THERE CAN BE NO DEVIATION OF MISSION OR MESSAGE IN PROCLAIMING GOD’S WORD OF JUDGMENT DESPITE OPPOSITION AND REJECTION
The vision of the glory of the Lord from chapter 1 prepared Ezekiel for his ministry. The calling and commissioning of Ezekiel are also important prerequisites to his prophetic burden. He did not enter into ministry out of self will but out of a divine sense of calling with all of the authority that God bestows. He was not to evaluate successful ministry according to the flesh – for he was promised much opposition and rejection. Instead, the measuring stick for a prophet of God would always be faithfulness – both to the mission and to the message.
Lamar Cooper: This section has an introduction (2:1–2) and a conclusion (3:12–15). Described within is the prophet’s mission, his motivation, and the divine fortification for the difficult task ahead.
J. I. Packer: There is no other book in the whole Bible that presents the sins of God’s people in as much detail as the Book of Ezekiel. Do you want to get the full picture of the sinfulness of man? Do you want to get the full picture of the hopeless situation of man? Do you want to get the full picture of the awesome character of God and His holiness? Do you want to get the full picture of the wrath of God? Study the Book of Ezekiel, and your life will be transformed.
Feinberg: The first two chapters deal with the call and commission of Ezekiel who received his call after he had fallen prostrate on his face at the vision of the glory of the Lord. The voice that spoke to him was not that of one of the cherubim for they are never authorized as commissioners to the service of God, but it was rather the One seated on the throne (1:28). Ezekiel’s vision of the Lord in chapter 1 reminds us of the vision of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1), while his commission resembles that given to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8).
(1:22) TRANSITION – RESPONSE TO THE VISION OF GOD’S GLORY
“And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.”
Lamar Cooper: Like Isaiah (6:1–9), Ezekiel fell on his face in response to the awesome presence of God. Ezekiel, prostrate before God, must have wondered who could minister in such a place, to such people. The answer came in the voice that related the details of his call. The opening vision of Ezekiel’s ministry affirmed three significant truths about God that are summarized in v. 28. First, the vision was a reaffirmation of the nature of God as holy, powerful, and majestic. Second, the rainbow was a reminder of God’s promise-making and promise-keeping character (Gen 9:16). It was a rekindler of hope that God could and would help. Third, it was an assurance that nothing, including geographic location, separated one from God (cf. Rom 8:38–39).
Bruce Hurt: Ezekiel had received his initial “job training”, a vision of the glory of God, the single most important aspect of his preparation for his difficult task. Speaking truth to rebellious people is not an easy task but the key is doing so not in our power but God’s power. In Acts we see the early church facing intense opposition and yet Luke records that as the Jewish leaders
“observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Would they say the same about me?
I. (2:1-7) STUBBORN REACTION FROM THE PEOPLE PROMISED DURING COMMISSIONING OF EZEKIEL
A. (:1-2) Standing Before God to Receive the Commission
1. (:1) Command to Stand and Hear
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man,
stand on your feet that I may speak with you!’”
David Guzik: There were no chapter divisions in the original writing of Ezekiel, so we should not miss the fact that Ezekiel’s call to prophetic work came from the overwhelming vision of God, His chariot throne, and the cherubim described in Ezekiel 1.
Peter Pett: The command to ‘stand on your feet’ revealed that God had an active purpose for him which had to be fulfilled. He could not receive such words flat on his face. God would not speak to him until he had stood up. Often we too are on our faces when we should be up and ready to be doing. Unlike the ancient kings He did not want man in humiliating postures. He wanted them erect and active in His service.
2. (:2) Enablement to Stand and Hear
“And as He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet;
and I heard Him speaking to me.”
