Headlines from First Thoughts

Friday, January 04, 2013

Act 1: Watch, Listen, and Gesture, Ezekiel as a Performance

Studying Ezekiel

In my last post, we discussed how we are influenced by previous studies of Ezekiel. In this study, however, we will study the book the way Ezekiel is written: as a performance of a street-corner prophet.
Street Pantomime in Cologne, Germany, credit: Mariamel's Fotothing.com
Because Ezekiel delivers most of his message on the street, using gesture, pantomime, and parable, we will study the book like a four-act play, dividing primarily along the lines of a rhetorical outline of the book, visions (1-11), parables (12-24), exiles (25-36), and the new territory and city (37-48)Rather than trying to understand the mind of the prophet, we will focus primarily on the way the book is written and delivered orally. We are assuming that no matter what sources Ezekiel had they have now been gathered in one final form as a book. We are not sure if the historical Ezekiel wrote the book nor does it particularly matter for this study. Ezekiel moves from first-person autobiographer to third-person narrator in the book. We are primarily interested in how these four acts affect the way the listeners are going to behave after watching the performance. We read along with the book’s exiled audience who are along the River Chebar, near the ancient city of Nippur in modern-day Iraq. Their precise location is not nearly as important as their circumstances in exile. Living away from Jerusalem when their capital falls, these refugees hear the report of its fall. Like the audience, we watch Ezekiel’s movements, imagining the future and following the prophet’s instructions.

Act 1: “Watch, Listen, and Gesture”

 “Watch, Listen and Gesture” (Act 1, Chapters 1-11) is the (re)calling of the prophet to pantomime  God’s message as a sentinel would warn a town of an oncoming enemy. As the community hears that Jerusalem will soon fall at the Babylonian invaders’ hands, Ezekiel accepts a new calling in ministry.

With a vision of spinning wheels framing chapters 1 and 11, Ezekiel becomes mute and paralyzed to receive God’s word. Then in chapter 4, the prophet uses sign-acts, a series of nonverbal gestures and pantomimes, to mirror back to the people the condition of Jerusalem and the temple system.

Despite the community’s denial that this kind of event would ever happen, and the hope that the community  could one day return to a place they loved, Ezekiel shows them that this hope is not only unrealistic but also disobedient. Jerusalem and the temple need to be cleansed and replaced.

Ezekiel accepts God’s call to be quiet and to demonstrate how the people should watch the destruction of their city and accept God’s new vision for them. In some cases, they will suffer through these experiences. Their suffering will prepare them for something new on the horizon.

When is silence just as important as speech? What can body language tell you about a person's message?

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