Good Grief

Ezekiel 24:15-25; 2 Samuel 12:16-24a; John 11:33-35; Matthew 5:4

Starting a post on the topic of grief and mourning is not something I look forward too. I like the action packed stories. Clear illustrations that set up some easy-to-talk-about topics. I am not sure about other preachers, but contemplating the concepts of grief and mourning are not my idea of a good time. I suppose I can relate to Ezekiel a bit in our main passage today. God gives him probably the hardest message he will ever have to speak to, wrapped in probably the most challenging of circumstances he will ever find himself in. The loss of a loved one.

The uncomfortable task of speaking on behalf of God, all the while there is emotional turmoil with you. I take it back. Nothing I’ve gone through has come close to what Ezekiel will go through today. I said in the the first message that God has Ezekiel do some weird stuff. Of just the ones we’ve covered, Ezekiel has: eaten a scroll, baked bread in public over a cow-pie fueled fire while laying on his side and tied down, publically gathers all his things and digs a hole in the city wall. He also has some slightly easier tasks: rebuke false prophets and compare their deeds to white washing – lying for their benefit, and again illustrating the lack of good production – people not pursuing their God given purpose.

Today is the penultimate story in Ezekiel, because his character and personal life were put through the wringer, through a test. In this main passage today, God will “take the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes away.” Ezekiel will experience personal loss and have to cope with his grief in some way. After we look at Ezekiel chapter 24, we will look at other stories of grief and loss: David and Bathsheba’s first child and how David worked through that time in his life. Jesus, when he was faced with the death of one of his best friends. And rounding out the post we will reflect on some words that Jesus himself spoke, words of blessing even in the midst of mourning.

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The Delight of the Eyes – Ezekiel 24:15-24 NIV

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners.”

18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.

19 Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us? Why are you acting like this?”

Ezekiel 24:15-19 NIV
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I want to focus in on just a few main things in this passage. Ezekiel has been commanded by God to do a lot of weird stuff. But this passage, God tells him his personal future. It’s not some consequence for his or his wife’s sin. It is something that God is making happen. God is ultimately in charge. The term “with one blow” seems to insinuate that his wife’s death will be sudden, swift. Like getting sucker punched in the gut. It happens in a brief moment and it’s resolved. It wasn’t prolonged, it was one quick blow.

Photo by Igor Murakhin on Pexels.com

Then the strangest part of this is actually that God commands Ezekiel not to mourn his wife. Not to weep, wail, look dishoveled in public. God allows for groning privately, but no public displays.  He tells him, “don’t eat the bread of mourners.” This idea is similar too when people today make casteroles or dinners for someone when they are suffering loss. They can barely cope with this great sadness, how are they suppose to make dinner? So, we bring them some food. God tells Ezekiel to skip the comfort food.

And if you were told all this, what would you do with your day? Live in fear? Grieve something that hasn’t happened yet? Skip work and spend the day with your spouse? Ezekiel wasn’t given a timeline, so he goes about his usual routine. He has a message from God from earlier in this chapter. He “speaks to the people in the morning.” Time passes. As evening rolls around, his wife passes too.

The next part of his story is the most remarkable. He gets up the next morning and does as the Lord commanded him. Combes his hair, puts on his clothes. Doesn’t weep and/or wail. Stays away from sympathy food. Keeps his turban nicely wrapped around his head. All like it’s just another day.

But the people picked up on his strange behavior. You’re not wailing, mourning, you act as if nothing has changed, though it had. What gives?     

You and I know that we’ve seen God deliver messages through Ezekiel’s actions before. The people are starting to catch on that Ezekiel’s break in normal grieving protocol must mean something.

Ezekiel them in on it, starting with verse 20:

20 So I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: 21 Say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. 22 And you will do as I have done. You will not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. 23 You will keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. 24 Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.’

Ezekiel 24:20-24 NIV

God is warning the people. You will suffer great loss. You will not be able to mourn this loss properly, for you brought it on yourselves. They would be in exile, not able to publicly mourn the destruction of the temple.

