Ezekiel Introduction 11/25/2020 Sunrise church of Christ
The name means “God strengthens,” or one writer expressed it: “the Lord toughens.” Apparently, his name was intended to signify the strength he would need for the task assigned to him by Jehovah, and which he demonstrated in carrying out his sacred responsibility (3:7-8, 14).
He was of the tribe of Levi and a priest (1:3), the son of Buzi (of whom nothing else is known). Sometimes the greatest distinction one can have is in children who serve Almighty God.
There is no indication that he had formally functioned as a priest in Jerusalem. Ezekiel grew up in Judea in the declining days of Hebrew independence and was transported to Babylon along with King Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. with ten thousand other captives (2 Kings 24:10-16).
This was eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. He was in Babylon for five years before Jehovah called him to his prophetic office (592 B.C.). He was contemporary with both Daniel and Jeremiah. Daniel had been deported into Babylon in the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim (606-605 B.C.) [Daniel 1:1, 3]. He labored at the court of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:1-7). Jeremiah’s ministry was in Judah and it spanned some forty years (ca 626-576 B.C.).
Ezekiel was married, but his wife died in the ninth year of the captivity (24:18). He had his own house in Babylon (3:24; 8:1), and apparently was granted considerable latitude in the land.
He seems to have been thirty years of age when his ministry began (1:1). His written prophecies continued some twenty-two years, and he received a divine revelation as late as the twenty-seventh year of the captivity (29:17). He seemed to have the respect of the Hebrew elders in the land (8:1; 14:4; 20:1). There is no record of his death.
One does not travel far into the book before he confronts the reality that much of Ezekiel’s message is framed in symbolism, i.e., pictorial images designed to convey spiritual truth. Symbolism has the advantage of expressing truths in colorful and vivid ways. It has a potential disadvantage of providing a “happy hunting ground” for a variety of theological speculators who can discover a host of “truths” in various narratives for which there is not the slightest basis other than the preconceived theories with which they begin their journeys into exegetical fantasy land. Symbolism is a valid means of conveying divine truth, as evidenced by the parables of Jesus and the book of Revelation, but it must be approached with the greatest of care.
This brief, three-point outline is as follows.
- Prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem (chapter 1-24).
- Divine judgments to come on various nations (25-32).
- Prophecies of the return to Canaan (33-48).
It must be noted that the book has some marvelous prophetic flashes of the coming Messiah, e.g., the mountain cedar tree (17:22-24), the “showers of blessing” (35:25-31), and Jehovah’s servant “David” (37:21-28).
The message delivered by Ezekiel was one of doom. He explained the reason for Judah’s captivity (1-24). At the same time, his message was one of hope. He prophesied that Judah’s restoration was assured (25-48).
The prophecies of Ezekiel were presented between 593(2) and 571(0) B.C. (1:2; 29:17). The book has thirteen dates included, seven of which are dated during oracles against the nations (25-32). The remaining ones are in chronological order. John B. Taylor suggested the following precise dates for the oracles, in relation to the Julian calendar:
1:2 July 31, 593 B.C.
8:1 September 17, 592 B.C.
20:1 August 9, 591 B.C.
24:1 January 15, 588 B.C.
26:1 February 12, 586 B.C.
29:1 January 7, 587 B.C.
29:17 April 26, 571 B.C.
30:20 April 29, 587 B.C.
31:1 June 21, 587 B.C.
32:1 March 3, 585 B.C.
32:17 March 17, 585 B.C
33:21 January 19, 586 B.C.
40:1 April 28, 573 B.C.
Ezekiel’s task was to impress upon (that is, prophesy to) the exiles the Word of the Lord, explaining that their enslavement was due to their own sinfulness. They had committed abominations by their continued worship of idols. Therefore, God was bringing upon them a sword that would shed their blood—the penalty for their sinfulness. God said that these events occurred so that they would “know that I am the Lord.”
The main theme of the book is “the person who sins will die,” but “to turn [repent] is to live” (18:20-23; 33:7-16). Ezekiel set forth individual (personal) responsibility, a theme not emphasized by other prophets. The Israelites, while in captivity, had determined that their captivity was not due to their own sin, but to the sins of their fathers. Ezekiel reminded them of their own rebellion against the law of God.
The message of Ezekiel emphasized the promise of God’s faithfulness in carrying out His eternal purpose: This sinful nation had to die, but the penitent remnant would be saved.
Five themes are predominant:
- The holiness of God. In the midst of an evil nation, God’s eternal attribute of righteousness was manifested.
- The sinfulness of Israel. The word “sin” occurs twenty times in the book. Three chapters chronicle Israel’s sinfulness.
- God will not allow sinfulness to continue: He will punish sin. Ezekiel often portrayed Israel’s sin as having accumulated, until finally the “cup” was full. She would now receive the extent of God’s wrath, which He would “spend” or pour out”.
- Individual responsibility. While this theme is repeated often in the text, the prophet especially focused on it in chapter 18: “The person who sins will die.”
