Yahweh loves telling parables of all kinds. In the Old Testament He is just brimming with stories. Sometimes He addresses a single individual, other times a whole nation. Sometimes He speaks to Israel, other times to her enemies. Every parable is different, dramatic, and hard to forget. In this post we’ll look at one very vivid parable that Yahweh tells through His prophet Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was a Jewish priest who was carried away as a prisoner by Babylonian invaders before the city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed. The Jews got themselves into major trouble by trying to break away from the empire that was oppressing them. Now that empire has attacked Jerusalem a couple of times, but the city is still standing. It won’t be standing much longer.
It takes a lot of time and resources to take down a city as large as ancient Jerusalem. First a massive invading army camps all around the large stone walls of the city so they can cut off all importing and exporting. This prevents any new food from entering the city. The invading army then camps out for months in comfortable tents, biding their time until the people who are trapped inside the city walls are too starving and scared to put up much of a fight. Then the army suddenly attacks, breaks through the walls, and trashes the place.
Now as part of their efforts to get rebellious Jews to once again bow to their authority, the Babylonians have hauled away two large batches of Jewish citizens in their previous strikes. Those citizens then get forcibly dragged away and made to live in other sections of the Babylonian empire where they will be surrounded by foreigners and cut off from friends and family back home. This is what happened to the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel. These two men lived at the same time and they were both away from their homeland by the Babylonians. Both men ended up being forced to live in Babylon, which was the capital city of the Babylonian empire. But while they live in the same city, Ezekiel and Daniel couldn’t be in more different situations. Daniel has been selected to serve as one of the king’s advisors, so he’s living a rather sweet life with plenty of abundance. But Ezekiel is living in a kind of refugee camp by a river and his life is not so fun. It was after Ezekiel was dragged off to Babylon that Yahweh suddenly called Ezekiel to be His prophet, and ever since then, Ezekiel’s life has become very complicated. Yahweh has this prophet go through all sorts of embarrassing stunts, and He keeps giving Ezekiel messages to tell his fellow Jews that no one wants to hear.
For this community of outcast Jews, the big question on everyone’s mind is how things are going back home. Have the Babylonians backed off? Is Jerusalem alright? Yahweh has been using Ezekiel to warn everyone over and over that He is going to completely destroy Jerusalem by the hand of the Babylonians. Of course no one wants to believe this. Yahweh is the national God of Israel, and it’s His own Temple that’s standing in Jerusalem. How can God possibly be serious about destroying His own people and His own place of worship? Well, at this point in history, the Temple in Jerusalem isn’t being used to worship Yahweh at all. In fact, it’s stuffed with demonic idols who the Jews are fiercely devoted to. And while they’re hating Yahweh in their souls, it’s no surprise that they’re wallowing in every kind of evil in their daily lives. No matter how bad the crime is in your city today, ancient Jerusalem would have seemed much worse. People were killing each other in broad daylight without any fear of consequences. There was price gouging every day at the market places. The land was peppered with demonic shrines and people were worshiping false gods in public. Judges were totally corrupt, there was no law enforcement, and all of the rulers were creeps. In spite of all of this, there were a bunch of false prophets running around declaring that Yahweh would chase the Babylonians away and give everyone peace. Jeremiah is preaching in Jerusalem at this time–he wasn’t hauled away like Ezekiel and Daniel. And as one of the only prophets speaking out for Yahweh and predicting destruction for the city, Jeremiah’s life is filled with persecution.
Now even though Jeremiah and Ezekiel are living far away from each other, Yahweh is preaching the same warning through them over and over again: Jerusalem will fall. Then, one day, Ezekiel is going about his usual business when Yahweh suddenly announces that the final attack on Jerusalem has begun. This is the siege that will end in the city’s total annihilation.
“Son of man, write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem.” (Eze. 24:2)
“Son of man” was Yahweh’s personal nickname for Ezekiel. It was like saying, “Hey, human.” Well, this news about Jerusalem is very grim. Ezekiel loves his fellow Jews. No one wants to hear that their homeland is about to be destroyed. But at the same time, Ezekiel understands why Yahweh has decided to destroy both Jerusalem and His Temple. Yahweh is fed up with Israel’s constant rebellion.
The time has come for another parable. Yahweh has come up a creative metaphor that He wants Ezekiel to share in public. It’s starts off sounding like a recipe for making a meat stew.
“Give these rebels an illustration with this message from the Sovereign Yahweh: Put a pot on the fire, and pour in some water. Fill it with choice pieces of meat— the rump and the shoulder and all the most tender cuts. Use only the best sheep from the flock, and heap fuel on the fire beneath the pot. Bring the pot to a boil, and cook the bones along with the meat.” (Eze. 24:3-5)
So far we have the image of a lamb stew boiling vigorously in a pot. The choicest pieces of meat are being used. Plenty of bones have been added to give the broth a good flavor. We’re just about to say “yum” when things suddenly take a dark turn.
