Death staring at you in the face – Thursday, 19th week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 12: 1-12
Chapters 12-19 of the Prophet Ezekiel deal with the fate of Jerusalem; in particular, chapter 12 deals with the fate of King Zedekiah. In chapter 11 God clearly rejected Jerusalem and now he rejects the King. We will hear how King Zedekiah is captured and put to death. The people, both in Jerusalem and those scattered in exile under the first Babylonian exile in 598 BC, refuse to accept the reality of the destruction of the city and the nation of Judah that is to come.
Their disobedience is nothing short of a rebellious attitude and no longer are they called the ‘house of Israel’ but the ‘house of rebellion’. God is clear, “having eyes they do not see (the impending reality of the exile) and having ears they do not hear.’ They cannot and will not believe that Ezekiel’s dire prediction can come true. So, Ezekiel is asked to act out the siege and the capture of King Zedekiah, mentioned here with a lesser role as ‘prince’ (verse12).
The text is filled with several verbs to indicate the movement that will follow in rapid succession. The prophet is to ‘prepare’ his baggage for the exile and ‘go’ into exile. He is to ‘bring’ out his bag by day in their sight so that every prophetic action is clearly visible to the exiles and to those in Jerusalem. He is to ‘go’ out in the evening and ‘dig’ through the walls while ‘carrying’ his bag with him. He shall ‘lift’ the baggage on his shoulder and do this in shame (‘cover your face’).
God commanded Ezekiel to act as if he were going into captivity or exile. The fact was that he already was an exile in Babylon. Yet, God wanted him to act this out among the exiles to make a message from God clear: all those remaining in Judah and Jerusalem would go into captivity.
Ezekiel carried out this instruction in ‘the sight of the people’. This phrase ‘in their sight’ is repeated seven times in verses 1-7. Ezekiel wants maximum visual impact; not only for the citizens of Jerusalem but for every exile in Babylon who had pinned their hopes for restoration and for the preservation of Jerusalem. But God has made up his mind.
Ezekiel’s actions elicits the desired response. The unfolding of this ‘drama’ prompts people to ask “what are you doing?” (Verse 9). The purpose for an exiled man acting as if he were going into exile all over again has reaped its rewards in the curious question of a people living in denial.
Ezekiel now directs the oracle at King Zedekiah and to the people(verse10). The captivity will come to pass and the King, now with a diminished role (referred to as a prince) shall lift his baggage on his shoulders, as will the rest and shall dig though the walls and carry leave in shame. The ‘baggage’ in question is illustrated in a series of neo-Assyrian monumental reliefs that portray captives being led away in procession with large bags slung over their shoulders. The packs were made either of durable cloth or skin, and loaded with such bare necessities for survival during the long trek as could be salvaged from the ruins of a conquered city.
We know that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The people were taken into captivity but King Zedekiah had the worst of it coming. Ezekiel prophecies that even though Zedekiah will try to escape, he will be caught and be taken into Babylon (Jeremiah 39:2-4 and 2 Kings 25:4). “Yet he will not see the land of Babylon,” where he is to die. Ezekiel prophecies the manner of Zedekiah’s capture but even more that his eyes will be gorged out before he is taken into exile. This was fulfilled in Jeremiah 39:6-7.
The Babylonians were not known to be as cruel as the Assyrians who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel some 130 years earlier, but they were still experts in cruelty in their own right. They made certain that the last sight King Zedekiah saw was the murder of his own sons, and that he spent the rest of his life in darkness.