Scriptures

Ezekiel 3

Introduction

‘And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.’ So, I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So, I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.’ Ezekiel 3:1-3

Eating the scroll signifies the need for Ezekiel to be actively believing and living the words is to preach. The message was to become a part of him. He was not allowed to eat the scroll then spit it out, but swallow it; fill his stomach with it. It became a part of him.

The same situation is found in Revelation 10:8 where John is doing the same thing, in John’s case we know it is figurative because he was having a vision at the time.

What about Ezekiel, literal or figurative? In Ezekiel 3:12, he is lifted again by the spirit and taken to Tel a Bib, and it would seem that the same thing is happening here. It would seem that Ezekiel is speaking figuratively of the way God gives him the message.

Notice, however, both the divine and human elements in the prophetic message. The scroll is written on both sides, indicating the message was full, Ezekiel 3:2. Ezekiel opened his mouth, but God fed him the scroll. The prophet had to become committed to the message, even though he didn’t particularly like it. He wasn’t obligated to like it, only to proclaim it.

Ezekiel would now have the same sermon to preach for 6 years. Did Jeremiah complain because he had the same message all the time? Jeremiah 20:7ff, violence and destruction. But the men were committed to the message. Acts 4:20.

It was also to have an effect on his own conduct in life.

‘Sweet as honey.’

If the message was hard, it might seem strange for the scroll to taste sweet. The words were sweet because of their divine origin. Psalm 19:7-10 / Psalm 119:30. Jeremiah also found the words sweet. Jeremiah15:16. John also found the words sweet. Revelation10:8ff. Ezekiel needs to be convinced of the need for this type of message.

God never promised us a rose garden. God will always provide the tools for the job. God will give Ezekiel the disposition to be able to the job. It may have been bitter to taste, but if applied to their lives it would transform their lives because the blessings of the Lord would return to them.

The commissioning of the prophet Difficulty of the ministry

‘He then said to me: ‘Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel—not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.’ And he said to me, ‘Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.’ Ezekiel 3:4-11

God’s last orders. One more time Ezekiel is told what his job is to be. Don’t you see him wishing that all this Babylonian thing was not happening. Then he could be back in Jerusalem getting ready to do the simple and easy tasks of serving in the Temple. That would be child’s play compared to this hard message.

Back to reality, go! Says God, to your own people, not to a people he couldn’t understand, or who couldn’t understand him. ‘He wasn’t wrestling with a language barrier but a heart barrier.’ McGuiggan.

God’s own people would not listen to Ezekiel because he is speaking God’s words to them. People are no different, if you speak God’s words today, they will not hear. You speak some new thing, people will flock to you.

Clearly Ezekiel’s job is to be a hard one. God does not fool him into thinking it will be easy. He now describes them as hard headed. But although that is the case, God will equip the prophet for the job. The people’s forehead is hard, the prophet’s will be harder.

The people are hard as flint, Ezekiel will be harder like adamant, ‘samir’, no real explanation of what it means, but the point is clear. Adamant, it’s a wonder some crank hasn’t suggested Ezekiel was prophesying of modern 20th century music.

If some can get spaceships out of Ezekiel 1, and 20th century nuclear war out of Ezekiel 38ff, why not that?

God will supply Ezekiel with what he needs for the job. God says,

‘Here is your job. It is to a people who will not listen. The work will be hard. I will give you what you need to do the job. Now get on with it.’

The vision ends

‘Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound as the glory of the LORD rose from the place where it was standing. It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed.’ Ezekiel 3:12-15

The vision is coming to an end. He sees the Spirit take him back home again, he gets one last sight of the chariot as he hears it rumbling into activity. Just to remind him what the message is. The hand of the Lord was strong upon him, he felt the pressure of the message on his heart. Now Ezekiel is upset. He does not want to speak this message, but he knows he has to. He is embittered and in a rage.

Hebrew, word ‘mar,’ means bitter, can express fierce anger or temper. 2 Samuel 17:8 of a bear robbed of her cubs. It seems to me that this was the prophet’s personal reaction to being given this job. It is believed by some that this is a reference to the prophet catching a glimpse of, and being caught up in, God’s righteous anger over Israel, but Ezekiel hasn’t shown a tremendous enthusiasm for his work so far.

