Summary: In the midst of his exile, Ezekiel saw a vision of God. In the midst of our own troubles, God is still there if we will only look up.
Out of Ashes, New Life
September 11, 2005
Things sometimes happen in life that are so dramatic or stressful or incomprehensible or life altering, that it changes the way we tell time.
I have had a friend for about 20 years who I met while he was recovering from a nine month intensive care hospitalization for hemorrhagic pancreatitis. There were weeks on end in which he hovered between life and death. He has fully recovered, although I like to tease him that his chest looks like a railroad track because of all the surgical scars.
One of the first things I noticed about him was that he has started to tell time differently. Many of his conversations begin with, “When I was in the hospital” or “I haven’t’ done that since before I was in the hospital” or “I remember that because it happened right after I got out of the hospital.”
There were a lot of folks around Fort Wayne who told time beginning with the flood of ’82. That has now been replaced, at least in this church with the flood of ’03.
People in Shipshewana tell time beginning with the Palm Sunday tornados that destroyed a large part of the town. Some people tell time beginning with World War II or the assassinations of John Kennedy or Martin Luther King.
Listen to the first three verses of the prophecy of Ezekiel and notice how he tells time. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (It was the fifth yearsof the exile of King Jehoiachin) the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel.”
He didn’t tell time using the Jewish names of the months. Through Israel’s history, many had told time by the number of years since the Exodus, but Ezekiel didn’t do that either. He numbered time beginning with his exile.
There came a time in Israel’s history when the nation became just a shell of its former self. Civic life was in shambles; religious observance had been perverted by self-serving priests and kings; territory had been lost on the battle field against larger and better equipped neighbors.
Several hundred years before this, the land of Israel was divided into two political kingdoms – the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Everything finally came to a screeching finale when Babylonian armies swept through the land of Judah early in the sixth century BCE, laying everything to waste. This precipitated the exile – the forced removal of Jews from Judah into captivity in Babylon. The exile was such a traumatic event in the life of Ezekiel and his fellow countrymen that he began to employ a new numbering system, a new way of telling time. For all practical purposes, time as he knew it ended and began again with the exile.
Have you ever had an event like that in your life? Have you ever experienced a time that was so intense, so powerful, and so unforgettable that it made you almost forget about the other years through which you had passed up to that time? Ezekiel knew a time like that.
“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month…the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.”
The Babylonian defeat of Judah didn’t happen all at once; therefore the deportations didn’t happen all at once. They went in stages or waves, with the last one being completed in 587. Daniel was taken away with the first group. Ezekiel went with the second group which included the king, King Jehoiachin. So, at the beginning of his prophecy, we find him there with the other captives as he sat by the river Chebar.
We are not really sure where that river was. Some have suggested that it wasn’t really a river at all, but one of King Nebuchadnezzer’s canals which had been built by forced Jewish labor. Imagine the scene if that is true. Not only had the Jews been forcibly removed from their homeland, but they were put to work digging canals for the conqueror.
Can you understand the depression and the desperation that caused one of the psalm writers to issue a lament through his poetry?
By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and or tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
Scholars may label this sort of Scripture passage as a lament, but if you think about it, the Jews over there in Babylon are singing the Blues. The Blues, after all, is only misery set to music.