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A PROPHET’S CALL
‘Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel.’
Ezekiel’s call did not break in, as it were, upon the quiet routine of an untroubled life, but was the crisis of a long preparation, a Divine intervention, at the moment when it was most needed to hinder the man to whom it came from sinking utterly in the depths of his sorrow and despair, adapted in all its circumstances and details to the antecedent conditions of his soul.
I. Ezekiel fell prostrate on the ground, as in adoring awe before the marvellous theophany.—He is raised from that prostration partly by a voice that speaks to him, partly by the consciousness of a new spiritual power and presence within him. And the voice calls him by a name which, one might almost say, was identified with Ezekiel till it was identified yet more closely with the Christ. For him, the chief thought conveyed by that name of the ‘son of man’ was, as in Psalms 8:4; Psalms 144:3, the thought of the littleness of his human nature. That thought was, it is true, associated even in those very psalms with that of man’s greatness as supreme, in the natural constitution and order of the world, over the creation, animate and inanimate, in the midst of which he finds himself; but as yet it had not been connected, as it was a few years afterwards, in Daniel’s vision, with the exaltation of One Who, though ‘like unto a son of man,’ was brought with clouds of glory to sit on the right hand of the Ancient of Days ( Daniel 7:13). For Ezekiel the name ‘son of man’ simply bore its witness that he stood on the same level with the weakest and meanest of those to whom he spoke, that it was a marvel and a mystery that such an one as he should be called to the office of a prophet of Jehovah.
II. As with other prophets, the mission to which he was thus called was no light or easy task.—He was sent to a rebellious house, ‘impudent children and stiff-hearted.’ His life among them was to be as that of one who ‘dwells among scorpions,’ and with whom are ‘briers and thorns.’ There was but little prospect of their listening to him, but he was to do his work regardless of praise or blame, whether they ‘would hear, or forbear’ hearing. And as in the symbolic language of his contemporary Jeremiah, he was to make the message which it was given him to utter his own, by incorporating it with his very life of life; he was ‘to eat that which was given him,’ and a hand was sent unto him, and in the hand there was as the roll of a book—not perhaps without a reminiscence of the volume that had been found in the Temple in the days of Josiah ( 2 Chronicles 34:14), or Jeremiah’s roll under Jehoiakim ( Jeremiah 36:4; Jeremiah 36:32). A glance at it showed its nature. It was written on both sides, within and without, and from first to last it seemed as if there were no word of hope or promise, nothing but ‘lamentations, and mourning, and woe.’ But it does not lie with a true prophet to choose his message. His work is to ‘eat what he finds,’ and so in simple obedience Ezekiel does as he was told to do.
III. Then there came, as in an acted parable, one of the strange paradoxes of a prophet’s work.—The book so full of woe that it might have been expected to find its analogue in the bitterness of gall and wormwood, which were found to be in his mouth ‘as honey for sweetness.’ In part, as we have already seen, he was echoing the language, and repeating the experience of Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 15:16). In part he was reproducing what had been said by the writer of the nineteenth Psalm of the judgments of Jehovah, ‘More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.’ Underlying all three utterances, there was the truth to which the spiritual experience of the ages adds an ever-clearer testimony, that there is an ineffable sweetness and joy in that sense of being in communion and fellowship with God which is the groundwork of a prophet’s calling.
(1) ‘John also, although he had lain on the Lord’s breast, at sight of Him (Revelation 1.) fell at His feet as one dead. And by this as a standard, that very great familiarity which proclaims itself in so many prayers of far lesser saints ought to learn to measure and to moderate itself. There is, however, in our prayers more fancy and sham feeling than real intercourse with the Lord.’
(2) ‘An image of the new birth. When God bids us rise from the death in which we are lying ( Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 5:14), He at the same time imparts to us His Spirit, who quickens us and raises us up. Similarly is it with our strengthening in all that is good. We are to do our duty; and He brings it about that we are able to do it ( Php_2:13 ).’
(3) ‘God does not cast down His own in order to leave them lying on the ground; but He lifts them up immediately afterwards. In believers, in other words, the haughtiness of the flesh is in this way corrected. If, therefore, we often see the ungodly terrified at the voice of God, yet they are not, like believers, after the humiliation, told to be of good courage.’
MEN’S TREATMENT OF GOD’S WORD
‘Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.’
The office of the prophet was one truly honourable and truly sacred. On the one side he was in communication with the eternal source of truth and righteousness; on the other side he was in communication with his fellow-men, beings with spiritual capacities to receive the truth, and with spiritual faculties to glorify God. Yet it was a difficult, and, as far as men were concerned, often a thankless office; and the prophet needed to be assured, as in this passage, of a Divine presence and sanction.
I. God’s Word is not affected by men’s reception of it.—It is eternal truth; it is clothed with an inherent authority. Even though all mankind should reject it, it stands above all words beside worthy of the regard and honour which it may not meet with.
