As I read Ezekiel 16 this past weekend, my thoughts went back to a quiet time that I had nine years ago. I call my quiet times from back then “my Harvard quiet times,” since I was working on my M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School in those days. During that time, I was continuing to develop my habits of personal Bible study that I had started at DePauw University, of having a daily quiet time and a weekly quiet time. As many of my readers know, my quiet times continue to this day, and God has made them worthwhile. In those three years at Harvard, my daily quiet times covered I Thessalonians-Philemon and Deuteronomy-I Chronicles, and my weekly quiet times included Acts, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and Hosea. I treasured those times. I would take long walks at night to local parks, and often I would walk around a campus library that was virtually empty. Many didn’t like the library for that reason, but I loved the solitude. These would be my times to commune with God, to focus on the positive, to learn new things, and to renew my mind with Scripture. They were times of rest and stability in the midst of my usual chaos.
I am actually amazed at how often I have remembered my Harvard quiet times this past month. I mean, seriously, I do not have a photographic memory. There are times when I cannot remember what went through my mind last week, let alone several years ago. An obvious reason for my recall is that I am reading some of the same books now that I was then. Right now, I am studying Ezekiel for my daily quiet time, and I was reading it for my weekly quiet time when I was at Harvard. Still, I am surprised that I am remembering that long ago. The experience is similar to what you see on Kung Fu episodes, where Caine thinks back to the lessons that his master taught him.
Anyway, I was reading Ezekiel 16, and I noticed that God condemns Judah for being a whore. Actually, that is the whole point of the chapter (and much of the Old Testament). But God says that Judah does not receive pay for her services. Rather, she pays others to accept her favors. To me, what this means (at least in part) is that Judah worshipped gods that did nothing for her. God delivered her out of Egypt. What did Baal ever do for her? The LORD was the God whom Israel knew; she had a history with him. By contrast, she probably just found out about Baal when she entered Canaan.
Israel also played the whore with other nations. I know that, in part, this means that Israel relied on other nations for security, whereas God wanted her to rely on him. But I think that she also wanted to impress the other nations. Hezekiah apparently had such a motive when he showed the Babylonians the treasures of Jerusalem.
As I thought about Ezekiel 16, my mind went back to my Harvard quiet time on I Samuel. I vaguely recall that I had just finished a rough Hebrew exam, and I was in the science center for lunch, meditating on the passage in which Israel requested a king. The Israelites wanted a king because that would make them like all the other nations. Israel wanted to be cool. She desired to be like everyone else. She craved the respect of other nations. She thought that other nations had cool gods. She admired their institutions. She craved their acceptance. That, in my opinion, is why she was a whore who paid others to receive her services.
Some may think that my interpretation sounds rather high-schoolish, for it relates to high school concerns such as cliques and the desire for acceptance. Maybe, but do people really grow up when they’re out of high school? Even adults want to keep up with the Joneses and achieve notoriety in society. The world tells us that certain things give us status–money, jobs, sex appeal, fancy cars–and one reason that we want these things is to feel accepted. Like Israel of old, we want to fit in.
Yet, God had a better plan for Israel, as he has a better plan for us. God desired to include Israel in a plan of cosmic proportions. Through Israel, God would make his glory known to the nations. He would show the nations that he is God, one who is powerful, just, loving, and wise. Israel would display God’s character through her obedience to his commandments, which reflect God’s right to rule and his righteous attributes. Israel wanted to conform to the trends around her in order to be cool. God wanted her to set the trend for his glory.
In the end, Israel’s idols proved to be a disappointment, just as God said they would be. The other gods did not deliver Israel, and, when the Babylonians invaded, Israel’s ally Egypt fled the scene to save her own hide. God, however, was faithful.
One reason that I (unfortunately) value the acceptance of other people over that of God is that I can see the other people; by contrast, I do not see God, and I am not even 100% sure that God exists (though I choose to believe that he does, and for good reasons). Israel, however, succumbed to this temptation knowing that God was real. Strange, and yet it shows the power of social pressure.