“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead.
Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.’
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died.
And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.”
Death is inevitable; but that does not mean that it is natural.
It is obvious that the statistics on death are pretty impressive—one out of one dies.
From that perspective, death seems as if it is entirely natural—a final act of the drama of life.
However, death was not in God’s original plan.
Our first father received the divine command: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” [*Genesis 2:17*].
Undoubtedly, Adam communicated this warning to Eve, the woman whom God created to be a helper that would make him complete.
This is the most probable explanation for her knowledge that eating of the fruit of that tree would bring death [see *Genesis 3:3*].
Immediately upon eating the fruit, the spirits of the sinning pair were separated from God who is life.
They began what has become the inexorable, inevitable journey that concludes with the return of the body to the dust from which it was formed.
By Adam’s disobedience, not only the race, but all creation was plunged into ruin and decay.
Since that time, death has ruled over all mankind, even over those who have not sin in the same way that Adam transgressed.
The evidence for this is that even those who have not openly rebelled—innocent children and those who are born horribly injured in their minds so that they cannot be responsible for their actions—are subject to death.
Indeed, we are compelled by the facts to acknowledge the accuracy of the dark logic that teaches that “In Adam all die” [see *1 Corinthians 15:22*].
Every culture has mourning rituals.
These ceremonial rites reflect commonly held beliefs concerning the nature of man, his relationship to God and the afterlife.
Even casual reflection demonstrates that our understanding of spiritual truth is revealed through our mourning rituals.
What rites should mark the passing of our loved ones?
How do we honour God when death visits?
How shall we prepare for death?
These are pertinent questions that are worthy of exploration by those who seek to discover and pursue the will of God.
Join me, then, in reviewing what must surely have been the most difficult day of Ezekiel’s sorrowful life.
*The Last Thing We Talk About* — We seldom like to speak about death.
An ancient saying informs us that the grey hairs are the messengers of death.
I might add that laugh lines, expanding girth and diminished visual acuity are reasonably accurate reminders of our mortality.
Ours is a youth culture, in which elderly people struggle to cling to their youth.
Anti-wrinkling creams and Botox injections, tummy tucks and breast implants, liposuction and dyed hair, are major means of attempting to defy the evidence of our pending death.
Maybe we really believed that silly drivel that was current when we were young—you remember the old saw that spoke of living fast and leaving a beautiful corpse.
However, there is nothing beautiful about death.
Death truly is “the last enemy,” as the Apostle says [see *1 Corinthians 15:26*].
Because our culture worships at the shrine of youth, we neglect the wisdom of past years—wisdom that taught us to show respect to the elderly.
Even among the churches of our Lord we witness profound neglect of the instruction provided in the Word.
When did you last hear an exposition of *Leviticus 19:32*?
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
Did you get that?
Honouring our elderly is tantamount to honouring God.
We appear unconvinced that God knew what He was talking about when He included these verses in the Word:
“Grey hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.”
“The glory of young men is their strength,
but the splendour of old men is their grey hair.”
The fear of death drives us to push far from our mind any thought of our own mortality.
Fearing death more than anything else, we don’t want to give any opportunity for unwelcome thoughts to intrude, disquieting our mind.
So, the elderly are treated politely, but generally ignored.
Those who are ageing attempt to defy the inevitable, pampering their bodies, painting their faces and spending a king’s ransom on creams and potions guaranteed to make them young.
Nevertheless, as the poet observed:
“*/And come he slow, or come he fast,/*
*/It is but death who comes at last/*.”
One of the more thought-provoking quotations concerning our ultimate end is that written by Sir Walter Raleigh.
“*/O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hath cast out of the world and despised.
Thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, Hic jacet!/*”
His brilliant mind also observed of mankind, “*/The world is but a large prison, out of which some are daily selected for execution/*.”
There was a day which seems utterly foreign to our modern culture, though that day was not so long ago.
In that former, more civil day people died at home, surrounded by loved ones and comforted in the knowledge of a family’s love.
Today, we place our ill and injured in sterile environments, where cold, gleaming metal and dull plastic embraces them and chills their body even as the flame of life flickers dully.
Tubes are inserted into every orifice, and officious technicians draw samples of body fluids as required until the spirit returns to God who gave it.
There are none to hold the hand of the dying or to stroke the fevered brow, only the monotonous ritual of probing and poking until the dying are mercifully released by death.
If we are terrified of death, I suspect it is because we never learned to live; for had we known what it is to live, we would not fear death.
In truth, the spectre of death does not terrify the Christian, though the process of dying may undoubtedly be unpleasant.
This is surely the intent of Jesus’ words, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” [*Matthew 10:28*].
While we do not seek death, neither do we fear death.
Though we are not eager to be separated from loved ones or fail to witness the growth of our children, we do not live in fear of death.
Though there exist false religions that worship death, if not in name than in their actions, we who are Christians love life.
We love life so much that we declare eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord.
We point all who are willing to receive that life to look to Him who gives life.
Jesus did say, after all, “I came that [people] may have life and have it abundantly” [*John 10:10*].
Ezekiel was engaged in doing God’s work.
God had appointed him to serve as a prophet, though he was among the captives exiled to Babylon.
There, he had faithfully declared the mind of God though his words were an assault on the religious leaders.
On a day, he arose as he always did.
As he prepared for his day, he was informed by the Word of the Lord warning him, “Son of man, behold I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke” [*Ezekiel 24:16*].
His response was to deliver the Word of God, warning the people as he always did; then, at evening his wife died.
The next morning he obeyed the will of God.
Make no mistake, the Word of God makes it plain that Ezekiel loved his wife.
God identified her as “the delight of [Ezekiel’s] eyes” [*verse 16*].
Theirs was not a loveless marriage, nor was theirs a union of convenience; rather their marriage was a source of joy and delight for Ezekiel and for his wife.
Ezekiel is one of the strangest preachers in the Word of God, for he preached messages that spoke volumes without saying a word.
It is not easy to be a prophet of God.
People do not love a prophet because the message he carries is so hard to receive.
Ezekiel’s messages were impossible to ignore because they were so graphic.
On one occasion he gathered up as much of his earthly goods as he could carry at one time and set them in the street in front of his house.
At evening he dug through the wall of his house and brought out his luggage as though he was going into exile.
He covered his face so he could not look about, picked up his baggage and carried it on his shoulder before all the people [see *Ezekiel 12:1-6*].
Of course, his actions generated attention.
Children hurried to get their parents, and friends alerted their neighbours.
A crowd gathered and the people watched the spectacle in silence, until at last someone spoke.
“What are you doing, Ezekiel?”
At this, the man of God answered, “I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them.
They shall go into exile, into captivity” [*Ezekiel 12:11*].
On another occasion, Ezekiel had been commanded to groan.
He was not commanded to utter merely a little grunt, but he was to groan as though his heart was breaking and as though he was consumed with grief [see *Ezekiel 21:6*].
When the people asked what caused him to groan so pitifully, he replied, “Because of the news that it is coming.
Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water.