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In our last lesson, we learned about how Yahweh called a young priest named Ezekiel to be His mouthpiece for the Jews who are living in Babylonian exile. By now, Judah has been attacked twice by King Nebuchadnezzar—the current ruler of the mighty Babylonian Empire. Each attack ended with Nebuchadnezzar hauling off thousands of Jewish prisoners. Those prisoners were taken to Babylon, sorted out by brains and physical potential, and then assigned work that would benefit the empire. The first haul of prisoners included a young man named Daniel. In Lesson 29 we learned how God used Daniel to interpret a frightening nightmare that Nebuchadnezzar had. The king was then so impressed that he promoted Daniel and his three friends to high ranking positions in the empire. Daniel is currently serving as Nebuchadnezzar’s top adviser and his life has turned out to be pretty sweet. Not so much for the priest Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was dragged off to Babylon with the second batch of Jewish prisoners. Nothing about this young priest has caught the Babylonian’s attention, so he hasn’t received any special privileges like Daniel. Instead, he’s living in a colony of other Jewish exiles along a river. Joy. They don’t get much news from back home except for an occasional letter from the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is God’s main mouthpiece back in Judah, and he’s a never ending stream of bad news. He has sent instructions from God to the exiles living in Babylon telling them to view Babylon as their new permanent home. Yahweh is so ticked at His people that He isn’t going to be rescuing anyone for at least seventy years. But while He’s promised to leave the Jews as exiles, He does tell them that their lives don’t have to be miserable. They should accept their lot from Him and switch their patriotic loyalties over to the Babylonian Empire. They should marry, build houses, and try to make the most of their lives, even if they are living as low class citizens in a world of pagans.
If we jump into the storyline right here, it’s easy to feel sorry for the Jews and think Yahweh’s being unduly harsh. But of course He isn’t. In this series, we’ve been moving through the Bible’s plotline in chronological order and we’ve seen how horrifically the Jews have been treating their God for centuries. Yahweh’s discipline is long overdue, so there can be no sympathy for these rebellious little punks who are still refusing to repent of their sins even as they sit in exile.
Not all of the Jews are rebellious. There are a few rare exceptions, like Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These three men sincerely care about pleasing God, but He is leading them down very different life paths. Daniel’s life is turning out to be cake while Jeremiah is slogging it out among a bunch of God-haters in Judah. King Zedekiah is the current king of Judah and he hates God’s loyal prophet. We learned in our last lesson that Zedekiah tried to plan a sneaky rebellion against the oppressive Babylonian Empire, but King Nebuchadnezzar found out about it and ordered Zedekiah to come to his royal courts to explain himself. Zedekiah did come, and while he was being dressed down by Nebuchadnezzar, one of his officers read a very obnoxious message from Jeremiah in which Yahweh promised that He would soon be destroying the Babylonian Empire. All of this has intensified Zedekiah’s dislike of Jeremiah who is already getting majorly hassled by the other leaders in Judah.
And then there’s Ezekiel. His introduction to the prophetic calling has been quite traumatic. At the end of our last lesson, we learned how Yahweh is causing Ezekiel’s tongue to stick to the roof of his mouth so that the thirty year old priest cannot say anything intelligible. Yahweh has explained that whenever He has a message He wants to speak through Ezekiel, He will loosen the prophet’s tongue so that Ezekiel can speak clearly. But the moment Yahweh’s done talking, the tongue will become refastened to the roof of Ezekiel’s mouth so that he’ll be unable to answer the nasty cracks and criticisms which will be flung at him by his snarky audience. Well.
Now the other exiles living in this riverside community already think Ezekiel has turned into some kind of nut. After his first shocking vision from Yahweh, the priest returned to the colony acting very strange for seven days. Then just when everyone was feeling unsafe around him, he disappeared again for another secret chat with Yahweh. The Jews don’t know where Ezekiel went off to or what he’s doing. But when the priest comes back making weird noises (because his tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth), no one bothers to ask questions. They seize him, bind him up with ropes, and lock him up in his house to try and contain him. There.