Iain Duguid: The prophet himself is to provide an alternative model of behavior. Unlike Israel he is to listen to what the Lord says to him and not to rebel as they do (Ezek. 2:8). Throughout the vision, Ezekiel is the very picture of compliant obedience to the Word of God. When he comes face-to-face with the glory of God, he falls face down in humble submission (1:28); he is not obstinate in God’s presence. When God speaks, he listens; when he is commanded to stand, he rises to his feet (2:1–2). However, this obedience comes not because of some special measure of holiness intrinsic to Ezekiel but because of an infusion of divine Spirit (rûaḥ; 2:2). The entry of the Spirit not only raises him to his feet but enables him to hear God’s speech (2:2). God not only hands the scroll to Ezekiel, he causes him to eat it (3:2). He is the One who will strengthen Ezekiel to make him as tough as his opponents. When the vision and commissioning are over, the Spirit lifts Ezekiel up and deposits him among the exiles again, where he sits motionless. Without God’s power, Ezekiel literally can do nothing.
B. (:3-4a) Sending by God to a Stubborn and Rebellious People
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of Man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel,
to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me;
they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day.
I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children,’”
Daniel Block: Prophets functioned primarily as messengers of God, and the critical issue in the conflict between true and false prophets was which persons had actually been commissioned (salah) by Yahweh. Accordingly, the most serious charge that could be leveled against a true prophet was ‘Yahweh has not sent you’ (cf. Jeremiah 43:2).
Leslie Allen: Two topics are in view: the new role Ezekiel is to play and the moral nature of the people of God. First, the verb “send” is emphasized by its double occurrence in vv 2b and 4a. It is a basic and characteristic term in prophetic call narratives (cf. Isa 6:8; Jer 1:7), which identified the human object as the authorized agent of God (cf. Jer 14:14–15). Significantly, Jeremiah’s letter to the hostages in Babylon denounced prophets whom Yahweh had not sent (Jer 29:9, 31). Second, there is a concern for the ultimate recipients of the divine message. They are defined not yet as Judean exiles (3:10) but in wider terms as representatives of “the community of Israel” (בית ישׂראל), which is a standard designation in the book of Ezekiel for the covenant people, used eighty-three times according to Zimmerli (Ezekiel 2 564). The scope of the designation extends not only horizontally from the exiles back to the people in the homeland but also vertically in a series of generations (cf. Jer 3:25). Ezekiel’s message in 20:1–32 is a virtual commentary on their sinful past and present. Their sin is characterized as rebellion, both as an attitude and as a succession of acts that exemplified it. The Hebrew term for rebelling (מרד) is a theological metaphor derived from a political act, the refusal of subjects to give loyalty to their king (cf. 2 Kgs 18:7; Ezek 17:15). The present generation is defined as worse than their predecessors, both in external behavior and in internal attitude. Externally, they are marked by brazenness. Literally, they are hard-faced (קשׁי פנים), a variation of the usual “stiff-necked” (קשׁה ערף, e.g., Exod 32:9), intended to pave the way for the reaction they will present to the prophet according to v 6 (פנים “faces” twice; cf. 3:8a). Internally, they are strong-willed in their opposition to God.
Bruce Hurt: “Transgressed” is the Hebrew word “pasha” which is the strongest word available for expressing a covenant violation or one who breaks away from authority. The word is used in the diplomatic arena to express treaty violation (2Ki 1:1; 3:5, 7).
Pasha conveys the fundamental idea of a breach of relationships (civil or religious) between two parties. It means to be in open defiance of an authority or standard of an agreement. Israel stood condemned of rebelling against her King and His covenant (cf Isa 1:28; 48:8; Hos 8:1). Webster adds that “transgress” means to go beyond set or prescribed limits (in this case the “limits” set by the Mosaic covenant).
