Archive for the ‘Ezekiel 4’ Tag

Introduction to Second Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ZECHARIAH, PART I

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Zechariah 9-14

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The Book of Zechariah has two distinct sections.  First Zechariah encompasses chapters 1-8.  Second Zechariah, from a later time, encompasses chapters 9-14.  Second Zechariah, in turn, consists of two sections–chapters 9-11 and 12-14.  Second Zechariah, like much else of the Hebrew Bible, exists in a final form expanded and revised from its original form.

Second Zechariah dates mainly to the middle of the fifth century–the 450s B.C.E., give or take.  The temporal setting is Persian imperial concern for internal security, in the wake of the Egyptian rebellion in the 450s B.C.E., as well as the Greek-Persian wars.  History tells us that the Persian Empire increased control over its western satrapies (provinces) and built fortresses and garrisons linking the Mediterranean coast to the interior.  History also tells us that, from 515 to 450 B.C.E., the pace of Jewish resettlement of Judah was relatively slow, as was the pace of economic recovery.  Furthermore, history tells us that the situation in Judah improved substantially only after 445 B.C.E., with the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9).

Second Zechariah contains diverse material that draws heavily on earlier works.  These works include Jeremiah 13:1-11 and Ezekiel 4:1-5:4, which influenced Zechariah 11:4-16.  Other influences on Second Zechariah include the Book of Isaiah and the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy-2 Kings).

The three major Christian lectionaries do little with Second Zechariah.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) schedules 9:9-12 for Proper 9, Year A.  That is the only listing of anything from the Book of Zechariah on the RCL.  The Roman Catholic lectionary for Sundays and major feast days lists Second Zechariah twice–9:9-10 for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A; and 12:10-11 and 13:1 for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  (First Zechariah is absent from that lectionary.)  The Roman Catholic lectionary for weekday Masses omits Second Zechariah yet lists three excerpts from First Zechariah.

The introduction to the Book of Zechariah in The Oxford Study Bible (1992) describes much of Second Zechariah as

extremely enigmatic.

So be it.  Let us jump in, shall we?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WHITE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF THE CARMELITE MARTYRS OF COMPIEGNE, 1794

THE FEAST OF BENNETT J. SIMS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NERSES LAMPRONATS, ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TARSUS

THE FEAST OF R. B. Y. SCOTT, CANADIAN BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, HYMN WRITER, AND MINISTER

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The Vision of the Temple and the Return of the Divine Presence to Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XVIII

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Ezekiel 40:1-48:35

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The last section of the Book of Ezekiel (40-48) contains a long vision of the return of the Divine Presence/Glory to the (Second) Temple and a transformed Judea.  One may recall that Ezekiel 1-7 and 9-11 concern themselves with the destruction of the (First) Temple and the departure of the Divine Presence to Jewish exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  One may recall the end of the previous chapter:

I will no longer hide my face from them once I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel–oracle of the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 39:29, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The vision that opens Ezekiel 40 provides a date–in terms of the Gregorian Calendar, April 28, 573 B.C.E.  The plethora of details regarding the future Temple (dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) can prompt the glazing over of many eyes.  Therefore, I focus on themes:

  1. Many of these details differ from those of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25-30 and 35-40), the First Temple (1 Kings 6-7; 2 Chronicles 3-4), and the actual Second Temple.  This is a matter upon which certain detail-oriented Jewish exegetes have fixated, to argue that Ezekiel 40:1-43:12 describes the (future) Third Temple.  However, if one does not interpret the description in 40:1-43:12 as a set of blue prints, one may recognize a description of a divinely reordered sacred space that sets the standard for the envisioned society.
  2. The separation of the sacred from the profane is complete (42:20), as in the separation of priests from non-priests (42:1-14).
  3. With the completion of the Temple, God returns to dwell in Jerusalem (43:1-12).  God’s chariot throne (Ezekiel 1-2 and 8-11) recurs.  The divine enthronement ritual resembles that of Marduk, the chief deity of the Babylonian pantheon.  God even takes over the rites of pagan deities.
  4. In 43:10-12, Ezekiel functions as the new Moses, delivering divine law to the people.
  5. Chapter 44 pertains to the roles of Levites and Zadokite priests.  One may recall that the Zadokite priests were Levitical priests who traced their ancestry back to the priesthood during the time of the Kings of Israel (pre-division) and Judah (post-division).  The chapter specifies the different functions of the Levites and the Zadokite priests.  In the new order, the rules will be different than they were during the monarchical period, we read.
  6. Consistent, with the ethos of ritual purity and impurity, God dwells among the among the people yet is remote.  Getting too close to God can prove hazardous to one’s health, especially if one is ritually impure.
  7. God is the source of life (Ezekiel 47).  Practically, even the Dead Sea becomes fresh water (47:8) because of the river of life flowing from beneath the Temple.
  8. The priests are superior to kings, called princes in the new divine order (Ezekiel 45).  The king enforces justice.  He, for example, mandates uniform weights and measures to prevent the cheating of customers.  (See Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Amos 8:5-6; Hosea 12:7; Micah 6:10-11).  Justice is a defining characteristic of God’s new order.
  9. God is central in the final vision in the Book of Ezekiel.  Each tribe–except Levi–receives an equal strip of land.  Equitability is the rule, with some interesting reversals from the past order.  For example, the descendants of Rachel and Leah, wives of Jacob, get closer to the sacred area (48:7, 23).  Within equitability, a hierarchy exists.  The purpose of that hierarchy is to protect the sanctity of the divine dwelling in the middle of the sacred area (48:14).  The priests and the Levites dwell in the central, divine allotment.
  10. Jerusalem belongs to everyone, not any one tribe (48:19).  God dwells there, after all.

