I’ve read through the entire Bible each year for over a decade now. That’s not to impress anyone. When Jesus quotes the Old Testament while under Satan’s temptation that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), I figure that behooves me to make a priority of reading all the word of God on a regular basis. One of the benefits of this discipline among others is that you come across otherwise obscure passages you might never read and that you rarely hear preached.
A prime example for me, which never ceases to astonish me as a smitten, taken, covenant-bound married man, shows up each year in Ezekiel 24:15-18.
The word of the Lord came to me: “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. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Good grief. Really? Apparently Ezekiel felt the same away about his bride as I do mine. And God knew it. The Lord referred to her as the delight of his eyes. Just like that. All it takes is a sovereign stroke and she’s gone. On top of such a blow comes the prohibition of grief. No mourning. No weeping. No tears. OK, you can sigh, but under your breath only. Customarily an Israelite mourning a loved one would have put on sackcloth, lain on the ground, tosses ashes on his head, and so on. No emotion allowed whatsoever. I can hardly begin to imagine how excruciating the prophet would have found the Lord’s will in this instance.
Tell me God doesn’t require hard things of His servants! This sobers me when I think about what makes men faithful pastors of their people. It sobers me when I think about what makes faithful servants of God’s people period. This week a colleague of mine in the gospel lost his son to suicide. A month ago dear friends of mine lost their twenty-year old daughter after weeks watching her languish on life support. When people ask me if such things are God will, all I can do is point them to texts like this in Ezekiel and words like Job’s after he suffered the loss of all his children – “Naked I cam from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). There are more examples of course, but you get the point.
Take away? God’s ultimate purposes trump anyone’s personal agenda. End of story. Ligonier Ministries explains the big picture well:
Such a death seems to be a drastic, almost “desperate” step for the Lord to take to get His point across. Of course, in reality, God never finds Himself in a desperate situation. But from a human perspective, the covenant community’s refusal to believe that the Lord would let Jerusalem fall was a desperate situation, and desperate times required desperate measures. The death of Ezekiel’s wife prefigured the loss of the temple, which was “the delight of [the Jews’] eyes.” God strove to make His intent clear so that the people would have no excuse. Despite the hardship in the loss of Ezekiel’s wife and temple, however, all would be for the good of Israel (vv. 19–27). Through the trouble, the people would come to know that He is the Lord.
Of course, I hope the Lord never requires such a thing or anything near it of me or you as his servant. He has asked me in the past, or at least I have interpreted things this way, to do hard things and I have sought to do them however imperfectly. But I would like to think, God have mercy, that if so required, I would take my cue from the prophet and do as commanded.