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Ezekiel bread and the pandemic

January 03, 2021

By Rev. Ashley Randall, pastor of Garden City UMC

In Ezekiel 4:9 the Lord gives these instructions to the prophet, “Take wheat, barley, beans, small peas, and millet seeds, and put them in one bowl, and make them into bread for yourself” (NCV). About 50 years ago, the folks at Food for Life took this list of ingredients and developed a number of products they claim “harvests benefits beyond what we normally expect from our breads, pastas, cereals, and other foods.” You may have seen one or more of their products in a local grocery store, especially if you have been on some kind of restricted diet.

While that’s interesting, it may be more important to recall that God was not giving Ezekiel advice about how to make a better sandwich; rather God was preparing Ezekiel for a radical witness against the people of Israel and Judah. Ezekiel had been preparing for the priesthood when he had been carried away into exile in Babylon. Even in exile, some of the religious and political leaders of the “house of Israel” continued to show little regard for God or those who had been exiled with them. Instead, they assumed upon their “special” relationship with God as a guarantee that they and the city of Jerusalem were immune to God’s judgment (see Ezekiel 34:1-10). 

God appointed Ezekiel to stand as a “watchman” over the house of Israel. Ezekiel’s assignment was to warn the people to turn from “wickedness” and to pursue “righteousness.” And one of the primary ways Ezekiel was supposed to complete this assignment was by going to a central location in the exile community and physically portray the siege and destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

After Ezekiel set up a model of the city, its wall, the siegeworks, and the camps of the enemy around it, God told Ezekiel to lie on his left side for “three hundred ninety days, one day for each year of their guilt” (4:5). And then, “When you have completed these days, lie on your right side to bear the guilt of the house of Judah. I appoint forty days to you, one day for each year” (4:6).

To sustain Ezekiel though this time, God gave him the instructions about what he would eat: “You will eat it the three hundred ninety days you lie on your side” (4:9b). I will spare you the details about how Ezekiel was supposed to cook this loaf; but it is worth noting.

We have been under some kind of restricted activity now for more than 40 weeks. We have been reminded repeatedly that there are a few basic practices we can follow that will limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus: wear a mask, wash our hands, keep our distance. These basic practices will protect the lives of our neighbors, friends, and family. I know this extended period of interruption is difficult, but I also know that there is a promise of restoration in our future.

The vaccines that have been developed and are on their way are one sign of that promise, but as people of faith we have God’s assurance of restoration: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one” (36:25-26). To encourage Ezekiel, God shows him the transformation of a valley of dry bones (see Ez. 37:1-14).

Forty years after they had been carried into exile in Babylon, the people of God were allowed to return home. God’s promise of restoration was fulfilled. As they went, one of them wrote the words that form the chorus of the hymn, “Bringing in the Sheaves.”

When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,

    it was like we had been dreaming. 

Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;

    our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.

It was even said, at that time, among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them!”

Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,

    and we are overjoyed.

Lord, change our circumstances for the better,

    like dry streams in the desert waste!

Let those who plant with tears

    reap the harvest with joyful shouts. 

Let those who go out,

    crying and carrying their seed,

    come home with joyful shouts,

    carrying bales of grain! (Psalm 126)

God appointed Ezekiel to watch over the house of Israel. God warned Ezekiel that many would refuse to listen. God also promised Ezekiel, “if you do warn the righteous not to sin, and they don’t sin, they will be declared righteous. Their lives will be preserved because they heeded the warning, and you will save your life” (3:21).

Hold fast to Paul’s reminder: “Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9). Let us be faithful as we watch over the communities where God has placed us. May our words and our actions bear witness to God’s power to cleanse, heal, restore, and transform.

Ashley Randall serves as pastor of the Garden City United Methodist Church. He is also the Chair of the Healthy Savannah Steering Committee and a member of its Faith and Health Coalition.

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