Are you sad, yet? We desperately try not to be. Oh, in our lowest moods, we might reach for a melancholic CD which we can howl along to in private. Music understands us, it seems, and sometimes it seems to help to prolong the dark moods we all fall into. But seeking out misery? Who wants to do that?
We avoid sadness. We try to keep things positive, light, cheery and upbeat. Let’s listen to our happy songs, keep positive company. Let’s laugh.
And let’s read the favourite bits of our Bibles. Let’s got to well-worn passages, treasured books, full of assurances, affirmations, and all things positive. Let’s avoid Ezekiel, and the other books we don’t know, or (privately) mistrust.
This is why reading through the Bible is a discipline. If we are committed to reading through all of Scripture, we will hit the sad passages. We’ll hit books like Ezekiel, which is overwhelmingly a difficult and a sad book. There are great, hope-filled parts in it (we’ve not got to them, yet), but there’s no denying that Ezekiel is hard. Not hard as in, hard to understand; but hard as in, hard to stomach. Too much gloom, too much sadness.
If you’re not sad, yet, then let’s read on. Ch.’s 21-22 are full of more doom and gloom. Ch.21 is all about swords. It’s actually about one sword, God’s, drawn against the Temple itself (vv.3-5), and about to strike the good and the bad indiscriminately, bringing such devastation that it would be read as an act of God.
“Groan on, Ezekiel” (v.6).And he will groan, as his message is about the immanent overthrow of Judah and Jerusalem (vv.11-17). Worse still, the sword of the Lord will actually be seen in the hands of the King of Babylon. A just God, well, that is the stuff of Jerusalem’s Confession of Faith; but a just God putting His judgement in the hands of a pagan king is more than they can handle (vv.18-24 – and just witness Habakkuk’s agonies at this situation). God is relentless.
Again, God’s charges are laid out against Jerusalem (ch.22). Her leaders are called the “leaders of Israel”, itself a grim irony, as Israel as a nation is already no more, and these leaders are in the last moments of what little power in Jerusalem they have. Whether idolatry, murder, social abuses, sexual impurity, Sabbath breaking, financial corruption, the Lord sees, knows and judges (vv.2-13). Noone will be left in any doubt about who’s in charge when God judges (v.16).
Ezekiel’s prophesy couldn’t be more terrifying: people literally melted in the coming siege (vv.21-22), just retribution on the sins of a society collapsing under the weight of its own wickedness (vv.23-29). And no one cares except God, and His care is only now working in judgment. (vv.30-31).
So there you go. More sin, pain, terror, threat, doom. And we’re only halfway through the book! Stay with it, though, as there are some exhilarating chapters to come, prophesying the reign of God through His Messiah. For now, watch the temptation to stand back from these chapters. Don’t – they teach you who God is. If you say you’re a Christian, you say that you love and know this God. There isn’t another one. And if you skim over wrath, you will fail to see the Cross in its glories. The Cross is where God took His sword up against our wickedness. That is relentless judgment, as it is relentless love.