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3. The nature of Ezekiel’s ministry 2:8-3:11
This pericope contains 10 commands, and it is the center of the chiasm in chapters 1-3.
"The Lord’s charge to Ezekiel emphasized the absolute necessity of hearing, understanding, and assimilating God’s message prior to going forth as a spokesman for the Lord." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 763.]
All the Lord’s representatives must do the same (cf. Ezra 7:10).
The Lord told Ezekiel to eat the scroll, a symbolic way of telling him to consume mentally and assimilate emotionally its contents. [Note: E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, p. 826.] After he did this he was to go and speak to the Israelites, to tell them what the Lord had revealed. So the prophet consumed the contents of the scroll as the Lord fed it to him. The words of the Lord were sweet to Ezekiel’s taste as he took them in (cf. Revelation 10:9-10). The word of God has an intrinsically pleasing and satisfying quality to those who, like Ezekiel, receive it gladly (cf. Psalms 19:10; Psalms 119:103; Proverbs 16:24; Proverbs 24:13-14; Jeremiah 15:16).
"No matter how painful the labor, there is satisfaction in finding and doing the will of God and in realizing service in fellowship with the living God." [Note: Feinberg, p. 27.]
Ezekiel was to go to the Israelites and tell them exactly what the Lord had revealed to him. They would be able to understand him because they spoke the same language as the prophet. God was not sending him to people who could not comprehend what he would tell them. The Israelites should listen to him because they could understand him.
Nevertheless the Israelites would not listen to Ezekiel since they refused to listen to the Lord who sent him (cf. Numbers 14:1-12; 1 Samuel 8:4-7). All of them were very stubborn and obstinate. The Lord had similarly told Isaiah and Jeremiah not to expect dramatic positive response to their ministries (Isaiah 6:8-13; Jeremiah 1:11-19).
"There is none so deaf as the person who does not want to hear." [Note: Allen, p. 42.]
"The difficulties of cross-cultural communication are nothing compared to the obstacle of spiritual blindness." [Note: Cooper, p. 80.]
The Lord had made Ezekiel as hard-nosed as the Israelites; he would not give up speaking to them any more than they would refuse to listen to him. Therefore the prophet should not fear his audience. The meaning of Ezekiel’s name, "God strengthens (or hardens)," reminded the prophet and others that the Lord would strengthen him and harden him against the attacks of his critical enemies.
The Lord Yahweh instructed Ezekiel further to take to heart all that He would tell him and to listen closely to Him. He was to go to the Jewish exiles and relay God’s messages whether they paid attention or not.
God’s word must become a part of the messenger before he or she can go and speak to others about it (cf. Ezekiel 3:1; Ezra 7:10).
"The most difficult task of a prophet is to change people’s minds. This means pulling up the weeds of false theology and planting the good seed of the Word of God. It also means tearing down the flimsy thought structures that false prophets build and constructing in their place lasting buildings on solid foundations of truth (. . . 2 Corinthians 10:3-6)." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 164.]
The Lord’s Spirit next lifted Ezekiel up and he heard a loud rumbling sound behind him. The sound was the sound of voices that blessed God for His glory (cf. Revelation 4-5). He also heard the sound of the cherubims’ wings and the sound of the wheels rumbling. He was having another vision. [Note: See Edward J. Young, My Servants, the Prophets, pp. 182-87.]
"This was no psychic levitation, but a subjective experience of feeling airborne . . ." [Note: Taylor, p. 66.]
4. The conclusion of the vision 3:12-15
"Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory had provided the needed perspective for his task (Ezekiel 1:4 to Ezekiel 2:7). The message he was to deliver was provided by God (Ezekiel 2:8 to Ezekiel 3:11). Then he needed motivation to direct him to the task. That motivation was provided by the ’hand of the LORD’ (cf. Ezekiel 1:3). He was first guided by the Spirit to his place of ministry (Ezekiel 3:12-15); he was then formally appointed as God’s watchman to Israel (Ezekiel 3:16-21); then the Lord imposed several physical restraints on Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:22-27)." [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1232.]
The Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and took him away from where he had been in his vision. He did not want to go and carry out the ministry that God had given him. His would not be a "successful" ministry in the eyes of people. But the Lord influenced him so strongly that he felt he had to obey (cf. Jeremiah 20:9; Jonah 1).
"The prophet was lifted up into sympathy with God and shared his righteous indignation against Israel." [Note: Davidson, p. 21.]