So Ezekiel was a sign, a foreshadowing of how the people would behave when the delight of their eyes was taken from them. Their place of worship, their sovereign land. 

Losing a Child  – 2 Samuel 12

Grief is not limited to the loss of a spouse. The loss of a child is a terrible thing to go through. How much worse must it have been for King David to know that his sin was directly responsible for the death of his son. He must have been in agony! But in 2 Samuel 12 we get the set up, where Nathan rebukes David, David repents but it’s too late to save his kiddo. The child is stricken with sickness. 

While the child is sick and dying, it says in verse 16 & 17:

16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.”

2 Samuel 12:16-17 NIV

He was a desperate man. A tortured man. He did whatever he could to pursude God to change his mind. Verse 18 & 19:

18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”

19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” “

2 Samuel 12:18-19 NIV

Then David, in the midst of his stages of grief, moved all the way to Acceptance

Verses 20-24a

20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba,

2 Samuel 12:20-24a NIV

Some bazar behaviors. Questions are asked and answered. Hopefully someone learns something. Kind of like Ezekiel. 

Now, lets jump forward in time to the New Testament.

Jesus Wept – John 11:35

Jesus wept.

(John 11:35)

It’s the shortest verse in the bible, but yet it shows a strange type of mourning. JESUS…the son of God wept. 

  • Before the water works, what happened?
  • Jesus was told his friend, Lazarus was deathly sick.
  • Jesus waited 2 more days before heading to see him.
  • Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is dead.
  • Then they were like “Let’s go “die” with him. Mourn with Jesus over Lazarus. 

Fast foward to Jesus being greeted by both Martha and Mary. Each of them profess that if Jesus had been there, their brother wouldn’t have died. 

But here is the series of events right before “Jesus Wept.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

John 11:33-34 NIV

Jesus is not cold to our feelings and emotions.

Jesus is not cold to our feelings and emotions. In fact he has them and experiences them too. He was troubled and moved in the spirit. He is shown where his best friend was laid to rest. He full well knew what he was going to do. He knew he’d call him out of the tomb, raise him to life again. But yet…”Jesus wept.”

Jesus felt sorrow for loss. Jesus, was moved by the mourning of others. It touched His spirit and he showed how he felt.

So Jesus wept. David prayed, fasted, moaned and cried…until his son died. And Ezekiel groaned silently. All doing exactly what they were to do. All expressing grief in the way that seemed appropriate for them.

Good Grief

So what about you? When faced with a terrible situation, terrible loss, how do you process it? Break down and cry, no matter where you are? Stand still, stoic and strong for others who need to cry. Do you actively seek out opportunities to comfort others who have lost loved ones? 

How ever you handle it God’s got a handle on your grief. He doesn’t leave us alone to sulk by ourselves. In a message that was as profound as it was poetic, Jesus declares unusual groups of people are “blessed.” Specifically let’s look at Matthew 5:4

“Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.”

(Matt 5:4 NIV)

This one seems like a “well duh!” situation. Of course if you aren’t in mourning, grieving, you don’t need to be comforted. But the deeper truth is that where ever there is hurting, comforting is waiting to swoop in and do what it needs to do best. 

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

There is a reason that BIG blankets are sometimes called “Comforters.” Wrapped up in them, feel safe and secure. It doesn’t change the reality of the situation you are mourning, but it changes the atmosphere or environment you are experiencing it in. 

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Perhaps you have lost someone close to you this past year or two. A parent, a child, a co-worker, a friend, maybe even a pet. God looks at you with loving, empathetic eyes. He’s got his arms out to your today, beckoning you to “bring it in” and receive the best hug of your life. It’s not just a hug and then everything is all better. He will walk with you through all the ups and downs of life. Sadness, depression, mourning and grief. He doesn’t leave us alone to our own devices. He wants to be there for us, but the question is: will we let him? Will we allow ourselves to be comforted by the Comforter?

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