The Bloody City – A Reflection of Ezekiel 22

As I sit at my desk reading, writing and listening to the enchanting melodies of master guitarist Phil Keaggy,[1] I am transported into the ancient world of a Zadokite[2] priest. Ezekiel lived in Jerusalem and was active (594 – 571 B.C.E.)[3] before the first group of exiles were taken to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C.E.[4] He was at the heart of Judean society and a proponent of Zionist covenantal theology, which was a tradition emphasizing them as Yahweh’s choice people, Jerusalem as the capital of a perpetual Davidic dynasty, and Zion (Jerusalem) –with the Solomonic Temple – as the divine habitation.[5] The exile considerably challenged this belief, as it called into question God’s promised protection of the holy city.[6]
Following the destruction of Jerusalem, the tone of Ezekiel’s proclamations changed. This is reflected in the book’s division into three distinct sections: chapters 1-24 are primarily oracles against Jerusalem and Judah and contain material preceding the Babylonian invasion.[7] Chapters 25-32 are directed against foreign entities, and the third – chapters 33-48 – contains oracles regarding Israel’s future salvation and restoration. Chapter 22 is also divided into three units: vv 1-16, 17-22 and 23-31.[8] The textual and historical tradition of Ezekiel has a long, complicated history of criticism and is far too extensive to address here.[9]
“The bloody city” rings loud and clear at the onset of these oracles in chapter 22. This is a phrase used to describe Nineveh in Nahum 3:1. The divine decision was been made to punish God’s chosen, but guilty city.[10] The list of wrongs is detailed throughout this chapter: v 6 rulers are shedding blood; vv 7, 25, 29 aliens suffer extortion, fathers and mothers are treated contemptuously, orphans and widows are wronged; vv 10-11 women are violated in horrific ways, adultery, fornication and incest are taking place; v 12 bribes are made for killing; v 26 priests have done violence; v 27 officials portrayed as wolves; v 28 prophets are declaring lies as though from Yahweh; v 29 the poor and needy are oppressed.[11]
It is also important to note that God warns people to adjust their course and honors repentance. Even in verse 30, with its military metaphor,[12] there is the hyperbolic sense of God looking for one for whom the city could be spared.[13] Regardless, the people’s actions have brought these consequences on themselves.[14]
Surveying this spectacle, I cannot help but shudder at the eerie familiarity it has to our own day. Jesus made pronouncements similar to that of Ezekiel when dealing with the corruption of his own time. Israel in our time still finds itself as the center of attention for unethical behavior. As a Christian who has some Jewish ancestry, I can appreciate that these issues are sensitive for many. Yet, there are still questions. When will God deal with corruption? Does God still protect Israel? Does Israel still oppress its own people and countrymen?
In a class lecture,[15] John Goldingay made this statement,
“God still protects the Jewish people. In our time we have to make a distinction between the state of Israel, which is a state like any other and the Jewish people, most of whom live outside the state of Israel. And declaring that God is committed to the Jewish people does not mean that you reckon that God is committed to the state of Israel, particularly over against the Palestinians. But it’s hard, I think, for Christians to make those distinctions.”
This is crucial because today there are Christian and messianic Zionist movements who have not been able to make a distinction. Some are of the mind that Israel – the state – can do no wrong. “We must bless Israel,” goes the mantra. This is not about Israel but rather an ideology that desires to nationalize God to fit political agendas.
Regardless of one’s eschatology and opinions of political policy, categorizing the State of Israel as though it is the legitimate recipient of God’s favor before all others is a gross mistake with detrimental ethical repercussions.
“For believing that God accompanies one’s army is always comforting, and a people can perhaps be braver the more inclined they are to view God as able and willing to come out in their defense.”[16]
The history of humanity, including Christianity, is strewn with a trail of blood where imperialistic aspirations have been religiously justified as though it were God’s own desires.[17]
“It is always easier to assume that God is with us more than he is with our enemies. In war, how can God be on the side of the foe? Whether it was the time of the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, or the Persian Empire (etc) those Israelites who heard or read the story . . . were all people who chafed under subjugation by a foreign power. Their natural tendency would be to presume that God was with them and not with their oppressors.”[18]

[1] “Study helps for the book of Ezekiel should include a musical instrument—a guitar or recorder. Ezekiel is noted as a musician, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument (33:32).” Millard Lind, Ezekiel, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1996), 13.
[2] John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: Second Edition (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2014), 371.
[3] Walther Eichrodt, Ezekiel: A Commentary (Philadelphia, PA.: The Westminster Press, 1970), 1.
[4] Ezek 33:21; 40:1.
[5] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “The Book of Ezekiel,” New Interpreter’s Bible, A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol. VI,  Leander E. Keck, et al., eds. (Nashville, TN.: Abington Press, 1994), VI:1082-3.
[6] Michael Coogan, The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version, 4th ed. (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1160.
[7] L. S. Tiemeyer, “Ezekiel, Book of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2012), 219.
[8] Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary: Ezekiel 20-48, vol. 29 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1990), xx.
[9] G. W. Bromiley, “Ezekiel,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988; 2002), 2:250-52; David Noel Freedman, “Ezekiel, Book of,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4 vols. (New York, NY.: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 2:714-16.
[10] Eichrodt 1970, 308.
[11] This is my compilation, cf. Lind’s list, “Ezekiel has his own list of Ten Commandments”: (Lind 1996, 187).
[12] Darr 1994, 1315.
[13] Cf. Gen 18:20-33; Jer 5:1-5, although seemingly contradictory to Ezek 14:12-20.
[14] Cf. 9:10; 11:21; 16:43. Jesus, when dealing with the corruption of his own time made references similar to that of Ezekiel: Matt 23:37-39; Luk 13:33-35; 23:28-30. Upon contemplation of this, I recalled the poem by William Blake, “Prologue, Intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth.”
[15] John Goldingay, class lecture, Chronicles and Esther Part 2 (27:49),” OT500: The Writings as an Introduction to the Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, Fall 2010.
[16] Patricia M. McDonald, God and Violence: Biblical Resources for living in a small world (Scottdale, PA.: Herald Press, 2004), 77.
[17] David A. Leiter, Neglected Voices: Peace in the Old Testament (Scottsdale, PA.: Herald Press, 2007), 10.
[18] Douglas Stuart, Word Biblical Commentary: Hosea-Jonah, vol. 31 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 502.

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