Cultural Parallels

Ancient Israel, Culture, and Judgment

Establishing Israel and A Moral Culture

The nation of Israel was God’s specific covenanted community. They were His chosen people emanating from the loins of Abraham (Genesis 12 & 17). He led them into Egypt, and He emancipated them from Egypt through Moses. He refined them in the wilderness and established them in the Promised land through Joshua. Again and again, He disciplined them using His prophets to interpret and predict their reality. Those prophecies frequently included the importance of secular leaders in the execution of Providence.

The Ministry of Reconciliation/Restoration

Ezekiel was one of His prophets. He and Jeremiah were allowed to suffer, even being assigned complex personal tasks to convey and illustrate God’s message calling for repentance and predicting the demise of Israel’s rebellion. In Ezekiel, chapter four records a troubling sign to understand. It is a conundrum that challenges the western mind to imagine, let alone interpret, partly because of what appears to the non-Hebrew reader as textual ambiguity and secondly because of a textual problem. God told Ezekiel to lie on his left side and put the sin of the house of Israel on himself. If Ezekiel prostrated himself with his head toward Jerusalem (cf. Dan 6:10), he was facing north when he lay on his left side (and south when he lay on his right side, Eze 4:6). His facing north, which represented Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was to be for 390 days. Ezekiel did not remain in this position 24 hours a day because the next sign (Eze 4:9-17) included some other actions Ezekiel was to engage in.

Perhaps a contemporary similarity will contribute to one’s understanding. Think of a student given a sign to hold high by the gate of the entrance to the college pointing to the registration table and at the same time told to be writing a paper for a class. When folks were approaching, he would hold up the sign. He would sit down and write when there was a break in the potential lookers. Ezekiel probably remained in this position for a portion of each day. After staying on his left side for 390 days, he was to lie on his right side and bear the sin of the house of Judah. His facing toward the south, representing Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was to last for 40 days. To symbolize the confinement of the siege, God had Ezekiel tied up with ropes (Eze 4:8). Obviously, Ezekiel was tied up only when he lay on his side each day.

Ezekiel does a lot of strange things at the behest of Yahweh. Undoubtedly, the most poignant is set out in 24:16 (ESV) when God informs him that He would take his wife home by sudden death, and Ezekiel was instructed not to mourn for her. “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.”

Frank Luke explains the meaning of this challenging experience.

I believe the text notes that Ezekiel’s not mourning (אֵ֫בֶל; funeral mourning) his wife was a sign (Ezek 24:24a-b) for what Israel would do (i.e. God is not commanding them to not mourn, but is in fact prophesying of what their response to the news of the Temple falling would be). This, to me, seems clear because of the final statement in Ezek 24:24c, “and when this comes, you shall know that I am the Lord GOD” (NKJV). This purpose of knowing God as the true God is a phrase used throughout Ezekiel (about 57 times), and it is contingent upon God prophesying things ahead of time about what He is going to do or that will come about after He has forecast it. He is not relying on Israel’s obedience (i.e. to obey a command to not mourn) to make this revelation known, but depending on the reality of what will be that He has forecasted ahead (their hearts will be so hard against God and His sanctuary, what they had held in such high esteem verbally [Jer 7:4], but not actually [Jer 7:30, Ezek 8:1-17], that they will not mourn the loss); but they that escape to the mountains at the fall of Jerusalem will mourn their iniquity (Ezek 7:16, 18) and they in captivity with Ezekiel will “pine away [מקק; melt/dissolve] in your iniquities and mourn [נהם; groan/roar] with one another” (Ezek 24:23c).1

Parallels of Cultural Demise

Being culturally aware, I often see parallels between Israel and America. I often remind my readers that I do not see America on the same plain as Israel. But I see America as specially blessed by God through our Founding Fathers, whose worldview was conceived from the Judeo-Christian frame of reference. Some were Deists, yes, but believers in the Judeo-Christian ethical givens.

Here is the bottom line of the parallels. There has been drifting away from the first principles and a spiraling downward at an exponential rate reaching the depth in which right has become wrong, and wrong has become right. Daniel Heimbach cites several examples of those who, in the name of Christendom, are advocating the utter exchange of good/evil for evil/good and moral/immortal for immoral/moral. A rather radical one is this. “However, the most striking feature of Pippin’s efforts to paganize Christianity is the way she urges Christian women to adopt the evil queen Jezebel as a role model.”2

Recognizing Cultural Parallels: Warnings of Hardness of Heart

In principle, then, here is the parallel. Right beside the secular community, American Christianity is paganizing as Israel was paganizing. If we reckon that God sent these prophets to proclaim His displeasure with his special Covenanted people of the coming judgment, should then the American Church and the secular culture of which all Americans are part be so arrogant as this assume that God is unaware or that He will not judge? If so, the following, one citation of many, should be considered.

But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? 18And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (I Peter 4:16-17).

A Call of Implementation

The writer of the book of Hebrews, chapter one, establishes Jesus Christ as the prophet, priest, and king. He declares as it were Jesus’ own words, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He then proceeds for the following five chapters to five times, warning believers to be careful not to drift from revelated truth. In chapters seven through ten, the writer demonstrates Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament, and then in chapters twelve and thirteen, how to live personally and corporately bring spiritual to bear in culture. We do well to revisit this book often as we face the challenges of our cultural death spiral.

1 Sep 1, 2017 at 18:00 Cited August 18, 2022

2 Heimback, Daniel, R. True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis. Crossway 2004, page78. [Tina Pippin, Ph.D. 1987, Southern Baptist Seminary, and professor at Agnes Scott College]

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