The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against the Ammonites and prophesy against them. 3 Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you said “Aha!” over my sanctuary when it was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile, 4 therefore I am going to give you to the people of the East as a possession. They will set up their camps and pitch their tents among you; they will eat your fruit and drink your milk. 5 I will turn Rabbah into a pasture for camels and Ammon into a resting place for sheep. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 6 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, 7 therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will wipe you out from among the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the Lord.’”
8 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because Moab and Seir said, “Look, Judah has become like all the other nations,” 9 therefore I will expose the flank of Moab, beginning at its frontier towns—Beth Jeshimoth, Baal Meon and Kiriathaim—the glory of that land. 10 I will give Moab along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, so that the Ammonites will not be remembered among the nations; 11 and I will inflict punishment on Moab. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’”
12 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because Edom took revenge on Judah and became very guilty by doing so, 13 therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will stretch out my hand against Edom and kill both man and beast. I will lay it waste, and from Teman to Dedan they will fall by the sword. 14 I will take vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will deal with Edom in accordance with my anger and my wrath; they will know my vengeance, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because the Philistines acted in vengeance and took revenge with malice in their hearts, and with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah, 16 therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will wipe out the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast. 17 I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I take vengeance on them.’”
Does something about this passage ring a vague bell to you? How about if we read v. 17 as written in the King James Bible: “And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.”
It’s the basis for the Jules Winnfield quote in Pulp Fiction, which turns 25 years old this week. I just so happened to stumble across that fact last week when we watched the movie with both our farm employees. I thought, Oh, I can totally do a blog post about that passage and have it be pop-culture relevant, so here we go!
Tarantino added a lot of extra stuff to the Jules Winnfield Bible verse that isn’t actually in the real Bible verse. In fact, the whole first half is made up. But the second half is more or less correct. I can see why this verse would appeal to Tarantino. Pulp Fiction is a nihilistic, violent, technicolor carnival ride of a movie, and you could say the same thing about Ezekiel’s time in ministry.
Ezekiel’s prophetic calling started seven years before the destruction of the first temple of Jerusalem, and continued for about fifteen years after its destruction. (I read the NIV study notes.) In the twenty-ish years preceding the 586 BC destruction of the temple, Jerusalem had had five regents, seen the rise of Nebuchadnezzar – who had laid siege to the city once before coming back and completely destroying it, and had also watched other great cities, including the Assyrian’s Nineveh, fall. Nihilistic and violent, indeed. On top of that, Ezekiel’s prophecies and visions were often wild and sometimes even performative. In the chapter preceding the one we’re studying today, God literally smote Ezekiel’s wife and directed how Ezekiel should mourn as a living analogy for how the Jewish people would mourn for their lost temple. In this chapter, Ezekiel basically promises death and destruction for everyone: the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and the Philistines. And next week, we’ll study the Bible story that always freaked me out as a kid: Ezekiel being sent to raise an army from dry bones. All of that is pretty technicolor wild, and sounds like it could be right out a fast-paced Tarantino flick.
But besides being an awesome place to pull hard-core movie quotes, what can we learn from this chapter? As indicated in by-line, and as I’ll mention again: this blog is all about finding Biblical evidence for the radical, inclusive love of God in an effort to fight hypocrisy, injustice and all this -isms and -phobias of the world: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if this is the best chapter to find radical love. But you know what I did see? The omnipotence of God. The sixth century Sinai Peninsula (and surrounding areas) was a crazy place full of regime changes, violence, and ruined cities. But even then, God was there, showing the future to Ezekiel so he could warn the Israelites. His people were embattled and broken – in punishment for their sins, according to Ezekiel and other prophets – but even in their punishment, God never fully abandoned them. It kind of reminds me of a cosmic version of when I stand outside the door listening to my two year old in time-out, timing the best moment to bring her out. She may feel temporarily abandoned, and angry at me, but I’m still there, even if she can’t see me.
God was angry with all of Israel’s neighbors for rejoicing in its defeat and plundering the land; and God was angry with Israel for doubting Xyr love and protection. We do essentially the same thing when we smugly dismiss someone’s troubles – such as the persistent institutional racism that people of color have to face on a daily basis. We do the same thing when we exploit the earth through strip mining, over-fishing, or unsustainable agricultural practices. We do the same thing when we turn a blind eye to the exploitation of garment-workers, migrant farmers, and victims of sex trafficking. This world is God’s creation and we are all God’s children, and if we ignore that, we are no better than the proud and doomed Edomites or other peoples of this chapter.
Let’s learn from the fallen Israel of the Old Testament: let us not be rebellious against God. Because God is always here with us, and will know our mistakes. Fortunately we have a different relationship now with God through Jesus Christ – one of forgiveness and redemption. But we shouldn’t treat it as a “get out of jail free” card. Instead, let’s give thanks that our God is a kind and generous God, and work to extend that kindness and generosity to all who might not feel it in their lives. As this passage makes clear, vengeance only begets more vengeance. While that makes for a great movie, it’s not a life I want to live. As Jules Winnfield says, “Blessed is he who, in the name of the charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.” Amen, Jules, amen.