Lie On Your Side
We often think of a prophet being sent to the people with a message to proclaim from God as being one of words, arguments and verbal proclamations. Walter Bruggeman, a noted Hebrew Scriptures scholar, has referred to the prophets' works are "eruptive poetry." Sometimes, though, actions wind up speaking louder than words. We saw the fruit of that in God's provocative example of "how it works" in Jeremiah when God commands the prophet to go to the potter's shed and witness the reshaping of a pot flawed in the turning. So it will be with Israel and Judah. That will preach.
Ezekiel received a more elaborate and in many ways more challenging set of commands. He is to build a model of the holy city. Then with other toys fashioned for the purpose, he is to lay siege to it. On top of that, he is to place a iron plate between himself and his collection of miniatures and lie down on his side...for over a year....and then lie down again on his other side....for another 40 days. After that, he is to stretch his arm out against the toy city he is besieging and God will bind him with cords so he can't move until the siege is completed. During that time, he can only eat a proscribed amount of food, a mixture of legumes and grains made into a cake, that is to be baked over a dung fire. God does but him some slack and allows that only cow dung should be used, preserving him from violating the dietary laws.
All this is to be done in a place where, and at a time when, the people can watch. Ezekiel is to make a public spectacle of these actions as signs of God's judgment against Israel and Judah. Ah, the things we do (and often balk at doing) for the sake of God!
I thank God that none of us, to my knowledge, have received such a commandment. All we have to do? According to the first letter of John, we are to proclaim what we have seen and testify to the eternal life with God that has been revealed to us in Christ Jesus. We are to confess our sins, all that we have done (AND left undone!), and to choose fellowship with God and each other over and against isolation and sinful indulgence. Lastly, and this is the kicker...we are told that we are not to deceive ourselves. The good news? God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all that we have done wrong, and of the right that we have not done.
At first glance, it would appear that choosing the latter would be more favorable. After all, what one of us would like to lie on one side for 390 days, only to then lie on the other for another 40? I like baked goods...but to eat a cake made only from millet, lentils, barley, beans and spelt that has been roasted over a dung fire for the duration of the time I am commanded to lie on my side? And on spare rations at that? And yet....
And yet, in so many ways, the acceptance of the calling to follow Jesus and do all that John cites in his first chapter of his first letter to the Churches does proffer some of the same rigor. Yes, there is assuredly less physical pain and discomfort in answering this calling, but what is asked of us is the same authentic, whole body and soul response that the prophets ask of us: to be willing to devote ourselves to a life-long service of proclaiming in thought, word and deed the love and grace of new life we all share in through the resurrection of Jesus, and the abiding presence of the one who creates, redeems and sanctifies all things.