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Welcome to Bible Fiber, where we are encountering the textures and shades of the biblical tapestry through twelve Minor Prophets, two reformers, and one exile. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel, both ancient and modern.

This week we are studying Ezekiel 7. On last week’s episode, our prophet-in-exile addressed the mountains of Israel from the plains of Babylon. In the two episodes before that, Ezekiel spoke to the city of Jerusalem. This week, he expands his message to all “the land of Israel” in a highly evocative sermon (7:1).

We are only seven chapters into Ezekiel, but the message is starting to feel like the reverse of the classic folktale of Chicken Little. In the folktale, after an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head, he falsely determines that the sky must be falling. He spreads the news to all his animal friends, like Lucky Ducky and Henny Penny, and total hysteria ensues in the community.

Ezekiel had the opposite experience. He knew the proverbial sky was falling and it was not the result of naivety or a misunderstanding of gravity. As God reveals the inevitable devastation of Jerusalem, the panicked tone in Ezekiel’s prophecies ratchets up. However, unlike Chicken Little, the Israelites did not take his stark warnings seriously.

Ezekiel’s poetic style relies heavily on repetition to hammer home his points. In English translations, the repetition can sometimes feel redundant. In Hebrew, Chapter 7’s poetry breaks down into three panels, each delivering short lines that give the oracle a distinct staccato sound. It is almost as if Ezekiel is imitating the rapid blasts of a shofar sounding the alarm before an attack. For translators, the chapter is nightmarishly difficult. The Hebrew is garbled in spots, and certain lines seem unfinished.

According to the oracle, God’s punishment was so close at hand that it had essentially begun. There was no chance of putting the smoke back in the bottle. Ezekiel’s predecessors had warned that judgment was imminent, but Ezekiel announced its arrival, said “the time has come; the day draws near” (7:12). The period of God’s blessing was over, and the period of his curses had begun.

Ezekiel announced, “An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land” (7:2). God’s curse was comprehensive, covering every cardinal direction. Jerusalem was not the only city headed for disaster. All the Judean towns in the countryside were going to get swept up in the violence as well.

God admonished, “I will judge you according to your ways; I will punish you for all your abominations” (7:3). In case God’s people saw their punishment as unfair, Ezekiel reminds them that they deserved the consequences they would suffer. Their abominations provoked God’s wrath, and it was their fault, not God’s fault. It was not God’s character that was on trial. God’s sovereignty could no longer coexist with their disobedience. He hated evil so much that he could no longer tolerate its takeover of Israel. His justice was not overly punitive; it was consistent and faithful with the covenant guidelines.

Over the centuries of disobedience, their inclination was to assume God had overlooked their sin because of their election. However, they would learn that God had delayed their judgment, not canceled it. The apostle Peter described God’s longsuffering character in his epistle: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

When Yahweh first commissioned Ezekiel, he appointed him as a watchman, ready to sound the alarm of imminent attack (3:17). As Ezekiel’s message grows in its sense of urgency, it has the sound of a sentry trying to alert his people. The introductions to each poetic panel are emphatic: “The End has come!” (7:1), “Disaster after disaster!” (7:5), and “Your doom has gone out” (7:10).

As the oracle expands, Ezekiel details what to expect on the day of the Lord (7:12-18). He warns that when God’s punishment strikes, Judah’s economy will collapse. He said, “Let not the buyer rejoice nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude” (7:12). All transactions would be pointless since they were about to lose all their earthly possessions. Ezekiel predicted, “They shall fling their silver into the streets; their gold shall be treated as unclean” (7:19). Without an economy and without food to purchase, their money was useless. It could not fill their bellies or defend their homes (7:19). Incidentally, Ezekiel 7:19 is the same as an earlier prophecy from Zephaniah 1:18. The prophets often like to quote other prophets.

In their suffering, the people would come to despise their silver and gold, seeing it as an unclean stumbling block (7:20). During their days of decadent idolatry, they either melted down their jewelry to fashion idols, or they brought their fine jewelry to decorate pagan shrines (7:20). Biblical translations differ on that point. Either way, they offered their most valuable possessions to false gods rather than the one true God.

Pastors often try to make the prophets relatable by saying that in modern times, we idolize money, which is of course true. But that is not what Ezekiel is saying. In his day, they had literally turned their wealth into idols. In the time of their wilderness wandering, they had freely donated their jewelry and precious metals to adorn the tabernacle, the place where Yahweh dwelled among them (Ex. 35:21-22). In the years leading up to their exile, they had fallen far from those days of gratitude and right worship.

Ezekiel added that when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, God would hand the city’s wealth over to the pagan invaders as plunder and spoil (7:21). He would not even protect the temple’s furnishings or treasury. He would allow the Babylonians to profane it all. Just like he was going to allow the obliteration of all the high places, as stated in Chapter 6, he also purposed the desecration of his own temple, but he could not watch as it happened. God said, “I will avert my face from them so that they may profane my treasured place; the violent shall enter it; they shall profane it” (7:22).