- God will restore. The forgiving nature of God is beautifully illustrated. God’s righteousness required punishment, but His compassion allowed forgiveness and restoration. This truth is not powerfully illustrated in the Vision of the valley of dry bones (ch. 37).
Another key idea is God’s Spirit, or “glory,” leaving and returning. He left the temple in chapters 8 through 11 and returned in chapter 43. He left when there was judgment, then returned after restoration.
The Historical Background
In a remarkably swift turn of events, the Babylonians disposed of the powerful Assyrians in 612 B.C. This shift of power had a profound impact upon Judah, and Ezekiel would have been a witness to many changes that were taking place. During his lifetime, five kings reigned, with Josiah being the most noteworthy:
Josiah (640-609 B.C.)
Jehoahaz (also called Shallum—609 B.C)
Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.)
Jehoiachin (also called Coniah and Jeconiah—598  B.C.)
Zedekiah (598 -587  B.C.)
The First of the Vision (1:1-3) The Glory of The Lord
Verses 1, 2: Ezekiel’s account of his prophecies begins with a narrative about his visions of God. These “visions” occurred in the thirtieth year. Bible historians have counted backward from the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s exile arriving at the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, when he found “the book of the law.”
Ezekiel apparently received this Vision and his commission in the very year he began his priestly service. Thus God involved Ezekiel in a ministry immediately upon his becoming a priest, and we are allowed to witness the work of Ezekiel from his first commission.
The statement I saw visions is the first direct claim of inspiration for the book. As is explained in 1 Samuel 9:9, one who saw visions was a prophet. The fact that the heavens were opened indicates that God was allowing Ezekiel to see things both in and from the heavenly realm. Notice that Ezekiel also saw “visions of God.” These incredible visions of God are described—in symbolic details—beginning in verse 4.
The visions came to Ezekiel by the river Chebar, a minor river or a canal in Babylonia. The location of the Chebar, if it can be identified with the Babylonian naru kabari, was between Babylon and Nippur.
Verse 3: The phrase Ezekiel the priest presents some grammatical ambiguity; the phrase “the priest” could either be referring to the father or to the son. It does seem, though, that Ezekiel himself was a priest. This makes two sections especially significant: (1) chapter 4, where Ezekiel is asked to eat unclean food, and (2) chapter 8, where Ezekiel is taken, in a vision, to see the abominations associated with the temple in Jerusalem.
He is described as a “sign” in 12:6, 11: 24:24, 27. “By his action, what Yahweh is about to bring upon his people is already present. The prophet belongs inseparably to the ‘message.’”
Verses 1 through 3 provide evidence of Ezekiel’s divine call:
- “The heavens were opened,” affording Ezekiel a special revelation given only to the true prophets of God. (Compare Ezekiel’s Vision to the one given to John in Rev. 4).
- “I saw visions of God.” Ezekiel was allowed to see God in a special way.
- “The word of the Lord” came expressly to Ezekiel. We see a clear indication of inspiration; Ezekiel was given—directly—a message from God.
- “The hand of the Lord came upon him.” God was going to give Ezekiel the strength to bear and proclaim the message.
The Vision (1:4-28)
Ezekiel described his Vision in figurative (“apocalyptic”) langue. Many people have decided to read the book, only to be discouraged after encountering the first chapter. While some find the apocalyptic images fascinating as well as challenging, others would prefer to receive their information without so much effort. Simply stated, the goal of this Vision was to give a demonstration of God and His magnificent glory (vv. 1, 28). Why did God not just state truths about His glory in decisive terms? Why did He use the figurative method of establishing such concepts?
First, we must remind ourselves of the perfect nature of God and His omniscience. God knows the best and the most perfect way to communicate important truths.
Second, a difficult task lay ahead of Ezekiel. He was being sent to a stubborn and obstinate people (3:7). This Vision would help him to recall the greatness of the God he was serving. By remembering this Vision, Ezekiel would be continually strengthened and motivated to face the obstacles of preaching to such a people.
Third, we must remember that many people during Old Testament times believed that the gods of conquering nations were the stronger gods. What is remarkable is how the Israelites were so inclined to idolatry that they did what the other nations did not do: adopt the gods of the defeated nations! (see 2 Kings 16:6; 17:8).
Ezekiel, as a result of the Vision, would have sufficient evidence that the Babylonian gods—or any other gods for that matter—were powerless, unlike the one true God. He would be motivated to proclaim the excellencies of the Lord and encourage the people to renew their covenant with Him. If they would do this, they would fine a God who was willing to forgive and reestablish them in their land.
What should we keep in mind when we are interpreting this type of literature? Ezekiel was painting a picture, and all the parts help to form a whole. These parts do not necessarily have meaning in and of themselves. Many times, phrases with the word “like” or “as” are used. This construction, called a “simile,” tells us that Ezekiel’s description is, at best, a likeness—an approximation—of what he was actually seeing. “Likeness” occurs sixteen times in Ezekiel, and “like” is the preposition, found eighteen times in chapter 1 (166 times in Ezekiel). In addition, notice the use of “like” with “appearance.”
