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.