It was 6:55am. I had the coffee fresh and my array of study tools laid out before me. We’ve been traveling for nine days. A time in which I set aside the studying in favor of fellowship. Overwhelming fellowship. 18 dates over various breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts at our favorite restaurants in our old stomping grounds with some of our favorite people – all recounting stories of the last seven weeks since our move.
This morning, I was getting back into the groove. And if I get started before 7am, I’m doing pretty well.
I was in Ezekiel 24. And the last section hit like a sucker punch. … No. Not that. Rather, like a heavy weight right on the soft spot of grief and loss.
Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep … So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. Ezekiel 24: 16, 18
This prophet who has given everything he has in obedience to God to speak to a nation that refused to listen … this prophet whose words I’ve been reading for now twenty-four chapters… his wife died. Very suddenly. And he wasn’t supposed to mourn her.
I understand the head-knowledge of it. The picture it painted for the people. Jerusalem was the delight of the LORD and they refused to hear Him. And after chapter 24, they aren’t mentioned again by Ezekiel. She represented them.
But his wife died. And the people he had relentlessly reached out to and pursued and spoken to simply didn’t care.
But God was writing this story. And leading this ministry. And He saw fit to write it this way. And He reigns. Over all He reigns.
When the desire of our eyes is taken away with a stroke, we must see and own the hand of God in it. – Matthew Henry
I began to think of the grief. The loss this man experienced. And the dramatic strength it took to not mourn publicly. Because that’s the context of what God called him to. Do not mourn publicly. He didn’t instruct Ezekiel to not mourn at all – God is not callous. And I imagine that it was in the quiet of the night when no one else was around, and the other half of his bed was cold and empty, and the stifled sobs escaped his lips that the God of all comfort met him there. Dramatically. Intimately. Providing the strength to go on the next day. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last eighteen months it’s that His voice is louder. Clearer. More dramatic. And more intimate than it ever was before the cancer won. Grief can do that. IF we allow it to.
But then I started thinking about sudden loss. And the other man that experienced it. In one fatal stroke, Job lost everything except his wife. And she told him to curse God and die.
Ezekiel’s wife was literally the desire of his eyes. She was his delight. The dearest person to him. She was grace. And beauty. And something so precious words can’t quite be formed to describe it. His prized possession. His precious good thing. It’s interesting how the context of the Hebrew word used to describe his wife also describes a precious possession. An object. Every feminist’s trigger point. But really, a good wife is the crown on her husband’s head. And I don’t mind being Josh’s prized possession. He did give me a diamond ring, after all. I suppose that makes me his jeweled crown.
But she wasn’t just his delight. She was the delight of his eye. And the rabbit trail of truth began. Starting with the verse spoken to me on a street corner in Brazil that rolled out the red carpet for my pursuit of photography:
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. Matthew 6:22-23
In the context of this particular train of thought, I find it interesting that the King James Version of this verse translates “good” as “single”. Ezekiel’s wife was the delight of his eye. There was nothing complicated or confused about her. She was single-minded with her husband, supporting him in a vastly difficult ministry. Likely his sole support and source of comfort in the midst of a ministry that often was like beating your head against a wall. And because she was all of those things, his character was bright. Their marriage was composed of light when everything else around them was covered over in darkness.
And then there’s Job’s wife. The bad eye. The one that is full of annoyances. The one that presses and harasses. The one that causes pain and trouble. The one you cover over with a patch to hide and is literally blanketed with darkness. LORD, help me to be like Ezekiel’s wife.
I felt the Spirit beginning to piece it all together and I went inside to refill my coffee and retrieve my laptop.
Josh was awake and sitting on the couch that faces the front door. When I opened it, he was blinded by the bright morning sun shining right in his eyes. Leaving the door partially ajar, I walked over to the corner of our small kitchen were the coffee pot was sitting. He asked me to close the door. Immediately, the ugliness welled up inside and the bite in my voice escaped. And I knew – right then, at that moment – I was the annoyance. Inviting separation instead of oneness. Eclipsing the light with my attitude, sarcasm, and tone of voice. I was annoyed for no reason. My annoyance of him actually turned me into an annoyance to him as I closed the door a little more vigorously then I should have.
And then I sat down again with my marriage study. Convicted. Defeated. Annoyed. And with a glaring application right in front of my face.
LORD, teach me how to shove it down. How to resist condescension and choose love. Not with a fake, teeth-gritted, I’m-choosing-love-and-I-want-you-t0-know-it delivery. But truly choosing love.
And then I continued down the rabbit trail of verses running through my brain. And He began connecting the dots.
Desire. Genesis 3:16 – Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you. The word literally means to stretch out after. Desire. Longing. Craving. Of man for woman or woman for man. The “desire” of Ezekiel 24 is different. It’s a desirable thing. A pleasant thing. Goodly, lovely, and beloved. I love that what You intend as a punishment for sin, You also counteract with love.
And then the loose ends all tied together. There was one more desire waiting for me one chapter over. A verse I was familiar with, but His Spirit had me back up and read the verse before it as well. And it all made so much convicting sense.
“So the LORD said to (Jane), ‘Why are you angry?‘” Truly. Why was I angry? Because he asked me to shut the door? “And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you shall overcome it.” (Genesis 4:6-7) In another translation, God asks Cain “Why are you angry, as if unjustly treated?” Really, was it unjust that Josh asked me to shut the door? It’s so silly. And I reacted so poorly. As if it was such an inconvenience.
I looked up the Hebrew definition for the phrase “If you do well”: If you make glad. If you deal well with. If you make a thing good. Or right. Or beautiful. If you are well-spoken. If you act well. If you do good to anyone. If you fit your tone and readjust your attitude. If you adorn the head. If I am the crowning joy I am supposed to be, I will rule over the sin that desires for me to be right. To be vindicated. Even if I am completely in the wrong.
LORD, forgive me for my ugliness. Help me to speak with grace on my lips. With gladness and joy in my voice. Remove the bite from my tone. Help me to act well behind closed doors so that Josh truly delights in me.
And then I gathered up my things. And sheepishly went back inside, shutting the door tightly (and quietly) behind me. And apologized.