We’re not told how long Ezekiel gets to stay in this uncomfortable position before someone frees him. We do know that he has a wife who he loves very much. Perhaps she is doing some serious praying and trying to keep an open mind that maybe her husband isn’t so crazy after all. But the fun is only starting for this couple, for Yahweh has already explained what Ezekiel’s first major assignment will be. It’s going to be a little one man play—a public charade in which the prophet will act out the fall of Jerusalem. Yahweh is planning to bring Nebuchadnezzar back to Judah for a third and final attack which will leave both her capital city and His Temple in ruins. Over in Judah, He’s having Jeremiah warn the people over and over again that disaster is coming. Now He’s going to use Ezekiel to warn the little twerps who are living in exile with him. But both here in Babylon and back in Judah, the Jews have very hardened, unrepentant hearts. They keep fluffing off God’s warnings, and they’re even having the audacity to prophesy opposite messages in Yahweh’s Name. False prophets both in Judah and Babylon are preaching that God will soon deliver His people from bondage and restore Judah to her former glory. But no, He won’t. He’s already said He’s going to slaughter most of the little jerks, and the rest will have to age in exile for seventy long years. He’s also promised to punish the false prophets for trying to lead His people astray with false hopes.
PROPHETIC ACTION: Ezekiel Acts Out the Siege of Jerusalem
Now a city under siege is ugly business. Outside of the city, a massive army camps in plain view of the inhabitants and prevents any food from being delivered. Inside the city, the food supply rapidly dwindles, despite the people’s efforts to ration. Desperately hungry and out of supplies, they start resorting to things like cannibalism just to try and stay alive. Yahweh has a little charade worked out to depict both the inside and outside activities of Jerusalem under the coming siege. To show what’s happening on the outside, He is going to have Ezekiel play toy soldiers in front of everyone. The prophet will set a brick on the ground that will represent the city of Jerusalem. Then he’ll set up a miniature enemy camp all around it. In real life, while the enemy is waiting for everyone to starve inside the city, they build long ramps that will help them climb over the city’s castle-like walls as well as thick poles called battering rams which they can use to smash through the many locked wooden gates. Ezekiel will be making miniatures of these things as well and set them up around his brick. Then he’ll go to war against it, no doubt making the appropriate sound effects as any boy playing soldiers would do. That’s step one of Yahweh’s charade. And as the adults in the community see nutty Ezekiel playing with his brick on the ground, they’re going to find the whole thing quite disturbing.
The second phase of Yahweh’s play will emphasize that the reason all these terrible things are happening to Jerusalem is because the Israelites have treated Yahweh so disgracefully. First the northern kingdom of Israel disrespected Him for centuries until He finally destroyed her. Then the southern kingdom of Judah continued to disrespect Him and now He’s going to destroy her as well. To symbolize the bondage that Israel’s sins have brought upon her, Yahweh instructs His new prophet to lie in the dirt on his side for a symbolic number of days. First he is to lie in the dirt on his left side for 390 days straight—that will symbolize the sins of the kingdom of Israel. Then he will turn onto his right side and lie in the dirt an additional 40 days—that will symbolize the sins of Judah. And the whole time he’s doing this, he’ll be bound with ropes so tightly that he won’t be able to roll over even if he wanted to. And he’ll be lying near his brick Jerusalem with all of its little army props around it. While he’s lying in the dirt, he’ll look at the brick and speak prophetic messages to it which Yahweh will give him. Also, he will have a heavy iron plate set up like a shield between his body and the brick.
Now let’s think about this. There are 365 days in a year. Ezekiel has to lie tied up in the dirt for 390 days on his left side without moving. Then he has to turn over and do another 40 days. This is humanly impossible to do. A man would be in terrible agony from the ground grinding into his bones, plus he would end up with all kinds of infected pressure sores. If Yahweh doesn’t provide some miraculous assistance in the midst of all this, Ezekiel won’t survive it. Have you ever felt like God was calling you to endure something unbearable? Have you ever worried that His grace wouldn’t be enough? Ezekiel would certainly be able to empathize. Yahweh doesn’t give the prophet any reassurances about how He’ll handle the physical pain involved in all this—He just tells Ezekiel to do it. Oh, but He does promise to help with the ropes.
