Troubling Aspects About the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife
The most troubling aspects of the story of the death of Ezekiel’s wife is the fact that God took her life “at a stoke.” Why did God take the life of Ezekiel’s wife? From the perspective of those who blame her death on God, her death was a cruel act.
Another troubling aspect of the story is that God commanded Ezekiel not to mourn for the wife that was the delight of his eyes. The death of Ezekiel’s wife was sudden; it was announced by God in the morning and then in the evening she died.
There is no explanation as to why or how she died; the text only says that God took her at a stroke. Scholars try to provide reasons for her death, but the reasons given for her death are only speculations and may not reflect what really happened.
The death of Ezekiel’s wife was real because the people asked Ezekiel the reason he was not mourning. If the death of his wife was not real, then the people would have no reason to question his behavior.
Another reason people are troubled by the way Ezekiel’s wife died is because of people’s high regard for human life. Why would God take the life of Ezekiel’s wife in order to send a message to his people? People believe her death was unfair and they blame God for being a malevolent deity who treats human beings as mere pawns.
Because people are troubled by the death of Ezekiel’s wife, they blame God for her death. This criticism of God, however, is contrary to the nature and character of God. The death of Ezekiel’s wife must be understood in the context of what God says about his desire to save people. God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezekiel 18:32).
Again, God says, “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). These two statements say that God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, including evil people. Rather, God wants people to live. God took no pleasure in the death of Ezekiel’s wife, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones” (Psalm 116:15).
Another troubling aspect of the death of Ezekiel’s wife was God’s command to Ezekiel not to mourn for the woman he loved. What was the reason behind this supposedly cruel command? It is natural for people to grieve at the loss of someone dear to them. God’s command to Ezekiel not to grieve seems unreasonable and near impossible.
In her discussion of God’s command to Ezekiel, Odell provides an important observation about this command not to grieve. She says that Ezekiel’s situation should not be applied to personal situations of grief, “but it deserves reflection on those occasions when grief does not heal” (Odell 2005: 321). Odell explains how grief can have the “seductive” power to keep people from moving on with life. God’s command to Ezekiel not to grieve has the same purpose, “It demands that the exiles move on. It recognizes the depth of their loss, yet also demands that they prepare for the future. The hard work of rebuilding the community must begin even before the fire of divine wrath is cooled” (Odell 2005: 321).
The death of Ezekiel’s wife and the command not to mourn for her death were intended to announce the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the death of many people as a result of the siege of the city. When a messenger arrived with the news of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, on that day, Ezekiel’s mouth was opened and he spoke to the people, “So you shall be a sign to them; and they shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 24:27).
These last words to Ezekiel, “they shall know that I am the LORD,” are the key to understanding this tragic story: While many people are perplexed by the death of Ezekiel’s wife, her death communicated a powerful message to the people. The temple, “the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection” (Ezekiel 24:25) had become a deception to the people (Jeremiah 7:4).
The people had put their faith and trust in the building rather than in God. This deception was based on a false hope. The people believed that as long as the temple stood, God would protect the temple and would not allow Jerusalem to be destroyed. In his temple sermon (Jeremiah 7:1–15), Jeremiah warned the people of this deceptive view of the temple.
With the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, God was removing “the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection” so that his people could learn to trust in him alone. After “the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection” had fallen, Ezekiel’s mouth was opened. At that time, his message changed from a message of doom to a message of hope and restoration.
The Suffering of God
Ezekiel’s wife was “the delight of his eyes.” She was loved, dear to him, and a special companion. This is the reason she was chosen to be the symbolic representation of something that was dearly loved by God as she was dearly loved by her husband.
The marital bond that existed between Ezekiel and his wife is similar to God’s union with his people. God loved these people; they were dear and special to him. Even when Yahweh decided to judge them, his love for them never ceased.
Correction comes in many forms. God did not take pleasure in judging his people. He was not pleased to bring judgment upon Judah, instead he had hoped his people would turn from their rebellion and cry out to him for mercy. God was pained to have to deal so severely with his people.
The judgment of Judah is related to God’s command to Ezekiel not to mourn and not to shed tears on the occasion of his wife’s death. The instruction to Ezekiel not to mourn for his wife came from a God who had repeatedly been hurt by his people, a God who had reconciled with his people only to be hurt again.
The book of Jeremiah presents God as a God who had repeatedly called to his people to return to him. While the death of Ezekiel’s wife was quick, the pain God had been enduring with the rebellion of his people was continuous. Often there were glimpses of hope as the people turned back to him, only to return to their rebellion and make their situation worse.
The fall of Jerusalem reveals a God who could no longer cry for his people. Yahweh had cried for his people too many times, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people” (Jeremiah 9:1). Now, through the death of Ezekiel’s wife, Yahweh was telling the people that the time for crying was over. Grieving often occurs long before death. God had been grieving repeatedly for his people long before the city and the temple were destroyed.
The God who brought judgment upon Judah was the God who in love brought his people out of their bondage in Egypt. He was the God who cared for them in the wilderness and who brought them to the land of promise. Like Ezekiel’s wife, they were the desire of his eyes.
God loved them as a people meant to be a blessing to the nations. But, because of their rebellion, God’s heart was grieving for his people in quiet silence. God was mourning for his people, but they could not hear his cry. The people could not see by Ezekiel’s behavior the death that had occurred in his house because there was no mourning for the dead.
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife
“So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died.” For every spoken word there is a call that demands a response. Then the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting this way?” (Ezekiel 24:19). The people want to understand the meaning of God’s message through what Ezekiel was doing.
Ezekiel gives an answer to their “why” question. The judgment on Judah was another opportunity for the people to turn to God and repent. God says, “So you shall be a sign to them; and they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 24:27). Not only was Jerusalem going to fall, but its fall was going to impact them to the point of speechlessness. Ezekiel was to remain speechless until news came of the city’s destruction. He was to remain speechless for a reason. The graveness of this event could not be expressed. God was using Ezekiel’s silence to show the weight of Ezekiel’s loss.
Israel had been unfaithful and needed to change. The reality of the exile should have conveyed to them their need to turn back to God. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple demonstrated God’s displeasure with the people’s rebellion against him. God, however, does not judge cruelly.
God was seeking repentance so that the people could return back into a right relationship with him. Yahweh was not punishing his people for punishment’s sake. He was offering them a chance to turn and be saved, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32). God was asking them to change their behavior so that he could bless them again. God wanted to bless his people but when Israel was weighed on the scale of obedience, Israel failed miserably.
“In the evening my wife died” (Ezekiel 24:18 TNK). The writer of Ecclesiastes was right: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2). The end of birth is death, and the end of death is birth into a new and wonderful life.
Notwithstanding what people say about the death of Ezekiel’s wife, God did not kill her. She died because she was sick. It is possible that because of her illness, Ezekiel’s wife was probably physically weak and frail when she died but spiritually, on the day she died, God took her to glory (Psalm 73:24).
On the day Ezekiel’s wife died, God redeemed her life from the power of the grave and took her to himself (Psalm 49:15).
“The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die” (Psalm 116:15 NLT).
Posts on the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Prophetic Acts
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel’s Wife
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – The Message To Israel
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – God’s Supposed Cruelty – Part 1
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – God’s Supposed Cruelty – Part 2
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel and the Prophetic Office (forthcoming)
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Odell, Margaret S. Ezekiel. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon: 2005.