Old Testament prophets were often called to do ridiculous things. Cook food using human waste as fuel. Shave their heads and let the wind blow a third of the hair away. Marry a prostitute so one’s marriage could be a living metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel. Eat a scroll. The list goes on and on. But there is one story I had never noticed until recently. Let’s add to the list of strange prophetic behavior: Ezekiel had to dig through a wall.
The Lord speaks to Ezekiel, telling him that he is living in the midst of a rebellious nation (Judah) with people who have “eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear” (Ezekiel 12:2 NRSV). Ezekiel is told to leave the city like an exile, leaving in the evening, carrying a bundle of possessions on his shoulders. But he doesn’t get to go out through the city gates. It is not as simple as finding the exit door and walking out.
The Lord speaks: “Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it” (Ezekiel 12:5).
Wait. What?! Why?
But like a good prophet, Ezekiel obeys the Lord.
Walls are powerful dividers. When I was in high school, my family was living in the Philippines, and President George W. Bush was coming to pay a visit to Manila. Weeks before the visit, officials were busy preparing: they were putting up walls. Corrugated metal walls went up to hide the poverty on the streets of Manila. Walls to hang pretty banners on, to present a fashionable and clean city. Behind the walls, life in slums became harder than normal, as access in-and-out of some communities became more difficult. All to create a façade for a visiting president.
When I think of walls, I remember my visit to Israel-Palestine during college. From Jerusalem, the wall looks like a normal-size wall, just high enough to not see over. There are decorative bushes and flowers planted to make it look like a pretty divider. After going through the security checkpoint and entering the West Bank, however, I was astonished to see that on the Palestinian side the ground was much lower—revealing a wall at some places 26 feet (eight meters) tall! This side of the wall has no decorative flowers or fancy bushes; instead it is adorned with artistic cries for freedom. Paintings of doors or windows revealing beauty, men throwing flowers instead of grenades, and peace doves wearing protective jackets as they are about to be shot down are some of the examples (you can view these and other powerful images with a simple google search).
When I think of walls, I picture the borders around the slum communities I have lived in. Concrete slabs mark the borders of the property. When eviction and demolition inevitably come, those on one side of the wall are safe, while the other side gets flattened. One side has legal documentation, one side does not. One side is safe, one side ceases to exist.
Walls are dividers. Whether they are the walls holding a roof on our house or the protective walls around our gated communities, walls by definition divide. Walls create “insiders” and “outsiders.” If we are comfortable with our walls, we must remember that there is always another side. Who are the people on the other side of our walls? Do we know their names? Do our walls serve a good purpose, or are they keeping us from encountering Christ? For the homeless person squatting on a street corner or the beggars who are no longer allowed to enter our gated communities because of Covid fears, what do these walls mean?
Ezekiel was told to dig through a wall. His wall was not concrete; it was probably red brick. It still must have been an uncomfortable process, perhaps involving hitting it with a hammer. There must have been dirt flying, dust in his eyes, and red earth under his fingernails by the time he was done. When he finally had a hole big enough to squeeze through, he walked out of the city—probably sweating and out-of-breath. This was just another weird thing Ezekiel the prophet had to do, likely gaining him more sideways glances and judgmental smirks. No one wants to listen to a prophet say that their city is going to be attacked and destroyed and that their king will escape through a hole in the wall.
But somehow, I feel as though Ezekiel has something for the Church of today to think about. What are our walls? Our literal walls— whether they are made of brick, cement, or plywood— do they keep people out? Are our physical church buildings such that those who do not know Jesus would never set foot in them? And more than that, what are our invisible walls? Mental barriers between “in” and “out”? Between “insiders” and “outsiders”? What barriers stand in the way of us engaging with others—with us being loving witnesses to Christ’s Kingdom? It could be religious walls that divide us, like the age-old misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. Or it could be economic walls, creating a divide between the rich and the poor.
Are we willing to be prophetic? To follow in Ezekiel’s footsteps? To smash holes in the walls and dig through with our hands if needed? Can we hear the Lord’s voice to His Church, calling us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what is beyond our walls? Are we in a rebellious house, like Judah? And if so, are we willing to speak out—to be different than our friends and family if needed?
Are we willing to take the risk of obedience, to meet Jesus outside our walls?
Rahma (not her real name) and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.