Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
EZEKIEL'S COMMISSION CONCLUDED
In this chapter we have: (1) Ezekiel commanded to eat the roll of the book (Ezekiel 3:1-3); (2) God promises Ezekiel power to overcome the difficulties of his mission (Ezekiel 3:4-9); (3) Ezekiel is brought to the place where he is to labor (Ezekiel 3:10-15); (4) Ezekiel is warned of his responsibility for the souls entrusted to his watchfulness (Ezekiel 3:16-21); and (5) we have the conclusion (the third phase) of Ezekiel's divine commission to Israel (Ezekiel 3:22-27).
"And he said unto me, Son of man, eat that which thou findest; eat this roll, and go, speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat the roll. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness."
EATING THE ROLL OF THE BOOK (Ezekiel 3:1-3)
Some have supposed that there was some hesitation or reluctance on the part of Ezekiel to eat this roll, basing such a view upon the repetition of the commandment and the statement at the end of Ezekiel 3:3, "Then did I eat it"; but we do not believe that such a notion is fully supported by the text.
The significance of eating the roll and of its sweetness in the mouth shows that, "It is sweet to do the will of God and to be entrusted with tasks for him." It does not mean that the sad news God's message contained for the fallen people of Israel was the source of any "sweetness" for the prophet.
This symbolical action of eating the roll teaches that, (1) the words of Ezekiel would not be his words but the Word of God; (2) the written word of God would become the very life of the prophet; (3) the eating of the roll by Ezekiel indicated his acceptance of the commission God was here giving him; and (4) that he would need to digest it, assimilate it into his very being, and speak nothing else, absolutely, to the people except as God would direct him. As Feinberg stated it, "He who gives forth the Word of the Lord must feed on it himself."
The similar symbolical action of the apostle John (Revelation 10) comes to mind instantly as this passage is read; and the remembrance that in the New Testament incident the taste of the roll changed into bitterness "in his belly," and one wonders why a similar thing was not mentioned here. We believe with Plumptre that, "Perhaps verse 14 implies the very same bitterness that John experienced when the first ecstatic joy passed away and the sense of the awfulness of the task came upon the prophet."
"And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, if I sent thee to them, they would hearken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stiff heart. Behold, I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house."
GOD'S PROMISE OF POWER TO EZEKIEL
As our study of Ezekiel moves forward, we are impressed by the right of this prophet to be called a type of Jesus Christ: (1) The name alone (Son of man) suggests it; (2) In this passage Ezekiel is sent "only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24); and again in this passage, (3) Ezekiel was told that Israel would not hear him, because they would not hear God (Ezekiel 3:7); and the exact duplicate of this was promised the apostles by Jesus Christ (John 15:20).
Still another fundamental element of Jesus' teaching is in Ezekiel 3:6.
"Surely, if I sent thee to them, they would hearken unto thee ..." (Ezekiel 3:6). "The thought here finds its analogue in our Lord's reference to Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 11:21-24)."
This paragraph repeats much that was stated in Ezekiel 2 regarding the rebellious house of Israel and their attitude toward God; but, as Taylor noted, the previous mention of such qualities in Israel were a description of Ezekiel's commission; "But these later verses represent the equipping of the prophet with the qualities which he will need in order to fulfill his commission."
As Keil noted, the concluding clause in Ezekiel 3:6 has no primary application to the Gentiles, other than the truth that was demonstrated by the spread of Christianity into "all nations." "Here, the words emphasize the contrast between the excusable inability of people to understand a foreign language and the quite inexcusable stubbornness of Ezekiel's Israelite hearers."; "Strange speech ... and hard language ..." (Ezekiel 3:6). In the Hebrew here, the literal words are, "of deep lip and heavy tongue." This passage also suggests the words of Isaiah 28:11, where "tongues" appear as a curse to God's people and not as a blessing.
"Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
"Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of Jehovah from his place. And I heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, even the noise of a great rushing. So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away; and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; and the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me. Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river Chebar, and to where they dwelt; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days."
EZEKIEL COMES TO TEL-ABIB (Ezekiel 3:10-15)
"All my words that I shall speak unto thee ..." (Ezekiel 3:10). The emphasis here should be upon the word "all." Even as the apostle Paul obeyed God in that he declared "the whole counsel of God" to mankind, Ezekiel was commissioned of God to do exactly the same thing. "The prophet was not to pick and choose out of the message, but was to deliver `all the counsel of God' (Acts 22:27)."
"Go, get thee to them of the captivity ..." (Ezekiel 3:11) In Ezekiel 3:4, we noted that Ezekiel's commission was to "the house of Israel"; but here he was commanded to go to the captives. This was in no sense whatever a change in the commission. "For all practical purposes, the exiles were the house of Israel."
