Interpreting the Prophets

By James Luther Mays; Paul J. Achtemeier | Go to book overview
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16
Life in the Present
and Hope for the Future

WERNER E. LEMKE

By radically undercutting all facile claims on God's mercy and all false
confidence in human merit, Ezekiel laid the sure foundation for the
future hope of his people: Cod's sovereign freedom to cleanse and
restore them as he saw fit.

On the fifth day of the month of January in the year 585 B.C., a survivor of the final siege of Jerusalem came to the prophet Ezekiel in Babylon and brought him the news of the fall of the holy city six months earlier at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar's victorious army. This was a momentous event in the life of the prophet, for it marked an important turning point, not only in the life of his people, but in his own prophetic career as well. Already on the eve of the survivor's arrival, Ezekiel had intimations that something big and significant was afoot, for that night the hand of the Lord had been upon him, just as it had been on previous occasions, placing him in a heightened state of prophetic consciousness.1 Ezekiel's mouth was opened by the Lord for the last time and the dumbness which had afflicted him until then was lifted for good, never to return again. Henceforth he was able to move about and converse freely with his fellow exiles, whereas until then he had been confined to his house and permitted to speak only on those occasions when the Lord gave him a special message for his people (c£ 3:22-27).2 The fall and

1. Anthropomorphic references to the hand of the Lord occur over two hundred times in the
Old Testament with variable meanings. First, the expression may refer to Yahweh's irresistible
power, whether manifested in historical acts of deliverance or evidenced in the creation and
maintenance of the world (see, for instance, Exod. 13:9; Deut. 32:39; Isa. 45:12; Ps. 8:7). Sec-
ond, the expression may refer to divine visitations of judgment, such as illness or calamity (see,
e.g., Ps. 32:4 or 1 Sam. 5:6). And third, the expression describes the agent which induces
prophetic states of inspiration, as for instance in 1 Kings 18:46 or 2 Kings 3:15. In this latter
sense, the idiom occurs seven times in the Book of Ezekiel: in 1:3; 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; and
40:1. That such ecstatic states of prophetic inspiration could also be painful and disquieting to
the recipient is suggested by such passages as Ezek. 3:14 and Jer. 15:17.

2. The nature and duration of Ezeldel's affliction have been the subject of much discussion.
The problem consists in reconciling the allusions to the prophet's dumbness (see Ezek. 3:22-27;
24:25-27; and 33:21-22) with the obvious fact that he must have made some utterances during
this period, as recorded for us in chaps. 1—24. It may be that these references are purely

-200-

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