots of hope that we can spend time in and with being thankful. But, as this author has been reading Ezekiel (if one counts by chapters, then my reading is half accomplished), my hope meter is falling.
Graphic Imagery and the Scriptures
Chapter after chapter, oracle after oracle, Ezekiel is filled with descriptions and imagery of God’s people having gorged themselves. These ancient Israelites, those who are living in Jerusalem (in the Southern Kingdom of Judah) have, according to the word of YHWH delivered to Ezekiel, debauched themselves. Their lives are so decadent and depraved that by the close of chapter twenty-four, the only thing left seems to be death and destruction, as evidenced by the death of Ezekiel’s wife at the close of chapter twenty-four.
Generally speaking, the Church and her Christians desire and want preachers, ministers, and shepherds to provide a steady diet of good news, up lifting lessons and sermons providing general good will. While these hopeful messages are needed and should be provided to both the Church and her Christians, the repetitive weekly messages of hope, allow the shortcomings of the Church and her Christians to go unaddressed. It seems that perhaps the church and her Christians need to learn this difficult lesson from the prophets. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and especially this month with Ezekiel have done anything but provide those reassuring messages of inspiration.
Graphic Imagery and the Believer
Reading Ezekiel has been disturbing, not just in learning the corrupt state of Ancient Jerusalem, but troubling seeing the God-given, God-ordained, God-approved stark and graphic imagery permeate Ezekiel’s oracles. At times and as a minister, this writer has been accused of using “too graphic of imagery” and “too graphic of language” because “there are small ears” and “we don’t want to offend.” To such critics, this writer encourages them to carefully and thoughtfully study word and image usage comprising Ezekiel’s messages.
Some of his images are so graphic that all this writer feels comfortable doing is revealing that God’s Word contains such dialog. How profound it is to know that some of these messages are presented not as Ezekiel’s chosen phraseology, but as “the word of the LORD” which means that these images came straight from Jehovah, not Ezekiel.
Ezekiel’s graphic descriptions bring to mind vileness deemed, by some in our society, inappropriate for audiences under seventeen. As such, the “discerning and mature” Christian would never listen to, watch or repeat. Yet, discerning and mature disciples are to be readers and students (listeners, watchers and repeaters) of God’s complete message, including the graphic parts not just that which provides hope.
After having read only half of the book of Ezekiel in order to find material to expound in a weekly article, how is a minister to ever preach from such imagery when it seems that all the Church and her Christians want is to hear pleasant, modest and image-pretty hopeful messages? In reality, it seems the minister cannot, Ezekiel and anything like it is off limits because to the discerning disciple, the minister’s message becomes “too graphic”.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the prophets, Ezekiel included, it is this: the message of repentance is not just for the “sinful world” but also for God’s people. Perhaps, this is an interesting challenge for the Church and her Christians. Instead of telling the world “to repent and be saved,” what if the Church and her Christians listened to the words of the prophets (who were not only called by God but also moved by His Spirit) informing God’s people to repent.
In short, according to the prophets, it could very well mean that the Church and her Christians need to do as much or more repenting than the Church and her Christians say the world must do. The discerning and mature Church and her Christians should take note of something interesting: the bulk of the prophets are sent to God’s people not to the world; and God’s message to His people through the prophets: repent.