After all the divine judgment in the Book of Ezekiel, divine mercy is the final word.  We read that God will act decisively and put the world right.  Then all will be wonderful.  We who live in 2021 wait for that day as much as Ezekiel and his generation did.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Ezekiel.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along to Second Isaiah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY ZACCARIA, FOUNDER OF THE BARNABITES AND THE ANGELIC SISTERS OF SAINT PAUL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GEORGE NICHOLS AND RICHARD YAXLEY, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYRS, 1589; SAINT HUMPHREY PRITCHARD, WELSH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1589; AND SAINT THOMAS BELSON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1589

THE FEAST OF GEORGES BERNANOS, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF HULDA NEIBUHR, CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR; HER BROTHERS, H. RICHARD NIEBUHR AND REINHOLD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIANS; AND URSULA NIEBUHR, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH BOISSEL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST AND MARTYR IN LAOS, 1969

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Acts Symbolic of Siege and Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART IV

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Ezekiel 4:1-5:17

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Some of the Hebrew prophets were eccentric, to use a polite word.  Hosea married a prostitute (Hosea 1).  Isaiah walked around naked (Isaiah 20).  Jeremiah wore a very dirty loincloth (Jeremiah 13) and a cattle yoke (Jeremiah 27-28).  Ezekiel ate a scroll (Ezekiel 1, 3).

Ezekiel committed more symbolic acts in 4:1-5:17:

  1. He built a model of Jerusalem under siege (4:1-2).
  2. Then he placed an iron plate between himself and the model.  The plate represented the barrier separating God and besieged Jerusalem.
  3. Then Ezekiel reclined on his left side for 390 days (or 190 days, depending on the text one consults) and on his left side for 40 days–one day per year.  A generation was 40 years.  Many Biblical scholars have offered explanations for the 190 or the 390 years.  These explanations, marginally interesting, have not held my attention.  The act of reclining symbolized famine (4:4-8).
  4. Ezekiel combined grains that grow under siege conditions and backed bread.  He ate this bread and drank water in quantities barely capable of sustaining human life (4:9-11).  He baked this bread over cow manure (4:12-15).  This act symbolized the desperate people’s violation of food laws in the Law of Moses during the siege of Jerusalem.
  5. Ezekiel shaved his head and beard with a sword.  Then he burned one-third, representative of a third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem who perished when the city burned in 586 B.C.E.  The prophet struck one-third of the hair with the sword.  This act symbolized the inhabitants of Jerusalem killed around the city in 586 B.C.E.  Then Ezekiel scattered the remaining third to the wind and sheathed a sword at those hairs.  This act symbolized the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pursuit of those who fled Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.  Some of these hairs burned, too.

Ezekiel 5:5-17 explains that the people of Jerusalem had defiled the Temple, and had earned their harsh punishment.  The text also describes catastrophic and desperate conditions in Jerusalem during the siege.  Cannibalism is one of the results of these circumstances.  (See Lamentations 2:20; 4:10, also.)

Had Ezekiel lived in some parts of the world in 2021, he would have been medicated and under psychiatric care.  So would Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah may also have faced legal charges of indecent exposure.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR, CIRCA 209 OR 305

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR, 1535; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR, 1535

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESHCEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON, CANADIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1965

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

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The Superscription of the Book of Ezekiel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART I

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Ezekiel 1:1-3

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In 597 B.C.E., Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces invaded Judah.  King Jehoiachin‘s brief reign ended.  His uncle Mattaniah came to the throne as King Zedekiah.  Jehoiachin and many others–members of the Judean elite–became exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The first wave of the Babylonian Exile had begun.

