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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 3

 

 


Verses 1-3

‘And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find. Eat this roll and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he caused me to eat the roll, and he said to me, “Son of man, cause your stomach to digest and fill your bowels with this roll that I give you.” Then did I eat it and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.’

The vision continues, and in vision Ezekiel is commanded to eat the roll and then deliver its message to the house of Israel. He cannot pick and choose. He must eat what he finds. And that is what he must speak. (Whether he was actually to eat it or not is irrelevant. It was all in vision. The main point was that he was to fully digest it and make it a part of himself).

Then he is told that he must fully digest its contents. We too have a ‘scroll’. It is called the Holy Bible. It too is the word of God, and we too must ensure that we read and fully digest its contents.

‘Then did I eat it and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.’ So Ezekiel obeyed, and ate, and although its contents were dreadful he found it sweet to the taste, for it was the word of God and necessary for that time. It contained tough love, God being cruel to be kind. And it could only be for good. Compare Jeremiah 15:16, ‘Your words were found and I ate them, and your words were to me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by your name, Oh Yahweh, God of hosts’. There it was contrasted with the food with which men make merry. Jeremiah had chosen his course and delighted in it, as must Ezekiel. See also Psalms 19:10; Psalms 119:103.


Verses 4-7

‘And he said to me, “Son of man, go, get you to the house of Israel and speak to them with my words. For you are not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language (literally ‘deep of lip and heavy of tongue’), but to the house of Israel. Not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I sent you to them they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they will not listen to me, for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stiff heart.” ’

Ezekiel is to go to the people of Israel with Yahweh’s words, and the message as revealed in the scroll, but he is warned that in general they will not listen to him. There will of course always be some few who listen, but his message will not be popular with the people as a whole.

There is a strong element of sarcasm here. Theoretically his task should be easy. He is going to people who speak the same language as himself, rather than to people who speak and think differently, and whose language is very difficult to understand (for ‘deep of lip’ compare Isaiah 33:19 and for ‘heavy of tongue’ compare Exodus 4:10). It seemingly made his task much simpler. But in practise it will not be so. Those of another language may well have been willing to listen to his words, but Israel will not do so, because their minds and hearts are hardened. They do not want to listen to God, so they will certainly not listen to Ezekiel. Their minds are already made up. Compare Isaiah 6:9-13; Jeremiah 1:17-19.

The point here is the obstinacy and pig-headedness of Israel. Even with stumbling words others might be willing to listen. But Israel is so set in its mind and ways that no words, however clear, will be sufficient to move them or change their ideas, as they have already proved by their response to Jeremiah and the other prophets, and their reactions in the face of disasters. They just will not recognise their own folly and guilt. It is a stress on the total stubbornness of Israel.

This repetition of the ideas in chapter 2 demonstrates how hard his task is going to be. God wants Him to be forewarned and forearmed. It stresses the hardness of men’s hearts when faced with truth which is unpalatable.


Verse 8-9

“Behold I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. I have made you forehead as an adamant, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”

There is a play on words here for the words for ‘hard’ and ‘harder’ come from the same verbal root as ‘Ezekiel’ (‘God hardens’). God will enable him to stand firm and resist all attempts to silence him. The word translated ‘adamant’ means literally a thorn bush, but then something pointed and hard (a diamond for engraving - Jeremiah 17:1). Thus here it indicates something hard, ‘harder than flint’. Thus he need not be afraid of them, or be distraught at the looks they give him. And he must indeed expect it because they are rebels against God, Who is the head of their household.


Verse 10-11

‘Moreover he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you, receive in your heart and hear with your ears, and go, get you to the captivity, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh’, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” ’

Again there is the stress on the fact that he is going in the name of the Lord Yahweh, and with words he has received from Him. We can only truly be strong when we go with His words. He must receive those words in his heart so that they become a part of him, and hear them with his ears so that he himself responds to them.

So firstly he was again told that he must receive and absorb God’s words. Then that he must go to those who were in captivity with him in Babylonia, declaring those words with a ‘thus says the Lord Yahweh’. And he must do it whether they would listen or not.

All these words were spoken following the vision, possibly with silent periods in between as he strove to come to grips with the vision and with the scroll he had seen. God was building up his ability to continue against all the odds, and hardening him to face the inevitable.