In preparation for studying this incredible Vision, we should note the four predominant aspects of the Vision. Each one should be considered in regard to how it contributes to the picture of the glory, majesty, and power of God.
- The four living creatures (vv. 4-14).
- The wheels (vv. 15-21).
- The expanse (vv. 22-25).
- The throne (vv. 26-28).
The four Living Creatures (1:4-14)
Verse 4: As the stage was set for this Vision, Ezekiel noted four features that seemed to indicate that severe weather was approaching. (1) He said that a storm wind was coming from the north which is frequently the direction from which God’s judgments are said to come (see Jer. 1:14; 4:6; 6:1, 22; 10:22; 13:20). (2) He saw a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually—suggesting a powerful electrical storm with continual lightning flashes. (3) He saw a bright light round about it, apparently shining brightly behind and around the storm clouds. (4) He saw something like glowing metal—lights in this storm that were atypical of any storm Ezekiel had ever seen. It had flashing lights with the vividness of hot metal when it was brought out of fire.
Verse 5: Within the storm, Ezekiel saw four figures resembling living beings (see Rev. 4). Though the beings looked like men (having human form), each one “had four faces and four wings.” Perhaps the reference to “human form” is because the creatures stood upright, with their legs straight (v. 7).
Verse 7: While the straight legs mentioned depict the creature standing upright like a man, the feet are like those of a calf, providing a high degree of stability and durability, as well as mobility. These feet also drew Ezekiel’s attention because they were glowing brightly like burnished bronze.
Verse 8: Ezekiel observed human hands under the wings. The description reminds us that one of the primary functions of these beings is to serve God in ministering to mankind.
Verse 9: Two of the four wings were in the act of flying, so stretched out that the extremity of each touched a wing of the next living creature, which also had its wings outstretched (vv. 9, 11, 23). This was when they were in motion, although the test never says that the wings were moving. Movement of the wings might be assumed from the noise they made (v. 24). While Ezekiel described these beings as cherubim, the four wings mentioned here remind us of the description of the seraphim mentioned in Isaiah 6:2 (see Ezek. 1:6, 9, 11; 10:5, 12, 14, 21, 22; Rev. 4:8).
The Jewish Targum on this passage explained the meaning of these wings and their respective positions: “Holy ministers are in the sky before Him, each with six wings. With two, they are covering their faces, lest they see the Lord. With two they are covering their bodies, lest they be seen; and with two they are ministering.” Ezekiel explained that two of the wings cover “their bodies” (v. 11). He also noted that when they stood still they “dropped their wings” (vv. 25, 25).
Before describing the appearance of their faces, Ezekiel observed that their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward.
Verse 10: Their “four faces”—those of a man, a bull, and eagle, and a lion—represent the major areas of created life.
Man is God’s ultimate creation commissioned to subdue the earth; the lion is the king of wild beasts; the ox (or bull) is the strongest of domesticated animals; and the eagle rules the air. The chariot was borne aloft above the totality of creation, a symbol of the fact that nature is under the domination of the Lord (Carl G Howie, The Book of Ezekiel).
A Midrash to Exodus 15:1 supports the idea presented above:
…four kinds of proud beings were created in the world; the proudest of all—man; of birds—the eagle; of domestic animals—the ox; of wild animals—the lion; and all of them are stationed beneath the chariot of the Holy One…”
Only the greatest of animals are worthy to be the bearers to God Almighty.
The general meaning of the faces could be as follows:
Man—rational and moral nature, suggesting wisdom and intelligence.
Lion—majesty and strength, suggesting power, rule, and authority.
Bull (ox; KJV)—patient and productive service, representing labor, strength, and energy.
Eagle—winged velocity and swiftness, indicating Vision and flight.
Ezekiel wrote, “…so I knew that they were cherubim” (10:20). What are cherubim? These creatures always appear in a most intimate relation to the glory of God. They are seen as engaging in worship and service to God. In Ezekiel’s Vision they were bearing up and transporting the throne of God.
Cherubin are spiritual creatures (Ps. 18:10; Heb. 9:5). Some think they are angels of the highest order, but that idea is not provable by Scripture; they are never called angels.
Psalm 18:10 (ESV)
10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
Hebrews 9:5 (ESV)
5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
In ancient Israel, the cherubim were God’s attendants and messengers. Representations of cherubim were found in the tabernacle (Ex. 36:35) Having these did not violate Exodus 20:4 because they were not worshiped. When Solomon built the temple, he had two gold cherubim, fifteen feet high, standing separately from the ark but still located in the most holy place. Passages for further study include Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18-22; 26:31; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 22:11; 1 Kings 6;25-35.
