The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them….”
Ezekiel 6:1 (NIV)
At the time of Ezekiel’s prophetic messages (c. 590 B.C.), the nation of Israel had been split for over three centuries by civil war. Like the U.S. civil war, the nation had been divided north and south. Ezekiel came from the southern kingdom, called Judah because it was primarily made up of that particular tribe and Judah was the tribe from which King David had come. The southern kingdom followed the royal line of David and kept the capitol in Jerusalem.
The northern kingdom was called Israel and consisted of 10 of the other 12 Israeli tribes. Because the northern kingdom did not follow a particular royal lineage, the throne of Israel was continually up for grabs. The northern kingdom’s history is marked by political intrigue and bloody power struggles. Cut off from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom had its religious center in the town of Bethel. Israel largely abandoned the religious law of Moses and generally worshipped the popular Canaanite gods of the day whose worship included sexual fertility rituals and, in some instances, child sacrifice.
In the previous chapters, Ezekiel’s prophecy has focused on God’s judgement on the southern kingdom of Judah and its capitol, Jerusalem. In today’s chapter, God’s message through Ezekiel takes an abrupt turn to the north. The earthly kingdoms may have been divided, but in God’s economy all 12 tribes of Israel were still His people. Just because Judah was going to face God’s judgement for their unfaithfulness did not mean Israel was going to escape His wrath.
There was an interesting parallel to the prophetic messages to both kingdoms. Amidst the messages of doom there was a measure of grace. A remnant would escape the judgement and be scattered, leaving hope of the nation’s ultimate survival.
Today, my mind is making parallels between God’s punishment of Israel and Judah, and the judgement I faced many times as a child. Like all children, I dreaded the judgement and wrath of my parents. The sting of corporal punishment and “time out” exile to my room was no joy to endure even when deserved. But amidst the punishment there was always a seed of grace. I was loved. Blessing and restoration would return with my repentance and obedience.