Yes, part of the Israelites would return to Egypt, namely, the conspirators who murdered Gedaliah and took Jeremiah there to die; and there was another residue of the once powerful Ephraim in Assyria; but to neither of those groups was any prophet ever sent. The destiny of the whole Chosen People and the entire hope of the ultimate salvation of the human race were centered right there in Babylon in the hearts of the captive "remnant."
However, as Bruce pointed out, not any of the house of Israel was omitted from God's purpose, "Because the writing of the book would make God's message available to the whole nation," wherever individuals might chance to have lived.
"Go, get thee unto thy people ..." (Ezekiel 3:11). Note that God did not here say, "unto my people," but "unto thy people." The apostasy of Israel was so complete that God no longer recognized them as his people, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea, "I hated them: because of the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of my house; I will love them no more" (Hosea 9:15).
"Blessed be the glory of Jehovah from his place ..." (Ezekiel 3:12). This is one of the most significant lines in Ezekiel. It proves that the glory of Jehovah, symbolized by that rushing mighty sound that accompanied the living creatures, the wings and the wheels, was no longer in the temple at Jerusalem. "The words, `from his place,' are not a reference to the sanctuary in Jerusalem, which Jehovah had forsaken, but to some region here thought of as `in the north' (see note on Ezekiel 1:4, above)."
It seems that from the fact of Ezekiel's hearing all of this tremendous symbol of God's glory "behind him," that he had turned to face Tel-abib, whither the Spirit had commanded him to go.
The New Testament tells us at what time the glory of God returned, not to any kind of a literal temple, but to the true and mystical Temple of God, which is the holy Church of Jesus Christ. It occurred on Pentecost, where once again the forked flames as of fire and the rushing sound of a mighty wind endowed the apostles of Christ the true princes of the Church of God with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and ushered in the Christian dispensation of the grace of God.
"The Spirit lifted me up ..." (Ezekiel 3:12). "We are not to suppose that the prophet was miraculously transported from one place to another; he was here guided by God's Spirit to go to his countrymen."
"I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; and the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me ..." (Ezekiel 3:14). Why this bitterness? Was it the terrible content of the message Ezekiel was ordered to deliver? Was it the sudden realization of the extreme difficulty of his assignment? Was it the poverty and wretchedness of the captives in their Babylonian dwelling place; or was it the drastic change in the life-style for Ezekiel himself? Bunn believed that, "It was the totality of all these things. It was here with Ezekiel as with Jesus in Gethsemane. The awesome cup would not pass from him; it contained all of the world's woe, sin, despair, hopelessness, and shame."
Whatever the cause of Ezekiel's bitterness, he was overwhelmed when he came to Tel-abib; and it appears to have taken a full week for him to get over it.
"Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib ..." (Ezekiel 3:15). Both Plumptre and Keil understand this as the first event of Ezekiel's ministry, rather than as the concluding phase of his commissioning; but we prefer the viewpoint of Dummelow that sees in the remainder of this chapter the concluding part of the commission. See enumeration of these three phases in Ezekiel 2.
"Tel-abib ..." (Ezekiel 3:15). Barnes, Bruce, and other scholars give the meaning of this word as "mound of green ears" or "mound of ears of corn"; but more recent studies on this name indicate that it meant "mound of the storm flood," or "hill of the deluge" If such meanings are in the name, it would appear that a memory of the Great Deluge itself may be preserved in the name of this mound. It seems also to have been a very fertile and productive place.
"I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days ..." (Ezekiel 3:15). There certainly seems to have been some tragic condition in the captives themselves which produced this reaction by Ezekiel. This period of silence in the presence of grief, suffering, or disaster was universally observed by comforters in ancient times. A good example of this is seen in the case of the friends of Job who came and sat with him, saying nothing at all.
THE WATCHMAN'S RESPONSIBILITY (Ezekiel 3:16-21)
"And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth no sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and thou hast delivered thy soul."
"Wicked man shall die in his iniquity ... he shall die in his sin ..." (Ezekiel 3:18,20). "This warning that the sinner would die had a purely temporal reference," because, "As far as we can see, Ezekiel had little or no concept of a resurrection, still less of eternal life." Such a comment as this is unacceptable, because it limits the meaning of God's Word to what the commentator supposes the inspired writer had in mind. These words were not the words of Ezekiel, but the words of God; and the arbitrary judgment of any man should not be allowed to restrict their meaning to what the arbitrary judge supposes to have been the conviction of the prophet through whom God spoke. This type of erroneous commentary must be guarded against continually as having no validity whatever.
