Twisted Scripture: Ezekiel 4:9

As a Biblical Studies major and someone who loves the Bible, an issue I am rather passionate about is when people twist the words of Scripture to fit their desires. This twisting can occur in a variety of ways, but I feel the two most common occurrences of abuse come from;

  1. Removing a selected passage from its literary and/or historical context.
  2. Forcing a meaning on the passage in a manner in which it is never intended.

These two methods are employed by cults who read their theology into the text (eisegesis). These schemes are also used by skeptics to justify their unbelief (i.e. alleged contradictions between Paul and James’ concepts of justification by faith or works in Rom. 3:28 & Jas 2:17). Sadly, this faulty hermeneutic is also used by Christians (i.e. John 16:23 for selfish motives).

Eze4.9-12
Ezekiel 4:9-12

I thought to start this series out I would begin with something rather lighthearted; Ezekiel 4:9 bread from the Food For Life Baking Company.

The bread itself is flourless and made with organic sprouted grains. You can find it in the freezer section of most grocery stores as it has no preservatives. I bought the sesame loaf for the picture; it tastes good and is quite filling. Per slice, this bread offers 4g of protein and 3g of fiber. You can find more specific nutrition information on their website.

From both their website and the package Food for Life uses the name Ezekiel 4:9 on this line of products because the ingredients are “crafted in the likeness of the Holy Scripture verse Ezekiel 4:9 to ensure unrivaled honest nutrition and pure, delicious flavors.” The company then quotes a portion of Ezekiel 4:9a:

And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them… (English Standard Version).

One might assume that because the grains are in the Bible, it is an ancient and wholesome recipe from God. This assumption would not be too far off base as it is God speaking these instructions to Ezekiel. However, the questions we should always ask are:

  1. Why is God giving instructions?
  2. What other instructions are there?

In other words, what is the immediate context of these directions?

I will give the company credit for adding the ellipsis to the quote denoting that there is more to the verse, and when you look it up, you can see why it was left out. The rest of the verse reads: “During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it” (Ez. 4:9b). Weird, right? This unusual request should be your first clue that perhaps you should back up a bit, but for humor’s sake, let us finish Gods command:

“And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them” (vv. 10-13, emphasis added).

Dear Lord, I hope the Food For Life Baking Company does not take a literal approach to interpreting the Scriptures!

Alright, now that I have disturbed you and hopefully made you snicker it is time to look a little closer at this passage. Ezekiel opens in a very particular time and location (1:1-2) and places Ezekiel in exile in Babylon “on the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin” (v. 2b). This information corresponds with 2 Kings 24:11-12, when “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon . . . The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign”.

Babylonian Chronicle 5 which accounts the early years of Nebuchadnezzar II, also gives an account of Jehoiachin’s capture and records it as occurring in the “seventh year” and “on the second day of the month of Adar” (Grayson 102), which places this event on March 16th of 597 B.C. Jerusalem was finally demolished in 586 B.C., so Ezekiel’s vision of God occurred about six years before the final fall of Jerusalem.

Chapter 1 of Ezekiel continues in describing a highly symbolic vision of God. Chapters 2 and 3 recount Ezekiel’s commission as a Prophet and God’s command for him to go and speak to the rebellious people of Israel (2:1-5) to warn them to turn from their wicked ways (3:17-21).

Chapter 4 is the bread chapter. It is part of a warning that Jerusalem will be sieged as punishment for their rebelliousness. The instructions given to Ezekiel (4:1-5:17) are meant to symbolically and dramatically represent this onslaught. Ezekiel is first instructed to take a brick, write “Jerusalem” on it, and essentially create a diorama of the city under siege (vv. 1-3). Ezekiel is then instructed to put on a dramatic performance where he is told to lay on his left side for 390 days to represent the number of years Israel will be punished, and 40 days on his right side to denote the punishment of Judah (vv. 4-8). While he is on his left side is when he is to eat this bread (v. 9).

Interestingly the wheat, barley, millet, and emmer were common gains and part of the diet of all peoples of the ancient Near East (Walton 693). Beans and lentils are not typical of bread, and given the immediate context of the instructions, many scholars believe it to represent a siege bread. Daniel Block writes that during a siege “food will be so scarce that it will be impossible to get enough flour and vegetable meal together of any one kind to make even one loaf of bread except by ‘scraping the bottom of each of the storage barrels'” (184).

When Nebuchadnezzar’s forces laid siege to Jerusalem, they built a siege wall around the city (2 Ki. 25:1). This wall not only kept supplies out but kept the people trapped within, which quickly brought famine and pestilence. Archeological excavations of toilets inside Jerusalem reveal that “residents of the city were starving, reduced to eating dandelions or uncooked meat, wich resulted in tapeworms and other intestinal parasites” (Beitzel 192).

