Bible: Tasty scroll with bitter words

July 23 — Ezekiel 3:1-11; July 30 — Amos 7:10-17

Jul 17, 2017 by

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During children’s time in the church basement when I was a child, often we saw an “object lesson.” The teacher had some ordinary object from home — an egg, a needle and thread, a jar full of beans — and with that they taught us some lesson about being kind, or obeying our parents, or how much Jesus loves us. The lesson was all tied into that object.

Duane Beachey


Ezekiel is full of object lessons, some quite dramatic. In chapters 2 and 3, a celestial figure, shining like a rainbow, shows Ezekiel a scroll with words of lament, mourning and woe. Ezekiel is commanded to eat the scroll, and it tastes as sweet as honey. This is apparently his way of saying that God’s words are now within him when he speaks.

God orders more object lessons: Ezekiel is to lie on his left side for 390 days to symbolize the siege of Jerusalem. Then he is to lie on his right side for 40 days to bear the sin of Judah. Each day he lies there he is to bake bread from a jar of grain — wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt. That’s the recipe for Ezekiel 4:9 bread. The method of baking is intended to symbolize Israel eating defiled food, but God relents when Ezekiel objects to this (4:12-15).

Lying on one side for a year must have caught the attention of the whole nation, not unlike Mohandas Gandhi’s hunger strikes, which got the attention of all India.

Ezekiel prophesied at the same time as Jeremiah, when the defeat of Jerusalem was imminent. He continued to speak the word of the Lord after being taken captive to Babylon, along with thousands from Jerusalem. Thus he prophesied in two contexts: the doomed Jerusalem and the exile.

Ezekiel gave object lessons to Judah and received them in visions. He described wheels, beasts, flying machines, dry bones in a valley. His visions begin with messages of destruction and defeat and end in healing and restoration.

The shepherd Amos from Tekoa prophesied in a very different time, an era of prosperity 150 years earlier. Though Amos was from Judah in the south, God called him to prophesy against Israel in the north. He too used object lessons — a plumb line to show Israel was not straight, a basket of ripe fruit to demonstrate Israel was ripe for destruction.

As we can imagine, a prophet from Judah denouncing Israel was not popular. The king told him to go home and prophesy there. But Amos came right back at the king, telling him his wife would become a prostitute and his children would be killed.

Besides being an outsider, Amos brought a message of economic justice that didn’t sit well at a time when Israel was enjoying prosperity. He decried Israel’s wealth and opulence while the poor were neglected. The people saw their wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. Amos saw it as a sign of their greed. He wasn’t subtle.

Amos calls the wealthy women fat cows and says the time is coming when they will be led away with hooks. Amos tells Israel that God rejects their worship — their religious feasts, their sacrifices, even their songs. God says, “I will not listen to your music.”

Then he adds the famous challenge that tells us what God really desires: “But let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

In a world of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, Amos challenges us today. The week I wrote this, investors complained bitterly that American Airlines used some of its profits to give raises to its employees, making their wages equal to the employees of other airlines. The investors saw this as a theft from their pockets. What might Amos say?

Duane Beachey, author of Reading the Bible As If Jesus Mattered (Cascadia, 2014), is a Mennonite pastor serving two small Presbyterian churches in eastern Kentucky, where he and his wife, Gloria, served with Mennonite Central Committee for eight and a half years.

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