“I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.” (Eze. 4:8)
Wonderful. It would be nice if God would just put Ezekiel into some kind of trance until He’s done with all of this. But He doesn’t. Ezekiel will have to speak messages to the brick from time to time, and he’ll also have to feed himself. But Yahweh has a very specific menu in mind, for the point of all this is to demonstrate the horrors of Jerusalem’s future siege. Yahweh wants to depict how miserable life inside the starving city will be, so He instructs Ezekiel to make multi-grain bread cakes that he will nibble on anxiously. For hydration, Ezekiel will take small sips of water with a nervous expression. All of this will be symbolizing the fear and food rationing that will be happening in Jerusalem while she’s being sieged.
Now as for the food, here Yahweh really comes up with a dilly. In the sight of all the other Jews in the colony, Yahweh wants Ezekiel to collect some human poop and use it as fuel for a fire which he will then cook his bread over—a dry, grainy bread which Yahweh provides a specific recipe for. Well, this is ultra-disgusting to any Jew, but especially for an obedient priest like Ezekiel. But that’s the point—Yahweh wants everyone to be appalled by Ezekiel’s behavior because when the siege actually happens in Jerusalem:
“They will be appalled at the sight of each other and waste away in their iniquity.” (Eze. 4:17)
Sieging is horrific business and Yahweh wants to capture all the ugliness of it through His acting prophet. Cooking over poop was a direct violation of Yahweh’s own Law, for poop was considered an “unclean” thing. When something clean touches something unclean, the clean thing becomes “defiled.” By ordering Ezekiel to eat defiled barley cakes—bread which has become unclean by coming into contact with poopy fire smoke—Yahweh is prophesying how soon the Jews in Jerusalem will be dragged off into exile where they will have to eat unclean food.
“You will eat it as a barley cake, having baked it in their sight over human dung.” Then Yahweh said, “In the same way, the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will banish them.” (Eze. 4:12-13)
Yahweh had very strict rules about what His people were allowed to eat. To break those rules was a sin. The Israelites were not allowed to eat blood or pigs, for example. But of course other nations who didn’t care about Yahweh didn’t care about His dietary laws. They ate all kinds of foods that the Jews considered unclean. When you’re a prisoner in someone else’s land, you don’t get to decide what you’ll have for dinner—you have to eat what’s given to you. Here Yahweh is predicting that many Jews in Judah (those who aren’t killed during the siege) will soon find themselves living in foreign lands where they will be forced to eat unclean foods. Ezekiel’s poopy cakes are intended to be a little preview of all this. Well, it’s gross. Yahweh has been dumping all of His instructions onto Ezekiel at once—the lying in the dirt for over a year, the ropes, the talking to the brick, the nibbling on food, and now the poop thing. It’s too much.
But I said, “O Sovereign Yahweh, must I be defiled by using human dung? For I have never been defiled before. From the time I was a child until now I have never eaten any animal that died of sickness or was killed by other animals. I have never eaten any meat forbidden by the law.”
“Very well,” He said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human dung.” (Eze. 4:14-15)
Ever feel like God’s solutions to your problems aren’t all that great? Ezekiel would understand. Yahweh now reminds His prophet of the point He is making through this charade.
“Son of man, I will make food very scarce in Jerusalem. It will be weighed out with great care and eaten fearfully. The water will be rationed out drop by drop, and the people will drink it with dismay. Lacking food and water, people will look at one another in terror, and they will waste away under their punishment.” (Eze. 4:16-17)
Well, when the Jews watching Ezekiel see him building a poop fire, they will be appalled all right. Yahweh’s goal is to shock and horrify everyone with some vivid scenes that they won’t be able to get out of their heads. Ezekiel really deserves an award as the prophet with the most miserable assignments. But wait—Yahweh still isn’t done. After Ezekiel is finished with all of this miserable drama (which is going to take well over a year), there are more symbolic actions that Yahweh wants him to go through.
