Ezekiel 24:15-27 (NIV) 15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food [of mourners].” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded. 19 Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us?” 20 So I said to them, “The word of the LORD came to me: 21 Say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary–the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. 22 And you will do as I have done. You will not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food [of mourners]. 23 You will keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. 24 Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.’ 25 “And you, son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes, their heart’s desire, and their sons and daughters as well– 26 on that day a fugitive will come to tell you the news. 27 At that time your mouth will be opened; you will speak with him and will no longer be silent. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD.”
On verses 15-27: Here, in one of the most heartbreaking moments in the book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel’s beloved wife passes away. It is not 100% clear whether Ezekiel’s wife was already sick or she was in good health immediately before her tragic death. In any event, God commands Ezekiel not to publicly mourn his wife’s death in the traditional Jewish way, which in addition to weeping, wailing and shedding tears, would involve tearing one’s clothes, taking off one’s turban and sandals, covering the lower part of one’s face and eating certain foods designated for mourners (v16-17). Instead of mourning publicly, Ezekiel was to groan quietly (v17). When Ezekiel’s wife does indeed die, Ezekiel does as God commands (v18). Taking notice, the Israelites ask Ezekiel what this has to do with them (v19). Ezekiel responds that just as Ezekiel kept his feelings of grief bottled up inside when his wife passed away, so the Israelites would do the same when they receive the news that Jerusalem – the stronghold they took pride in, the delight of their eyes, and the object of their affection (v21) – would be taken away as well as their sons and daughters (v20-24).
Did God cause Ezekiel’s wife to die just so that Ezekiel would have a sermon illustration? I don’t believe so. I think more probably God, who works in all things and who uses even the most tragic, heartbreaking situations in our lives for a greater purpose, was teaching Ezekiel a spiritual lesson that would speak to others, even as he was going through tremendous personal loss. I don’t believe God made Ezekiel’s wife and Ezekiel suffer just so that he could teach the Israelites a lesson. Rather, in the midst of the personal pain that Ezekiel and his wife went through, God took that opportunity to reveal something to Ezekiel about the national suffering that Israel would go through. Similarly, while not all the suffering we go through is suffering that God personally desires that we go through, God will often take that opportunity to reveal to us a truth or a lesson that can help not just ourselves but others as well.God is greater than our suffering and will use the suffering we go through for a purpose that is bigger than ourselves.
At THRIVE I often tell our church family that God often has three purposes in allowing pain in our lives: to refine us (to make us stronger), to remind us (that our ultimate home is heaven, not earth), and to reveal His power through us. So whenever you go through suffering, in addition to grieving, may God give you wisdom to discern the lessons He wants to teach about Himself, His ways and His plan.
One more thing: God’s message to the Israelites about not mourning in the traditional way may be understandable for those Israelites who were living in Jerusalem and who survived the Babylonians’ attack. For in addition to losing the city they lived in as well as their loved ones, they would immediately be deported to Babylon to face their own uncertain future and thus they would be unable to fully grieve and freely process their feelings of loss right away. But to the extent that this message appears also to be directed at Israelites who are already exiled in Babylon and who hear about the news of Jerusalem’s fall, it is not 100% clear why they could not mourn or weep in the traditional way. Perhaps it is because the fall of their hometown Jerusalem in which they took so much pride plus the passing of their loved ones there was so devastating and unprecedented that it nullified any point of mourning in the traditional way.
Heavenly Father, while we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do, we acknowledge today that You are greater than our suffering. Because You are greater than our suffering, You can and will use the suffering we go through for a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.