The book of the prophet Ezekiel is not high on the list of most popular Christian speakers or writers. It is full of apocalyptic imagery and symbolic prophecy against the Jews, and frankly doesn’t have too many nice things to say. The few who do make reference to Ezekiel typically do so in trying to predict the second coming of Jesus, along with all the events that will accompany it.
Ezekiel wasn’t written so we could predict Jesus’ return, nor to allow us to try to figure out when all the bad stuff was going to happen. Ezekiel prophesied to the Jews in exile, and to the people left behind, to point out to them that their wanton rebellion against God had consequences. Some of the imagery is quite bizarre and difficult to comprehend, but other images are all too easy to understand, and make their points quite readily. Chapter 16 is one of the latter types.
In Ezekiel 16, God, speaking through the prophet, compares Israel to an abandoned baby, whom he finds, nurtures to health, and watches over as she grows to become a beautiful woman. God then adorns her, and takes her for his bride. Rather than showing appreciation and devotion, however, Israel prostitutes herself to anyone who will pay attention! God goes on to say that Israel doesn’t even deserve to be called a prostitute, because she doesn’t even get paid for her actions–worse yet, she pays others! All of this graphic description is to cast Israel’s behavior in the light of an unfaithful bride, who in no uncertain terms has violated her covenant.
Not stuff that sells well in Christian book stores.
That was a long intro to the point that really jumped out at me this morning, and the point that gave rise to this title. Even most non-Christians in America have heard of the city of Sodom, and most would probably be able to tell you that the city’s destruction had something to do with sexual immorality. However, this basic understanding is inadequate. Based on the description of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19, it is easy to assume that Sodom was destroyed because of their deviant sexual practices. Genesis 18:20 only tells us that the outcry against Sodom was great, and the sin was “very grave.” But in Ezekiel 16:49-50, God explicitly states, “Now this was the sin of your (Israel’s) sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor or the needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”
Many in the US today like to claim some sort of special favor upon our nation from God, some going so far as to claim a birthright akin to Israel’s, that we are a chosen nation. While I believe we are incredibly blessed by God, there is no basis for any claim as to special favor. Nonetheless, we can and should apply the lessons of Scripture, and I believe that the sin of Sodom contains a lesson for the US today, starting with those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Too many Christians are quick to condemn those around us for their detestable acts, that are not pleasing to God. We have declared Christian jihad against homosexual marriage and abortion*, but have not addressed the root problems of sin in our nation. I believe American Christians are guilty of the Sin of Sodom: We are arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned. We do not help the poor and the needy. We are haughty, and because of that, we do detestable things.
“But wait, Greg! I am concerned about the poor and the needy! I send $10 a month to a starving child in Africa!” I don’t underplay any of the contributions that people make to the needy in third world countries. But too many Christians in this nation rail about the “welfare bums” and the illegal immigrants. How many people who blocked busloads of frightened children with chants and signs went to church the next Sunday and sang about Christian love and charity?
I’m not saying that we will turn our nation’s fortunes around solely by helping the poor and the needy. If that’s all we do, we won’t. We need to start with the other issues described in Sodom’s Sin: We need to start with our own arrogance, our own gluttony, our own selfishness that leads us to be unconcerned about others (or viewing others as competitors to what is “ours”). There’s a lot of handwringing going on in pulpits, Christian teachings, blogs, and other conservative circles about the state of our nation, and that we appear to be headed for a fall. Some respond with rejoicing, thinking that it means that Jesus is coming soon, and we’ll be taken from this messed up world to heaven (“great for all of us ‘good Christians,’ sucks to be you, sinner!”), or, more tragically (to hear some tell it) this great Christian nation is about to see its demise. All of these responses seem to come from selfish hearts–“my world is going to be upended!” What we should really be wringing our hands about is our sin of Sodom–our selfishness that evidences a lack of a Christ-like heart.
*Is there a parallel to Ezekiel 16:20-21, “And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.”? I believe there is a frightening parallel to our acceptance of all deviant sexual behavior (defined as sex outside the bounds of Godly marriage) and abortion. Nonetheless, I don’t believe the Israelites would have been saved by outlawing these practices–in fact, they were already outlawed in the laws of Moses!