The Tradition of Ezekiel: Holiness

One of the most emphatic references to the importance of God’s Holiness is in the tradition of Ezekiel. The young prophet’s understanding of God’s motive in exiling His people in captivity, allowing His temple to be destroyed, and inevitably bringing Israel again back into their homeland is rooted not alone in a spirit of love or compassion for Israel but also in a personal interest in His own holiness and, in that connection, with His name and His glory.

The prophet is allowed to see the Glory of God departing the temple and then the city and then the nation as a visible revelation of God leaving.* [Ezekiel 9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:23 ]

The honor of His name, also, since Moses’ day has been a sensitive issue with God for reasons any believer should intuitively know if they are concerned about witnessing to their world. [ Exodus 20:7; Numbers 20:12] It is important to note that whether we are talking about God’s Name or His Glory or His Holiness, they are the same!

Professor Brueggmann** correctly noted that it is a nuance peculiar to the tradition of Ezekiel that the rescue of Israel, then, is more “a strategy for manifesting YHWH’s*** holiness than His compassion.”  (Brueggmann, 231)

God’s holiness is inseparably tied to—a synonym of—His nature, who He is [Exodus 3:14]:

“(holiness) indeed, …contains the innermost description of God’s nature.”  – [Gerhard Kittel. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1974). vol I. p 100. ]

Theologically, it gets easier to understand if we say that whoever God is, His Holiness, in relation to His creation, is personified or revealed in His name and manifested in His glory. According to Ezekiel, God’s reason[s] behind restoring Israel from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah—and us from sin at Calvary—denies a simple one-dimensional explanation. Professor Brueggmann observed in Ezekiel’s perspective that God’s reason for “newness,” or restoration, is God’s Holiness. He returned Israel from their captivity for His Name’s sake, not merely because He is love:

In some other traditions, especially Hosea and Jeremiah, such newness from YHWH is rooted in YHWH’s compassion for Israel but not here! Here the newness is “not for your sake,“ that is, not because YHWH loves Israel. (Brueggmann, 232)

[Not to say God doesn’t love Israel; He does!]

Rather, in this tradition, YHWH is preoccupied with YHWH’s own self and in YHWH‘s reputation among the nations. Thus YHWH’s actions are designed only to enhance YHWH and, if we may say so, to appeal to YHWH’s vanity. (Brueggmann, 232)

[Respectfully, “vanity” to me is not the right word. God is simply expressing Himself; being the God that He is, who He wanted to be to Israel, and whom He wanted Israel to sanctify among the nations.]

Nuance is everything and when trying to get to the reasons God does what God does may prove theologically challenging. Dr. Brueggmann’s documentation tries but I caution using human reason to explain the Divine.  I agree that God’s reputation is at risk (His witness in us in a New Testament sense) but was His primary concern appearing weak among the nations because He seemed to fail at delivering the very people He choose to love!?  Note the word “powerful” in Joyce’s quote:

The ultimate motive of YHWH’s activity is found in his desire to vindicate his “name,” the primary content of which is, it seems, not his reputation as a compassionate, forgiving or even a just God, but rather in his reputation as a powerful deity. [emphasis added] (Joyce 1989, 103)

To me it is sufficient to say that God’s holiness speaks to His character, which in terms of His revelation to us speaks to His reputation, but reasoning that His primary interest is in showing Himself always and only as “powerful” fails to encompass the totality, the fulness, of the divine mind in the matter. Continuing the quote,

It would not be inaccurate to say that in Ezekiel YHWH does indeed in a sense act out of “divine self interest.“ (Joyce 1989, 103)

So God rescues, Israel from captivity and you and I from sin, but Dr. Brueggmann calls this a by-product of His desire to vindicate Himself. [1 Timothy 3:16].  Is it!? The professor may have inadvertently or unintentionally implied that God’s interests were only personal and not for our benefit.

Did we simply get in the way of His grace? This makes no sense, but cautioning our world that God’s Glory will not always hang around disrespected and unnoticed is a warning worth noting. Dishonoring God’s Name, which is a revelation of who He is, is something God will inevitably address in judgment. Being holy for He is holy is not just a request but a requirement for a relationship with Him.

So is His holiness more important than His compassion?  Is His love a by-product of a divine self-interest? [Ezekiel 39:26–29] Is His holiness His primary concern? Walter Brueggmann again:

The rescue of Israel is a happy by-product of YHWH’s self-vindication , but nonetheless only a by-product. [emphasis added] This nuance of motivation is important, because it exhibits in the Ezekiel tradition a very different  Yahwistic grounding for Israel‘s future, A hope rooted not in love but in holiness. (Brueggmann, 232)

“…rooted not in love but “only” in holiness”??

Is not God’s love an aspect or attribute of His holiness? Of course!

So, how about both!

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5

* ICHABOD, Hebrew: אִיכָבוֹד – no glory, or where is the glory?
** cp Walter Bruegmann & Tod Linafelt An Introduction to the Old Testament. The Canon and Christian Imagination. Westminster, John Knox Press, Louisville KY. 2nd Ed. 2021. pp 231-232
***Walter Brueggmann uses the sacred divine name YHWH, Jahwah or Jehovah, which in this context is most appropriate.
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