C. (:4b-5) Speaking the Word of God as the Prophet of God –
Irregardless of the Response
1. (:4b) Prophetic Proclamation
“and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’”
2. (:5) Prophetic Vindication
“As for them, whether they listen or not– for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
Iain Duguid: The essence of the people’s transgression lies in their rebellion, that is, their refusal to recognize God’s sovereignty over them. In that attitude they have hardened themselves, externally and internally, becoming “obstinate” and “stubborn” (Ezek. 2:4). Though language will not be a barrier, they will not listen to Ezekiel because they are not willing to listen to the One who sent him (3:7). If responsiveness is to be the measure of success, Ezekiel’s mission is declared a failure before it even begins. But Ezekiel’s mission will be judged by another standard, for even though the people will not listen to his words, yet “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (2:5). That is, when the predicted disasters befall Israel, they will recognize that God had previously warned them of what was about to happen.
David Guzik: Collectively, it is a remarkably negative picture:
• They are the children of Israel, yet often fleshly and grasping like their father Jacob.
• They are a rebellious nation, often more like the Gentiles (goyim) than God’s own people.
• They have rebelled against God and are traitors and rebels.
• They are impudent and stubborn children, like insubordinate teens.
Lamar Cooper: God also described to Ezekiel the character of those to whom he was sent. Four terms were used to define their character. First, previously they were called “rebellious” here and throughout the call narrative (2:3, 5, 6–8; 3:9, 26–27). Except for the use in v. 3, “rebellious” in Ezekiel translates the noun mĕrî (“rebellion”). It usually is found in the expression (literally) “house of rebellion” (2:5–6; 3:9, 26–27; 12:2–3, 9, 25; 17:12; 24:3), although it also occurs independently (2:7–8; 44:6). The final clause in v. 7 is literally “for they are rebellion.” The emphasis is on Israel’s disloyalty to Yahweh their God. The history of the nation was replete with examples of their rebellion against God. From their first episode with the golden calf in Exod 32:1–35 to the introduction of Baal worship in Num 25:1–18 and in later occurrences in 1 and 2 Kings, there was constant recurrence of idolatry. This behavior accelerated after the division of the kingdom in 1 Kgs 12.
In spite of the past history of the nation as a rebellious people, Ezekiel was not to let personal feelings or the hope of visible response from the people become the measure of his success as a prophet.
Second, the term “revolt” (paša, v. 3) was the word often translated “transgress,” meaning to go beyond the bounds proscribed by the law of God, or to betray a trust. Thus the term referred to an act of defiance against the will of God. The people were rebellious because they had revolted against the commands of God.
Third, the people were described as “obstinate” (v. 4) or literally “hard [qĕšê] of face.” This referred to their stubborn selfish will, which totally disregarded the commands of God’s Word. This stubbornness was further reinforced by the fact that even though the prophet brought a message from God, it made no difference in their behavior.
Fourth, the term “stubborn” reinforced the third characteristic and is literally “firm [ḥizqê, a synonym of qĕšê] of heart.” The word “heart” (lev) is most often used in the Old Testament to refer to the “will” or center of volition. Thus the people were described as motivated by a fixed, stubborn self-will that dismissed the will of God as irrelevant.
With the message destined for such an unwelcome audience, there should be no surprise that God warned the prophet of the rejection he would face. His success would not be measured in terms of the people’s response but in terms of his obedience. Though he was told that no one would welcome his messages from God, the prophet still was responsible for delivering them. Once delivered, the messages placed the burden of response on the people (v. 5).
Daniel Block: Yahweh offers no illusions of glory. Israel is a household in revolt against its God. Ezekiel should therefore not be surprised if they reject his message. But neither is he to lose heart. His calling is simple: to declare the messages of Yahweh, irrespective of audience response, and to trust God for his security. The only reward offered for his effort and grief is that when all is said and done, his people will recognize that a true prophet (nābîʾ) has been among them (v. 5). This vindication will obviously not come through masses of repentant converts, and probably not through the commendation of other prophets. All that remains is the traditional sign of a true prophet—the fulfillment of his predictions. But this requires a limited chronological range for at least some of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Little does the prophet realize that by the time he passes from the scene, his world and the world of his people will have been turned upside down—all in fulfillment of his word. And when the prophet’s word will be fulfilled, the character of God will be vindicated.
