In chapter 24, two deadly, life-altering events are linked: the siege of Jerusalem (1-14) and the death of Ezekiel’s wife (15-27). The first event brings devastation on a macro scale (Israel); the second causes devastation on a micro level (Ezekiel). For both tragedies, there is to be an uncharacteristically muted grieving process.
The chapter opens with a definite time marker: ninth year, tenth month, tenth day. On this day, the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies began (1-2). The Lord instructs Ezekiel to speak in parables to the exiles about this siege (“utter a parable to the rebellious house and say to them”—3).
The parable centres on a cooking pot being placed over a pile of wood and filled with water and meat (thigh, shoulder, bones—4) from “the choicest one of the flock” (5). The pot, which is corroded (6), boils while pieces in it are randomly removed (“without making any choice”—6). After the meat is out and the bones burned up, the empty pot is left on the coals to burn away the corrosion (11).
The Lord has Ezekiel explain the parable for the exiles. The pot is Jerusalem. The pieces of meat are its inhabitants. The fire is God’s judgment expressed through the Babylonian armies. The pieces being removed speak of death or exile. The corrosion in the pot is the violence (“bloody city”—6) and lewdness (13) of the Jews in Judah. The burning of the bones and pot represents the fire of God’s furious judgment sent to consume the corrosion and corruption among God’s people.
The last half of the chapter focuses on a word from the Lord that is not only painful but highly personal for Ezekiel. The Lord announces He is about to take Ezekiel’s wife away from him through death (16). The Lord understands this will be painful for Ezekiel, referring to her as “the delight of your eyes” (16). Still, Ezekiel is instructed to handle this with muted grief; he can mourn inwardly but not outwardly. He is not to evidence his grief is culturally expected ways: undoing his turban, covering his face, publicly lamenting, eating mourners’ bread (17).
Why this unnatural response to a devastating death? Ezekiel is to be a sign for the way the exiles will respond to the news of Jerusalem’s siege and eventual destruction (24). While Jerusalem is for the exiles the “delight of their [your] eyes” (21), like Ezekiel, they will only mourn inwardly, not outwardly. Why this is the case, we are not told (cultural pressure from the Babylonians? despair on the part of the exiles?). Further, Ezekiel learns that he will become mute when his wife dies until news comes that Jerusalem has fallen. Again, we are not told whether his silence is total (no speaking at all) or only in his role as a prophet (no speaking God’s oracles). Either way, Ezekiel’s ministry impacts his personal life in profound ways.
Visions of God
The Lord has the power of life and death. When the Lord says He will bring death and destruction on Jerusalem, it will happen (14). When He announces He will take the life of Ezekiel’s wife, it also happens (16). Our lives are in His hands and we live only as long as He allows.
The Lord is willing to cleanse His people if they are willing to be cleansed. The judgment coming upon Jerusalem is the result of their bloody violence and “unclean lewdness” (moral and spiritual adultery). The Lord’s message to them is: “I would have cleansed you” (13). He was willing to remove their sin stains, but they were unwilling to repent and be changed. Their resistance—not just their sin—bring God’s furious judgment: “you shall not be cleansed anymore till I have satisfied my fury upon you” (13).
The Lord does not spare His servants deep personal pain. Ezekiel’s life is painfully altered even as he faithfully serves. There is no indication that his wife’s death is a divine judgment for his (or her) sin; however, that could be the case—we simply aren’t told. However, the Lord knows how this will adversely impact Ezekiel’s life and yet still removes his wife.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen can be expected to subjugate their emotions to God’s larger purposes. The Lord commands Ezekiel to forgo the normal, human expressions of grief over the loss of his wife (“the delight of his eyes”). He may grieve, but not in the normal, culturally accepted way. God’s larger purpose (Ezekiel being a sign to the exiles—21) supersedes his personal expression of grief. At times, watchmen must carry out their ministry in spite of deep personal pain.
Watchmen can sometimes be silent to fulfill their calling. Normally, Ezekiel fulfills his role as a watchman by speaking. However, in this case, he carries out God’s purposes by remaining mute. Ezekiel’s ministry of preaching does not authorize him to speak for God whenever he chooses; God chooses for him. At times, His will can be silence.