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Ezekiel Eats the Scroll
In the case of Jeremiah, it is enough that the LORD touches his mouth to give him His words (Jer 1:9). With Ezekiel, He acts differently. The LORD instructs him to eat the scroll He offers him (Eze 3:1). This means that he is to speak what the LORD inspires in him and nothing else (cf. Jer 1:9; Jer 15:16). It also makes it clear that the message he passes on is part of himself. He must make the content and scope of the word of God entrusted to him his own (cf. Jn 6:52-53). Thus he must speak to the house of Israel. His whole person is involved in the prophecies he will utter.
Ezekiel opens his mouth to receive the word (Eze 3:2). In doing so, he shows his willingness to eat. He does not express objections, which others have done when called (Exo 3:11; 13; Exo 4:1; 10; 13; Jer 1:6; Jona 1:3). Then the LORD gives him the scroll to eat it. He adds that Ezekiel, who is a son of man and totally dependent on Him, must feed his stomach (Eze 3:3). The scroll comes from Him; they are God’s words. Thus we are to keep His Word in our hearts (Psa 119:11).
The word must come in his stomach, that is, in his inner being. He must fill his inner being, his deepest feelings, with the scroll, that is, with the words of God. He must be completely full of the message he has to deliver, so that there is no room for anything else. Thus the Lord Jesus is always fully in the things of His Father (Lk 2:49). There is no room for anything else. In the same way, we must look only to the Lord Jesus and renounce everything else (Heb 12:2).
When Ezekiel eats the scroll, it becomes sweet as honey in his mouth (cf. Jer 15:16a; Psa 119:103; Rev 10:8-9). It gives him the foretaste that doing the will of God will be a pleasurable activity, no matter how much opposition he may encounter on the part of men.
God tells this son of man to go to the house of Israel (Eze 3:4). To them he must then speak with God’s words, not with his own words. We cannot figure out the message for ourselves or what words we use to pass on God’s message. Only the words of God can have any effect.
They are words that the people to whom he is sent can understand (Eze 3:5). No interpreter is needed and no explainer is needed. The language in which Israel hears God’s words is intelligible and comprehensible. God always allows His Word to be preached in an intelligible way. It is also important for our preaching that we speak intelligibly and understandably when we pass on a word from the Lord to others.
Ezekiel is not sent to many peoples who speak a very different language and with whom he cannot communicate (Eze 3:6). If the people of those nations said something to him, he would not be able to understand them. Then God says something remarkable. He says that those foreign nations would listen despite the language barrier if He had sent Ezekiel to them (cf. Mt 11:21-23). This shows that rebellious bias is a greater obstacle to accepting God’s Word than a language barrier.
Of the house of Israel, the LORD must say to Ezekiel that they will not listen to him (Eze 3:7). The cause of this is that they are not willing to listen to God. There is no thought of Him with them, they do not think of Him. This is represented by their being “stubborn and obstinate [literally: of a hard forehead and a stiff heart]”. Their attitude comes from a great inner resistance. Their hardness says something about the mind of their hearts. They are not willing to listen (cf. Acts 7:51).
Ezekiel should not be impressed by this. The LORD will equip him so that he can deliver his message fearlessly (Eze 3:8). He will deliver his message as stubborn as they are stubborn in accepting it. The LORD will make his forehead like emery (Eze 3:9). He will have a hard forehead, but not a stiff heart, which the people have. Because of his hard forehead, he will be preserved from their intimidation and from their attacks to silence him. He need not be afraid of them, whatever their mocking and threatening remarks and attitudes. Nor should their looks full of hatred and rejection frighten him. It is part of their rebellion against the LORD.
Ezekiel Comes to the Exiles
All the words that God will speak to him, a son of man, he must first take into his heart and then he must listen to them closely (Eze 3:10). To begin with, God emphasizes that Ezekiel must take “all” His words into his heart. Ezekiel is not allowed to leave out words that he does not understand or whose content he does not like. He had to eat the whole scroll (Eze 3:1-3). For us, it is equally true that we are to take all the words of God into our hearts (cf. Col 3:16a).
Furthermore, we can only hear God’s Word, that is, listen to it and understand it, if we have a heart, a mind, a desire, to do what God says. Our mind determines whether we are open to listen with our ears. It is the same with the believers in Berea of whom we first read that they received the Word with great eagerness. That shows their mind. Immediately afterwards we read that they examined the Scriptures daily to see whether the things proclaimed by Paul were in agreement with them (Acts 17:11).
