In the last chapter of Ezekiel, we saw how God had him begin his ministry. Ezekiel stood before the people of Jerusalem and behaved rather oddly, to show how God was going to punish them for their rebellious behavior. In this chapter Ezekiel gets to continue his odd behavior, but it comes with continued warning of wrath against the people of Israel.
After laying on his sides for over a year, laying siege to a brink, God commands Ezekiel to get up and shave. At first, this does not seem to be all that odd. Considering Ezekiel has been bound to lay on his side for long periods of time, and unable to do anything else, it seems reasonable to assume that his hair has grown rather unpresentable. However, there are customs in Scripture (ie Leviticus 21:5) where men, especially priests, are forbidden from cutting or shaving their hair. So, once again, God is having Ezekiel act independently from the norm in order to get the people’s attention. To further this plan, Ezekeil must divide his hair into three portions. Then, “You’re to burn a third in fire inside the town…Take a third and strike down all around it with the sword. And scatter a third to the wind” (Ezekiel 5:2, Goldingay). After scattering some to the wind, the command comes, “But you’re to get from there a few and bind them into the folds of your clothes. Get some of them again and throw them into the middle of the fire” (Ezekiel 5:3-4, Goldingay). These hairs show how God is to punish the Israelites for their rebeliousness: destruction, enslavement, and just plain being lost.
“Punishment is justice for the unjust.”
God then tells his people, “So my anger will finish itself up and I shall set down my wrath on them. I shall find relief, and they will acknowledge that I, Yahweh, have spoken in my passion, when I’ve finished up my wrath against them” (Ezekiel 5:13, Goldingay). The people will finally see that it is God acting against them. In His anger, He has risen up other nations to see what has happened to people that do not follow after God while knowing the truth. In speaking of this punishment, God continues, “It will be a basis for reviling and ridicule, for discipline and desolation, to the nations that are around you, when I execute acts of authority against you in agner, in wrath and in wrathful reproofs” (Ezekiel 5:15, Goldingay). The people of Israel, who were once so blessed by their God, will become a laughing stock and a people to be pitied because of their open rebellion against the Lord.
“He who loveth God with all his heart feareth not death, nor punishment, nor judgment, nor hell, because perfect love giveth sure access to God. But he who still delighteth in sin, no marvel if he is afraid of death and judgment.”
— Thomas a Kempis
Reading passages like this are very hard for people, myself included. For me, it brings up questions like, “How can a loving God, treat His people this way?” At this point in history, the Israelites had a long trail of worshipping the gods of their neighboring nations. They have taken the ideas of the people around them, and made them their own. They have broken commandments, that define the very covenant God made with them from generations before. Israel was meant to be a nation that showed the world what it meant to follow the one true God. They were even strategically placed so if any trade was to happen between Egypt and the Babylonian or Persian Empires, people would have to travel through Israel to get to the other side. However, Israel rebelled against their very purpose and decided everyone else around them had it easier and better. They followed after false gods and prophets. Punishment was coming, because it was in the covenant that was created between them and God from the time of Moses. Punishment had to come for this rebellious nation, because God keeps His promises.
I often hear people comparing this to parenthood. If you child misbehaves, you punish them for the sake of their well-being. While I think that some of this comparison works, I am not sure it gets at the whole picture. Just like parenthood, God does not want to punish His people. He affords them every opportunity to repent of their wrong doing. However, I do not think that many parents punish their children by destroying them. God’s punishment is very real, and we are sinful and rebellious people. Paul writes about how hard it is to live for God inspite of our sinful desires. It is not easy, but God does not look at our actions; He looks to the heart. God saw that the people of Israel did not seek after Him. Instead they sought the things of the world. How are you living your life? Are you seeking the things of this world by reputation or wealth? Or are you seeking the heart of God?