Today the church remembers the Biblical prophet-in-exile: Saint Ezekiel, Critic, Visionary, and Giver of Questionable Advice.
Saint Ezekiel was (probably) born sometime in the early 600’s BCE while King Josiah was instituting the reforms that Judah had hoped would keep them in Divine favor and keep warring armies from continually conquering them.
Spoiler alert: the reforms didn’t work.
He was born into the priestly cast of Israel, and was supposedly a descendant of Joshua himself. Ezekiel, prophet and priest, was married and, because of his high standing in Jewish society, was exiled to Babylon when the Babylonians crushed Jerusalem. The Babylonians were no fools. To prevent an insurrection in their captured lands they would exile the best and the brightest (and those who held the most political sway) to work in Babylon for the king there, benefiting from their wisdom and preventing any influential characters from gathering power around themselves.
Ezekiel was married, and reportedly lived in Tel Abib on the banks of the Chebar river.
In the book of Ezekiel we get a glimpse into his prophecies and encounters with God. Ezekiel was a person who lived off of the visions he had of the Divine, much like Saint Julian of Norwich and Saint John of the Cross, and his mystical visions vacillated between beautiful and horrific. He warned of the coming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and, for five years, acted out this destruction in a kind of pantomime for all to see.
Other notable illustrations in his visions were the graphic depictions of the angels surrounding the Divine throne (human face, ox, eagle, and lion), and the cryptic fiery “wheels in wheels” which always reminds me of the Johnny Cash song, “Ring of Fire.”
When the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem proved true, he became a would-be advisor for those also in exile in Babylon. Notably it was he who told Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to refuse to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol, creating the fun Easter Vigil story popularly known as “Three Men in a Fiery Furnace” because when you don’t do what the King wants, you get thrown in the oven.
You know, that old chestnut…
Surely that was questionable advice, but everything turned out alright.
Ezekiel is held as a model of faith in all three of the Abrahamic traditions, the “People of the Book.” The Eastern Orthodox Church honors him on this day, as do many other communities (including Lutherans).
Ezekiel is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that even when you find yourself as an exile from your home, stay true to your convictions and you’ll find your home is never far away.
-first icon is a typical Russian writing of Ezekiel and can be purchased at orthodoxchristiansupply.com
-second icon is a writing of Ezekiel’s vision of “wheels within wheels” and, though I’ve tried hard for a while to find the writer of the icon, I’ve been unable to locate them. Note that I’m not the writer of either.