Then Ezekiel is given a further description of those to whom he is to address his message (Eze 3:11; cf. Eze 3:4). They are the exiles in the midst of whom he finds himself. He is not to feel above them, for they are the sons of his people, people of the same nation to which he belongs. Whether they are listening or not does not matter, as long as Ezekiel speaks to them as the mouth of “the Lord GOD” (Adonai Yahweh). He must clearly say that the words he speaks are His words. We can only bring God’s Word if we have had an impression of the glory of Christ, if we have seen something of it through the reading of God’s Word.
When God has thus spoken to Ezekiel, the Spirit lifts him up (Eze 3:12). He receives a vision. As this happens, he hears behind him the sound of a great thumping and praise to the LORD. Further, he hears a great rumbling sound of the wings of the living beings. They are coming into motion (Eze 3:13). He also hears the sound of the wheels and a great rumbling sound. That is the sound of the throne chariot of the LORD moving, but Ezekiel does not see the throne chariot.
Then the Spirit lifts him up further and takes him away (Eze 3:14). He is aware of what is happening to him. He leaves, being bitterly grieved and intensely upset. What has happened to him and what he has been told has affected him deeply. The message he has eaten and now has to deliver makes a great impression on him. He feels the hand of the LORD pressing strongly on him. The message he has to bring is difficult.
In this state of heart, he joins the exiles of Tel-abib who live by the river Chebar (Eze 3:15). When the LORD appears to Ezekiel in a vision, Ezekiel finds himself in the midst of those taken into exile (Eze 1:1; 3). After receiving his calling, the Spirit lifts him up and brings him back to the river Chebar. The prophet has received his calling for his service in the place where the glory of the LORD dwells (Eze 3:12).
In the midst of the exiles, Ezekiel takes his place again as one of them. He shares in their exile. The exiles are in Tel-abib. ‘Abib’ is the name of the first month, of the formation of the ears, of the greening of what is on the land. ‘Tel’ means hill or hope. The name Tel-abib speaks of restoration and revival. He shows something of the work of the Lord Jesus by which that alone is possible. He is the grain of wheat that has fallen into the earth and died, thereby bringing forth rich fruit (Jn 12:24).
Ezekiel does not immediately begin to carry out his mission. For seven days he is astonied because of what he has seen and heard (cf. Job 2:13). These seven days of mute astonishment has caused consternation among the exiles around him (cf. Lk 1:21-22). To his fellow exiles it will be an indication that something special has happened to him, so that they will not be too surprised when he starts to perform as a prophet in their midst.
Watchman to the House of Israel
After seven days of having caused consternation among the exiles, the word of the LORD comes to him (Eze 3:16). He is told what his prophetic task will be. There is no mention of a vision this time. The LORD – Yahweh, the Lord Jesus – Himself comes to him as the Word. This goes beyond Ezekiel only hearing words. What he hears and the Person Who speaks are the Same. It indicates the identification of the Word and the Person of Christ (Jn 1:1).
The LORD addresses him as “son of man” (Eze 3:17). This expression, as noted earlier, reads ben adam in Hebrew, which is “son of Adam”, and indicates that it refers to one who belongs to the human race. This clearly draws the contrast between the exaltedness of the heavenly Speaker, the Son of God, the eternal Word, and a mortal, earthly son of man.
The LORD says to him that He has appointed him a watchman to the house of Israel. A watchman is one who warns when danger threatens (Isa 21:6; Jer 6:17). The word for “watchman” comes from the Hebrew word for bending over, which someone does on a tower to see even more sharply. Ezekiel, hearing a word from the mouth of God, is to warn the people on His behalf. For if the people persist in their sin they will perish.
Ezekiel must also warn for or in view of the LORD and not only on His behalf. The threat of judgment emanates namely from the LORD. He appoints Ezekiel as a watchman between Himself and the people, that He may not have to let judgment come.
This command places a great responsibility on Ezekiel. In his service, he is not to be afraid of the people, but of the LORD in case he refuses to speak the word the LORD gives him to speak (cf. Amos 3:8). Later this command is repeated, at the beginning of the fourth part of the book (Eze 33:1-9). God determines the service of His own. To this the servant has to obey. In the case of unfaithfulness, the servant does not go free (Pro 24:11-12). Paul was also well aware of this (1Cor 9:16).