To further demonstrate that this is a siege bread Ezekiel’s food is rationed to the weight of twenty shekels a day (Eze. 4:10). A shekel weighs about 11 grams, so Ezekiel’s food would be restricted about 220 grams, about 8 ounces, a day. If we translate that to Ezekiel 4:9 Bread’s nutrition label which claims that each slice of bread is 34g this would render Ezekiel’s intake to about 6 1/2 slices a day, that is a total of only 520 calories daily. That is all he is to eat for over a year!

Ezekiel’s bread is not a happy bread meant to epitomize wholesome nutrition, nor is Ezekiel being called to a religious fast as some recipe sites claim; this is a loaf of starvation and desperation to show the Israelites their punishment.

God even claims this is because He “will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment” (vv. 16-17).

However perhaps even more disturbing, both to Ezekiel and us, is how he is to bake the bread, “on human dung” (v. 12b). Now, just to be clear, Ezekiel in fact, does not bake his bread on human waste, even this is too much for him to handle. He objects to this request and claims that he has never “defiled” himself by eating unclean foods (v. 14), and God complies allowing Ezekiel to bake his bread on cow feces instead (v. 15). I still very much hope the Food For Life Baking Company does not employ this biblical method in their food production. However, to Ezekiel this practice quite common in the ancient Near East. Trees in such areas were too valuable to be cut and used for fuel, and therefore dried animal dung was used instead (Walton 693). During a siege, animals would have been eaten first, as they would have required too many limited resources to keep alive. Once the animal waste was used up the only source left would be human, which would demonstrate their desperation since based on Deuteronomy 23:12-14 and Ezekiel’s reaction, would lead to ritual defilement.

Why would Food For Life use this verse which is unquestionably not intended to represent a healthy fast and wholesome nutrition?
I sent a message to the company asking if they were a Christian or Jewish based company and why they used this particular verse. I wanted to understand if the angle to which they approached the Scripture, and I left the question short as I did not want to lead their answer.

They responded to the second part by copy and pasting the website information about the recipe being inspired by the “Holy Scriptures.” However, they ignored the first piece of the question which leads me to believe that they are not a Judeo-Christian company. Usually, such companies take pride in their Scriptural basis and will gladly answer in the affirmative.

Unsatisfied with their response, I wrote again asking how they reconcile a the context of Ezekiel pointing to a bread of starvation and desperation cooked on human dung to their product? I got a rather pleasant response with a brief exegesis of Ezekiel 1-4. Unfortunately, like the previous message they ignored part of the question and focused on the issue of defilement. Food for Life recognizes that the bread was not cooked over human feces and therefore it was undefiled. However, it seems that they interpret this as meaning that therefore Ezekiel ‘s bread presents a positive message. They claim that Ezekiel’s food and water rations were “to show the good things that God gave Israel and how far they had fallen. How do we know this? Answer: by Ezekiel 4:15 – 16”, and that “the Undefiled Ezekiel 4:9 bread was to be eaten together with water with amazement! (Ezekiel 4:16)”. Here is where I have to disagree. I believe they are reading too much into the text to justify a nutritious loaf.
Nowhere in the verses that Food for Life uses as proof does the bread represent a good and amazing thing. In fact, just the opposite is stated in verse 17! The people are not to look at Ezekiel in amazement, but to look at each other in dismay!

What I thought was a simple case of ignoring the context, is now a matter of eisegesis, that is, reading an idea into the text as opposed to taking an idea out (exegesis). I can overlook some context violations as resulting from carelessness, ignorance, and apathy. Usually the reader did not know the verse was part of a larger body of text, and probably did not care what the larger body says. They get what they want out of the passage and move on before they discover caveats.
However, the deliberate manipulation of eisegesis is dangerous. It can force the text to say something that it never said, nor intended to say. This is one of the methods cults employ to “prove” their validity.

God’s allowing Ezekiel to use a clean fuel source to bake his bread was a compromise for Ezekiel’s sake and did not change the overall message to Jerusalem. There is no indication that since Ezekiel is eating his bread clean therefore the people will also eat their bread clean.
Ezekiel is still to ration his food and water, just like the people in Jerusalem would. Jerusalem will still be sieged, and Ezekiel is still to display this warning. The people of Israel had already turned their backs on the good things from God, and this message is not a reminder to fondly call them back, it is a final warning of what will happen if they do not turn back. It’s like your mom counting to three, and you better do what she asks before she finishes saying “two”!

