Dearest Rachel –
So, as part of my usual morning reading the other day, I was working my way through Ezekiel. And while I had read the passage before a number of times, this time was different:
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.Ezekiel 24:15-18, English Standard Version
What might he have done with that advance knowledge? He couldn’t prevent it, and he went about his day as normal. Or did he try to drink in those last few moments he would share with her, the woman that God knew he loved so much?
“Ezekiel, get up, dear. You need to get out there and preach to the people today. Whatever the Lord tells you to, right?”
“…yes, that’s right, honey… whatever He says…”
“…Zeke…? Why are you looking at me like that? Are you alright…?”
“…N-never better, honey.”
“Ooh! Zeke, not so hard, hee-hee-hee! You’re squeezing the life out of me!”
“No…! I… I’m so sorry, honey…”
“It’s okay, Zeke. My goodness, what’s gotten into you…?”
“I… I can’t explain it to you, honey. But just… let me look at you again. Once more before I head out…”
“Of course, dear. How’s this? Do you like this pose?”
“Oh… you look wonderful from any angle, honey. Truly… wonderful.”
“Zeke, dear… are you crying? Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Look, you’ve got to do what the Lord tells you. You go tell them what He has to say, and I’ll be waiting for you when you get home. I’ll make your favorite lamb stew, how’s that?”
“Yeah. You take care, and do well. I love you, Zeke.”
“I… I love you, too, honey. I… love you more than I could possibly say.”
“Now, get out there, and knock ’em dead, tiger.”
Now, in fairness, Ezekiel’s wife’s death was meant to be an object lesson to his fellow Israelites in exile by the rivers of Babylon. Just as he could not publicly express grief or sorrow (imagine having to stifle every tear that might spring unbidden when in public!), so too the children of Israel would be in such a hurry to flee the country when it fell that the destruction of Jerusalem and the crown jewel that was the Temple of Solomon would stir no emotional response in them. There just wouldn’t be time for that, when they were concerned with their mere survival.
So it wasn’t as if God was punishing either Ezekiel or his wife for anything, like Job’s friends erroneously accused him. It was her time to go, and God simply let Ezekiel know it would happen, and how he was to react to it.
But I’m sure it felt like a punishment, regardless. To lose so much, and just have to go about one’s normal routine as if everything was fine? Couldn’t this have been done another way?
What would I do with that advance knowledge? You’d never understand if I begged you not to go down that hill one more time. Even asking you to angle further to the right as you went might get a look of ‘that’s a suspiciously specific request’ from you.
And would it make any difference? The text doesn’t say, but I suspect it was some kind of ailment rather than an accident that took Ezekiel’s wife, something he couldn’t have predicted or prevented if he wanted to. A heart attack, an aneurysm, a stroke… something like that.
I wonder if, had I been able to prevent your accident, if that was just your time to go; we might have driven home late that night, and you would have fallen asleep next to me in the passenger’s seat, and just… not woken up. Who’s to say?
Although… your passing was unpleasantly public, honey. People saw what happened… as much as it would have grieved you, it’s possible that there were children at the top of the hill that actually saw the wipeout that killed you; I don’t know, I was not watching myself until Megan told me what happened. And the outpouring of sympathy, in particular from those working at or heavily involved with the camp, was (for this time of Covid, anyway) immense.
Would things have been at all different had your passing just been a quiet, forever sleep in the passengers’ seat on the way home?
I wonder, too, whether anything crossed Ezekiel’s mind as he stood looking over the skeletal army the Lord had him call up later on in chapter 37: the famous ‘preaching to the dry bones’ sequence of the wild story that made up his life.
Now, hers were not among those lying in this valley, to be sure – this seems to have been the aftermath of some long-forgotten battle, where the vultures had picked the corpses clean, and scattered the bones across the length and breadth of the valley. No, she had been (most likely) laid to rest in the normal manner, but there was the promise from God of resurrection and restoration:
Therefore prophesy, and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.'”Ezekiel 37:12-14, English Standard Version
And I wonder if Ezekiel considered this at all through the lens of his own personal experience, and found any reassurance that yes, one day, she and he would be reunited. Even as Israel would return to their home, so too would the lives of those lost beforehand be restored to each other. The despair of loss would on that day be overshadowed by the triumphant return of Israel’s hosts, in victory even over death itself, all according to the word of the Lord.
And the delight would once again be reflected in his eyes.
Just as you will in mine, one day.
Looking forward to that day, I remain yours.