D. (:6-7) Staying the Course Despite Antagonism and Threats and Rejection
1. (:6) No Deviation from the Mission Due to Fear and Opposition
“And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words,
though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions;
neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence,
for they are a rebellious house.”
Bruce Hurt: God warns Ezekiel that his job description will not be the proverbial “bed of roses”.
2. (:7) No Deviation from the Message Due to Rejection
“But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not,
for they are rebellious.”
Leslie Allen: Ezekiel is fully briefed on the negative reactions of his audience, so that their antagonism would be no shock that reduced him to panic and consequently to abandonment of his prophetic task. He is strongly urged—even ordered—not to succumb to the fear that would be a natural reaction to so daunting an audience as their characterizations in vv 4a and 5aβ had indicated they would be. Unlike Jeremiah at his prophetic call (Jer 1:8, 18), he is not comforted with the promise of Yahweh’s presence or enabling: the latter assurance will, however, be given in 3:8–9. At this point, to be forewarned is to be psychologically forearmed. Thorns are a standard metaphor of hostility (cf. 28:24; Mic 7:4), while sitting on scorpions vividly conveys a sense of shock. Their opposition in demeanor and verbal retort was grounded in their basic antagonism to Yahweh, as a “rebel community” (cf. 3:7). It was no reason for Ezekiel to fail to discharge the mandate of vv 4b–5. He must present God’s message in a forthright, take-it-or-leave-it fashion.
Lamar Cooper: The measure of success in God’s work is not always in terms of the amount and frequency of visible response. Success is to be measured in terms of our obedience to the words, commands, and will of God regardless of the visible results. So the mission of the prophet was to proclaim the word of God to a rebellious and unresponsive Israel.
John Taylor: Ezekiel is scarcely given an opportunity to make excuses for himself, in the tradition of Moses (Exod. 3:11–4:17) and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:6), for God immediately forestalls any hesitations by giving him an exhortation to take courage (2:6–8), followed by a foretaste of his message (2:9–3:3). This in turn is followed by the promise of the power to persevere in the face of opposition (3:4–9). To judge from his subsequent ministry, Ezekiel does not give the impression of being anything but fearless. It is almost as if he is immune to the many human reactions of fear and inadequacy and sorrow that dog most of God’s servants. It is therefore all the more illuminating to see the repeated way in which God has to tell him to be free of his natural fears and not to be dismayed at their looks. The verb here is a very strong word, meaning ‘to be shattered’. And the Israelite exiles are described as though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions. The prophet’s feelings will be painfully hurt by the cruel and rancorous treatment he must expect to receive from the exiles in response to his oracles. But it will be easier for him to bear it if only he realizes that such reactions are entirely in character as far as his hearers are concerned, for they are a rebellious house.
Calvin: For some who seem to be sufficiently ready to obey, yet when difficulties and obstacles occur, desist in the middle of their course, and many recede altogether; and some we see who have renounced their vocation, because they had conceived great and excessive hopes of success, but when the event does not answer their expectations, they think themselves discharged from duty, and even murmur against God, and reject the burden, or rather shake off what had been imposed upon them. Because, then, many retreat from the course they had undertaken, because they do not experience the success they had imagined, or had presumed upon in their minds, therefore before Ezekiel begins to speak, God sets before him trials of this kind, and informs him that he would have to deal with a rebellious people.
II. (2:8-10) SYMBOLIC RITE OF COMMISSIONING SUBMITTED TO BY EZEKIEL
A. (:8a) Embrace God’s Word – Don’t Rebel
1. Positive Charge = Listen to God’s Word
“Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you;”
2. Negative Warning = Don’t be Rebellious
“do not be rebellious like that rebellious house.”
Lamar Cooper: After being warned about Israel’s obstinacy he would experience, Ezekiel was instructed to submit to the will of God and to indicate his obedience by eating what God offered to him. If Parunak’s analysis of 1:1–3:15 is correct, this paragraph (2:8–3:3), which contains ten commands, is at the center of the chiasm and is therefore the most prominent paragraph of the entire section. This is because of the critical importance to be played by the Word of God in Ezekiel’s ministry.