The Lord’s departure was like the sound of a great earthquake, emphasising the power and might of God. So back in reality in Telabib, he sits for 7 days. Overwhelmed, for a whole week wondering how he could possibly take this heart-breaking message to them. Ezekiel was worried about the awesome responsibility God has placed on him. Ezekiel 3:16-21.

The awesome responsibility on those who teach God’s word. James 3:1. The number 7 stresses the idea of completeness. Seven days, Leviticus 8:33, Seven days of consecration of a priest. It may be a time for consecration for his task. Seven days was usually the time of mourning for the dead. Perhaps he was mourning over the judgement that was to come. Genesis 50:10 / Numbers 19:11 / Job 2:13.

Accountability of the ministry

‘At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself. ‘Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die. Since you did not warn them, they will die for their sin. The righteous things that person did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the righteous person not to sin and they do not sin, they will surely live because they took warning, and you will have saved yourself.’ The hand of the LORD was on me there, and he said to me, ‘Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.’ So I got up and went out to the plain. And the glory of the LORD was standing there, like the glory I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown.’ Ezekiel 3:16-22

See God’s understanding of the humanness of his mouthpiece. He allows Ezekiel that 7 days to sit and sulk a little, maybe to wonder, ‘why me’ and so on. But after seven days, ‘get up and get on with it’. Now had God given Ezekiel enough information about the message, the people he was to go to, and about his own position. Yes, of course. But God’s patience says, once more I will explain to Ezekiel his job, you are a watchman.

The watchman had one specific task; to warn of approaching potential enemies. 2 Kings 9:16-20. Here is a good description of the watchman’s work. Once he had warned the king and the city, his responsibility was ended. Ezekiel was set as a watchman over Israel, to warn them. This was his responsibility.

Also the priest’s responsibility was to make known to the people God’s Law and to ‘watch’ that it is carried out. Leviticus 10:11 / Deuteronomy 24:8 / Malachi 2:7 / 2 Chronicles 17:7.

His job is to warn both the righteous and the unrighteous, if he does this he has fulfilled his responsibility as a watchman. If he does not, then he has been unfaithful in his work.

The watchman

The watchman of the Old Testament had the task of warning about approaching enemies, they also protected vineyards and fields during harvest season, Jeremiah 31:6. They erected huts as shelters from the elements, Job 27:18 and towers to enhance observation. Watchmen were also posted on the city walls, 2 Samuel 13:34, to scan the horizon for runners with messages for the king.

The skilled watchman was able to identify individual runners by their strides, 2 Samuel 18:27. The watchman also guarded the walls day and night against enemy attack, 1 Samuel 14:16 / Jeremiah 51:12. He was responsible for warning the citizens of impending attacks by sounding the trumpet, Jeremiah 6:17 / Ezekiel 33:2 / Ezekiel 33:6.

There were times when a country would be in fear of a foreign invasion and wanted to be informed of all the movements of the enemy. In order to avoid an unexpected attack they would have an ‘early warning system’, namely a watchman who lived on the borders of their country where the threat was expected.

Some were appointed as watchmen to work within the city to guard against fires, robbers and disturbers of the peace. There were also watchmen over the flocks to guard against thieves and beasts of prey.

In Ezekiel 3:15-21 God says to Ezekiel,

‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the House of Israel’.

The vision Ezekiel saw astonished him and he was overwhelmed for seven days. He was left in a state of confusion therefore God made his commission clearer to him. He was specifically chosen to be a watchman, this was not an entirely new name for a prophet. The term of watchman can be used in Isaiah 52:8 and Jeremiah 6:17.

We again see a watchman being used in Ezekiel 3:17. Ezekiel is a watchman for Israel, but it was not the people who appointed him. They were not aware of the need for one, it was God who appointed a watchman for them. In Ezekiel 33:1-9 the people are told they been given a watchman, Ezekiel. God defends him before the people.

The Office of watchman laid down the trust expected of him, the duties demanded of him and the condition between him and those who employed him. The prophet or watchman was compelled to take notice of what God said concerning the people, he was to be different in the sense that he was first instructed to ‘look to God’ and look no further.

Those who preach must first hear, how can they teach others if they have not first learned themselves. Christian leaders are God’s mouthpiece to the people. The Scriptures are written for our admonition, to warn sinners of the dangers of sin, and to point out the need for repentance.