2 Chronicles 3:10 (ESV)
10 In the Most Holy Place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid them with gold.
Verse 11, 12: Ezekiel noted concerning the wings that each had two touching another being (v. 11). This is reminiscent of the cherubim on the ark of the covenant, whose wings touched above the ark (Ex. 25:18-22).
The Spirit provided the leadership for the four living beings. Wherever the spirit would go, these beings would follow (see v. 20). Since this is a section about God’s glory, it is logical that this spirit would be the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God.
Verse 13, 14: Ezekiel saw something that looked like torches or burning coal of fire, as if coming from the bodies of the living beings themselves (v. 13). In apocalyptic literature, fire frequently symbolizes God’s judgment.
Psalm 18:8 (ESV)
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
Psalm 50:3 (ESV)
3 Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest.
This image seems to demonstrate that His judgment is quick and decisive, covering all the earth. Not only was lightning flashing from the coals of fire, but the living beings themselves ran to and fro like bolts of lightning (v. 14). Their movements were quick and awe-inspiring. A vision of power was found among these creatures.
The Wheels (1:15-21)
Verse 15-17: The wheels are the second part of the Vision. The Hebrew term (tharshish) has been suggested to mean sparkling beryl (v. 16), chysolite, yellow jasper, or topaz. It is important to remember that the wheels are a symbol for something and are not meant to be interpreted literally. The wheels probably represent the idea of the activity of God or His movement. The Jews in Babylonia perhaps did not believe that God could come to them there. The idea existed in the ancient world, and in many Jewish people’s minds, that God was confined to one geographical area.
1 Kings 20:23 (ESV)
23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.
1 Kings 20:28 (ESV)
28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’”
They may have believed that He was limited to the area surrounding Jerusalem and therefore could not be with them in Babylonia. These wheels show otherwise. The omnipresence of God is being described in apocalyptic terms.
Within another could mean that the second wheel was concentric to the first wheel, like an archery target, or that it was perpendicular to the first wheel. This construction would allow the wheels to be rolling constantly, never needing to turn (v. 17).
Verse 18, 19: While discussing the wheels of this divine chariot, Ezekiel described the rims as lofty and awesome (v. 18). This expression indicates not only that the rims were very high or tall, but also that they had a frightening appearance.
Verse 20, 21: These wheels were not inanimate objects; they had spirits inside them (v. 20). The fact that Ezekiel repeated this point is noteworthy. How were the wheels and the living beings able to move in perfect harmony? Ezekiel explained: for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels (v. 21b). The same spirit that led the living begins also dwelt within the wheels. Such a characteristic is apparently not something Ezekiel could witness, but he knew this truth through Revelation.
The Expanse (1:22-25)
Verse 22: The expanse is the third part of the Vision. This Word is the Hebrew word (rakia), the same Word used in Genesis 1:6-8 for the hard plane dividing the upper from the lower waters. The word “firmament” is used in the KJV, although this is not a good translation. The expanse seems to represent the widespread influence of God. Ezekiel did not dwell upon the expanse. He merely described that which provided the inspiring backdrop to the whole scene. Nevertheless, it appears that the expanse provided a firm, level surface upon which the throne of God was resting (see Rev. 4:6).
Verse 23, 24: It is obvious that the wings of the living beings continued to impress Ezekiel (v. 23). In this section he repeated their location, but this time elaborated on the tremendous sound (v. 24) being made by these wings.
Verse 25: In spite of all the noise generated by the wings of the four living creatures, Ezekiel was able to hear a voice from above the expanse—from the location of the throne of God. Ezekiel mentioned no words that were uttered, at least not yet, but the Lord spoke to him.
The Throne (1:26-28)
Verse 26; The throne is the fourth part of the Vision. What Ezekiel saw was not an actual throne but something resembling a throne. It was like lapis lazuli, a sapphire-like stone that was very valuable in the ancient world. Ezekiel did not dwell on the throne itself, because He who is on the throne is far more important.
Nevertheless, a throne is always an image of power and authority. The word “throne” is a key word in the Revelation. Here, Ezekiel was relating the universal power of the “King of kings.” God’s throne rises above the feeble attempts of authority and rule of man; it is far more glorious than the imagined thrones of pagan gods.
Verse 27: The awe-inspiring portrayal of God in this verse emphasizes three primary features: His fearsomeness, His radiance, and His majesty. God is depicted as being surrounded from His waist up by something flowing like electrum (glowing metal). From His waist down, Ezekiel said that He was encompassed by what looked like fire. The entire figure, then, was encompassed with splendor. “Fire” is that which an destroy (in judgment) or can illuminate. Ezekiel would announce the fiery judgments of God.
Verse 28: The description in this verse includes the image of a rainbow. For Jews, the rainbow was a symbol of God’s mercy and God’s covenant (see Gen 9:13). A rainbow comes after a storm. In this case, the storm of God’s judgment was coming—but there was hope. There would be a rainbow after the storm, providing hope for the future.
This is the first occurrence of the phrase the glory of the Lord, one of the key phrases in the book. Ezekiel seems to have structured his book around this phrase the word “glory” occurs twenty-three times.
When Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord, he said I fell on my face. Why did he do this? Death resulted if one looked upon the face of God (Ex. 33:20). When Ezekiel realized who he was seeing, he dropped to the ground and covered his face so that the might live. Ezekiel is one of many who were overwhelmed by witnessing the glory of the Lord: Jacob (Gen. 32:30), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:6), Isaiah (Is. 6:5), Daniel (Dan. 10:8,9), and John (Rev. 1:17) all responded with similar reactions.
Chapter 2—Ezekiel’s Call From the Lord
The Commission Received (2:1-3:11)
“Go to the House of Israel” (2:1-7)
Verse 1: Based upon the incredible vision of chapter 1, Ezekiel was to be given his commission. God was not expecting his prophet to go preach without a full vision of His greatness and glory.
Ezekiel’s task was to convey to an exiled, discouraged people the wonderful attributes of their God. The Lord continued to appear to Ezekiel in this same fashion, to encourage him and remind him that he was a servant of the almighty God (3:12, 23, 24; 8:2-4; 9:3; 10:1-20; 11:22, 23; 43:2-4).
The phrase son of man occurs first here and is found ninety-three times in Ezekiel. It means “man of service” or “servant.”
The expression most related to Christ is found in Daniel 7:13, where the Son of Man is given the kingdom by the Ancient of Days. This is obvious prophetic passage, referring to Christ. The phrase is one that Christ used often to refer to Himself. Why did Jesus call Himself the “Son of Man”? These words stress His humanity, underscore His intention to be a servant (like Ezekiel), and identify Him as a representative for all mankind on the cross.
The command to “stand on your feet” is reminiscent of Roman 14:4. God will help us to do everything He wants us to so (see Phil 2:12, 13: Heb. 13:20, 21). Ezekiel was commanded to stand, and in verse 2, the Spirit gave him the strength to stand.
Verse 2: When God spoke, He gave Ezekiel the ability to understand His communication. God was going to equip him to understand the message he was about to deliver. The same was true with the apostles of Christ (see Mt. 10:19, 20: Jn. 15:26, 27; 16:13).
The Spirit had to help Ezekiel stand because he was so weak. The vision described in chapter 1 was of such magnitude that it took all of Ezekiel’s strength. Since God was “sending” Ezekiel to the people, he needed to be standing.
Verse 3: God’s rebellious people are described further in verses four through . He had to punish them because of their disobedience to Him. The ten northern tribes were defeated and assimilated into the Assyrian culture in 722 B.C. The southern tribes were carried into Babylon in 587 B.C. Unfortunately, this condition of rebellion described the Israelites for centuries.
They had continually rebelled against God’s law, against God’s prophets, and against God Himself. Ezekiel, like the prophets before him, was being told exactly what kind of people he would try to warn.
To be a successful man of God, it is necessary to see people the way God sees them. The tendency is to view the people in light of more wicked people or nations as did Habakkuk (see Hab. 1:2-4, 12, 13). Ezekiel had to realize that the transgressions of the people remained to this very day. Even in captivity, the people would not repent and turn to the Lord. They were still rebellious,
Verse 4: How did God see these people? They were stubborn. “Brazen” would be a better translation, because these individuals refused to admit guilt; they were shameless.
Isaiah 50:7 (ESV)
7 But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
The people were also obstinate. They had hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). In such a condition, the person has an unyielding will and refuses to humble himself, even when he is found guilty. Ezekiel was not left to offer his own perspective on the ills of the people.
Verse 5: God’s purpose in sending Ezekiel was to let the people know that a prophet of God had been among them. Obviously, God wanted them to “repent and live” (see 18:23, 32). However, if they failed to heed the pleadings of this prophet of God, at least they would not be able to say that God had given them no opportunity to repent. They could never deny that God had tried to restore them.
Rebellious house (vv.5-8;3:9, 26, 27; 12:2, 3, 9, 25; 17:12; 24:3) is the counterpart to the expression “house of Israel.” By renaming His people, God expressed as fully as possible the depth of their sin. Ezekiel was being sent to a nation that was striving against God.
Why did God send Ezekiel to the people? They already knew that they were being punished. Jeremiah, who had been preaching since 627 B.C., had sent a letter to the captives (see Jer. 29). For almost thirty years, He had told the people that the city would be destroyed and that they would be taken captive. God sent Ezekiel because of His great love for the people.
2 Chronicles 36:15 (ESV)
15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.
1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)
4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Verse 6, 7: When God told Ezekiel, “Neither fear” (v.6), He was talking about personal safety. Ezekiel had good reason to “fear” for his safety, yet God told him no to think about that, but only to preach. Whenever one preaches the message of God, opposition will come. Whenever one preaches the message of God, opposition will come. Whenever the gospel is preached, opposition will arise.