B. (:8b) Consume God’s Word – Don’t Spit it Out
“Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.”
Douglas Stuart: The command to eat the scroll given him from God represents both the first act of obedience on the part of Ezekiel and also a divine means of encouragement to the newly called prophet. Scrolls were no more appetizing in Bible times than they would seem to be today. Yet by his obedience to this unusual command, Ezekiel shows himself to have accepted God’s call to be a prophet to his fellow exiles and also demonstrates that he is willing to do whatever God commands him to do as part of the process. The Israelites were in deed rebellious. Ezekiel could not be if he were to serve God responsibly (2:8). The “scroll of a book” (Hebrew, megillat-sēper) would not be a dainty thing but a big, thick papyrus or leather roll. Indeed, Ezekiel reports that “He caused me to eat that scroll” as if it were something he would otherwise expect to choke on and not be able to consume. To his apparent surprise, however, it was as sweet as honey when he actually ate it (3:3).
C. (:9-10) Accept the Message of Judgment – Don’t Sugarcoat it
1. (:9) Presentation of the Message
“Then I looked, behold, a hand was extended to me;
and lo, a scroll was in it.”
Peter Pett: The scroll was handed over by a mysterious hand, possibly one of the hands of the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:8), or even the hand of the One Whose appearance was like that of a man (Ezekiel 1:26). Normally a scroll would be made of papyrus or leather, but this was a heavenly scroll in vision. We do not know what it was made of.
2. (:10) Pathos of the Message
“When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back;
and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe.”
Peter Pett: ‘And he spread it before me.’ A decisive and demanding action that required it to be read at once.
‘And it was written on both sides.’ Normally a scroll would only have writing on one side. This was to indicate that it was overfull and that what was contained in it would be of overflowing measure.
‘And there was written in it lamentations, and mourning, and woe.’ The message it contained was an unpalatable one. It presaged misery to come. And indeed for Ezekiel the next few years would be full of that message. Before building up hope he was first to proclaim the certainty of overflowing judgment. This would result in cries and groaning, weeping, and disasters and judgments. It was only after that that he would be able to offer hope.
Douglas Stuart: Characteristic of Ezekiel’s obligatory preaching would be lamentation, mourning, and woe (2:10). In the Hebrew these words function as synonyms for one another, so there is no suggestion here that his message had three slightly differing facets or the like. Rather, what Ezekiel had to bring to his fellow exiles was a message of bad news, and plenty of it. In fact, when Jerusalem fell in 586 b.c. (ch. 33), God immediately gave to Ezekiel a message of hope for the future of Israel. So his preaching was not entirely negative throughout his career. But the bulk of it was indeed bad news for those to whom it was addressed, the Jews in exile as well as the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem, and the many nations of the Fertile Crescent whose actions in opposing and oppressing one another would not remain unpunished by the Righteous Judge of all nations.
Correspondingly, the faithful communicator of the Word of God has no right to soften the blow that hearing the truth may bring to those caught up in sin. While no preacher, teacher, evangelist, or counselor should want to emphasize the negative out of proportion to the positive, and while the gospel represents by its very essence good news announced to the whole world, there is also the inescapable fact that God has appointed a time at which He will judge the world. There is a hell, and it will receive for destruction those who have rebelled against God. To hide this from people is to do them no favor. Lovingly, sensitively, but honestly and seriously, the warning must be heard along with the invitation.
John Taylor: The point of this description is rather to emphasize the contrast between the apparently unpalatable contents of the scroll and the honey-sweet taste that it left in the prophet’s mouth. This sweetness had nothing to do with the nature of the contents, but came simply from the fact that these were the words of God, who makes the bitterest experience of life sweetly satisfying. Jeremiah expressed the same thought when he wrote: ‘Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart’ (Jer. 15:16; cf. also Pss 19:10; 119:103).