I honestly feel that the name is merely a marketing gimmick to get people to think their bread is nourishing to both body and soul. I could understand if the founder ignoring the context decided to try the recipe and was pleased with how it turned out. But if that is the case, just admit it. Twisting the Scripture to fit your agenda is unethical.

 

Works Cited

Beitzel, Barry J. The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.

Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997.

English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Grayson, Albert Kirk. Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Vol. 5. Eisenbrauns, 1975.

Walton, John H, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, Victor Matthews, and Dr. M. W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

 

 

Historical Devotional: Luke 15

In the fifteenth chapter of Luke Jesus tells three parables, each to illustrate that God loves all people and desires a relationship with them, no matter where they are or what they have done. The occasion in which these parables are told is a response to the Pharisees and scribes who “grumbled” and criticized Jesus for keeping company and dining with sinners and tax collectors (English Standard Version, 15:1-2). Four particular people groups are the focus of this passage, who are essentially the righteous and the unrighteous. Understanding these groups provides insight into Jesus’ following parables.

The Pharisees and scribes are considered the righteous; they are the Jewish elite who were guaranteed to be in God’s favor. The Pharisees were a prominent and influential party in Judaism. Josephus records the “Pharisees have the multitude on their side” (Ant. 13.298), and according to Luke’s second letter they were the strictest sect (Acts 26:5). The Pharisees sought to holiness and purity from within the larger society and were concerned with the proper observance of purity regulations in the Torah (Simmons 60). Among the existent literature, there is no mention of the Pharisees involved in any ritual gathering around a common table. This absence has led some scholars to conclude that “table fellowship for the Pharisees was not a matter only of nutrition but of spiritual communion . . . [and] may well have meant acceptance before God” (61).

The second group of righteous persons challenging Jesus is the scribes. As a group who had the skill set to write correspondence and copy important documents, the scribes were very close to the ruling elite. While the scribes in antiquity had a variety of roles, the scribes in the New Testament are frequently paired with the Pharisees. For this reason, it can be reasonably inferred that these scribes were the scholars of the Torah, and in the later writings the term was substituted with “prophet” (77).

The two groups which fall under the unrighteous category are the sinners and tax collectors. Tax collectors were the individuals who collected money from their people to pay tribute to Israel’s oppressors. Such foreign dominion is strictly forbidden in Deuteronomy where God states “you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community” (17:15), and collecting taxes would present as an endorsement of this foreign rule which would equate tax collectors with traitor. Also of note is that tax collectors were in frequent company with Gentiles, whom the Pharisees considered unclean (Simmons 102).

The term sinner is ambiguous and not fully defined in the New Testament. However, its pairing with prostitutes and tax collectors suggests it as an unfavorable group who were morally unprincipled, disobedient to the Torah, and thus unclean (108). In the opening of the passage in question, Luke distinguishes sinners from tax collectors (15:1); however, the Pharisees and scribes comment, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (15:2), appears to classify both groups together.

In the first two verses, there is a conflict between the righteous people and the unrighteous. The righteous people were by all outward appearance guaranteed to be in God’s favor did not feel it was appropriate for the man who was believed to be Elijah or “one of the prophets of old” (Lk. 9:19) to have table fellowship with those unworthy of God. A similar question had previously been posed by the scribes and Pharisees to which Jesus answered “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32). The three parables in Luke 15, tell of the joy of God when these sinners repent.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep is the first Jesus tells. He describes a man with one hundred sheep, and how one has wandered off and gotten lost (15:4). In this parable, the shepherd leaves his flock in search of a single sheep. Alone, a sheep is in danger of predators and rough terrain. There is no reason to assume the shepherd in this story is irresponsible, especially since it is intended to represent God, perhaps meant to recount Ezekiel where God states; “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (34:11-12). It can be assured that the ninety-nine sheep are left in safety. This parable not only describes how a single sheep, or sinner, is actively sought by God, but how upon finding it He carries it home and rejoices with others (Lk. 15:5). Just so there is no misunderstanding Jesus interprets this parable for His audience and states “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7).

Jesus’ second parable is The Parable of the Lost Coin, in which a woman loses one of ten silver coins and desperately searches her house to find it (v. 8-10).  This woman sweeps the floor and lights a lamp to illuminate even the darkest corners of the house (v.8), and when she finds the coin, she rejoices with others (v. 9). Again, Jesus interprets this parable for His audience when he states, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10).