Galatians 4:16 (ESV)
16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
God specified, “But you shall speak My words…” (v. 7). This instruction took the pressure off Ezekiel; the “words” which he was to speak were not his, but God’s. If the people rejected the prophet, they were rejecting God.
Twice, God said that Ezekiel should not fear “their words” (v.6). Rather, he (and they) were to fear the Word of God. Ezekiel would be far worse off if he chose to yield to the people rather than to the God whose glory he had witnessed. All Ezekiel had to do was “speak” (v. 7). If he chose not to speak because he knew the people would not listen, then he would be in rebellion with them. If he spoke, Good would be pleased.
Eat the Scroll (2:8-3:3)
Verse 8: God told Ezekiel, “…listen to what I am speaking to you.” God was not giving this commission to others; the responsibility was Ezekiel’s. If he did not listen, then he himself would be rebellious. The prophet’s rebellion would have been seen in a refusal to preach the message God was giving him to preach.
This is the seventh occurrence of the word “rebellious” in this chapter.
Next, God told Ezekiel to eat what would be given to him (v. 8C). What Ezekiel was to eat was at first left vague to stress the unconditional submission fo the prophet. If he did not surrender to God completely, he would be considered rebellious, like the house of Israel. To “eat” the book signifies being thoroughly possessed with its contents.
Verses 9, 10: The prophet was given a scroll (v. 9), literally, a “scroll of a book”
Psalm 40:7 (ESV)
7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
This was the ancient kind, with the text written on animal skins that were sewn and rolled together. The writing was usually on one side; but in this case, it was written on the front and back (v. 10a), that is, on both sides.
The subject matter of this scroll was lamentations, mourning, and woe (v. 10b). It was filled with “lamentations” (songs like funeral dirges, full of sadness and tears), “mourning” (bemoaning a sad situation or tragedy), and “woe” (words of warning that, despite present difficulties, a situation can get worse).
Chapter 3 Ezekiel’s Call From The Lord (continued)
Verse 1: No chapter break should have been made between 2:10 and 3:1, for the same thought is being continued. After being offered the scroll, Ezekiel was told “…eat what you find.” Whether or not he found something appetizing was unimportant. His job was simple: to eat what he found—as it was—and then go and speak the message.
Verses 2, 3: God’s Word is sweet.
Psalm 19:10 (ESV)
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psalm 119:103 (ESV)
103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
This implies that the Word of God is always good—even when it is a message of “lamentations, mourning and woe” (2:10). Even when the ministry would seem difficult and distasteful, the Lord would cause his Word to be as sweet as honey.
As John was told in Revelation 10:9, Ezekiel was told here to eat the scroll.
Before there was a direct commission, now there is a symbolic action…John has the same vision [Rev. 10:8-10], but there that is expressed, which is here left to be inferred, [namely,] that as soon as he had eaten it his belly was bitter. The sweetness in the mouth denoted that it was good to be a messenger of the Lord…, but the bitterness which accompanied it, denoted that the commission brought with it much sorrow (Albert Barnes, The Bible Commentary: Proverbs to Ezekiel 312).
This illustrates how God’s prophets were responsible for making the message a part of themselves—taking it deep inside them. In Jeremiah 20:9, the message was a burning fire in the prophet’s bones. No faithful preacher can separate himself from the Word. It is part of his life, a part of his thinking.
“Speak My Message” (3:4-11)
Verse 4: The House of Israel refers to all the Israelites—both the northern ten tribes and the southern two tribes. Ezekiel’s mission was to all the “sons of Israel” (see 2:3). Second Chronicles 30 specifies that a number of Israelites from the northern kingdom had moved down to Judah.
Verses 5, 6: When Ezekiel began his ministry, he did not encounter some of the difficulties so frequently associated with mission work. God noted that he was not dealing with people of unintelligible speech (vv.5, 6a)—literally, “deepness of lip.” The phrase is found only here and in Isaiah 33:19, where it refers to foreign peoples who speak a language that cannot be understood.
The next phrase—difficult language—was used by Moses (Ex. 4:10), who considered himself inadequate as God’s spokesman; perhaps he was not fluent or eloquent as a speaker. Ezekiel was being sent to his own people. He spoke a language familiar to them. This made the commission easier for Ezekiel, but it also added to the responsibility of the house of Israel (v. 6b). They were without excuse; they could not claim that they would have obeyed the message if they had understood it.
Therefore, God said that they should listen to Ezekiel. Far too often, preachers assume that just because they are preaching the Word, people will listen. They “should” listen, but not all do. Those who refuse to listen will be held accountable.
Verse 7: God revealed to Ezekiel the hard reality: The people would not be willing to listen. Throughout the Bible, and especially in the Gospel of John, it is evident that people have to be predisposed to listen.
Paul would say that a “love of the truth” is required to be saved.