Then Ezekiel is presented with four cases that he will encounter in his ministry and of which God presents the responsibility to him. Twice it involves the wicked (Eze 3:18-19) and twice it involves the righteous (Eze 3:20-21). Both the preacher and the one to whom the preaching is done have their own responsibilities. Ezekiel must preach because God says so. The result is a matter for God. It is also noteworthy that Ezekiel is to address his fellow exiles not so much as a group, but individually, head by head.
First comes the word about the wicked. If God says to the wicked that he will die and Ezekiel does not warn him, then Ezekiel is guilty of his blood (Eze 3:18). If he does warn the wicked, then Ezekiel has delivered himself (Eze 3:19). Judgment comes on the wicked for his own willful transgression and his persistence in evil.
Then there is a word regarding warning a righteous person who commits iniquity (Eze 3:20). A righteous person is one who walks in the way of God (cf. Lk 1:6). This is only about the practice, the outward appearance, and not about the inward, about whether someone has life from God. If there is a change for the worse in the life of such a person, then the prophet must warn him. If he fails to do so, he brings upon himself the same guilt as in the case where he failed to warn the wicked (Eze 3:18).
It is about a righteous person who turns away from his righteousness and commits injustice. The word “turn” in Eze 3:19 and “turn away” in Eze 3:20 are the same word in Hebrew. Thus, a righteous person who turns away turns of his righteousness. Such a righteous person willfully turns away from the things that are good in the sight of the LORD. It is not about an initially unconscious sin or a one-time sin. It is about a purposeful choice to go in a different direction. Such a person has the Word of God at his disposal, but chooses not to listen.
Before such a person the LORD will “place an obstacle” and as a result “he will die”. The obstacle the LORD places before the righteous is not a temptation to sin, for “He Himself does not tempt anyone” (Jam 1:13). It is a test of what a person confesses. We can think of circumstances the LORD allows that put a righteous person in a crisis. What does he do then? If he goes down the wrong road, he should be warned. If this is not done, he, who should have done so is guilty of the downfall of the righteous. All the righteous man’s righteous deeds no longer help him. Their value expires if he continues in his sinful way.
Ezekiel is not only to warn the wicked and the strayed righteous, he is also to warn the righteous who has not yet strayed (Eze 3:21). This is a preventive warning, lest the righteous person come to sin. Ezekiel must not only seek the lost, but also watch over those who are going the right way to keep them there. This is watching over souls (Heb 13:17).
The responsibility is great, even for us, to warn people. We know that we sometimes fail in this. Then we can confess that. Forgiveness is also possible for blood guilt that rests on us in those cases (1Jn 1:9).
The LORD Appears Again
The hand of God is on Ezekiel when he is in Tel-abib (Eze 3:22). That God’s hand is on him means that God is seizing him and working with him. It also means that He protects and guides him. Then He instructs him to go out to the plain or the valley, where He will speak to him. A plain or valley is a low place. It suggests that we must be in a place of humility to hear the words of the Lord. In that place, before he begins his ministry, Ezekiel sees the glory of the LORD one more time (Eze 3:23; Eze 1:28). It does not appear to him as in Ezekiel 1, but is already standing there. Again he falls on his face.
Again, the Spirit makes him stand on his feet (Eze 3:24; Eze 2:2). The Spirit gives the strength to see the glory of God and continue in the service. Ezekiel is to shut himself up in his house. That seems a strange command for someone who is to warn the people. But God determines for each of His servants individually how to deliver His message. Each prophet brings His message in a way that speaks to the people in a special way and suits their condition in a special way. People who want to hear God’s Word should come to Ezekiel.
The ropes spoken of here will be put on him, so that he cannot go out among the people (Eze 3:25). The LORD Himself will bind him and thus isolate him even further (Eze 4:8). His entire separation is compounded by the muteness that the LORD imposes on him (Eze 3:26; cf. Job 29:10; Psa 22:15; Psa 137:6). Such a performance underscores the seriousness of Ezekiel’s message to a rebellious house.
His muteness will not be permanent (Eze 3:27). Also, his muteness will be interrupted by periods when he can speak (Eze 8:1; Eze 11:25). Ezekiel cannot leave his house during this speaking. After the destruction of Jerusalem, this changes at God’s command and he speaks again (Eze 24:25-27; Eze 33:21-22). In the same way, our service can change. It is important to let the Spirit lead us. When Ezekiel is to speak again, he is to say again: “Thus says the Lord GOD.” His listeners he addresses personally: “He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse”, while the people as a whole “are a rebellious house”.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25