PROPHETIC ACTION: Ezekiel Cuts His Hair
Now that Yahweh’s depicted the horror of Jerusalem’s fall, He wants to predict what will happen to the people. Many will die of disease and starvation inside the city walls. Another large group will be chopped down by enemy soldiers outside the city walls, and the rest will flee to foreign nations. Yahweh will predict all of this using Ezekiel’s hair. Once the prophet gets up from being bound with ropes, he is to take a sword and cut off his hair and beard. Now Jewish men like to be nice and hairy, so this is a very humiliating action for Ezekiel to have to perform. Today it would be like you having to walk around in public with a long string of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. Everyone would look at you and snicker. Very embarrassing. And yet when an invading army conquers another nation, they love to humiliate people. We humans get very sadistic when we feel like we’re in the power position. It was quite common for conquered peoples to have their body hair roughly chopped off by enemy soldiers—including their pubic hair. Yahweh specifically prophesies about causing these things to happen to His people as a way of punishing them for their rebellion against Him. Listen to what He said to the northern kingdom through the mouth of His prophet Isaiah:
In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also. (Isa. 7:20)
And of course when a man is trying to use a sword like a razor, he’s not going to do a smooth job, for a sword is too big and awkward. Ezekiel’s going to end up with a lot of cuts on his head and face as he tries to carry out Yahweh’s instructions.
Once he has a nice pile of cut hair, he will use a scale to weigh it and divide it into three equal piles. The individual hairs in each pile represent the people living in Jerusalem. The first pile he’ll burn on top of his brick city—that will represent those who will die inside the city of Jerusalem due to famine and disease. The second pile he’ll chop with his sword around the brick—that will represent those who run out of the city and get chopped down by enemy soldiers. The third pile he’ll toss into the wind—that will represent those who will flee to other nations. But they won’t flee to safety, for Yahweh says that He will pursue them with a sword—meaning He will kill a lot of them off using various methods. And after giving all of these instructions to His prophet, Yahweh says:
“This is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: This is an illustration of what will happen to Jerusalem. I placed her at the center of the nations, but she has rebelled against My regulations and decrees and has been even more wicked than the surrounding nations. She has refused to obey the regulations and decrees I gave her to follow.
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey My decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you!” (Eze. 5:5-7)
That last line is a real zinger, for by now we know that the nations around Israel are pretty horrific with their sadism, child sacrifice, perversion, and worship of demonic powers. The moral standards of such nations are shockingly low, yet Yahweh accuses His people of not even meeting those standards. This is like Jesus showing up in a Christian church today, glaring around at the congregation and saying, “You guys are more offensive to Me than those who are willfully worshiping Satan. You’re more evil than those who intentionally try to hurt people. You’re even less honest than a chronic liar.” These are very angry words that Yahweh is speaking through His prophet Ezekiel.
THE WRATH OF GOD
“Therefore, I Myself, the Sovereign Yahweh, am now your Enemy. I will punish you publicly while all the nations watch. Because of your detestable idols, I will punish you like I have never punished anyone before or ever will again. Parents will eat their own children, and children will eat their parents. I will punish you and scatter to the winds the few who survive.
As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Yahweh, I will cut you off completely. I will show you no pity at all because you have defiled My Temple with your vile images and detestable sins. A third of your people will die in the city from disease and famine. A third of them will be slaughtered by the enemy outside the city walls. And I will scatter a third to the winds, chasing them with My sword.” (Eze. 5:8-12)
There is a large crop of souls in Jerusalem who are going to end up in Hell because they are adamantly refusing to repent of their sins. Yahweh isn’t talking to souls who care about pleasing Him but can’t quite manage perfection—He’s talking to spit-in-your-eye rebels. He’s talking to souls who know all about who He is and what He wants, yet they are delighting in defying Him. Yahweh has given these little twerps countless opportunities to repent and get right with Him. A simple change in heart attitude is all He’s asked for, yet they just can’t be bothered. Now His patience has finally come to an end and there will be no more chances for these souls. They are going to die and they’re going to end up in Hell for an eternity because they have squandered all of their time on the earth.
