Posted by: mattcolvin | January 24, 2012

It’s a Hard Life Being a Prophet

Tuesday of the third week after Epiphany: Ezekiel 24:15-27.

15 Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 16 “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.”
18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.
19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things signify to us, that you behave so?”
20 Then I answered them, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 21 ‘Speak to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul…

Morna Hooker’s fine little book, The Signs of a Prophet is worth reading about what it meant to be a prophet in the Bible, especially concerning symbolic actions. Sometimes these take the form of outlandish behavior — cooking over dung, lying on one’s side for a number of days, etc. — but sometimes they involve the prophet’s ordinary life: his marriage (Hosea), or children (Hosea again, Isaiah). Here, Ezekiel combines both: his wife dies (significant family event), and he makes no lament over her (outlandish action). The goal is to arouse inquiry: “Will you not tell us what these things are to us, that you behave so?”

How hard must this have been? The prophet must set his face to do YHWH’s bidding and refrain from tears while facing the most profound loss a man can suffer, that of a wife. It is a heartbreak to surpass in intensity, though not in duration, that which Hosea experienced in his divinely-ordained broken marriage. In order to make vivid for Israel just how invested YHWH is in His people, the strongest emotions in human experience must be made into symbolic object lessons, living a fortiori arguments. And to this end, the entire life of a prophet is subordinated to the purposes of YHWH.

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