There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. Ezekiel 23:20 (NIV)
You’re likely not going to hear a sermon at your neighborhood church on today’s chapter. The MPAA would rate a movie of Ezekiel’s word pictures NC-17 in the blink of an eye, and depending on the Director of the film, it would likely end up X rated. Today’s chapter reminds me that there are those sections of God’s Message commonly chosen for public consumption on Sunday morning, and there are those that are commonly avoided.
However, as I’ve read and studied the entirety of God’s Message over the years, I find that it does not shy away from base human realities. Sex and violence are a very real part of the human experience. Even the “heroes” of the faith are revealed to have core character flaws and to be guilty of all sorts of wrongdoing.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The pornographic imagery that fueled ancient fertility cults are akin to graphic porn on our computer screens to which many are addictively drawn. I look around my local gathering of Jesus followers and know those who have been physical, verbal, and sexual abusers as well as victims of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. These are core realities of the fallen state from which we all need to experience repentance, healing, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.
The ancient prophets like Ezekiel were not given to social propriety and white washing the truth in idyllic terms. They were given to speaking in honest, base terms about the human condition. Today’s chapter is a prime example in which God gives Zeke a word picture that many starched, religious church goers I know would prefer to simply skip over. The metaphors center on two female prostitutes who have given themselves over to their insatiable sexual lusts. The sisters represent the divided kingdoms of Israel (Samaria in the north and Judah in the south) who, in God’s graphic word picture, whored themselves out in political and religious alliances with their neighbors rather than being faithful and trusting of God.
This is not subtle, read between the lines, imagery. The things a person experienced in Ezekiel’s day is almost unfathomable to our relatively puritanical, politically correct world. There were sex cults and child sacrifices. Graphic, giant phallic (penis) imagery in sculptures and graphic depiction were a normal part of pagan societies, and God through Ezekiel’s message addresses these things in equally graphic terms. Desperate times call for desperate messages, and God does not shy away from speaking directly, graphically, and emphatically to his people.
Today, I am reminded that prophets are not only fore-tellers but forth-tellers who are not afraid to shock people out of their comfortable, proper religiosity to say what needs to be said. I am reminded that socially or religiously cloistering ourselves from the realities of fallen humanity does not insulate us from those realities or their consequences. Blissfully ignoring and piously avoiding any public evidence of our sin doesn’t immunize us from sin and its disastrous effects, rather it keeps us from honestly addressing sin in healthy ways that will promote positive change, healing and redemption.
I believe that messages like Ezekiel’s are God’s way of shocking us out of our religious duplicity to address this base reality.