It is critical that we understand what kind of defiance Yahweh is dealing with here. If we don’t, then Satan can easily slip in and try to freak you out about God’s wrath suddenly exploding in your face because of some current sin you’ve got going on in your life that you just can’t beat. Always remember that God reacts to our soul’s response to Him. If you sincerely care about pleasing God, He is NOT going to talk to you like He is talking to these punks in Jerusalem. He is not going to use this kind of harsh, angry, hateful tone. So no matter how ashamed you are of some sin in your life, realize that you can still be pleasing to God in the midst of it if you sincerely care about pleasing Him in your heart. We don’t always get the option of overcoming temptation. Often God will intentionally withhold the self-control and strength we need to avoid sin because there are important lessons that He wants to teach us through our failures. Remember that any “conviction” which ends up making you feel like unwanted scum in God’s eyes is coming from demons, not Him. When God convicts us of sin, He does so in a way that points us towards hope and encourages us about our future with Him. He doesn’t just beat us into the ground and then leave us there feeling like some pile of refuse. Always consider the effect a message has on your soul before you accept it as being from God. If it is making you feel despaired and hopeless, you need to throw it out.
“When My anger is spent and I have satisfied My wrath, then I will be appeased. And when I have poured out My wrath on them, then they will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken in My zeal. I will make you a desolation and a reproach among the nations which surround you, in the sight of all who pass by. You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with raging rebukes. I, Yahweh, have spoken. When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you. I will bring more and more famine upon you and cut off your supply of food. I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I, Yahweh, have spoken!’” (Eze. 5:5-17)
Whenever God starts talking about His wrath we know that He is responding to extreme defiance. The Israelites both in Judah and over in the exile colony where Ezekiel is living have stones for hearts: they are adamantly refusing to respond to any conviction by the Holy Spirit. Very well. God is going to tear them apart.
“Then you will know that I am Yahweh, when their slain are among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the tops of the mountains, under every green tree and under every leafy oak—in all the places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. Throughout all their dwellings I will stretch out My hand against them and make the land more of a desolate waste than the wilderness toward Diblah. Then they will know that I am Yahweh.” (Eze. 6:13-14)
Are you noticing a theme here? “Then they will know that I am Yahweh.” God’s ultimate goal in punishing His enemies is to exalt Himself in the eyes of everything that He has created. When He lays Judah to waste, everyone is going to say, “Whoa. Look what their God did to them. Wow. Don’t mess with Yahweh.” And just to make sure everyone understands that Yahweh was the One who tore Judah apart, He is declaring Himself to be her spanker over and over again through the mouths of His prophets. Yes, He’ll be using several different kinds of weapons—disease, starvation, the Babylonian army—but He doesn’t want any of this guff that Christians sling today. The old “That wasn’t God, it was Satan” routine that we hear so often in church is total hogwash. Everything is God. Wars, massacres, epidemics, collapsing governments—He takes credit for it all in the Bible. It’s only by ignoring the bulk of the Book that we’ve come up with this delusional line of thinking in which God is some limited Being who is constantly getting one-upped by Satan. Let’s be clear: the Holy Spirit is not Satan’s janitor. He doesn’t go rushing around trying to clean up the messes that demons made when His back was turned. This is how we often depict God today, yet this is a complete denial of what He teaches us about Himself in the Word. God is always in charge. He doesn’t get outsmarted or overpowered by anyone ever.
“The end is now upon you, and I will unleash My anger against you. I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices. My eye will have no pity on you, nor will I spare you, but I will surely repay you for your conduct—all the detestable things you have done. Then you will know that I am Yahweh!” (Eze. 7:3-4)
Here we have it again: “Then you will know that I am Yahweh!” Don’t miss the massive ego that’s coming through in all these speeches. God is all about exalting Himself. We won’t see the day that God encourages us to exalt some scrawny demon and his stupid human servants. Yet today in the Church we find a lot of teaching that is encouraging us to fear some coming antichrist or fear some great persecution of the Church by Satan. Always ask yourself, “Who am I being encouraged to focus on in all this?” Many warped teachings about the end times are nothing more than a glorification of Satan and his human henchmen. But God will always exalt God, and it is going to be HIS power we are encouraged to fear—not the power of created things.