“Now this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: What sorrow awaits Jerusalem, the city of murderers! She is a corroded cooking pot whose rust can’t be cleaned out. Take the meat out in random order, for no piece is better than another.” (Eze. 24:6)
Oh. It turns out this isn’t meant to be a pleasant story. Yahweh’s temper is boiling as intensely as the stew. He now likens Jerusalem to a large iron cooking pot that is corroded and rusting. The stew inside of it represents the people in the city. Well, if you cook a stew in a corroded pot, the stew itself will become bad. So now everything will have to be thrown out–all of those nice pieces of meat. Yahweh the meat should be grabbed out at random–there won’t be any special favoritism given to any of the people in Jerusalem. Being rich or having high social rank won’t save anyone. Everyone is going to get spanked for turning against God.
“For she splashed the blood of her murders on bare rocks. She didn’t even pour it on the ground where the dust could cover it! So now I will splash her blood on a rock for all to see as an expression of My anger and vengeance against her.” (Eze. 24:7-8)
To capture how unrepentant these people are, Yahweh likens Jerusalem to a murderer who splashes the blood of her victims on rocks and doesn’t even try to wash it away. In other words, she has no fear of being caught and no remorse for what she’s done. She’s proud of her sin. She’s flaunting it. Such an unrepentant, hardcore love of rebellion is something Yahweh has been complaining about for quite some time. And it is because the Jews are so adamantly refusing to repent that He is now going to devastate Jerusalem as publicly as she has been defying Him.
“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: Woe to the city of bloodshed! I Myself will make the pile of kindling large. Pile on the logs and kindle the fire! Cook the meat well and mix in the spices! Let the bones be burned! Set the empty pot on its coals so that it becomes hot and its metal glows. Then its impurity will melt inside it; its rust will be consumed.” (Eze. 24:9-11)
So now that we understand how spiritually corrupt these people are, can they be saved? Perhaps if they are disciplined harshly enough, they will turn and repent. As a metaphor of Divine discipline, Yahweh describes Himself building a roaring fire under the pot that represents Jerusalem. Soon all of the liquid soup boils away, the bones are burned up, and we’ve just got a rusty metal pot with a layer of stew scum inside of it. Well, yuck. But Yahweh says to keep cooking that empty pot–get it so super-heated that the metal will glow. At such extreme temperatures, any impurities are supposed to melt away. But instead, the rust and scum just cooks into the pot permanently. Now we’ve got a pot that is totally impossible to salvage. The metal itself has become permeated with filth. Double yuck.
“‘It’s hopeless! Nothing can fix the corruption of this pot so throw the whole thing into the fire! I tried to clean you of your filthy lust, but you refused to be cleaned. So now you will remain in your filth until My fury against you has been satisfied. I, Yahweh, have spoken. It will happen, and I will do it! I will not hold back, I will not show pity, and I will not change My plans. You will be judged on the basis of all your wicked actions, says the Sovereign Lord.” (Eze. 24:12-14)
The parable is over and now everyone listening has a clear understanding of why Yahweh is going to allow the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem in their current siege. The Jews have refused to repent and return to Yahweh. Now His mercy has come to an end and He’s going to brutalize these people and burn both Jerusalem and His Temple to the ground.
Suppose your country today fell under attack by another and it looked like there was no chance of victory. Then suppose Yahweh told a parable like this. What would be the take away? For one thing, Yahweh would be making it clear that you shouldn’t be asking Him to have mercy on your country or whining that He’s being unfair.
Too often today we Christians never stop to wonder why God has allowed some terrible storm or disaster to come against a particular community. We automatically start praying for mercy, healing, and help, without ever considering that God might be dealing with a stubborn pot. It’s hardly honoring to God when we always rush assume the worst about Him, especially when the Bible is filled with evidence of how incredibly gracious God is. If Yahweh is unfair to someone, it’s only to Himself for putting up with so much flak from us before He gives us the discipline that we so deserve.
The next time you hear in the news about something terrible happening to people, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to respond to that news in a way that honors your Gods. Realize that you don’t know the full story behind any of Their decisions. You can’t see into people’s souls and you have no idea how many chances they’ve squandered. Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are incredibly gracious, patient, and merciful towards us humans. Once we understanding this, we can understand why it is so wrong for us to ever side with humans against Them. If our Gods are angry, then there is no doubt that Their anger is justified. If we’re going to be treating our Gods with honor, then we should never be taking the side of rusty pots.
The Snarky Prophet: Lessons Learned from Jeremiah 14-15
Lessons Learned When Isaiah Pleads for Leniency
Know Your Bible Lesson 31: Ezekiel Begins