Verse 12-13

The Spirit Carries Him Away (Ezekiel 3:12-15).

‘Then the Spirit lifted me up and I heard behind me the voice of a great commotion. “Blessed be the glory of Yahweh 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 wheel beside them, and the noise of a great commotion.’

At this point the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and took him away, and as he was being taken away he heard behind him ‘the voice of a great commotion’. (The root can mean ‘earthquake, roaring, commotion’, compare Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 47:3). Voices swelled up to heaven crying, “Blessed be the glory of Yahweh from His place.” They were probably the voices of the living creatures (compare Revelation 4:8; Revelation 8:13). And they praised the coming of ‘the glory of Yahweh’ from His place. The glory of Yahweh represents His presence, compare Ezekiel 1:23; Ezekiel 10:13; Ezekiel 11:23; Ezekiel 43:4. For ‘from His place’ compare Micah 1:3, ‘for behold Yahweh comes forth from His place, and will come down and tread on the high places of the earth’. Compare also Hosea 5:15; and see Ezekiel 38:15; Zephaniah 2:11. Thus they were celebrating the coming of Yahweh’s glorious presence Who had specifically come from His eternal dwellingplace to meet with Ezekiel.

‘And I heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the noise of the wheel beside them, and the noise of a great commotion.’ As the voices swelled up he also heard the chariot of God once more on the move, the whirring of the wings of the living creatures, the rumbling of the wheels, and the continual praise and worship of the living creatures.

Some have suggested translating, ‘Then the Spirit lifted me up and as the glory of Yahweh arose from its place I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake.’ This translation requires the changing of kaph in brk (to bless) to mem to make it brm (using the root rum - to lift up). These two letters were easily confused in ancient Hebrew. They see the text as it stands as a little awkward, They suggest that after the great roaring or earthquake we do not expect an interjection, especially as the great roaring is repeated in Ezekiel 3:13, nor, they say, does ‘from His place’ fit well with the interjection. The sense is in fact fairly similar but loses the paean of praise. However it seems to us that the text makes good sense as it stands.


Verse 14

‘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 Yahweh was strong upon me.’

Ezekiel repeats and amplifies his reference to the Spirit in Ezekiel 3:12. He was lifted up and carried away by the Spirit (see also Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:1; Ezekiel 11:24; Ezekiel 43:5), his first experience of this type of travel. This was thought of as a ‘normal’ method of transport for prophets (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16), possibly because they tended to suddenly appear and disappear, although no actual example is known for earlier prophets, unless we count 2 Kings 2:11. But compare Philip in Acts 8:39 -note there the Old Testament ring of ‘the Spirit of the Lord’.

This was his first experience of the Spirit acting in such a way, and along with the vision he had seen must have shaken him to the core. No wonder he went ‘in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit’. He was greatly disturbed both spiritually and emotionally.

Alternately many see his bitterness and heat of spirit as referring to his feelings about his own people in the light of what God had told him (compare Jeremiah 6:11). This is supported by the word ‘bitterness’, which is very strong, and would directly tie in with the hand of Yahweh being strong upon him, as he went to carry out his mission. He was still under the influence of his vision.

For ‘the hand of Yahweh was strong upon me’ compare Ezekiel 1:3 which resulted in his vision, and Ezekiel 3:22 where he again has a vision. See also Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1. All refer to remarkable experiences.


Verse 15

‘Then I came to those of the captivity at Tel-Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar, and to where they dwelt. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.’

At some point the Spirit released him, and he then made his way back to the settlement of his fellow-captives. And for seven days he sat there ‘overwhelmed’. The word means ‘appalled, desolated’ and the causative conjugation signifies that it was the effect of what he had experienced. It took him ‘seven days’ to recover, longer than just a few days.

(‘Seven days’ generally signifies a longer period than the shorter ‘three days’, two stereotyped expressions. ‘Three days’ would mean anything from one and a half days to six days, ‘seven days’ would indicate a little longer period. Compare the use in Genesis for ‘three day’ and ‘seven day’ journeys).

It is perhaps significant that seven days was required for the consecration of a priest (Leviticus 8:33). It could be that he saw this as his period of consecration to his mission.


Verse 16

Ezekiel Is Appointed As A Watchman (Ezekiel 3:16-21).

