In this series, we are studying Ezekiel like a street theater play performed in four acts. We'll be studying this book during our January Bible Study.
Overview of Act 2: “Perform the Message” (Ezekiel 12-24)
Chapters 12-24, “Perform the Message,” describe Ezekiel’s verbal performances on the street. As news of Jerusalem’s destruction reaches the exiles in Nippur, Ezekiel interprets the event as a sign to the people. The prophet moves to a dramatic verbal performance, using parables, dialogue, and ongoing conversations.
The elders of the community are his audience. He speaks in ancient riddles using the image of the eagle and the transplanted vine (17) culminating with a living parable or sign-act of calloused grief. In order to show the people the way they have treated God, he refuses to grieve the death of his wife (24).
God has remained faithful to the covenant, but the people have behaved like an unfaithful spouse that has not yet recognized his or her infidelity. The riddle of the eagle and the vine opens their ears to understand their treachery and their opportunity to be cleansed and changed.
The city's destruction serves as a sign of their infidelity as well as an invitation to obedience. Their political and spiritual capital has been destroyed, but God's people have not. The people no longer need to focus on replacing the city. If they are willing to allow their lives to be restored by Ezekiel's message, God's presence will be among the people because God's presence has always remained with them.
The riddles function as release and renewal. They are released from the punishment of atoning for the sins of previous generations (Exodus 34:6-7). They no longer bear any responsibility for the mistakes, shame or guilt of others. They must now take the message of renewal personally (Ezekiel 18:20). By doing so, they accept their responsibility for their actions, vow to remain faithful to the covenant and to learn through the suffering they experience. There is an opportunity for people to return, repent, and be restored no matter where they are located.
In the next post, we'll look at the practices that Ezekiel prescribed for the exiled community to follow. But before we do, have you released yourself from responsibility for the shame and guilt that you have tried to carry for others' actions? God already has.