What Were They Feeling?

Hello everyone!

For my daily quiet time, I am reading the Book of Ezekiel. Two verses that intrigue me are Ezekiel 8:12 and 9:9. In chapter 8, Ezekiel sees the elders of Judah secretly worshipping images in Jerusalem. In v 12, God says, “Mortal, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of images? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land'” (NRSV). In 9:9, God says, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see.'”

In these verses, the elders and the people of Jerusalem sin because they believe that God has forsaken them. This is interesting, because I always thought that God forsook them (temporarily) because of their sin, not that they sinned as a result of God forsaking them. The people making this statement were probably incorrect in their assessment and sought an excuse for their behavior, even going so far as to blame God for their own sin. I have not checked commentaries on these verses, but I think that there are at least two possible explanations for their statement. One is that they thought that God had forsaken them and so they sought the help of other gods. The other is that they thought that God had forsaken them and so there was no point in doing good, since God was not going to take notice anyway.

What would have led them to conclude that God had forsaken them? Ezekiel wrote during the exile of King Jehoiachin. Perhaps the exile of the king and other Judeans convinced many in Judah that God had forsaken their nation. What puzzles me is that Jeremiah seems to present a different picture of what many Judeans felt. According to Jeremiah, false prophets (such as Hananiah) were predicting that the LORD would return Jehoiachin, the other Judean exiles, and the temple vessels to Judah (Jeremiah 28:3-4). There is another passage in Jeremiah (which I cannot find at the moment) in which Zedekiah (or someone else) says that the LORD will deliver Judah as he has in the past. In any case, Ezekiel presents many Judeans as thinking that the LORD has forsaken Judah, whereas Jeremiah says that there was a strong tendency among Judeans to trust that the LORD would deliver them (despite their sins).

How can one resolve these differences? Perhaps some believed one thing and others believed something else. Or there could have been contradictions within the people themselves. In Jeremiah 42, for example, the Judeans ask Jeremiah to consult the LORD, as if they genuinely care about what God thinks. By chapter 44, however, they make clear that they do not accept Jeremiah’s revelation, and they say that their problems started when they stopped worshipping the queen of heaven. People can be strange!

Maybe many Judeans were basing their faith in God on outward circumstances. In Jeremiah 37:5, Babylon retreated from Jerusalem when it heard that Egypt was coming. There were good times and there were bad times, and Judeans may have trusted in God’s deliverance when events seemed to be hopeful. At the same time, even as the Babylonians were taking over Jerusalem and had already done so, many Judeans did not heed Jeremiah’s message but had some hope that Judah and the Davidic dynasty would be immediately restored.

Are there other solutions that come to your mind?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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