The word of the Lord came to me: “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. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your moustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners.
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.
Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us? Why are you acting like this?”
So I said to them, “The word of he Lord came to me: 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… And you will do as I have done… You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. 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.'” (Ezekiel 24:15-24)
I ran across this passage in my devotions last night. It’s reminiscent of other passages in Scripture: God tells Aaron through Moses not to mourn the death of his two sons, so he obediently remains silent (Lev. 10:1-7); Hosea is called to marry a prostitute (Hos. 1:2); Abraham is called to sacrifice Isaac with these words: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love…” (Gen. 22:2). It deals similarly with life’s ultimates: marriage, sacrifice, obedience, death. And we find it just as disturbing as the others.
Because here the prophet becomes just a sign–“Ezekiel will be a sign to you”–a bare cipher, coded with the message of the Sovereign Lord to his people. Ezekiel does not become fully human in giving his life over to God, but rather, has his beloved wife taken from him; he is reduced to “groaning quietly.” And he receives it without complaint, without texture, without personality: “The next morning I did as I had been commanded.” The sovereignty of God is terrifying. But it is also what teaches us that God is not simply the God of our own imaginings.