The first two parables have illustrated the sinner’s inherent value, how God actively searches for them, and how he rejoices once they have been found. The parables have built up to the third, which not only focuses on the role of the sinner but also presents as a rebuke of the Pharisees and scribes. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (v. 11-32), tells of a second born son who rejects his family, demands his inheritance, and leaves home (v. 12-13). This son spent his entire inheritance on immoral acts (v. 13, 30) and fell into poverty (v. 14). In this parable, the son went to work with swine (v. 15) which illustrates both his disregard for the Law (Lev. 11:7) and his desperation. However, he was even neglected by his employers who fed the pigs but not him (Lk. 15:15). It is here that the son recognized this error, repented and started traveling back to his father (vv. 18-20). It is here that the parable begins to parallel the previous two in God’s searching for the lost. It reads “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v. 20). To observe and recognize the son who was still “a long way off” indicates that the father had been watching and searching the distance, and when he spotted the son he ran to meet him. The son, having been in contact with pigs, would be ceremonially unclean, but the father embraced him anyway. The son turned around and made a choice to go home, and the father met him where he was and carried him the rest of the way. Similar to the other two parables, there is a public celebration at finding the lost (vv. 22-23).

However, unlike the other parables, the story of the Prodigal Son does not end with the celebration. Jesus continues with a reaction of the older brother. As first born, this son was guaranteed a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17), his younger brother taking his portion or returning had no effect on his inheritance. However, this son was jealous (v. 30), took offense to the celebration and refused to go (v. 28). Similar to how the Pharisees and scribes separated themselves and criticized Jesus for dining with sinners (v. 2). And just like the father came to the younger son, he also came to the firstborn (v. 28) and explained that a celebration was in order (v. 31), for to be lost is to be dead, but to be with God is to be alive (vv. 24, 32).

How far are you from God? These parables demonstrate that no matter where you are God is actively searching for you. That light shining is for you to see, you just need to turn around and look to it. Like the younger son, we must recognize that we have strayed too far, and seek to return to God. Just as in the parables God will come for you, and no matter what you have done He will embrace you and celebrate your return to life!

Or are you like the scribes and Pharisees? Do you know the Bible inside and out and go to church every Sunday, but think that the church is no place for “those people”? Do you distance yourselves from certain people groups? The question is how does their salvation affect yours? The Father is still with you, and like the older son, it is fitting that you turn back to the house and celebrate with Him, lest you stray away from the sheepfold.


Works Cited

English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Josephus, Flavius. “The Antiquities of the Jews, 13.298.” Lexundria.com. Trans. William Whiston. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

Simmons, William A. Peoples of the New Testament World. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub. ,2008.

 

A Sin to Slave: How Slavery in the American South Was Incompatible with Covenant Code

slaves-beaten-9
Assyrian Slave Relief

The mention of slavery in the Bible often brings up images and notions of slavery from our more recent cultural past, which presents a stumbling block for many in coming to faith in Christ. It is understandable that if God condoned the atrocities committed with the African slave trade in America, then such a God is neither great nor worthy of worship. However, a careful examination will uncover that slavery in the Bible is not the same as slavery in the American South.

 

To support that African slavery in the United States is incompatible with Mosaic Law, to a general audience, an examination will be conducted on (1) the practice of slavery and slave codes in the ancient Near East, (2) the regulations of slavery under Mosaic Law, and (3) early slave codes of the United States. Continue reading “A Sin to Slave: How Slavery in the American South Was Incompatible with Covenant Code”

Interpreting Biblical Law

This is a wiki I created as part of a group assignment on interpreting genres of the Bible. We were to construct a wiki that surveys each of the nine biblical genres (Acts, Gospels, Law, Letters, Narrative, Poetry, Prophets, Revelations, Wisdom), and was to be a resource that we would feel confident turning to when studying the Bible in future.

The genre I chose was Law, a topic that is frequently misunderstood by Christians and misrepresented by skeptics. I focused on the two types of law (apodictic and causistic) rather that the three categories (ceremonial, civil, and moral) as there is not always a clear line dividing Law into a single category. I may discuss these categories in a later post, as well as covering the other eight biblical genres.

Overview

The “law” as it is used throughout scripture has a variety of intended meanings. Depending on the surrounding context “law” can mean:

  1. Any single command ancient Israel was to keep to be the covenant people of God.
  2. The entire collection of over 600 commands ancient Israel was to keep.
  3. A rabbinical interpretation of any or all of the above commands
  4. The Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
  5. The entire religious system of the Old Testament (Fee, Stuart 169).

The focus of this wiki is in interpreting the genre of legal series as outlined in 1&2. However, as the Law itself is wrapped into the literary genre of narrative it would be reasonable also to consult methods of interrupting narrative.

Many of the laws in the Old Testament are very specific (Exod. 21:2-6), and some are general (Exod. 20:3). It should be observed that the Old Testament Law was not designed to be an exhaustive list or a reference wiki, but rather to “teach the Israelite fundamental values — what it meant to live all of life in the presence of God” (Klein 345). Continue reading “Interpreting Biblical Law”