To clarify, Ezekiel never names the Babylonian army as the adversary set to attack Judah. That would give pagans too much credit. Instead, he refers to them as “the wicked of the earth” or “strangers” or “the worst of the nations.” Those titles were certainly unflattering, but at least it kept Ezekiel out of trouble by not outright naming his Babylonian overlords. And his audience would have known exactly who he meant, even if he used coded language.

For the third time in the book, Ezekiel categorizes the agents of death as sword, plague, and famine (7:15). The few who survived all three would flee to the mountains, moaning like distressed doves in the rocky crevices (7:16). To underline their helplessness, Ezekiel states, “all hands shall grow feeble, all knees turn to water” (7:17, NRSVUE). The NRSVUE filters Ezekiel’s graphic language to make the prophet more family friendly. The translation is more accurately reflected in the NIV: “Every hand will go limp; every leg will be wet with urine” (7:19, NIV). The point of the disturbing image is that Ezekiel, as the watchman, will sound the alarm, but instead of rallying to defend their sacred city, the Israelites will freeze in fear and humiliation.

After Jerusalem’s fiery destruction, the Babylonians will put the survivors in chains and set off on their journey to Babylon (7:23). Only at that point—when it is too late—would the deportees realize the immensity of their guilt before God. Ezekiel predicted, “When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none” (7:25). Only once they were being carried off into exile did they see their mistake, but it would be too late.

Ezekiel describes Judah’s citizens being carted off to their land of exile and they had no leaders to turn to for help. All social categories that had once defined Israel’s political and social classes would vanish (7:26-27). The king and prince would be unable to lead. The prophet would be out of visions. And the priest would suddenly have no wisdom or helpful instruction.

The Jubilee

As I have mentioned before on this podcast, Jeremiah was Ezekiel’s older contemporary. Ezekiel prophesied to the exiles in Tel Abib and Jeremiah ministered in Jerusalem. Before Ezekiel was carted off into exile, he likely heard Jeremiah prophesying in the Temple courts many times. Their messages were both similar and distinct. Jeremiah indicated that there was still time to repent and avoid judgment. For Ezekiel, Yahweh’s patience had run out and there was no time left to be lenient.

Their teachings around the year of Jubilee exemplify their different prophetic approaches. Ezekiel pronounced, “For the sellers should not return to what has been sold as long as they remain alive” (7:13). This statement requires a bit of background on Israel’s land laws. Since the time of Joshua’s conquest, the land of Canaan was divided among the descendants of Jacob (Jos. 13-21). Tribal land was not supposed to be sold since it belonged to the entire family. Only in desperate circumstances, when a person owed a large amount of debt, could they sell a portion of their familial land. However, on the year of Jubilee, they were allowed to buy it back (Lev. 25:1-6). God gave them a safety-net so they would not lose their property forever. Ezekiel’s prophecy declared the year of the Jubilee void. With the land fully occupied by the Babylonian empire, and all the people of Judah forced into exile, there was no point buying or returning land. To Ezekiel, the laws of Jubilee no longer applied.

Jeremiah used the year of Jubilee to give a different object lesson. While Jerusalem was under Babylonian siege, Jeremiah sat in confinement, placed there by King Zedekiah who did not appreciate his discouraging prophecies. His cousin Hanamel came to visit him. It was 587 BCE, the year of Jubilee and incidentally, the last moments of Jerusalem’s independence. Hanamel solicited Jeremiah to redeem a piece of family property—a field a few miles northeast of the Jerusalem Temple, in the land of Benjamin.

Although the land had already been captured by the roving Babylonian army, Jeremiah was told in a dream to buy the land for seventeen shekels. Once he had the title deed, Jeremiah gave specific instructions to his scribe Baruch to bury the clay jar until the day when Israel had propriety over their fields and valleys again (Jer. 32: 14–15). The act itself was a symbol of hope that one day they would again return to their land.

Both prophets had their moments of preaching doom and moments of preaching hope. It’s not fair to compare Jeremiah’s promises of restoration to Ezekiel’s warning of impending destruction. When each prophecy was uttered, they were at different points on their prophetic timeline. But it shows they were each pulling examples from the same religious tradition to make different points. For Ezekiel, Jubilee’s nullification symbolized the irrevocability of the impending judgment.

Unlike Chicken Little’s baseless panic, the sky was really falling in Judah! The prophets were not spreading false rumors. By purchasing useless land, Jeremiah offered a little tangible hope that after the sky fell, God would help Judah pick up the pieces.

That’s it for this week. Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. Next week we are reading Ezekiel 8. Compared to Ezekiel 8’s long catalogue of Judah’s misdeeds, our chapter today only dipped a toe in those waters.

For all the Biblical references each week, please see the show transcript on our blog or by signing up for our emails at I do not say all the references in the podcast but they are all in the transcript.

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Shabbat Shalom