Monday, March 10, 2014

Ezekiel 18:1-20:49


Ezekiel 18 quotes the same proverb about the parents eating sour grapes and the children's teeth getting set on edge that we encountered in Jeremiah 31:29. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel says that this will no longer hold true. Everyone will be held accountable for their own actions. For exiles who believed that they were bearing the punishment for the sins of previous generations this would have been good news. Evildoers will also be given opportunity to repent.

Chapter 19 begins with a lament for Israel's princes. Ezekiel avoids calling Israel's rulers "kings." I don't know why. Verses 1-9 tell of a lioness who has two cubs. The first is taken captive to Egypt; the second to Babylon. Notes in the Jewish Study Bible point out that the lion is the symbol of the tribe of Judah. The first cub is identified as Jehoahaz; the second as Jehoiachin. The New Interpreters Study Bible says that the second cub might also be Jehoiakim or Zedekiah.

Verses 10-19 use the image of a vine and it shoot which, the Jewish Study Bible points out, refers to Jacob's blessing of Judah in Genesis 49:8-12. The identity of the shoot is uncertain though Zedekiah, the last of the davidic kings is a good possibility.  This much is clear: the davidic dynasty is dead.

In chapter 20 some of Israel's elders come to Ezekiel once more seeking an oracle from YHWH. YHWH doesn't really want to talk to them. Rather than an oracle, he gives them a history lecture. Their ancestors were idolators in Egypt. They were idolators in the wilderness. They were idolators in Canaan. If the elders want an oracle, they have to give up their ancestors' idolatrous ways. YHWH says that he will purge the idolators from Israel. Then Israel will be restored to its homeland.

Verses 25-26 are difficult:

So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord

A note in the CEB Study Bible points out that elsewhere "Ezekiel's theology allowed for God to sabotage the nation." That seems to be what's going on here. Did YHWH really command "the sacrifice of every firtsborn?"  A note in the Jewish Study Bible says:

Since the people disobeyed God's good laws, He gave them bad laws instead, exemplified by child sacrifice. Whether this is the way some Israelites interpreted Exod. 22. 28; 34. 19, and whether at an early point in Israelite religion sacrifice of the first- born was regularly practiced, is unclear. It seems, however, that some believed that God approved of child sacrifice.

In verses 45-48 Ezekiel pronounces an oracle against "the south" which I take to mean Judah. In verse 49 he complains that he is being dismissed as a "metaphor-maker."

Next: Ezekiel 21-22

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