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The Power of Life and Death

As many of you make your way through our Three-a-Day readings, today you may have read through what one of our sisters has called "the scariest chapter in the Bible", Ezekiel 24. This sentimentis understandable. I thought it may be helpful to share with you an entry about this chapter from my devotional book, "Learning to Reflect". I pray it's helpful.

“Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes with a blow…” (Ezekiel 24:16)

While the Apostle Paul reminds us that the writings contained in Scripture were intended for our “encouragement” (Romans 15:4), certain passages have, in some cases, pushed readers dangerously close to the border between faith and doubt. Take Ezekiel chapter 24 for example. As a prophet of God, Ezekiel had been faithful in communicating God’s message of judgment against Jerusalem and the Temple. However, Ezekiel’s hearers were not those in Judea, but the Jewish exiles in Babylon who, unwilling to accept the reasons for the divine wrath that dispersed them, foolishly connected Jerusalem’s safety with their eventual restoration. But as the latter half of this chapter reveals, the horror of the prophet’s message would first be felt by the prophet himself. In order to symbolize the Temple’s imminent destruction, God would take the life of Ezekiel’s wife. Moreover, Ezekiel would not be able to mourn outwardly for his wife. As a part of God’s punishment, Ezekiel, and later the other exiles, would have to “rot away” (24:23) on the inside as they repressed the anguish of their loss. “But can this angry and capricious deity be”, as some have asked, “the same, loving God who came in the person of Jesus?” In light of this apparent injustice against an innocent life, some have undoubtedly been driven to exclaim, “How can you serve a God like this?” But in passages like this one, passages that deeply disturb us, we need to think more deeply about the nature of our God and the condition of man. While the New Testament clearly confirms that no one is innocent (Romans 3:10-18, 23), and that death, whether of the young or old, is the consequence of human sinfulness (Romans 6:23), the Old Testament itself reveals principles that help us grapple with this issue. To Yahweh, the God of Israel, belongs the power of life and death (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39; I Samuel 2:6; II Kings 5:7). In fact, God has decreed the exact number of days that each of us will live (cf. Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). In light of these aspects of God’s sovereignty, we could say the only difference between our deaths and the death of Ezekiel’s wife is that the reason for the timing of her demise was revealed. As is the case with each of us, God can take us from this world at any moment. And in His perfect wisdom and perfect timing, He has, He does, and He will. Ezekiel’s wife died in order to reach the rebellious. Her demise was designed to rouse the hearts of God’s people and drive them to their knees. When considered in light of all we know of God, this passage should not drive us to doubt, but to trust even more in the God who rules over all, the God who can bring meaning even out of death. For there is another, like Ezekiel’s wife, whose death should remind us of God’s wrath, and it is to Him that we should look to confirm that God, whether we fully understand it or not, works all for His glory and the good of His people. Father, help us not to wince in light of your power, but to worship instead, knowing that in Jesus, your power is working for our greatest good.

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