2 Thessalonians 2:10 (ESV)
10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
God does not force-feed truth to anyone. As Ezekiel willingly “opened [his] mouth” (3:2) to be fed God’s Word, so people today ought to be willing to learn the truth. Every student of the Bible should ask, “Am I open to the truth? Am I willing to challenge my previously held beliefs when they come in conflict with the inspired Word of God?”
We must not find ourselves in the same situation as those in Romans 10:2 or Hosea 4:6a:
Romans 10:2 (ESV)
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
Hosea 4:6 (ESV)
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Why did Israel refuse to listen? They were stubborn and obstinate.
Isaiah 48:4 (ESV)
4 Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass,
Jeremiah 3:3 (ESV)
3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed.
The people, God said, “[were] not willing to listen to Me.” God had, through the ages, spoken to them through other prophets—yet with the same results.
Matthew 5:12 (ESV)
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John 15:18-20 (ESV)
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
20 Remember the Word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my Word, they will also keep yours.
Verses 8, 9: How would God equip His prophets to deal with such a stubborn people? He planned to make Ezekiel’s face as hard as their faces. God would strengthen Ezekiel for the difficult task ahead. He was to become the ultimate “hardheaded preacher.” Perhaps we could use a few more of these today, as opposed to the “ear-ticklers” whose preaching is often popular (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Ezekiel’s forehead would be like emery harder than flint (v. 9). As Ezekiel’s firmness became like that of a diamond, he should be able to cut through the hard hearts of the people.
It seems sad that God had to make the prophet this way but the people were so rebellious that extreme measures were required to try to reach them.
Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Verse 10: God wanted Ezekiel to take His message into his heart.
Job 22:22 (ESV)
22 Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart.
God’s prophet needed to develop a love for His Word. Truth becomes a part of the one who teaches it, defining who he is, his character, and his life’s aim. God wanted all of His words to be taken in by Ezekiel. The preacher cannot pick and choose which of God’s laws to preach and obey. True devotion to God requires attention to all of His commands.
Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Verse 11: While there may be no fine distinction between “speaking” and “telling,” God’s point was clear when He told Ezekiel, “…speak to them and tell them.” God wanted Ezekiel to communicate His Word decisively and constantly. Although Ezekiel would encounter rejection, he was to preach, whether they listen or not.
“Go to Babylon” (3:12-15)
Verse 12, 13: Ezekiel had received his commission. Now the Spirit (v. 12) that filled and strengthened Ezekiel transported him to the place of his ministry. It was time to get to work. Meanwhile, Ezekiel was given another glimpse of the wonderful vision of chapter 1—with the living beings and the tremendous sound of power.
Verse 14: Ezekiel went embittered in the rage of [his] spirit. This could either refer to his righteous anger at the people’s sinfulness or to his anger at beginning given such a hopeless job.
Jeremiah sometimes experienced such feelings (see Jer. 20:7-10). The former seems to be the better choice: Ezekiel, as a result of the heavenly vision, now shared the righteous anger of God. He embarked upon his ministry with a heart full of: rage” that these people—his people—could be so stubborn and rebellious against their one true God.
Fellow Israelites would mock and persecute him; even friends and relatives would reject him and his message. Nevertheless, the hand of the Lord provided the strength Ezekiel needed to go forth.
Verse 15: After he came to the place where the exiles were living, Ezekiel sat there seven days. It could be that God allowed Ezekiel this period of time to grow accustomed to his role as a prophet. More likely, God wanted him to get an accurate measure of the people’s spiritual and emotional condition.
The spirit placed Ezekiel in Tel-abib, which was the location of the Jewish settlement along the banks of the river Chebar in Babylon. “Tel-abib” means “the mound of the deluge” in Chadean, “the mound of corn ears” in Hebrew, and “sand heap” or “stone heap” in Assyrian.
“Be a Watchman” (3:16-21)
Verse 16, 17: The phrase the Word of the Lord occurs sixty times in this book. Earlier, God had commissioned Ezekiel received that Word (3:4). Now Ezekiel received that Word.
However, the initial message is not so much a message to be preached as a caution regarding the responsibility of the prophet. God viewed him as a watchman. The image is often applied to God’s prophets.
Watchman, stationed in strategic locations on the city walls, looked out for impending danger. They were the city’s security system. When these lookouts say danger, they were to wan the people immediately so that they might prepare themselves for the danger.
Verse 18: “When I say…” The people needed to listen to Ezekiel because God was talking and not Ezekiel. He was not speaking his own ideas or of this own volition, as did the false prophets around him.
When the Almighty said that the wicked would die, He charged His prophet to warn him, to speak out to warn the wicked. These two phrases indicate that the prophet was expected to raise his voice—that is, to preach the message—with greater urgency as time passed.
The warning given was, “You will surely die.” While false watchmen (prophets) often declared a message of peace, the true prophet was to explain the sad reality.
Jeremiah 6:14 (ESV)
14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.
Jeremiah 8:11 (ESV)
11 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.
There was no escaping death. The self-deceived hearer would die in his iniquity, even if the watchman did not warn him.
