15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “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. 17 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.” 18 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.
19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” 20 Then I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: 21 ‘Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. 22 And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. 23 Your turbans shall be on your heads and your shoes on your feet; you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another. 24 Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord God.’
25 “As for you, son of man, surely on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their soul’s desire, and also their sons and daughters, 26 on that day a fugitive will come to you to report to you the news. 27 On that day your mouth will be opened to the fugitive, and you shall speak and be no longer mute. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:15-27 ESV
After providing Ezekiel with the parable of the boiling pot, God informs His faithful prophet of a pending personal tragedy that will become another powerful illustration to His rebellious people. With everything else going on in his life, the last thing Ezekiel expected to hear was a divine pronouncement of his wife’s imminent death. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been no mention of Ezekiel’s family, so the sudden mention of his wife’s death is unexpected. And this tragic news must have hit Ezekiel with the emotional impact of a freight train.
But the gut-wrenching news of her death was accompanied by an equally difficult command from God. Not only is Ezekiel told that his wife, his “dearest treasure,” is going to die suddenly, but he is forbidden by God to mourn or weep for her publicly.
“Son of man, realize that I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a jolt, but you must not mourn or weep or shed tears.” – Ezekiel 24:16 NET
Ezekiel will not be allowed to show any outward signs of mourning. The normal rituals and rites associated with the loss of a loved one will be off-limits to him. Even when well-meaning friends heard the tragic news and brought him meals, he was not allowed to eat with them. God expected Ezekiel to act as if nothing happened, putting his turban on his head, his sandals on his feet, and going about his prophetic responsibilities as usual. And Ezekiel was given little time to prepare himself for this devastating event. Within 24 hours, his wife was dead.
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. – Ezekiel 24:18 ESV
When Ezekiel’s fellow exiles saw that he showed no signs of mourning over his wife’s sudden passing, they were confused and confronted him about it.
“Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” – Ezekiel 24:19 ESV
From their past experience with Ezekiel, they knew that something was up. He did nothing without a reason and seldom spoke without having a message to convey from God. So, they suspected that there was something behind his bizarre behavior, and they were right.
Ezekiel informed them that his response to his wife’s unexpected death was meant to be an example for them to follow. When the Babylonian siege ended and the city of Jerusalem fell, God was going to bring about the destruction of the temple. For the people of Judah, the temple was the symbol of their relationship with Yahweh and a constant reminder of their status as His chosen people. God describes it as “the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul” (Ezekiel 24:21 ESV). They took great pride in the temple. It was a majestic structure that dominated the city’s skyline from its vantage point on Mount Moriah. It was beautiful and built to last for generations. Yet, God was about to reduce it to a pile of rubble and, when He did, they were not to mourn over its loss. They were to follow Ezekiel’s example.
“…you will do as Ezekiel has done. You will not mourn in public or console yourselves by eating the food brought by friends. Your heads will remain covered, and your sandals will not be taken off. You will not mourn or weep, but you will waste away because of your sins. You will groan among yourselves for all the evil you have done.” – Ezekiel 24:22-23 NLT
But the temple would not be the only loss they suffered. God informs them that when Jerusalem falls, many of them will suffer the loss of family members who remained behind in Judah.
“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened.” – Ezekiel 24:25-26 NLT
The exiles would not escape the devastating impact of the siege and subsequent fall of Jerusalem. Like Ezekiel, they would soon receive the unexpected and unwanted news of personal tragedy and loss, and God expected them to keep their mourning to themselves. God’s prohibition against any public displays of sorrow was meant to accentuate their guilt and prevent them from portraying their loss as somehow undeserved.
“Ezekiel had a right to mourn his undeserved personal loss but did not. The Israelites had no right to mourn for their well-deserved national loss and could not . . .” – Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel
God was going to use Ezekiel’s timely personal tragedy as a vivid illustration for the people of Judah living in captivity. Their glorious temple was about to be destroyed. It was the source of their security and pride. It held a special place in their hearts and lives, even from 1600 miles away in Babylon. As long as the temple stood, they had hope because it represented the presence of God. But God was going to allow His house to be destroyed and the exiles living in Babylon, who had been taken captive years earlier, were to mourn its loss in silence.
But what are we to do we do with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the tragic death of Ezekiel’s innocent wife? Did God cause it? Did He deliberately take this woman’s life just to make a point? To answer these uncomfortable questions one must first consider the complete character of God as unveiled in the Scriptures. Attempting to put God on trial based on a single Old Testament story is risky business. So, it is necessary to consider the full scope of God’s divine attributes when confronted with a disturbing and somewhat confusing passage like this one.
There is no doubt that God was in control of the situation. He was sovereign over every event that happened, including the death of Ezekiel’s wife. But whether God caused her death or simply allowed it is difficult to know for sure. Based on what the rest of Scripture reveals about the character of God, it seems to make the most sense that God allowed Ezekiel’s wife to die at this particular time. Due to His omniscience and foreknowledge, God was fully aware of the timing surrounding her death. He knew in advance what was already going to happen.
Had she been sick? The passage doesn’t say. Was her condition the result of disease or plague? There is no way to know. But her death was timely. It came at just the right moment and was used by God as a power and memorable illustration to His rebellious people.
It is essential that we interpret this event based on other revelations of God’s character found in the Word. The question is not whether God could have caused her death, but whether He would kill an innocent woman just to illustrate a point. Would that be consistent with His character? In his Notes on Ezekiel, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The text does not say that God put her to death as an object lesson. She could have been ill for some time before she died. Another similar situation involved God allowing the death of His innocent Son to occur at precisely the time God intended as another expression of His love and judgment.”
In reading the Old Testament, we must be careful to interpret what it seems to reveal about God’s character by comparing what we read with other passages and revelations about God. Otherwise, we can easily build a case that God is callous, hard, vindictive, and heartless. But even in this very difficult book, we see that God is ultimately loving, kind, patient, and forgiving. While He punishes, He also restores. While He brings well-deserved judgment, He also brings undeserved mercy and grace. He is not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted and complex. And He is always righteous and just in all His actions.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.