‘And it happened that at the end of seven days the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’

The ‘seven days’ having passed God again came to Ezekiel with His solemn word, to remind him that he had been made a watchman to Israel (compare Habakkuk 2:1. See also Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 6:17; Hosea 9:8). The task of the watchman was to keep awake and give warning of approaching danger, and to act for the preservation of those over whom he watched.


Verse 17-18

“Son of man, I have given you to be a watchman to the house of Israel. Therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you do not give him warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man will die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at your hand.”

As watchman, appointed by solemn charge, to Israel, Ezekiel had to watch over each individual. He was not only responsible for Israel, but for each individual within Israel, to take them the word of God. He was to watch and warn. And each individual was separately responsible to hear and respond, or to reject. The few would not be condemned for the many.

The thought here was that Yahweh watched over His people and when He saw one who was ‘wicked’, that is who was not observing the covenant and living in accordance with the principles laid down in the Law, He passed sentence on him. This He would then communicate to Ezekiel (‘hear the word at my mouth’). It was Ezekiel’s responsibility then to give him warning (‘give them warning from me’), and seek to turn the man from his evil ways so that he may save his life. If he failed to do so the man would die in his iniquity, but his death would be blameable on Ezekiel. He would be the equivalent of a murderer. Note that the expected punishment was a sudden and untimely death. There was no consideration of an afterlife. The additional consequences of that are dealt with in Daniel 12:2.


Verse 19

‘And if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have saved your life.’

However if Ezekiel did give the warning and the person did nothing about it, the same consequence would come on the person, but Ezekiel would be free from blame and would be spared. Note here the deliberate reference to ‘wickedness’ in contrast with a ‘wicked way’, suggesting a comparison between the state of mind and heart in rebellion against God, and the revealing of that in behaviour.


Verse 20

‘Again when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he will die. Because you have not given him warning, he will die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered. But his blood I will require at your hand.’

The warning became even more solemn. Ezekiel was not only responsible for warning the wicked but for watching over the righteous. The righteous man was the one who admitted responsibility to the covenant and sought to live in accordance with it. But if he deliberately committed gross sin God would lay a stumblingblock, a snare, for him and he too would die. Past righteousness could not and would not excuse present iniquity. No one can rely on a righteous past. And if Ezekiel has not warned him, then Ezekiel too would have to face the consequences, in death.


Verse 21

‘Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning. And you have delivered your life.’

Note the contrast here with Ezekiel 3:19. It is assumed that the righteous man will hear and take warning. The suggestion seems to be that God would give him an opportunity of repentance through the ministry of Ezekiel. If he heeded it he would be spared.

The importance of this passage cannot be overemphasised. Each individual is shown to have individual responsibility. The one will not suffer for the sinfulness of the group. It also brings out that, in the place where they were, they still came within the covenant. They were still responsible to God. Furthermore it demonstrated that away from Jerusalem, and away from the possibility of offering sacrifice at the central shrine in Jerusalem, forgiveness was still possible. Both the righteous who sin, and the wicked who have lived sinfully, could still be spared through repentance and return to the covenant, even though sacrifices for sin were not available.

On the other hand it also warned that God was there. He saw their ways and their behaviour, and He would require it at their hands. Transportation had not removed them from their responsibility to God. They were still His people and He was still their Overlord.

And it finally emphasised that He had set over them a watchman. This was for them an act of mercy. He had not left them just to struggle on as they could. If they failed it would not be because God had failed to give them an opportunity for repentance, as long as the watchman was faithful. And for Ezekiel the stress was on the importance of his faithfulness. It is a solemn task to be pastor to a people.

It is impossible to overemphasise the significance of these words to Ezekiel with reference to the cult. It is noteworthy that in appointing a priest over His people God did not set up a rival cultus. The priest was not to carry out certain cultic responsibilities. No sacrifices were instituted. No altar was built. The concentration was on response to God, morality and behaviour. It was on the moral requirements of the Torah (instruction, law, found in the Books of Moses), and his responsibility to watch over them and maintain them as Israel’s covenant with Yahweh. They would no doubt meet for prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and to listen to exhortation, (which would eventually lead on to the founding of the synagogues) but the emphasis was on manner of life before God and their duty to obey Him, and it applied to each individually as well as to the group as a whole.


Verse 22

A Further Vision (Ezekiel 3:22-27).

