Ezekiel is the most “charismatic” of the Old Testament prophets – phrases like “The Spirit lifted me up” v1 and the Spirit fell upon me v5 are common. In this passage today Ezekiel is in a trance-vision around the Temple, ending up on the East side and observing the city political leaders talking. The scene is mid exile – where many Israelites have been forced into exile in Babylon by the conquering Babylonians and others left behind. Noted Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright described these 25 politicians meeting outside the Temple as “pompous men planning the future apparently unware of the mayhem in the city that will soon overtake them, but they are doing so at the very spot where the glory of God had just passed on its exit from the city.” What they are talking about is not abundantly clear (there are differences in the ancient manuscripts). But what is clear that it is a self-congratulatory meeting. The city was extensively damaged and has been rebuilt.
Ezekiel overhears these leaders describing their situation: “the city is the cauldron and we are the meat.” To my eyes that’s a bizarre phrase – it doesn’t sound like a safe place to be! Ezekiel’s prophecy against them in v11 makes it clear that is what the proverb means – they consider themselves to be the best of Israel and safe. The idea is that the best cuts of meat were cooked in a pot in the fire and the poorer cuts and offal were cooked over the flames or thrown away. These politicians consider themselves as the best cuts and the exiles the offal, tossed over to Babylon.
But God, as ever, uses the weak to shame the wise. It will turn out that the returning exiles, far from discarded, will be the ones who return and are used by God. So Ezekilel sees these pompous politicians judged and foresees the sudden death of one of them, Pelatiah.
Ezekiel is seeing their blindeness as to what needed to be done. After the events of 597BC, much rebuilding was needed and those city leaders had done some of that. But they had only dealt with the surface manifestations and not looked at the underlying causes.
Peter Craigie (Daily Study Bible Ezekiel) comments, somewhat presciently for this month’s issues, that such blindness is not uncommon. “When riots break out, it is one thing to crush the riot, but it is altogether more important thing to seek the roots of the riots and seek to cure that ill… Thus to rebuild the houses of the holy city, but not to address the unholiness that led to their collapse, was folly of the first order.”
In v14-25 the Lord reveals who He will use to sort it all out – the cast aside offal – the people exiled in Babylon. They will have their lives sorted out – the detestable things and abominations removed (v18).
In fact Ezekiel goes further – they will need a new heart and spirit. They will need their hearts of stone removed and replaced by a heart of flesh. This is similar to the wording about the new covenant in ch36. The current leaders of Jerusalem had written off the exiles and even the exiles themselves had written themseleves off. But they are all about to learn that the Lord uses the weak to do His work.
Take heart, brothers and sisters, as we have responded to follow Christ in weakness and humility – the Lord gave us a new spirit. We were dead because of sin and are now alive in Christ. “Behold, if anyone is in Christ. He is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.” 2 Cor 5:17
He will use believers to bring real change to our world. Starting with us and working outwards, one soul at a time.