“I am about to pour out My wrath upon you and spend My anger against you. I will judge you according to your ways and bring on you all your abominations. I will not look on you with pity; nor will I spare you. I will repay you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst; then you will know that it is I, Yahweh, who strikes you.” (Eze. 7:8-9)
Yahweh isn’t leaving any doubt in our minds about who is going to be spanking Israel. He wants ALL the glory for the evil that’s about to go down. Ah, but perhaps some pastor has taught you that God never does evil. Well, he was wrong. How many times does God have to say, “Then you will know that it is I, Yahweh,” before we finally believe Him?
“They will go searching for a vision from the prophet, priestly instruction in the law will cease, the counsel of the elders will come to an end. The king will mourn, the prince will be clothed with horror, and the hands of the people of the land will tremble. According to their conduct I will deal with them, and by their own judgments I will judge them. And they will know that I am Yahweh.” (Eze. 7:26-27)
Notice how God is going to shut the faces of all the prophets and priests. There won’t be any more Bible study meetings for the Jews—no more priests giving sermons to the people. All the prophets and priests are corrupt and they’ve been intentionally lying and warping the message of Scripture for years. God is fed up with all of it.
The prophetic books of the Bible are extremely repetitive. They go over the same sins again and again as Yahweh makes it crystal clear to everyone why He is mad at them, and how they can get back into a right relationship with Him. He gives a message, the people respond to Him in their hearts, and then He gives another message based on that response. When the people’s heart attitudes stay the same, so do God’s messages. He keeps urging them to repent until the day comes when He’s too mad to forgive certain groups. Then He gives copious warnings about the fact that His patience is exhausted and He goes over and over the punishments that He is going to be dishing out. God makes sure that by the time He finally gets around to trashing Jerusalem, no one can possibly be confused about why He’s doing such a terrible thing.
Studying God’s communication style leads us to some very reassuring conclusions. There’s no way we’re going to get in big trouble with Him and not know it. There’s no way He’s going to suddenly lash out at us without any warning. God always warns us and He gives us the opportunity to repent. The only people who are surprised by His discipline are rebels who have been intentionally tuning out the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to see that God is being treated abominably in the world today. The human race is spending enormous resources on trying to overturn righteous laws and replace them with evil ones; with perverting justice, mocking Jesus, exalting sin, and defying God’s Authority. So when God finally hits His limit with us and starts unleashing His wrath, should Christians be standing around with gaping mouths saying, “Why is God letting Satan do this to us?” Of course not, yet many will. Many are already showing their rebellious colors today by the way they are responding to localized incidents of Divine activity. As more and more gunmen break into our schools and shoot our children, the Christians keep saying, “This isn’t God.” As crime skyrockets, wars break out, and mass groups of people are murdered in cold blood, Christians keep saying, “None of this is God’s will.” Such a refusal to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over His Creation is going to inspire these people to pray some very stupid prayers as God increases His violence against us. We can all agree that we deserve Divine discipline, but when it comes to the forms that discipline will take, we don’t seem to want it to be anything miserable. Crime, disease, storms, assault, war, evil government leaders—God has been using the same methods for centuries. He’s even preserved records of Him using them on Israel and saying over and over again that He was the One using all of these things to drive people back towards righteousness. So let’s not be among those who want to live in some strange land of denial in which God’s discipline never takes unpleasant forms or involves human instruments. If it hurts, it’s from God, and there’s a reason for it. Both the good and the bad are coming from His hands. We need to be looking for the spiritual lessons in everything He does to us so that we can be maturing in the faith.
More visions are what’s up next for Ezekiel as he continues in his calling as God’s prophet to the exiles in Babylon. In our next lesson, we’ll learn about an interesting vision in which the faithful servants of God receive a mark on their foreheads which only He can see. We’ll also learn about some very shocking things that are happening inside Yahweh’s holy Temple.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 33: Abominations in the Temple
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.