Oh, that crazy Ezekiel!

Marc Chagall, The Vision of Ezekiel

I am lecturing on Ezekiel tomorrow and have thus been reading through the book again.  What has struck me, as it always does, is the utter oddity of the book.  If ever a prophet should see a shrink, it seems to be Ezekiel.

One of the things I find most interesting, though, are his bizarre prophetic sign-acts.  Sign-acts refer to the way the prophet embodies and dramatizes a particular prophetic message.  Ezekiel has some of the best sign-acts (Isaiah running around naked in Isa 20 is a close second).  But for those who may not recall, here are a few of Ezekiel’s sign-acts . . .

*Lying on his side for a number of days, then switching to the other side, symbolic of the number of years of exile for both Israel and Judah (4:4-8)
*Cooking food over human excrement, symbolizing that in exile the people will eat ‘unclean’ food (4:9-15)
*Cutting, weighing, binding, and burning his own hair, symbolizing those who will be taken away, the remnant, etc. (5:1-4)
*Packing his luggage for exile; this scene is particularly humorous to me.  I can just see the prophet hauling a number of bags out saying “let’s get going to exile, folks!” (12:1-7)
*God commands him not to mourn or weep over his wife’s death, symbolizing that God will not mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and/or the Temple (24:15-27).

I do not mean in any way to trivialize the prophet, his message, or the immediate historical circumstances of the time.  But I always find Ezekiel to me an entertaining read, one that always brings a bit of a smile to my face.

I haven’t named all his sign-acts.  Are there others that stand out to you all?  From Ezekiel?  Other prophets?


8 thoughts on “Oh, that crazy Ezekiel!

  1. John Ottens says:

    My favorite is the hair one. I always picture Ezekiel throwing a handful of hair out to the wind and then running after it swinging a sword, as his audience stands scratching their heads and trying to make sense of this strange prophet.

  2. Roy "Eli" Garton says:

    I don’t have a particular “sign-act” in mind, but a style of sign-act that I’m often recalling is the naming of children according to a prophetic message. Other sign-acts are temporary in scope, but the act of naming a child is permanent. Given the frequency that this type of sign-act occurs in the biblical text, we need to take seriously the idea that individuals lived their full lives out carrying names that they may not have appreciated their prophetic father giving them.

  3. John Anderson says:

    Roy: So true! The names of Hosea’s children would be especially troubling. And in Isaiah, maher shalal hash-baz would be a mouthful. Interestingly, there is an actor named just that on the show “The 4400” that used to air on the USA network. I’m very curious as to what led his parents to name him that. Perhaps someone else has some perspective?

    Karyn That is hilarious! I just came from the grocery store; dang nabbit! I wish I had thought of it. Next time. Thanks!

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