Blogging the Bible 213 – Ezekiel 12-16 – Shame and mercy

I don’t know whether or not it’s true, but I remember reading that traditionally, Jewish men were only allowed to read Ezekiel if they were over 30 and married. I think this passage, particularly chapter 16, is probably part of the reason for the tradition, or at least for the story of the tradition.
The image of a loving God clothing and caring for a naked, beautiful young woman Israel to hide the shame she endures is a graphic and powerful one. The language shocks, and so carries the force of God’s passionate love for his bride, his chosen people. It then hits home all the more when God berates his bride for her unfaithfulness – in the strongest of terms, unsuitable for a family audience.
So what do we make of it? For one thing, it’s not just about the old Israel. The New Testament calls the church the Bride of Christ, and there’s no reason to think that God is any less passionate about his bride now than he was then – or that she is automatically any more faithful.
Second, we can see the quality of God’s mercy when it’s put in the concrete terms of clothing Israel to hide her nakedness and keep her from shame. There’s an echo of the Fall (Genesis 3). The first consequence of the Fall is that the first humans realise they are naked, and feel shame. They try to clothe themselves in leaves, but when they have to leave the garden, God makes them proper clothes. Even in the first moment of sin, God covers and hides our shame far better than we ever could. The image is concrete to keep us from thinking that God’s mercy is somehow vague and distant. It is hands – on and personal.
Third, we realise how deeply we wound God’s love when we are unfaithful to him. We are taking the gifts that he gave us in love and giving them to others as if to mock him.
Perhaps the language and imagery of Ezekiel 15 are indeed suited only to the more mature; but its message is for everyone who has received God’s mercy.

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