Kendall K. Downunread,
Nov 14, 2021, 5:30:08 PM11/14/21
In the days which followed the arrival of the news that Jerusalem had
fallen the people behaved exactly as Ezekiel had foretold. Grinning
Babylonian guards looked for any sign of dissatisfaction and were quick
to punish anyone who looked glum. Cheery greetings, from men whose
hearts were breaking, rang out throughout the camp and it was only in
private that anyone dared to express their real feelings.
First there was sorrow and anxiety over friends and relatives who had
been left behind in Jerusalem. How many of them had survived the
privations of the siege and the sack of the captured city? How many of
them would survive the forced march to wherever their captors planned to
settle them? Some might end up in Tel Abib and people hoped for happy
reunions; others might be sent somewhere far away, never to be seen again.
But even worse there was the loss of hope. The rebellion had failed,
Egypt had disappointed, there was no triumphant Judah to demand freedom
for the captives. Now endless years of captivity stretched ahead of
them, forced labour in the canal until death brought the only release
they would know.
In desperation people turned to the priests and levites imprisoned in
the camp, paying them to pray for the safety of loved ones. As the
guards embezzled camp rations with ever greater impunity, the priests
were the only ones to grow fat.
Ezekiel shared the emotions of his fellow captives. He too had friends
and family left behind in Jerusalem and now facing an uncertain future
in the hands of the Babylonians. He too had hoped for eventual freedom,
a hope that seemed completely out of the question now. But at the same
time Ezekiel found delight in the simple rituals of greeting that for so
long had been forbidden him, in chatting round the fire in the evening,
in exchanging opinions with the other men.
He was aware, however, that his fellow captives' attitude towards him
had changed. Where before they had mocked, now they stood in awe of how
his predictions had come true in every detail. The false prophets who
had opposed and mocked him slunk about the camp and no one listened to
them any more, no one paid them for prayers or predictions.
Then one day God came to Ezekiel with another message. "Prophesy against
the shepherds of Israel; they should feed the flock, not themselves. I
am against the shepherds, because they cared only for themselves instead
of for My flock."
There were mutters of sympathy as Ezekiel's words of condemnation rang
out, but then faces suddenly changed and everyone fell silent.
"This is what Yahweh says," Ezekiel declaimed. "I will seek for My sheep
and bring them out of the nations among whom they are scattered. I will
feed them in a good pasture on the high mountains of Israel."
The mountains of Israel? People pinched themselves at the words.
Everything Ezekiel had predicted had come true; now he was predicting a
return from the flat lands of Mesopotamia to the high hills of Israel,
the longed-for coolness of the highlands. Dared they hope again?
"I will judge between cattle and cattle," Ezekiel continued. "You strong
ones mistreat and oppress the weak, but the day is coming when I will
save My flock. I will set up one shepherd over them - My servant David
will rule them and feed them and be their shepherd and their prince. No
more will the nations prey upon them, no more will they suffer hunger,
but they will know that I, Yaweh, am their God and they are My beloved
Like wildfire Ezekiel's message spread through the camp. There was hope!
They would return! They were forgiven!