God expected His watchman to warn of coming dangers. If he failed in that task, God would hold him responsible for the destruction that would follow. In such a case, the watchman would be guilty of failing to obey a command of God—and disobedience results in death.
Ezekiel was to warn the whole “house of Israel” (v. 17; 33:7). In using the singular for “house,” God was not saying that Ezekiel had to warn every individual. He was clarifying the principle found in the object lesson of the watchman in 33:2-6.
Verse 19: The prophet’s task was to warn, speak up to warn, so as to keep alive the doomed. Failing to do so, he would forfeit his own life. If the wicked one was warned but did not respond to the warning, he would die in his iniquity. The faithful prophet who had warned the guilty, God said, “You have delivered yourself.”
God had already told Ezekiel that the people were stubborn and rebellious and that they would not listen to him. The passage shows how God assured Ezekiel that he would not be held accountable for their failure to heed the message.
Jeremiah 6:17 (ESV)
17 I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
Verse 20: The watchman’s responsibilities are now expanded. He also is expected to warn the righteous man [who] turns away from his righteousness. God does not want any to perish; but if some turn from Him, then He will allow them to do so.
Ezekiel 18:23 (ESV)
23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)
4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Verse 21: The best possible outcome is described: “The righteous man [will] live because he took warning.” This is why preachers preach. They always hope that the gospel will fall upon good soil so that some people will respond and live faithfully.
“Be Confined” (3;22-27)
Verse 22: After seeing the wicked condition of the people and the need for a faithful witness, Ezekiel was called away to “think about it.” Albert Barnes summarized this experience by writing,
A fresh revelation of the glory of the Lord, to impress upon Ezekiel another characteristic of his mission. Now he is to learn that there is a time to be silent as well as a time to speak, and that both are appointed by God. This represents forcibly the authoritative character and Divine origin of the utterances of the Hebrew propehts.
Verse 23: This verse does not tell about the same vision as in chapter 1 but relates one similar to it. It appears to be nothing more than a “mini-vision.” Nevertheless, Ezekiel responded in a similar way: He fell on [his] face. Seeing the glory of the Lord for a second time did not lessen the awesomeness of the vent. The vision still weakened and humbled the reverent prophet.
Verse 24: After the vision, it appears that God sent Ezekiel to his own house to begin the first of the lessons that He wanted to teach the prophet. Ezekiel was told, “Go, shut yourself up in your house.” The Spirit entered him, and so commanded him. The shutting up was a symbolic of the binding that Ezekiel would endure.
Verse 25: The statement they will…bind you could be interpreted either literally or figuratively. There is no record of any physical restraint of Ezekiel, and a figurative application would mean that Ezekiel was unable to impart his message.
Mark 6:5-6 (ESV)
5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.
6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.
In effect, they bound Jesus’ hands. This could be what happened to Ezekiel. Others see in this binding a perfect illustration of the stubbornness and rebelliousness of the people. They were so adamantly opposed to the message that they would resort to extreme measures—even tying up the messenger.
Verse 26: The prophet was also told that he would be mute. The purpose of this silence was to prevent Ezekiel from being a man who rebukes them.
The people would silence Ezekiel by closing their minds to the message (because they were a rebellious house). God, in turn, would silence the prophet, not allowing him to talk for a time. However, God said that Ezekiel’s silence would not last forever.
Ezekiel 24:27 (ESV)
27 On that day your mouth will be opened to the fugitive, and you shall speak and be no longer mute. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD.”
Ezekiel 33:22 (ESV)
22 Now the hand of the LORD had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and he had opened my mouth by the time the man came to me in the morning, so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.
He was to be released from it after news of the destruction of Jerusalem reached Babylon (see 29:21).
Alexander thought that Ezekiel’s “muteness” lasted approximately seven and one-half years, until the fall of Jerusalem (see dates in 1:1-3; 33:21, 22). Nevertheless, he said, the prophet delivered several oral messages in the intervening period.
This concept of muteness, therefore, was not one of total speechlessness throughout the seven and one-half years. Rather, Ezekiel was restrained from speaking publicly among the people, in contrast to the normal vocal ministry of the prophets. The prophet usually moved among their people, speaking God’s message as they observed the contemporary situation. Ezekiel remained in his home, except when he was dramatizing God’s message (see 4:1-5:17).
When Jerusalem was destroyed, it proved that Ezekiel had been preaching the truth. With the people’s hopes of a quick return to Jerusalem destroyed and their punishment for sin realized, Ezekiel was given a different commission—to preach a message of hope and restoration.
Verse 27: Again, Ezekiel’s message was to be “Thus says the Lord God.” God emphasized that Ezekiel would be speaking God’s words and not his own; he would have the opportunity to utter the words only when God was ready to open [his] mouth.
When he did speak, some would hear and some would refuse to hear, because they were a rebellious house. However, their refusal to hear did not mean that Ezekiel should stop preaching—even though they were an audience that had shut him out.