Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Ezekiel: The Priest who became a Prophet

Five years into the Babylonian exile, "the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest" (Ezek 1:3). For Ezekiel, his training as a priest must have prepared him to translate the vision that he sees by the river in Babylon.

Christopher Wright reflects on the "radical theocentricity" (God-centeredness) of Ezekiel's message:

We may, of course, trace this characteristic of Ezekiel to the impact of his phenomenal vision by the Kebar Canal, when he was overwhelmed by 'the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord' (1:28).

Even for a trained priest, familiar with the theophanic ambience of the temple, the experience left him shattered and virtually paralysed for a week (3:15). However, when God touched and summoned Ezekiel through that amazing vision, he was breaking powerfully into a life and an intellect already thoroughly shaped by the centrality of Yahweh that was intrinsic to Israel's covenant faith and the very raison d'ĂȘtre [reason for being] of Israel's priesthood.

We may be sure that the encounter at the water's edge transformed what may have been for Ezekiel a matter of intellectual worldview and professional training into the most intensely personal and experiential core of his whole life and identity.

Recognizing his training as a priest, we now can consider the "theological shock" that he must have experienced by witnessing the fall of Judah, by being taken to Babylon, and finally by being called by the Lord to speak against the institution he had been trained his whole life to guard with his life, the Temple!

He must now convey "the Word of the Lord," a word with the Temple and its priesthood directly in the path of its bullseye.
So while we can value all the positive contributions that Ezekiel's education and training as a priest brought to his prophetic ministry, we must also appreciate the immense personal, professional and theological shock it must have been to him when, in his thirtieth year, the year he ought to have entered on his ordained priestly career, God broke into his life, wrecked all such career prospects, and constrained him into a role he may himself have viewed with considerable suspicion—the lonely, friendless, unpopular role of being a prophet, the mouthpiece of Yahweh.

No wonder the anger and bitter rage to which he honestly confesses disoriented and overwhelmed him for a full week (3:14-15). God would use all that he had built into Ezekiel's life during his years of preparation, but he would use it in radically different ways from anything Ezekiel had ever imagined.

Such is sometimes the way of God with those whom he calls to his service.
—Christopher Wright, Message of Ezekiel, 23, 27.

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