Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
If a man is righteous and does what is just and right--if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor's wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with his garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes and keeps my rules by acting faithfully--he is righteous; her shall surely live, declares the Lord God.
Full disclosure. I memorized this passage in the fall, and it has begun to fade due to my failure to review it on the regular. I need to recommit it to my memory, and I hope my study in prep for this post has helped my doing so. I know that some of the content may be frustrating for modern readers. The phrase "menstrual impurity" does not vibe with post-feminist culture, and I understand that. Contextualizing this, however, to the ancient Hebrews, the phrase is not as insulting as we moderns think. In their culture, a women's cycle was connected to temple cleanliness, and for a man to approach her sexually during that time would have had spiritual implications for them both. I will say nothing more about it, I just felt that some level of acknowledgement of that language was necessary.
Now that we have that in view, we can move beyond it and consider some of the wonderful truth Ezekiel is communicating to God's people. I could spend a very long time unpacking this passage, and I am sure many authors far more learned than I have done so. I will merely drop a few thoughts on us to consider throughout the week:
First, some perspective. God claims that all souls are his, and he does not lie; hence, all souls are indeed his. To do with as he chooses. Beholden to no one. As Creator and God, he has that authority. Some may hate such a thought. Not I. I feel a great security in the concept that a powerful God, whose ways are right and just, has full ownership of every soul that has or will ever exist, for he will do with them what he will, and he will always make the correct choice. How marvelous. As a human being who recognizes that God is so far greater than I, I can think of no better news.
Second, God provides insight into the characteristics of the righteous man. Again, I could unpack this for a good length, but I am going to sum things up a bit:
*He does not practice idolatry but holds to YahWeh (God) as Lord. (if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel)
*He does not practice sexual immorality but respects women as fellow spiritual beings. (does not defile his neighbor's wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity)
*He does not wrong others but rather seeks for their good. (does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with his garment)
*He does not take advantage of the downtrodden but rather assists society at large. (does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man)
*He acknowledges the Lord's authority and obeys it. (walks in my statutes and keeps my rules by acting faithfully)
What I find most fascinating about this laundry list of attributes is that they reflect what Christ says in Matthew 22:34-40 by providing practical applications of what love looks like in the eyes of God. That passage reads as follows:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" and [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Connecting this passage to that in Ezekiel is appropriate, for Christ knew God's heart and also knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament. If he claims that loving God and loving others are the two essential commandments, and God defines righteousness with the attributes listed above, it follows that said attributes are wonderful starting point for recognizing how love might look.
Third, the Lord declares that he who acts in such a fashion will live. The Lord declares it, and as I have said, the Lord does not lie. Therefore, the person who seeks to conduct his life this way--refusing idolatry, refraining from wrongdoing, acting for others' benefit, and adhering to the Lord's revealed standards--will live both now and forever (as implied by the greater context of the passage).
Now, as I said, I am doing a very Cliff's Notes version of unpacking this passage, but I think it's good food for thought, especially as a new week begins. I know that despite my attempts at brevity, I've gone long again. I'm sorry. I just really love this stuff.
Thank you for reading!