“On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin— the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.” ~ Ezekiel 1:2-3
I’ve read the Bible most of my life, so I tend to read over familiar stories quickly. It’s hard to stop, concentrate, and realize the full significance of something I’ve read several times before. Ezekiel starts the same way that Jeremiah does, and Isaiah 6 has a similar vision, etc. Another vision; skip past it and get to the prophecies, I was subconsciously thinking. Suddenly I stopped, and was struck by the significance of how the book of Ezekiel starts, and what it must’ve meant to Ezekiel when it happened.
You see, the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin was after Israel’s first deportation: Babylon had invaded once, taken the cream of the crop of Israel’s nobility and intelligentsia, and left most of the population under a weak, inferior government ruled by a puppet king Zedekiah. It was only after that puppet king rebelled (6 years after this vision of Ezekiel’s) that Jerusalem was burned to the ground, and all its people were deported and Israel ceased to exist as a state anymore. Ezekiel, as one of the priests, was part of the “cream of the crop” taken in this first deportation. As a priest, he was very conscious of this deportation as a result of God’s judgement on Israel’s sin, and the priests’ role in Israel’s moral decay over time. It must’ve been a sobering, depressing time for him: 5 years of constant reminders that Israel was likely never going to be the same, and that his family and other fellow priests were responsible (certainly not solely responsible, but at least partially) for this calamity. Here he is in a foreign land, surrounded by idols, speaking a strange language, ruled by a harsh, alien law, humiliated, discriminated against and uncertain what the future would hold.If there was ever someone who felt like God had abandoned him and would never be there for him again, it would’ve been Ezekiel. And then, imagine his amazement to see “visions of God” even here, where he never would’ve expected that God would show up! By the banks of a river thousands of miles away from the temple of God he’s amazed to find that God meets him even there, with a breathtaking vision of awe and majesty.
Have you ever failed God? Have you ever felt like you’re banished to an uncomfortable, impossible land where you don’t know the rules and have no hope for the future anymore? Has a dream ever been pulled out from under you, and you don’t understand why? Ezekiel felt each of these, and yet God was there with him, and still had a job for him. God hadn’t given up on him, and He hasn’t given up on you, no matter where you are or what you have done. He is with us! I found this very encouraging this morning, and I hope you do, too.