The Delight of Your Eyes

August 18, 2020

A Commentary on Ezekiel 24:15-23

Last post I wrote about the capacity of prophets to perform prophetic acts as a sign to Israel. The actions of the prophet symbolize the fate of Israel in some way. On Monday, Aug. 17, the Church reads about how what God does to a prophet can also be prophetic. God says to Ezekiel:

I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes,

but do not mourn or weep or shed any tears.

Groan in silence, make no lament for the dead,

bind on your turban, put your sandals on your feet,

do not cover your beard, and do not eat the customary bread.”

-Ezekiel 24:16-17

Then God takes Ezekiel’s wife.

As a married man, I found this startling and hard to hear, however, I also understood very well the lesson God is trying to teach Israel through it. Building off of what the prophet Ezekiel has been teaching in the past, God is teaching Israel about their situation and how objectively they have reacted to it. The presence of God has vacated the temple and yet Israel does not weep and mourn. They are going about their day as though nothing has changed. The prophetic suffering that Ezekiel endures symbolizes Israel. That which is most precious to Israel–the presence of God among them and their ability to worship and offer sacrifice–has been taken from them and they simply do not care. Ezekiel has been made to endure such suffering as the sign to and of Israel. In other words, Ezekiel is being asked to behave as Israel is behaving.

Now, this is not to say that Ezekiel is not brokenhearted about his wife–far from it. After all, God, who sees into the heart of all, calls Ezekiel’s wife “The Delight of Your Eyes.” Ezekiel’s wife is very dear to him in reality. God says to mourn, groan, and lament in secret. But God asks him to act, much like an actor in a play. In the public eye, he is not Ezekiel. He is Israel. Israel has had a horrible tragedy occur to them due to their infidelity and sinfulness and, yet, for them it is business as usual. To grab their attention, God takes Ezekiel’s wife and asks Ezekiel to put on a show in order to teach them Israel reality of their situation.

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Modern ears might fixate on the point of taking the wife in order to send a message. I imagine the sentiment would be: “God would kill an innocent women and wife to His own prophet to send Israel a message? Is this really a good God?” This has potential to detract from the actual point of the story so I want to remind the reader of the theological reality behind this event. Whenever God sacrifices someone on earth it is always important to remember three things: 1) Where God sits in relation to all life and death. As we read in today’s psalm as this is being written (Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020), it is God who deals death and gives life (Deuteronomy 32:39). God is the creator of all, and by that fact, all belong to Him as Author. God composes the beginning and end of all His creatures. 2) God has power to do all He wills and does not utterly destroy His beloved creature, man. God has power to give life in a different, transcendent form. Death, of course, is always an occasion for mourning and weeping. It is not a part of God’s plan since God’s plan is life in abundance (an important distinction, that God accounts for death but it is not ultimately a “work” of God). After all, even God holds as precious the death of his holy and faithful (Psalm 116:15). Since God has power to do all He wills, has power to give transcendent life, and loves Ezekiel’s wife, would not God ultimately take her to himself? And 3) God went as far as giving the life of His own Son to us, for the life and salvation of our souls–to send the message of redemption and the invitation to live with Him in heaven in a manner that was befitting the gravity of the message. In this case, the importance of the message warranted the particular manner in which it was delivered. Ezekiel’s wife is the Christ-figure, sacrificed as the symbol of what should be most precious to the people of Israel–the presence of God. God loved Israel enough to send the message in a way that would grab their attention.

This sheds new light on the beatitudes, particularly the one regarding mourning–“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be consoled” (Matthew 5:4). Beatitude deserves another article or post on its own, but this is arguably the most paradoxical beatitude since beatitude mean happiness. The sentence can be written as, “Happy are they who mourn….” The implication is that those who mourn grasp the reality of their situation–are in possession of the truth–which is an occasion of blessedness. The people of Israel were so deluded regarding their situation that they were incapable of mourning. God had to use a viscerally jarring event to properly get the message in its full weight across to His people about just how dire their situation was, that they should have been weeping and mourning which is the proper response to a sad state of affairs. To weep and mourn in truly saddening circumstances is a sign of spiritual rectitude and health. Like St. Paul says in his famous hymn of love, “Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). The sign of a truly loving person is one who appropriately responds to the circumstances–who mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice (cf. Romans 12:15). Further, if the mourning is caused by a fault of the mourner, that mourning turns into a desire for change and its consequent joy. Hence, the happiness of holiness is already present in the mourner at that moment.

For us today, especially given the situation of the world, the country, and within many of our individual lives and families, we should not discount the blessing of mourning. We need to properly grieve the divisions, the actions and consequences committed in false beliefs and hatred, and the occasions of sadness. This is something that I think America in particular fails to observe. We do not mourn well. And it is mostly because of the very understandable confusion about how mourning leads to happiness. If we do not mourn, we never possess the knowledge of the truth and goodness of things lost, and never have the desire for real happiness. As I mentioned before, this world is a “valley of tears” (Salve Regina Prayer). If we never mourn our present life and circumstances, whence will come the desire for heaven?

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