Through various metaphors and symbols throughout Ezekiel, God expresses how He feels about Israel’s sins. While there are some details that mention what the sins are, I think the main focus is how God feels about sin and what He’s going to do about it. After reading how God feels when His people are sinning, the opportunities for redemption (see chapters 16, 18 and 20 for examples) seem even more incredible.
The multiple opportunities for repentance and renewal that Israel received in the past are spelled out in chapter 20. The repeated phrase throughout this chapter says of God’s commands and judgements, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them” (NKJV). This seemed odd to me at first. But in vs. 37, God is laying out his promise for restoration and says “…I will bring you into the bond of the covenant…” which seems to me like the covenant is a kind of protection. Protection from what? This question brought me back to the repeated phrase, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them”. A fulfilling life can be found in God’s commands and judgements. God’s covenant protects us from the emptiness of an unfulfilling life. Throughout Ezekiel, we can see how desperately God wants His people to realize that He is God and life at it’s best is only found in Him.
In my Family Studies classes in college, we talked about how the most basic emotional need of every human being is to be accepted. We do lots of crazy things to try to be accepted by other people. But this need is perfectly filled through God’s grace, which accepts and loves us exactly how we are. With this need met, we are free to live a life that is actually meaningful to us. And we can find this meaning in God’s covenant, because it is the source of the power that accepted us and loved us in the first place. We don’t have to read the Bible as a list of do’s and do not’s. We can read the Bible as a way to learn more about God and to discover the covenant He offers to us. The outcome of both of these perspectives isn’t all that different- both would lead to someone who is trying to follow God. However, the inner experience is vastly different. A list of do’s and do not’s creates anxiety, fear and complete despair when we fail, which may lead to harsh judgments of others in efforts to make us feel less bad. But reading to learn more about God creates a joyful discovery that is focused on growth, including failure as part of the process.