Ezekiel 21–24. The Sword, the Smelter, the Cup, and the Cauldron.
The Awful Crisis.

Key Notes: His wife dies--as Jerusalem dies. The suffering prophet. Four levels of God's discipline.

Caution. This material is very strong. One class member described his reaction to this study as being “run over by a steam-roller”. After reading it, another said "God is very angry". The translation used here is RSV, and it reads differently from NIV and others. The text is difficult, but this rendering brings out a clear message.
    
21:1–7 Ezekiel grieves to tell the truth of God’s judgment.
21:8–11 "A sword, a sword is sharpened and also polished,
sharpened for slaughter, polished to flash like lightning!
Or do we make mirth? You have despised the rod, my son,
with everything made of wood.
so the sword is given to be polished,
that it may be handled;
it is sharpened and polished
to be given into the hand of the slayer."

Ezekiel may have had a sword in his hand to illustrate his message, swinging it left and right, then drawing a picture in the dirt of Nebuchadnezzar’s two paths of conquest. He had used a sword before in a prophetic message. 5:1–5

21:15–32 Nebuchadnezzar stands at the fork in the road and uses arrows, god-images and animal entrails to divine whether he should go first to Ammon or Jerusalem. (21:18–23). He will go both ways, to Jerusalem (21:24–27), and to Ammon. (21:28–32). Ammon is due to disappear, not to be remembered.

22:1–31. Jerusalem is “the bloody city”. Shedding blood is mentioned eight times. The murder-rate was high. The sins of Israel in addition to murder, were contempt of parents (!), extortion, oppression, profaning holy things and the Sabbath, condemning the innocent, idolatry, lewdness of all sorts, sexual impurity, homosexuality and incest, bribery, and forgetting God.   

22:17–22. Now Israel is like so much dross in the smelter--more dirt than metal; nothing will be left after the mass is melted.
22:23–31 Princes, priests, prophets, and people of the land are all involved in her sins, from the greatest, to the least.
No one stood in the breach before God, as Moses did.
     “Therefore He said He would destroy them—
     had not Moses, His chosen one,
     stood in the breach before Him,
     to turn away His wrath from destroying them.” Psa.106:23

Ezek.23. The prostitution of Israel (Oholah) and Judah (Oholabibah), two sisters playing the harlot, first with Egypt, then Assyria repeats the theme of Ezek.16 with more explicit sexual imagery. Samaria falls for Assyria and Judah falls for Babylon.

Ezek.24:1–14. The parable of the pot. Meat will be cooked in the cauldron, the broth dumped, the meat taken out, the bones burned, and the cauldron itself heated to destruction. "Its rust / scum is your filthy lewdness." (Lewd means vulgar, lascivious, indecent, obscene, lustful).

24:15. The final acted out parable was agonizing: Ezekiel's wife, a beautiful women, the "delight of his eyes", would die by nightfall, and he was not to show any outward sign of mourning, just as Israel would go into exile, leaving behind her dead, pining away inside, but with no visible grieving.
He was to remain mute until he received news that Jerusalem had fallen. He would speak to the fugitive who brought the news. This prophecy was completed in Ezek. 33:21–22.

Discussion:

This was Jerusalem in her last days. When the sense of time is short, and people cannot see the future, human behavior deteriorates: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."   During the Berlin blockade, we are told that morals in the city broke down badly. The description of Jerusalem in Ezekiel is worse than anywhere else in Scripture.

One concern for our society is that we are a "Now generation" that is impatient for anything that takes more than a few seconds. Cell-phones, microwave ovens, day-trading, TV channel-surfing give us fast results, and instant gratification. We fail to think in the long range and consider the consequences of our temptations. Farming takes months--and makes for stable people, even in pagan Rome. Animal husbandry takes years. Raising a child takes decades and requires patience and self-discipline.

There are four levels of God’s discipline:
*His presence. I will guide you with My eye. Psa.32:8; Psa.123:2
•the word Psa.119:105
 •the rod Ezek.21:10
 •the sword. Ezek. 21:11
Our best response to God does not require even a word.

In this passage there is a great deal about suffering. We will concentrate on the prophet’s suffering, mourning the death of his wife. We can think of Ezekiel's suffering in four ways, although instinctively we think of it in only one way: guilt for wrong-doing. That is the theme of Job: what have you done wrong? But judgment for sin is only one cause of suffering.

Think of suffering:
•as the natural consequence of our actions. Sticking a screw-driver in a light-socket, touching a hot stove, driving a car without brakes are obvious examples. Judas is an example, or impulsive Peter.

•as God's judgment on sin. Ezekiel is full of this theme, Israel being severely punished. Achan, Miriam, Dothan and Abiram, Ananias and Sapphira, are other Biblical examples of summary justice.

•as God's instruction and discipline for us. Heb.12:3–13 teaches God's sometimes painful discipline of our lives. Paul's thorn in the flesh was to keep him from being "too elated by the abundance of revelations". IICor.12:7

•as God's instruction for others. Ezekiel's suffering is a vivid example, in fact a silent testimony, a pantomime of prophetic teaching. Christ’s suffering is always and only for others.

Causes one and two may be linked. God’s judgment and natural consequences often go together. The third and fourth themes are always linked: what is instruction for us is almost automatically instruction for others. People who have gone through major crises--depression, loss of family member, loss of work, alcohol addiction, bulimia, jail—can become excellent counselors for others going through the same experience.

Whatever you are going through will be good for others as well as yourself. Remember that you are an instructor as well as a sufferer. However, unlike Ezekiel, we are not expected to be stoic at the loss of a friend or relative. We weep with those who weep. Even when we are dying, we are to show others how to die well.