Scholars of a more liberal persuasion often believe that references to the Spirit in the Old Testament indicate the power or influence of God, not the third person of the Trinity. Some conservative scholars believe that, though the Spirit was really the third person of the Trinity, people living during the Old Testament period did not associate the Spirit with God Himself. They thought of the Spirit as a power or influence of God. However there are several indications in the Old Testament that informed Israelites identified the Spirit with God (cf. Genesis 1:2; 2 Kings 2:9; Psalms 104:30; Ezekiel 3:12-14; Ezekiel 11:1; Zechariah 4:6). [Note: See Leon J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, and idem, The Prophets . . ., pp. 85-87.]
Ezekiel physically traveled to the Jewish exiles who were living by the Chebar River at the Tel-abib settlement (lit. "hill of ears"). Since "Tel" can mean "ruined mound," it is possible that the Jewish exiles lived at the site of a destroyed or abandoned city. The Babylonians may have situated them there to rebuild and repopulate the site and to reclaim its land. [Note: Stuart, p. 29.]
When Ezekiel arrived, he sat for seven days among the exiles, and his presence disturbed them. Seven days was the length of time that the Jews usually mourned for their dead (Genesis 50:10; Numbers 19:11; Job 2:13), and it was the time it took to consecrate a priest (Leviticus 8:33).
"Ezekiel was being consecrated for the priesthood on his thirtieth birthday and commissioned to proclaim Judah’s funeral dirge." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 764.]
"For a week he struggles inwardly with Yahweh, with his calling, and with the message he is charged to proclaim. Whatever the prophet’s relationship to the rest of the exiles in the past, when he finally submits, he is a man set apart, under orders from God. Hereafter his people could expect no more idle or mundane chatter from him. His call to prophetic ministry was not only an invitation to be the spokesman for the glorious God of Israel; it also involved a sentence to a life of loneliness, alienation, and desolation. Physically he lived among his own people, but spiritually he would operate in another realm, a zone governed by divine realities." [Note: Block, The Book . . ., p. 138.]
At the end of these seven days the Lord’s word came to Ezekiel. "The word of the Lord came to me" is a key phrase in Ezekiel occurring in 41 verses. It appears in Jeremiah nine times and in Zechariah twice.
"For no other prophet is there a record of such sustained contact with the divine word, the very essence of prophecy." [Note: Craigie, p. 22.]
5. Ezekiel’s role in Israel 3:16-21
This section describes God’s formal induction of Ezekiel into the prophetic office in legal language designed to impress his pastoral accountability on him (cf. Jeremiah 6:16-21).
Yahweh told Ezekiel that He had appointed him to a ministry that was similar to that of a watchman who stood sentry and watched for any threat to his city (cf. 2 Samuel 18:24-27; 2 Kings 9:17-20; Jeremiah 6:17). Whenever Ezekiel received a word from the Lord he was to pass it along to the Israelites (cf. Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 6:17; Hosea 9:8).
If Ezekiel failed to pass along a message of warning to the Israelites, warning them to repent or die, the Lord would hold Ezekiel personally responsible for their fate (cf. ch. 18; Ezekiel 33:1-20).
If, however, Ezekiel did warn the people and they refused to repent, they would die, but the Lord would not hold Ezekiel responsible.
Similarly if a righteous person turned to sin and Ezekiel failed to warn him of its consequences, even though the Lord would put him to death, the Lord would hold Ezekiel responsible for not warning him. The obstacle that the Lord promised to put in the path of the righteous man who had turned aside to sin was the warning that Ezekiel should provide.
"The saint needs the watchman’s warnings as much as the sinner does." [Note: Taylor, p. 69.]
On the other hand, if Ezekiel warned a righteous person and he heeded the warning, he would live, and Ezekiel would be free of any guilt before the Lord.
"The duties of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:17), and Isaiah (Isaiah 56:10) were far more national and corporate than individual. Ezekiel realized that from that time on his would be a mission mainly to individuals." [Note: Feinberg, p. 29.]
"The responsibility of a believer in Christ today to share the word of life, salvation, and forgiveness is no less awesome. Once the message of salvation is entrusted to us, we are responsible and accountable to share with those who are lost." [Note: Cooper, p. 86.]
The Mosaic Law promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. This was physical life and physical death, not eternal life and death. The Lord gave the Mosaic Law to a people who had already entered into relationship with Himself by faith (cf. Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 4:37-40; Deuteronomy 6; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Deuteronomy 10:15-17; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; see also Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 5:27). The possibility here is premature physical death or extended physical life. Eternal life and eternal security are not the issues. [Note: See Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 766; M. Tsevat, "Studies in the Book of Samuel I," Hebrew Union College Annual 32 (1961):191-216; Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1233.]