‘And the hand of Yahweh was there upon me, and he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and I will talk with you there.’

This probably occurred after the passing of a short period of time in which Ezekiel had told the people what God had previously said. It could not be a very long period for the period from Ezekiel 1:2 - the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year- to Ezekiel 8:1 - the fifth day of the sixth month of the sixth year - was only about 442 actual days (assuming a thirteen month year, see on Ezekiel 4:5) and at least 390 (and possibly 430) of them were passed lying on his left and right sides for the punishment of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 4:5-6). His message had been variously received, but from most it seemed that he received short shrift, they were not impressed. Indeed they may well have seen him as mad. So it was now time for the second stage in God’s plan.

The ‘hand of Yahweh’ upon him leads us to expect something special and once again he was to receive a glorious vision. But first God sent him somewhere alone, ‘into the valley (cleft)’, where he could again meet God.


Verse 23

‘Then I arose and went out into the valley, and behold the glory of Yahweh stood there, as the glory which I saw by the River Chebar, and I fell on my face.’

This was a parallel vision to that in chapter 1, repeated in full for reassurance and to press home its effect, but it was in a different place. Going out into ‘the valley’ He saw the throne-chariot of God and the accompanying glory, including the splendid figure on the throne. He saw the glory of Yahweh. And again it had the same effect. He fell on his face before God


Verses 24-27

‘Then the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go. Shut yourself within your house. But you, son of man, they shall lay bands on you, and will bind you with them, and you will not go out among them, and I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you will be dumb and will not be a reprover to them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh”. He who hears, let him here, and he who forbears, let him forbear, for they are a rebellious house.” ’

Following the vision and his obeisance the Spirit again lifted him on to his feet, and he again received the command of God. The Spirit of God is seen as very active in Ezekiel’s life. He was left in no doubt of God’s hand on him. This lifting up was a sign of God’s acceptance of his obeisance, and that He had something active for him to do.

What follows can basically be thought of in two ways. Either as a sign of opposition as the people, seeing him as mad, come to restrain him, and God’s response to it. Or as a deliberate acting out by Ezekiel of a message which he wanted to get over in a vivid way (something he would certainly do later). Was he bound because they thought he was mad, or did he arrange for himself to be bound so as to proclaim a message? Either way the message would be that Ezekiel was restrained by God and solely God’s mouthpiece.

‘Go, shut yourself within your house.’ From now on Ezekiel was not to live a normal life of going out and in. He was to enter his house, close the door and stay within it. Possibly, along with what followed, it was to indicate that he was no longer his own man living a normal life, but that he was separated to Yahweh. He was the servant and mouthpiece of Yahweh. Such acts would cause speculation among the people as they do among us.

Alternately it may be that it was God’s warning of growing opposition so that he must shut himself away for safety and as a sign that God would no longer speak to them. This would act for his protection. But we will shortly see that he was to let the people see his coming behaviour, so that the former is more likely.

‘But you, son of man, they shall lay bands on you, and will bind you with them, and you will not go out among them.’ There has been no suggestion up to this point of any violent opposition, thus many refer this to a voluntary act, the act of his family and friends, or of his servants (represented by a vague ‘they’), at his request. He was to make them bind him, so that he would be bound with ropes as a sign to Israel. Again it would indicate that he was now a man who did not have the freedom to do what he wanted but was restrained by God so that his only actions were to be those of service to God as a prophet. It may also have been intended to remind them that they too were captives, brought into captivity by God. This position is supported by the words ‘you shall not go out among them’ (parallel to ‘you shall not be a reprover to them’) which suggest he did have freedom of action.

Some, however, see the binding as carried out by the people in antagonism to him and his message, restricting his freedom and seeking to restrain his unwelcome activities, on the grounds that he ‘had gone mad’. This would certainly be understandable in view of his visions and his own reactions to them. Or they see it as metaphorical, with the ‘binding’ being some actions of the people taken with the intention of shutting him up. This would certainly explain the repeated words, ‘for they are a rebellious house’. But if this was so there has been no earlier indication of direct opposition.

‘And I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you will be dumb and will not be a reprover to them.’ This action is definitely revealed as God’s. He will render Ezekiel dumb, so that he can no longer generally reprove them, only when God has a specific message for them. Whether the cleaving was outwardly enforced by divine power, or enforced by Ezekiel’s voluntary obedience, is uncertain, although Ezekiel 3:27, ‘I will open your mouth’, may suggest the former, (although not certainly). Either way it showed that God had stopped speaking to the people.

