Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 3

The stunning vision of Ezekiel 1 was a kind of preface to the call of the prophet, which takes up chapters 2 and 3. The Israelites had been living in exile in Babylon for some five years, and God could have called Ezekiel to his prophetic ministry at any time. Why now? That’s a good question that only God can answer with certainty. But one thing is certain: God’s timing is always right. He called Ezekiel from the priesthood to become His prophet at exactly the right time for both Ezekiel and the people to whom he was to bring his prophetic messages from the Lord.

God’s call to serve will come even if your world is rocked and being turned upside down by events and circumstances completely beyond your control. In fact, something I’ve noticed over the years is that when God calls me to do something or go somewhere, it’s at the most inopportune times. But for the believer, God is in charge. And God is always calling people to serve Him. He had a call and a plan for Ezekiel, and He has a call and plan for you and for me, too. However, God is a gentleman. He forces nobody to do anything. It’s completely up to us whether we’re going to work with Him or not. God is always there, though, waiting for us to respond. He was with His people in exile. He never left them. You don’t walk out on a person you love and have a relationship with, do you? Peter thought about this issue, and here’s his conclusion:

the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. (2 Peter 2:9 | NIV84)

That’s a verse that, depending on your circumstances, you must take on faith. But it’s true. And through Ezekiel, His people were about to find out how true it is.

Called once

God had called and called and called His people for generations. He warned them for generations to “shape up” or they would be “shipped out.” They didn’t, and they were. It is possible to listen to someone without actually paying attention them. This is especially true of husbands and wives, but I digress. God’s people were the worst, though. If Ezekiel didn’t know that by now, God told Him.

Here was the man’s first call:

He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. (Ezekiel 2:3 – 5 | NIV84)

They would hear the Word of God proclaimed by Ezekiel, but they wouldn’t pay attention to it. The history of Israel is replete with examples of this. In fact, God’s people did far worse than not pay attention to His Word: They preferred to pay attention to the many false prophets who told them what they wanted to hear. This continued well into the Babylonian Exile. There were all kinds of false prophets running around the Kebar River, telling the exiles that they’d be going home soon. But Ezekiel was being conscripted by God to announce judgment and to call for repentance. That was as unpopular a message during the Exile as there ever was.

God addressed Ezekiel as “son of man.” That’s a bit off-putting for Christians to hear, but the reason He did so was to emphasize Ezekiel’s humanity against His supernatural majesty. Ezekiel was the beneficiary of incredible visions, but he was forever just the “son of man.” For all his sermons and prophecies, Ezekiel was just a guy who responded to God’s call; nothing more.

You could never accuse God of sugar-coating the issue!

And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 2:6 | NIV84)

The very fact that God felt it necessary to tell His man, “do not be afraid” tells us that Ezekiel was afraid. And who wouldn’t have been afraid to face such hostile people? What kind of sick person willingly endures the pain of criticism and contempt and hostility every single day? What pastor would want to pastor a church full of people that hated his sermons and wouldn’t give him the time of day? Who wants to experience the loneliness of rejection day after day? But this is exactly what Ezekiel was being called to do. He was being asked to take on a task that most people would hate him for doing. His faithfulness will forever stand as an example and challenge to ours.

Prophet’s preparation

The true spokesman of God will never preach a message to anyone that is impersonal to him. I don’t know a preacher who has never struggled with a sermon or wrestled over it in the quiet of his study before delivering it from behind the pulpit. Any word preached to God’s people must first pass through the heart and soul of its messenger. That was certainly true of Ezekiel. He would speak for God, but first God’s message must become part of him.

Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. (Ezekiel 2:9 – 3:2 | NIV84)

We’re not sure what word it was Ezekiel was eating. Of course, we’re reading figurative language here; the man didn’t really ingest scrolls. Some scholars think he was given Jeremiah’s prophecies to “eat,” or perhaps the words he “ate” were new messages Ezekiel would preach. Regardless, we know a couple of things. First, the message(s) came from the Lord. Second, it was a very unpleasant message, containing words of “lament,” “mourning,” and “woe.” As heartbreaking as the Word of the Lord was, Ezekiel had to internalize it; God’s Word had to become part of who he was.

And that’s the way it always is with God’s Word. Ezekiel isn’t unique among believers. We’re all supposed to take God’s Word and internalize it. We’re supposed to read it, and study it, and talk about it, until we live it naturally. The thing is, God’s Word isn’t always very pleasant. It can be difficult and rather hard to take sometimes. But if we want to honor God and if we want to live for Him, then we had better start paying attention to all of God’s Word, not just the bits that talk about love or caring. It’s all important and it all needs to “eaten” by believers. Jesus Himself, the other Son of Man, taught something similar:

It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 | NIV84)

It is God’s Word that sustains your spirit. But just like the scrolls Ezekiel was given to eat, God’s Word must be undiluted by anyone else’s word. His snack of scrolls was written on the front and back. There was no room for any other ideas, only God’s.

Called again

He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them.” (Ezekiel 3:4 | NIV84)

God again calls Ezekiel to “the house of Israel,” that might be better rendered, “the family of Israel.” The Israelites and Jews were people with a common ancestry; they descended from the same person, regardless of what tribe they were from. They were Ezekiel’s people; he had functioned as a priest before his people for years. He knew them. He spoke their language. But there’s this:

But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. (Ezekiel 3:7 | NIV84)

Familiarity can certainly breed contempt. It did with Ezekiel, and sure did with Jesus! Remember this:

Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” (Matthew 13:57 | NIV84)

Foreigners might have listened to Ezekiel, but not his own people. As he knew them, so they knew him. He was the priest they’d seen and heard and spoken to for years. In fact, there were probably many Judean priests living and working among the same Exiles in Babylon. In other words, there wasn’t anything special about this fellow, Ezekiel.

Most of us have had the uncomfortable experience of trying to share our faith with a family member. It’s so much easier doing it with a stranger than it is with people that know our past. This is what faced Ezekiel every single day of ministry in Babylon.

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 3:17 | NIV84)

After a week of thinking, God’s call again came to Ezekiel. He would be a watchman to the house of Israel, warning them of the coming judgment. The job of the ancient watchman was to keep a constant watch on the horizon and on the city, observing any dangers which might come near the town the outside or inside. Ezekiel’s main job was to warn the people about the soon-coming judgment of God upon Judah and Jerusalem. It was coming closer; he could see it just over the horizon. Judah and Jerusalem were still there. The region and the city hadn’t been destroyed yet. The people presently in exile were looking forward to going back any day now, per the words of the false prophets. But Ezekiel knew better. He knew that very soon Jerusalem would be reduced to rubble.

His preaching wouldn’t change a thing, but he had to preach the difficult message. If he chose not to preach it, he would be responsible for the coming destruction. The seriousness of his mission was crystal clear.

When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for a his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. (Ezekiel 3:18, 19 | NIV84)

But the coin has two sides, and so did Ezekiel’s message.

Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:20, 21 | NIV84)

So Ezekiel was to warn both the unrighteous man and the righteous man.  This study will be continued.







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