You never know what you’ll get.
Jean sits at the back of the class, incredibly attentive, engaged, and listening. Jean-Baptiste sits to the instructor’s left, brow-furrowed, thoughtful, and full of questions. Whenever I pause to allow student’s to ask a question, one or both of these men will raise their hand. Jean-Baptiste will usually ask a helpful, clarifying questions. He’s older, has ministry experience, and has obviously studied much of the biblical text we’re examining.
Jean, on the other hand, asks the questions I haven’t even thought of. Sitting in the back with his wife and young daughter, I originally assumed he’d have many distractions. I assumed wrong.
Yesterday, I was moving quickly through the middle sections of Ezekiel in an effort to get back on our syllabus’s schedule. The first half of Ezekiel is filled with various prophecies warning the exiles that their home of Jerusalem would soon be destroyed along with the temple. Ezekiel tells this warning repeatedly, using various God-ordained forms: drama, sermon, song, and in chapter 20, historical survey. In that chapter, he shows Israel’s repeated pattern of rebellion in the wake of God’s gracious actions. The result is judgment at God’s hand, but tempered with mercy as God acts “for the sake of [my] name” (20:9, 14, 22, 44).
I quickly moved through this chapter, intent on finishing yesterday’s course with the siege and fall of Jerusalem in chapters 24 and 33. But there was Jean’s hand, slowly rising as his eyes were fixed on the text. It would be a while before we got to chapters 24 and 33.
Now before I get to Jean’s question, let me celebrate something I’ve noticed in my Togolese students. Despite a day filled with ten hours of classes, at 8 pm they were engaged and when I paused, they didn’t push me toward finishing class early. Their eyes seem to always be in the text. This has always been one of my unstated teaching and preaching goals. I want to see people engaged with the text not with me. Quite often, in my sermons and teaching opportunities back home, a pause means students or listeners look up. In Togo, students look down at the text. This is one of the reasons I love teaching in these environments.
Back to Jean. His question started slow as he was internally wrestling with a verse or two and our class language, French, is his second language. The words came out slowly and my translator leaned forward, trying to hear what Jean was asking. Eventually, I understood he was stuck on Ezekiel 20:25-26. There are 48 chapters in Ezekiel. I didn’t have the time to address every verse and so I had summarized chapter 20. But Jean wasn’t about to let me get away without an explanation.
Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord.
Uh oh. This wouldn’t be easy. These students don’t like it if I don’t have a definitive answer. And quite frankly, I don’t like it if I don’t have a definitive answer. I stumbled through something about God’s judgment showing God’s holiness and glory, which is true, but much more general than Jean was looking for.
Every night, I get the chance to learn from these students. They don’t know it, but they’ve driven me deeper into the text than I’ve been in some time. It's a joy to teach and be taught in an environment like this. Now I need to go re-study Ezekiel 20 thanks to Jean.