by Pastor Mark Hudson
Can you imagine what the prophets of the Old Testament had to endure? Today chapter 24 covers the death of Ezekiel’s wife. This is a heart wrenching account. But first, we read of a tragic loss to the nation of Israel. In chapter 11:3, Israel did not think she had anything to fear. We will be taken care of. We are choice cuts of meat. God will preserve us. But not so fast. In 24, the Lord tells Ezekiel who is in Babylon, that Jerusalem and the temple is being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel learns this bad news by revelation. He records the exact day he heard this horrible news. As Ezekiel does, he then
gives them a parable of this news.
First about the temple. “The temple had immense significance in Judah’s religion-based culture as the visible guarantee of divine good will. . . . It stood as the bastion of the community’s present life and future hopes. Now, however, this visible link between Yahweh and his people was to be severed” (Word Commentary, Allen p. 61). It is hard to understand what the temple meant for Jewish believers. We don’t have anything like it as Christians. But the temple had tremendous importance due to God’s promise to fill the temple.
This first section starts well. In fact, it sounds like someone is making a ceremonial meal. The way verses 3-5 describe this dish, it almost makes your mouth water. The fire, the pot, the “good pieces”, and instructions to boil it well makes for a descriptive story with a happy ending. That is until verse 6. “Woe to the bloody city . . . .” This begins the sharp turn toward judgment. Jerusalem is a bloody city. Shedding innocent blood means that God will always take notice and He never approves or dismisses such acts. Jerusalem’s brazen murder (v. 7) provokes God to twice pronounce a woe to not a foreign nation, but His chosen temple in His chosen city. What shame for Jerusalem.
So instead of removing the pot when the meat is cooked, Ezekiel to told to remove the meat and throw the pieces in the fire (v. 6). Ezekiel was to add more wood and just burn the meat, bones and even the pot. The pot (or Jerusalem) is corrupted (v. 11-12) by unclean lewdness (v. 13) so fire shall consume it all. God has been giving reasons all through this book and he gives reasons in v. 13 and 14. Then this note of finality and authority in verse 14. There will no turning back.
The Bible is full of strange and hard-to-understand events. This one is a prime example. Ezekiel is told the day before that his wife would die. He did not take a day off; rather he went out to speak to the people. She died that evening. She was the delight of his eyes. Allen (Word commentary says, “Ezekiel is called to sacrifice his wife on the altar of prophetic vocation. . . . The pain is intensified that it must remain bottled up instead of trickling away in the reassuring routine of cultural behaviors” (Allen p. 60). Christopher Wright writes, “. . . her care for him during that awful first year of his prophetic ministry when he virtually starved himself to death before her eyes. And at what personal cost had she come to accept the traumatic destruction of her own hopes when she had first married this young son of a priest? Once in exile, she would have known, of course, that Ezekiel would probably never be privileged to serve in the temple. But at least she had married into a priestly family. . . . But instead of that, she was not practically living under house arrest with a husband who was the butt of everything from mockery to hatred and whose unpredictable eccentricity made her house a virtual tourist site. . . . Presumably she supported, encouraged, and comforted him, giving delight to his eyes in the bleak physical, emotional, and theological landscape of their doubly blighted lives. . . . If nobody else loved Ezekiel, his precious young wife did. (p. 215).
The line that Wright wrote that struck me is, “The next morning, just imagine the agony of this – he simply spoke to the people (v. 18). That is, he just went about his normal duty as a prophet giving God’s word to those who turned up at his house – knowing that every minute spent in speaking to such unwittingly unwelcome guests was a minute less that he with ‘the delight of his eyes.’ And then, with a heartbreaking brevity that must have been the only way he could cope with the memory of it all, he simply records: and in the evening my wife died. The next morning, I did as I had been commanded. And that’s it. Ezekiel’s most treasured possession manages just two entries in hi s journal. In 24:16 she appears for the first time, the sparkle in his eyes. Two verses later she is gone, and the light of his life goes out for ever” (Ibid, p. 216).
God would do something nearly as painful by removing the temple from the nation of Israel. They had been warned and warned but to no avail. What Babylon did is not evict people and provide them another home on the other side of town. They burned building, destroyed edifices, killed people, and took people captive treating them like slaves. Yet, even with Ezekiel’s loss they still seemed clueless, stubborn, and determined to resist God.
“And, we may imagine Ezekiel adding, or thinking in his agony, as he turned their gaze and his own to the lifeless form of his lovely young wife lying in the room in front of them, “if this does not confront you with the reality of what I have been saying , if this does not drive you to repentance before it is too late, then nothing ever will and God alone will be your judge; (Ibid. p. 217).
As we know, her death was not effective to Ezekiel’s audience but is a precious life given to God. I marvel and both Ezekiel and his wife’s devotion to God, their sacrificial obedience, and graceful suffering.
Dear Lord, You took Ezekiel’s wife yet he was rewarded richly for his deep and agonizing loss. As the Lord Jesus said in Luke 18:29-30, “And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” For all the losses that believers around the world have experienced they will be richly rewarded. Help us to remember that many who came before us sacrificed so much for the gospel. We praise You for their faith as we ask You to strengthen ours. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.