Ezekiel ben Buzi was one of these captives and exiles.  Ezekiel, a priest in the community beside the Chebar Canal (next to the city of Nippur, southeast of the city of Babylon), received his commission as a prophet on the fifth day of Tammuz (on the Gregorian Calendar, in June), 593 B.C.E.  He prophesied until 571 B.C.E.

Robert Alter describes Ezekiel as

surely the strangest of all the prophets

and as

an extreme case.

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1049

The prophet, whose name meant, “God strengthens,” was, by modern standards, misogynistic, as in Chapters 16 and 23.  He was not unique–certainly not in the company of Biblical authors.  According to Alter, especially in the context of Chapter 16:

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.  The states of disturbance exhibited in his writing led him to a series of remarkable visionary experiences, at least several of which would be deeply inscribed in the Western imagination, engendering profound experiences in later poetry and in mystical literature.  At the same time, there is much in these visions that reminds us of the dangerous dark side of prophecy.  To announce authoritatively that the words one speaks are the words of God is an audacious act.  Inevitably, what is reported as divine speech reaches us through the refracting prism of the prophet’s sensibility and psychology, and the words and images represented as God’s urgent message may be sometimes distorted in eerie ways.

–1051-1052

Biblical scholars from a variety of times, theological orientations, and geographical origins have commented on Ezekiel’s pathological psychology.  The prophet may not have been well-adjusted.  “Touched by the gods” has been an expression for a long time, and for a good reason.

However much one accepts that much or most of the Book of Ezekiel comes from the prophet, a textual difficulty remains.  The book includes evidence of subsequent editing after the Babylonian Exile.  Any given passage, in its final form, may have more to do with Ezra or some other editor than with Ezekiel.  Or that passage may be entirely from Ezeki8el.  Or the editorial touch may be light.

I acknowledge these matters as I commit to my primary purpose in this Hebrew prophetic reading project:  to read these passages in context and to ponder what they say to the world today.  The ancient message, grounded in particular circumstances, continues to speak.

“The hand of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:3) symbolizes divine power.

The Book of Ezekiel breaks down into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-24, in their original form, date to between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This section divides into two subsections.  Chapters 1-11 contain visions of divine presence and departure.  Chapters 12-24 offer a rationale for and anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. Chapters 25-32 contain oracles against the nations.  The arrangement of these oracles is not chronological.  Such a collection of oracles is also a feature of other prophetic writings, as in Amos 1:3-2:3; Isaiah 13:1-23:19; Jeremiah 46:1-51:64.
  3. Chapters 33-48 contain oracles from after the Fall of Jerusalem.  This section breaks down into two subsections.  Chapters 33-39 offer a rationale for and anticipate the transformation of the LORD’s people.  Chapters 40-48 contain visions of the LORD’s return to the Second Temple (not yet built; dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) in a transformed land.

Tova Ganzel wrote, in the introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

Because of the central themes of the Temple, acts of leadership, sins of the people, and divine theophanies appear in both the predestruction and postdestruction oracles (1.3, 13-15, 22-24; 8.2-3; 10.11, 22-23; 40.1-2; 43.1-5), Ezekiel’s oracles merit both sequential and topical study.

–1034

I will study the Book of Ezekiel in a combination of sequential and topical organization of posts.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Ezekiel.  The Roman Catholic lectionaries for weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days omit Chapters 3-8, 11, 13-15, 19-23, 25-27, 29-42, 44-46, and 48 entirely. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) lists the Book of Ezekiel only five times:

  1. 34:11-16, 20-24 for Christ the King Sunday, Year A;
  2. 36:24-27 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C;
  3. 37:1-14 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C; the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A; and (as an alternative reading), for the Day of Pentecost, Year B.

I understand the benefits and limitations of lectionaries.  Any lectionary–even a narrow, one-year cycle with two readings and a Psalm each Sunday–is superior to ministers focusing on their favorite passages of scripture Sunday after Sunday.  The orderly reading of scripture in communal worship has virtues.  Lectionaries also help people to read the Bible in conversation with itself.  Nevertheless, the parts of the Book of Ezekiel that even three-year cycles overlook are worth hearing and reading, in private, alone, in a study group, and in the context of worship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7:  THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AUGUSTUS SEISS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HANS ADOLF BRORSON, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN SPARROW-SIMPSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

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