This enforced silence would undoubtedly have a strong effect on the people. They knew that he had previously had a vivid experience of God and he had no doubt begun to reprove and warn in accordance with Ezekiel 3:17-18. Thus this silence would have an even greater impact. It may have made them ask why God had stopped speaking to them through him. Or it may have been intended, in the light of what followed, to indicate that Ezekiel was now solely the mouthpiece of God and could only speak when God had something to say to them.

So, if voluntary, the self-imprisonment, the binding with ropes and the dumbness were all to be signs to Israel. Perhaps they were then partly to indicate the condition of the people. They were now in captivity and not free to follow their own desires (to go back to Jerusalem). This would confirm that this was God’s present will and that they were not to chafe or speak out against it. It had all come upon them, Yahweh was saying, because ‘they are a rebellious house’.

But the enforced silence was specifically stated to be to prevent him being ‘a reprover to them’ continually. Thus the message must primarily have been intended to indicate to them that Ezekiel as God’s messenger was bound by God and could not speak to them, except when God allowed. This would also indicate to them, in the wider context (to be appreciated by them later), that for the present his ministry was restricted until God was ready for him to take up his ministry fully, for until Jerusalem was destroyed he was not, on the whole, free to make his declarations of hope. He would give hints, but that was all. He had thus at present a restricted ministry, a ministry of judgment. Meanwhile he could only speak as God commanded. His silence was not to be total silence, only silence as regards normal living. When Yahweh gave him prophetic words to say, as ‘thus says the Lord Yahweh’, he was to be free to speak.

If we see his binding as being the act of the people on the grounds that he was mad, then his enforced silence would be God’s reply to their rebellious behaviour. If they did not want Him to reprove them, He was saying, He would not reprove them. They must bear the consequences.

We are left to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the people as they saw that house in their midst, knowing that the priest-prophet Ezekiel lay there, in self-imposed isolation, bound with ropes (which could be unbound when necessary), and maintaining continual silence (see Ezekiel 24:27; Ezekiel 29:1) except for the times when he spoke in Yahweh’s service. It would also increase the impact when he spoke his prophetic utterances, and even more so when he finally did begin to speak freely again. This latter would occur some six years later in Ezekiel 33:22 when Jerusalem had been destroyed.

‘For they are a rebellious house.’ Yahweh had already declared that on the whole they would not respond (Ezekiel 2:4; Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 2:10; Ezekiel 3:7). Thus the imposed silence was a sign of this. Ezekiel’s ministry was not at this stage to be a pastoral ministry of gentle reproof. It was to be a continual ministry of periodical declarations of God’s judgment. The constant reference to Israel as ‘a rebellious house’ stresses God’s view of them at this time, as His people in rebellion against Him. He was in no doubt about their underlying attitude.

‘But when I speak with you I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh”, he who hears, let him here, and he who forbears, let him forbear, for they are a rebellious house.’ Whichever way we read the passage he was not called on to be completely silent. But the only exceptions to silence were to be when Yahweh spoke with him giving him a prophetic utterance to declare. Then God would open his mouth and he must say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh’. Once he had done that response would be up to the listener. The inference here was that some would hear, making the ministry worthwhile, but that the majority would not hear because they were a rebellious house.

We must not judge Ezekiel’s activities by our own standards. It may well be that from the start God wanted him to proclaim his message by symbols, interspersed with spoken prophecy as God saw fit. Probably He knew that that they were not ready to receive His message openly given and that that would make the greatest impact, certainly until Jerusalem was destroyed and their last hope was gone. Ezekiel might be there as a watchman, but it was as a watchman under God’s instructions.

The message here for all of us is the responsibility that we have as the Lord’s watchmen. We too have a responsibility towards those around us, whether they are willing to hear or not. We too will be called to account for our failure to speak out for Christ. Their blood will be required at our hands. We too must see ourselves as totally devoted to serving God, willing to be restricted in our normal lives so as to better serve Christ, willing to be ‘bound’, willing to be called mad, willing to speak when called on to do so, and when necessary willing to be silent. His dedication must be our example.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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