I have this friend—who shall remain nameless—who, after a drink or two (or six) experiences a shift in personality and assumes the personality of a Dr. Phil. The people with whom he is seated at this moment fall into his line of fire, and they need to be prepared, They are about to experience a diatribe of all their faults and how they can (and should!) fix them. He probably means well, although through the haze of alcohol, it’s hard to figure out his true intention: is he trying to help you out or is he being a jerk? Can you be both?
The problem is that even if the points are valid, the message gets lost in the packaging.
Among other things, Ezekiel is an ancient version of a Dr. Phil, and he’s armed with a laundry list of problems with the Israelites before he shifts his gaze elsewhere. Turns out, he has issues with other nations now as well. In fact, this books is one of the few places that God’s wrath has been directed at people besides the Israelites and, as you can guess, these other people need to watch out.
Ezekiel begins with useful—constructive—information. He restates Israel’s extensive list of sins, finally spelling them out (beyond worshipping the false idols, which makes the list) all they have done wrong (22:6-8, 9-12). They’ve been so bad, Ezekiel lets them know that, in fact, there is no a single righteous man among them. Ouch. So no good examples to learn from? Thankfully, there is a list of things they can do to turn things around. Here, we have a rehashing of some of the Ten Commandments (18:7).
What’s interesting, however, is which of the Ten Commandments that God presented Moses have been omitted and what has been added. The additions: Don’t oppress anyone (18:7), give food to the hungry (18:7), abstain from having sex with women during their periods (18:6), don’t gouge people with interest (18:8), and judge all people fairly (18:8). Ezekiel seems to have updated this list to align the concerns of the time. Also: if the son sees his father’s sins but avoids the same sins he will not be punished (which seems fair) (18:14). What didn’t make the cut? Apparently, honoring thy mother and father, observing the Sabbath, and avoiding taking the Lord’s name in vain have fallen out of priority.
The man (or presumably woman too) who follows these guidelines is righteous. Shockingly, there’s no mention of also being heterosexual.
So how come these useful, respectable, rational ideas are not drawn into the public discussion about the Bible more often?
You would think that all the times that the Bible is invoked to back an ideology (like in certain bills being passed in Congress) that those who claim to be Bible devotees don’t look to this part of the Bible and state: “You know what, we might not agree with certain things, but the Bible says we should not oppress people, so we should not enact legislation that does exactly that.” Whether it’s legislation that blocks voting rights or laws against gays and lesbians (among others).
When I read Books like this on the heels of hearing talking heads on TV espouse their religious beliefs, I deeply question how much of the Bible they have read, the book to which they claim to be so devoted.
But perhaps non-believers have always been held to laws and beliefs which they do not hold. Here, neighboring nations of Israel are doomed, according to God (through Ezekiel). On God’s radar:
- Ammon, for rejoicing at Israel’s fall (25:6)
- Moab, for ridiculing Israel (25:8-9)
- Edom, for revenge of Judah (25:12);
- Philistine, revenge of Judah (25:15);
- Tyre, for benefitting from Israel’s demise (26)
- Egypt, for not helping the Israelites (29: 6-9)
- Gog, for attacking defenseless people (38:10)
Now, these nations did some messed up stuff, but nothing better or worse that Israel has done during similar times. Furthermore, if you have no access to the messengers—God—then how can you be held to the same standard as those who do listen to God? Lastly, it seems a bit awkward to call them out now, at which point they can’t change their behavior. At least give them the chance to do things differently. The Israelites have generation after generation to fall in line with God’s ways; why not cut some of the other people some slack with a little time.
If you have some wisdom to impart, it helps if this is not cloaked in anger; otherwise, the message stands too good of a chance to get muddled—and ignored.