While Ezekiel was among the exiles in Tel-abib, the Lord directed him to go out to the nearby plain where the Lord promised to speak with him (cf. ch. 1; Acts 9:6; Galatians 1:16-17).
6. Ezekiel’s muteness 3:22-27
Ezekiel obeyed the Lord. While he was standing on the plain, he saw another vision of God’s glory and again prostrated himself on the ground (cf. Ezekiel 1:28; Acts 7:55).
The Spirit then strengthened Ezekiel to stand up, and the Lord instructed him to go back to his house and shut himself up in it.
"For a sovereign to invite a suppliant to stand meant that he at least was willing to do business with him." [Note: Stuart, p. 50.]
The Jews were going to bind Ezekiel with ropes so he would not be able to circulate among them. There is no further mention in the book of Ezekiel’s being bound in his house with ropes. Consequently this may be a contingent statement: if the prophet would not restrict himself to his house, God would use others to confine him there. [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1233.] Another explanation, which I prefer, is that binding with ropes here is a figurative expression meaning confining; God would keep him at home, though not necessarily by using physical ropes (cf. Ezekiel 4:8). [Note: C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel , 1:65; Feinberg, p. 30.]
"The Jewish people ’bound’ Ezekiel in the sense that their sins made it necessary for him to remain home in silence until God gave him a message." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 170.]
Perhaps some Israelites bound him for a while even though the text made no further reference to it. [Note: Greenberg, p. 102; Wevers, p. 58; Allen, p. 61, Alexander, Ezekiel, p. 18.]
The Lord would make Ezekiel unable to speak or to rebuke the people because they were rebellious against the Lord. The prophet’s silence would be their punishment; he would not be able to warn them of judgment that the Lord would bring on them. [Note: See Allen A. MacRae, "The Key to Ezekiel’s First Thirty Chapters," Bibliotheca Sacra 122:487 (July 1965):227-33.] Ezekiel could have given them many more warnings than he did.
Some of the more radical commentators believed that Ezekiel suffered from catalepsy or some other serious nervous disorder, but the text does not require this. Catalepsy is a condition in which consciousness and feeling are suddenly and temporarily lost, and the muscles become rigid. It may occur in epilepsy, schizophrenia, and some other diseases. The prophet’s unusual experiences were the result of spiritual factors, not because he was psychologically unbalanced.
Finally the Lord would enable Ezekiel to speak again. He would announce a message from the Lord. Some of his hearers would listen, but others of them would refuse to listen because they were rebels against the Lord. Nevertheless, regardless of their response, the hearers would be personally responsible for their response (cf. Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:10-17; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 13:9; Revelation 22:11; et al.).
Evidently Ezekiel’s muteness lasted for several years, until the fall of Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 1:1-3; Ezekiel 24:25-27; Ezekiel 33:21-22). [Note: Block, The Book . . ., p. 151.] He was not entirely silent during this several-year period, from the present until Jerusalem fell, but he only spoke to the people when God gave him special messages to deliver (cf. Ezekiel 11:25; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1). Rather than speaking publicly from time to time as he lived among the people, as other prophets normally did, Ezekiel remained at home except to deliver special messages from the Lord (cf. chs. 4-5). Thus Ezekiel spoke less publicly and led a more reclusive life than the Lord’s other prophetic spokesmen. Another view is that Ezekiel’s period of silence ended with the conclusion of his commissioning. [Note: Chisholm, p. 235.]
"From that moment onwards, Ezekiel was to be known as nothing but the mouthpiece of Yahweh. When he spoke, it was because God had something to say; when he was silent, it was because God was silent." [Note: Taylor, p. 74.]
"His speech is to be intermittent and limited to judgment oracles." [Note: Allen, p. 63.]
"Ezekiel . . . has to experience the inability to speak . . . as a forceful experiential reminder of the fact that he has no authority to make up on his own what he says to his fellow Israelites. Rather, only God can, as it were, loose his tongue. He must let God speak through him, and not invent anything himself or take his message from anyone else. Originality is usually prized among writers and speakers. Yet there was to be no originality in Ezekiel’s doctrine. In all five commissions [Ezekiel 2:1 to Ezekiel 3:27] he is reminded that his job is to convey and not to create." [Note: Stuart, p. 37.]
We have the same duty (Matthew 28:19-20).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19