II. The duty of those who preach God’s Word is irrespective of the treatment they and their message may encounter.—There has never been a period in which the Gospel has not—like the ancient prophetic messages—met with various treatment. When St. Paul preached at Rome, ‘some believed and some believed not.’ Now if the preacher were like a lecturer or a public singer, a caterer for public favour, then it would be right for him to consult the public taste. But he is bound by solemn commission to go among men with the summons, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
III. Those who hear the Word of God will be judged by the manner in which they receive it.—The rebellious ‘forbear’ to obey; their disobedience will be their condemnation, aggravated by the greatness of their privileges, the preciousness of their opportunities. The submissive and obedient ‘hear,’ i.e. they welcome the truth, they profit by the warnings, they embrace the promises opened up to them by the message of wisdom and mercy. In their case the highest and most benevolent end of Divine communications is answered; they escape condemnation, and they comply with the commandments and enjoy the favour of the Lord and Judge of all. So it is for the preacher of righteousness to proclaim the Divine message; it is for the hearer of the Word to receive it with a clear understanding of his responsibility to Heaven.
‘Missionaries who are obliged to rebuke, not only the sins of the ungodly, but the inconsistencies of their own converts; ministers at home on whom the burden rests of protesting against popular and fashionable iniquity, or addressing stern words of rebuke to influential but worldly members of their churches; even young clerks or working men whose life is thrown among the godless and profane, and who seem called upon to lodge their solemn warning against words and ways that are not good. Providing these enter their protest lovingly and tenderly, with no thought of their superiority, with no mere desire to wound and annoy, but to warn the sinner and to uphold the claims of Christ—their mission is a very salutary and necessary one. But it is sure to bring on them a storm of dislike. At such times there is nothing for us but to abide in the presence of our Master Christ, weeping for the sins we rebuke, interceding for those who revile. Not fearful nor afraid, not flinching from our duty, but hearing His sweet reassuring voice, saying, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Be not afraid.” ’
‘RECEIVING AND UTTERING THE DIVINE MESSAGE’
‘Thou shalt speak my words … open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.’
Ezekiel 2:7-Ruth :
I. This chapter tells how his commission came to the prophet.—Let every minister of Jesus Christ ponder these words. That people are impudent and stiff-hearted; their words briers and thorns; and themselves as scorpions, should make no difference. Our commission is to address them in the name of God, whether they will hear or forbear.
II. Notice the solemnity of the prophet’s address.—It began with, Thus saith the Lord God ( Ezekiel 2:4). Let us never speak without the assurance that God speaks in and by us, and that it is not our word, but His. Let us wait before God till we hear Him speak, and then utter His words in living echoes of His voice. There lies the fault in much of the preaching of the present day. Men write essays about God, rather than speak the words of God; they argue about Him, rather than witness to Him. The voice of the prophet has almost ceased amongst us, and missing this, preachers forfeit their supreme authority in the realm of conscience, and miss its still small voice corroborating their utterance. We can never say, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to the ear but that conscience cries, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ in the heart.
III. But for all this we need strength.—No man can stand against the continual opposition of his fellows, or the temptation of the devil, unless his strength is renewed, as the prophet’s in vision, by eating that which God gives. ‘I found Thy words and did eat them,’ must be a sentence often on our lips. Sometimes we are hungry for comfort, sometimes we are hungry for guidance, sometimes we are hungry for a new thought.
IV. Let us remember our Lord’s example, Who, when He was an hungered, refused to use His power to change the stones into bread, but waited till the angels came to minister to Him. God gave you your wonderful endowments, faculties, and powers; and assuredly He will feed you with food convenient for you. ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.’
(1) ‘Ezekiel’s career as a prophet began in the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity. He was then in his thirtieth year. For seven years he denounced the continued sin of the nation at home, with which some of the exiles doubtless sympathised, and exhorted, like Jeremiah, to submission to the manifested will of God. The prophecies of this period are contained in the first thirty-two chapters of his book. Chapters 1–24 are directed against Judah, predicting its desolation; 25–32 are directed against the heathen nations surrounding Judah.’
(2) With the fall of the city the character of his prophecies changed. He now pointed to the new era that would surely come. He promised the restoration of Israel, the re-erection of David’s throne, the re-gathering of the scattered sheep into Jehovah’s fold, the resurrection of the dry and scattered bones into a great living host, and, above all, the rise of a grander temple, in which both Jew and Gentile would worship, and from which would issue a stream of living water to gladden the whole earth. Ezekiel thus united the punishment of sin with the promise of grace. As a priest he inveighed against idolatry; as a prophet he proclaimed the true spiritual temple. His teaching about the new heart, his vision of the power of the resurrection, his portrayal of the river of salvation, illustrate the way in which the spiritual ideas of Christianity emerged, under the guidance of the Spirit, out of the ruins of apostate Judaism.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 2". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent