Over the last few posts we’ve been looking into the first chapter of Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar. We’ve seen what is important for the preacher to know: the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, his message, his rhetorical strategy. Finally, the preacher must plan carefully by preparing his congregation for Ezekiel.
Now, by looking at the opening section of Ezekiel 16, we can hopefully see what benefit this would have for the church today.
Block says vv1-14 are “the opening section of the longest literary unit in the book. At around 850, this chapter alone is longer than half the [individual] Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai) and only slightly shorter than Malachi” (p 21). Most wouldn’t ordinarily teach Jonah in on go, and neither should they in Ezekiel 16. Block suggests that 16 should be split up into at least two or three sessions.
(I’m using Block’s outline found on p 22).
A. The Call for Jerusalem’s Arraignment (1-3a)
B. The Indictment of Jerusalem (3b-34)
- Jerusalem’s Lowly Origins (3b-5)
- Jerusalem’s Exaltation (6-14)
- Jerusalem’s Shamelessness: Her Response to Grace (15-34)
- Her Religious Promiscuity (15-22)
- Her Political Promiscuity (23-34)
C. The Sentencing of Jerusalem (35-43)
- A Summary of the Charges (35-36)
- YHWH’s Response (37-42)
- A Concluding Summary (43)
D. The Analysis of Jerusalem’s Problem (44-52)
- The Indicting Proverb (44)
- Jerusalem’s Family Portrait (45-46)
- Jerusalem’s Shameful Personality (47-52)
E. The Doubly Ray of Hope for Jerusalem (53-63)
- The Bad Good News: The Qualification for Grace (53-58)
- The Good Good News: The Triumph of Grace (59-63)
The congregation will be confronted with many of Scripture’s big questions:
- the nature of grace
- the innate human condition
- our tendency for ingratitude and rebellion
- the cause and nature of divine fury
- the triumph of grace
But Ezekiel also poses challenges in dealing with society and ethics:
- What are the boundaries of appropriate rhetoric? How far should one go?
- What does the text say about gender relations?
- What are we to make of its portrayal of God?
We can’t simply answer these questions, and we can’t simply reduce God’s word to a few formulas to figure life out. God can’t be put into a box, and we must work to figure out His word and His world.
While the chapter is framed by good news (vv. 1-14 and 60-63), three-fourths of the chapter consists of “relentless accusation and disturbing pronouncements of the divine response” (p 23). Jerusalem was born from her “Amorite father” and “Hittite mother” (remember the Invention point in Ezekiel’s rhetorical list here), but was rejected by them and left for dead. YHWH came, rescued her from the wild animals, and lavished her with praise. She grew and was able to survive. When vulnerable from human predators, YHWH would save her again and again. At Sinai, he married her, entered into a covenant relationship with her, and gave her “all His resources and [elevated] her to the status of his queen” (p 23). She was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19.6).
Literally, this text concerns Israel’s fame and fortune. But on another level, how God deals with Israel can show us how He deals with humanity. Ezekiel recounts the OT version of the gospel, announcing all of the elements of today’s gospel that Christian proclaim.
- Is God’s perspective on history different than our “perfect” histories? Chapter 16 is written to those who claim to be God’s people. “Have we, like Israel, trampled underfoot his grace, and used all that he has lavished on us for selfish purposes and wicked ends?” (p 23).
- Like Jerusalem, all of humanity is destitute and without righteousness. We see Paul say the same thing in Romans 3.23 and Ephesians 2.1-3. Apart from God’s grace we are doomed to our own failings and sinful horrors.
- “Apart from common grace, the sentence of physical death hangs over humanity.
- Survival does not mean our problems are solved. It is possible to live physically, but still lack spiritual life, which is possible only through covenant relationship with God.
- God’s grace is the only hope for a lost humanity. By nature destitute, this is the only solution for the human condition.
- Covenant relationship with God is the highest privilege imaginable.
- As the objects of God’s saving and covenant grace, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:14).
- As the undeserving recipients of God’s grace, we are called to joyful and faithful living, as trophies of his grace proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous life (Deut 26:19; 1 Pet 2:9-10)” (p 24).
This leads to on final point that the pastor must remember: In order to preach from Ezekiel with authority and clarity for the church, we need to link his message with that of the New Testament responsibly.
The same YHWH who rescued Israel in her hopeless condition in Egypt is seen in the incarnate Jesus Christ who saved us from the core of our problems, sin, and who freely gives his blessings on us.
This concludes my sessions on Block’s chapter “Preaching Ezekiel.” I hope you’ve found this encouraging, whether you intend to preach through Ezekiel or not. What helps me is seeing how others apply scripture to today’s world, and, just from reading this, I can trust Block to do just that (even more so in Deuteronomy (NIVAC), Judges/Ruth (NAC), and his 2-volume set on Ezekiel (NICOT; 1-24; 25-48).