The Old Testament prophets functioned as God’s watchmen over Israel, Jeremiah 6:17 / Hosea 9:8 / Isaiah 21:6-8. They warned the people of impending disaster which was caused by their disobedience to God. However, like the watchmen on the city walls, once he had passed on the warning to his superiors, his responsibility would end.

God tells Ezekiel his job is not to win people but to tell them the message. Having done this his responsibility would end. In the same way, we as Christians today are not responsible for what people do with the message of God, we are required to tell others the message and they are responsible for what they do with that message. Evangelism is not only successful when many people are coming to Christ, it is also successful when the people are told about Jesus.

The prophet carried a heavy burden of accountability to God for the careful execution of His message. God knew that Ezekiel would do a good job as a watchman once he was convinced. He was concerned about the people, after all they were his own countrymen and he was in the same situation as them; he was going through the same experience of captivity.

Ezekiel was worried about the message and how unpopular it would be to the people. He sat among the captives and said little but God comes to him and tells him to stop procrastinating, he was the watchman and he should have had something to say to them.

Like Ezekiel, we have a great responsibility to tell others the Gospel and what makes it more difficult sometimes is the content, that they are lost in sin. In the same manner however, we shall be held accountable for not fulfilling our role as God’s watchmen.

Just as God has made Ezekiel a watchman over Israel, Christ made the Apostles the watchmen over His spiritual Israel, the church. In the New Testament we read that the apostle Paul had been the faithful watchman to the church at Ephesus, Acts 20:25-31.

He had declared to sinners and saints the whole counsel of God. He never ceased to warn them by day and by night, ‘with tears’. He reminds the elders at Ephesus of their responsibility as watchmen over the flock.

Also in Hebrews 13:17 it says, the readers are urged to obey their spiritual leaders and submit themselves to their authority for in them is found consistency in life and doctrine. The leaders have the responsibility of keeping watch over their souls with a view to their salvation, and also to their own accountability to God with regard to their duty.

God says to Ezekiel no, your job is not to win people, just to tell them. Evangelism is not necessarily successful if many come to Christ, it is successful if evangelists are telling of Jesus. We are not condemned by each failure to teach. Ezekiel is not being told that if he fails to tell one person then he will be punished.

He is warned against rebellion, which is a total refusal to teach. If I miss an opportunity to teach and sorry for it, will I be condemned? This passage does not so teach. Either, who could be saved, for who has not missed an opportunity? We are commissioned to preach the gospel to the lost. Having done that our responsibility has ended.

The destiny of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, utter destruction. Ezekiel 3:22-5:4

‘Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: ‘Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people.’ Ezekiel 3:16-27

Once again God says, please, get on with it! To emphasise this once again he is shown the vision, the war chariot. Remember the message, Ezekiel? Ezekiel is now being sent to work. His own house will be the centre of his mission work. Perhaps there lies a good example of where our work for the Lord should be centred.

He will have cords or bands placed upon him, he is told by God. This statement need not be understood literally. Most commentators find it hard to believe that this was done literally for we see his relative freedom of movement later in the book.

Understanding this figuratively, along with the next statement of the prophet being dumb would seem to be God’s indication that his message will be limited to what he has been commissioned to tell. He will be restricted to that message only, judgement.

There is also the possibility that being bound refers to Ezekiel’s inability to work properly because the people will not let him because of their way of life. In other words, they limited his effectiveness because they would not listen to the message.

The prophet’s dumbness might be explained in the same way. Ezekiel would speak no message except that which the Lord directed him, Ezekiel 3:27, in this sense he was dumb and would not speak on any other matter. This dumbness was released in Ezekiel 24:27 / Ezekiel 33:22 when the city was destroyed. His message from that point would change. Ezekiel 11:23, 586 B.C.

At the birth of John the Baptist, his father Zechariah was also struck dumb to prevent him from talking until John was born. Luke 1. Simply stated, the prophet would say nothing for times were so bad.

People would not listen to any reproof, so why bother? Amos 5:13. He would just speak that singular message to try and shock them out of their way of life.

It is possible that he was literally dumb during this time, except when speaking the words of God. Hence, ‘But when I speak with you.’ But if that is true it is strange that the elders in other places expected the prophet to speak to them. Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 14:1ff / Ezekiel 20:1ff. Jesus in Nazareth. Matthew 13:53-58.

Go To Ezekiel 4

 

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"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Ephesians 2:8

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