Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson used to say of his opponents and their strategies to beat him, “Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time.” Likewise, it is said of military strategies, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” The point of both quotes is that reality can screw up your plans. Your idea for how your life will go can be blown to smithereens with one phone call, one email, one text, one letter, one conversation, one doctor’s report, one meeting with your boss, or one series of events.
This is something the prophet Ezekiel learned all too well. He was born in Jerusalem and spent the first 25 years of his life there. Since he was from a priestly family, he seemed destined to become a priest himself serving at Jerusalem’s temple. To use the Tyson quote, we might say that Ezekiel climbed into the ring with life and had a plan all laid out for how his life would go. Unfortunately for him, that plan came to nothing the instant life hit him in the mouth with a haymaker punch. That haymaker took the form of Babylon’s great leader Nebuchadnezzar and his mighty army. Oh, Ezekiel would still become a priest, but the field of his ministry would be Babylon, not Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1:3).
Every plan young Ezekiel had for his life changed when he and his wife became part of 10,000 Jews who were deported to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar and his army laid siege to Jerusalem in 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24:8-16). This was actually the second wave of deportation that Jerusalem’s inhabitants had been forced to endure at the hands of the Babylonians. The first had occurred in 605 B.C. with a young Daniel being among those taken to Babylon as a part of that group (Daniel 1:1-7). Just to finish out the record, in 586 B.C., eleven years after Ezekiel’s deportation, the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem yet again and at that time destroyed the city and the temple.
Getting back to Ezekiel, he and his wife became members of a large colony of exiles who were taken to Babylon’s Tel Abib on the banks of the Chebar river (Ezekiel 1:1). There the couple settled down and lived in some type of house (Ezekiel 3:24, 8:1). If it seems odd that exiled captives would be able to live in houses, you should understand that the Babylonians’ primary purpose in deporting the Jews was not enslavement. Their main purpose was simply to displace the Jews from their homeland, especially the Jewish leadership and nobility. This displacement would strike a blow at Jewish nationalism and make it much easier to assimilate the Jews into the Babylonian way of life.
So, while it was horrific for Ezekiel, his wife, and the thousands of other Jews to be carried out of their homeland and plopped down into a strange new land, at least they were allowed to have some sense of community and normalcy in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah even sent a letter from Jerusalem to the captives encouraging them to build houses, plant vineyards, and marry among themselves there in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1-7). As for Ezekiel, five years into his captivity, when he reached the age of 30, he began his prophetic ministry (Ezekiel 1:2) and his house became a hub for Jewish gatherings (Ezekiel 8:1, 14:1, 20:1, 33:31). It’s likely that he knew Daniel, who was also serving as God’s prophet in Babylon. The two men would have been about the same age. The difference was that Daniel’s ministry was in large part focused upon Babylon’s ruling elite, while Ezekiel’s was focused upon his fellow exiles.
Really, though, we have to admire Ezekiel and his wife. They took the lemons life gave them and made the best lemonade they could in Babylon. They had God. They had each other. They had a house. They had friends. Ezekiel even had an effective ministry among the exiles. But then tragedy struck again as Ezekiel’s wife died a sudden death (Ezekiel 24:15-16). To use the Tyson reference one more time, this was Ezekiel getting hit in the mouth again and having to readjust his plan for how his remaining years would go. To make his wife’s death even harder to understand, God claimed responsibility for it as He told Ezekiel, “…behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke…” (Ezekiel 24:16).
You say, “That’s terrible!” You’re right, it was. But wait, it gets worse. God wouldn’t even let Ezekiel mourn for the woman (Ezekiel 24:16-17)! What possible reason could God have for forbidding Ezekiel from mourning? The answer is, Ezekiel’s lack of mourning would serve as an example for his fellow exiles in the days to come when Babylon would finish off Jerusalem in that third siege and kill many of the sons and daughters that had been left behind after the second deportation (Ezekiel 24:15-27). In this way, Ezekiel’s life itself became an object lesson that complimented his prophetic preaching. He preached his last dated prophecy in the 27th year of his captivity (Ezekiel 29:17-21), which means that his ministry in Babylon lasted at least 22 years.
There is so much more that I could say about Ezekiel, but for the purpose of this post I just want to use him as an example of someone who had a fight plan, got hit in the mouth, came up with a new plan and made it work, got hit in the mouth again, came up with another plan and made it work, and then died doing what God had called Him to do. You talk about a man who couldn’t be stopped! And may this great man of God serve as an inspiration to all of us who have watched our carefully laid plans for our lives go up in smoke through no fault of our own. Friend, if that describes you, the best advice I can give you is to stick with God and keep on punching. You aren’t the first person in history to get a raw deal and you won’t be the last. That’s a byproduct of living in a fallen world. But what you do have a say in is how you respond to getting punched. Ezekiel knew how to take a blow and keep on serving God, and may the same be true of you.