"I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel ..." (Ezekiel 3:17). This figurative use of "watchman" was used of Jeremiah's work (Jeremiah 6:17), and is also found in Habakkuk 2:1. Likewise, Christian elders are said to "watch" for the souls of their members (Hebrews 13:17).
The statement here that a righteous man who turns from his righteousness will die in his sins makes Calvinists very nervous; and Feinberg warned against using this passage to teach the possibility of apostasy; but nothing is any more unreasonable, unprovable, or unlikely than the old cliche that, "Once saved, always saved!" Angels sinned and lost their place in heaven; an apostle (Judas) fell from his place, which was taken by another; and Paul even warned the Galatians that, "Ye are fallen away from grace" (Galatians 5:4); and that did not mean that, "They had abandoned the basis of grace for works of their own," as Feinberg thought, but that, they had abandoned reliance upon the work of faith for reliance upon the works of the Law of Moses! The great warning of 1 Corinthians 10:12 is a total fraud unless there is genuine danger of falling for every Christian who ever lived. "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall."
Nor is the old Calvinistic excuse that, "In case a Christian or the Old Testament follower of God should fall away, he was never actually saved anyway, being merely a hypocrite all the time!" Feinberg honored this false cliche as follows.
"From the context of this passage and the general teaching of the Scripture, we must conclude that "the righteous person" of this chapter was not one who had the root of regeneration, but was righteous in outward appearance and deed only."
The only thing wrong with such a comment is that it contradicts the sacred text which speaks of "a righteous man," not a hypocrite, nor a "pretended" righteous man, but a "righteous man."
There is, however, a legitimate softening of what is written here in the understanding of the passage by Keil.
"To turn oneself from his righteousness" denotes the formal falling away from the path of righteousness, not mere "stumbling or sinning from weakness."
We believe Keil's observation here is correct, because it is proved by the example of Peter who even denied the Lord but was nevertheless retained in the apostleship. It is never the making of a mistake, however serious, that results in the falling from grace on the part of a Christian, but a deliberate forsaking of the way of truth.
One final word about the possibility of such a fall is that of the following passage.
"As touching those who once were enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and powers of the age to come, and then fall away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance" (Hebrews 6:4-5).
It would be absolutely impossible to designate a true Christian any more explicitly than this is done in the first four lines of this passage; and yet the possibility of such a true Christian's falling away is dramatically stated.
The dramatic new light from this portion of the Old Testament is seen in the shift of emphasis from the Israelite conception of salvation as applicable to their nation, to that of its being the concern of every single individual.
"The passage anticipates the great moral principle of Divine government (Ezekiel 18) that each man is individually responsible for his own actions, and that he will be judged by these and these alone." People are never to be saved as nations, groups, races, or as any other classification, but as individuals.
"And I lay a stumblingblock before him ..." (Ezekiel 3:20). This cannot mean that God tempts any person whomsoever, because, "God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man" (James 1:13). "The expression here means that the temptations of the righteous are under God's providential control."
"And the hand of Jehovah was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee. Then I arose and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of Jehovah stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. Then the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet; and he spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thy house. But thou, son of man, behold, they shall lay hands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them: and I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover; for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; he that heareth let him hear; and he that forbeareth let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house."
FINAL INSTRUCTION IN THE COMMISSION (Ezekiel 3:22-27)
The conclusive instruction for Ezekiel in his divine commission was thus described by Barnes: "Here he learns that there is a time to be silent as well as a time to speak, and that both are appointed by God."
Some scholars interpret this final paragraph as a reference to some affliction suffered by Ezekiel, such as epilepsy, aphasia, or temporary madness, and that he had to be restrained by the people. We do not accept that. "All of the various expressions of restraint here are figurative and have the meaning that God restrained Ezekiel for a while with the instruction that he was to open his mouth only in his house to those who consulted him privately."
"The glory of the Lord stood there ..." (Ezekiel 3:23) Taylor noted that, "This expression sums up the whole of the vision seen in chapter 1; and the abiding recollection was not of the accoutrements of the heavenly chariot-throne, but of the One who sat upon it." This accords with our own view that this is the conclusion of the commission.
Some have suggested that perhaps this paragraph might be misplaced; but Beasley-Murray defended the meaning of it as appropriate enough where it stands.
Howie's conclusion regarding this final paragraph is that, "Ezekiel acted the part of a prisoner, his actions thus symbolizing the destruction of Jerusalem. It was only upon God's specific commandment that he spoke in public."
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