THE REINFORCEMENT OF EZEKIEL’S COMMISSIONING STRESSES
• THE VALUE OF THE WORD OF GOD,
• THE RESOLVE TO FAITHFULLY COMMUNICATE GOD’S WORD
• AND THE ACTIVITY OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD
This continuation of the calling and commissioning of Ezekiel progresses from God’s role in feeding the prophet His Word to the responsibility to obey the charge to faithfully proclaim that same Word to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. The degree of difficulty of the mission derives from the rebellious stubbornness of an obstinate nation that has a history of rejecting God’s Word and His messengers. Regardless of the negative response and intimidating opposition, Ezekiel has been supernaturally strengthened and needs to remain faithful in His task. The dynamic activity of the Spirit of God transports the prophet to the banks of the river where his mission will begin after a seven day adjustment period.
I. (:1-3) THE VALUE OF THE WORD OF GOD — THE FAITHFUL COMMUNICATOR OF GOD’S WORD MUST FIRST FEED ON GOD’S WORD
A. (:1) Priority of Feeding on the Word of God
1. First Chew on God’s Word Yourself
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll,’”
2. Then Communicate God’s Word to Others
“and go, speak to the house of Israel.’”
B. (:2) Process of Feeding on the Word of God
1. Responsibility We Have to Prepare to Receive the Word
“So I opened my mouth,”
2. Role of God to Apply the Word to Our Hearts and Minds
“and He fed me this scroll.”
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel was commanded four times to eat the scroll, then to go preach his message to the Israelites. These commands revealed that the message of the Old Testament prophets was external and originated with God. They did not discover the truths they preached through logic or deduction but through divine revelation. Nevertheless, God did not supplant the personality of the prophets through whom he spoke. Their messages also reflected their personalities, backgrounds, and individual character traits. Thus the truths that emerged were neither wholly from the prophets alone nor from God alone but from both. Their messages were divine truths through human channels.
David Thompson: Carefully observe from verse 2 that Ezekiel was fed the scroll by God. God is the One who feeds His people. Understanding God’s Word is a true gift and blessing of God.
C. (:3) Pleasant Impact of the Word of God
1. Internalizing a Difficult Message
“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your stomach,
and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.’”
MacArthur: God’s messenger must first internalize God’s truth for himself, then preach it.
Daniel Block: the event demonstrates the nature of the prophetic office. Ezekiel is not a psychopath but a man filled, nourished, and empowered by the divine word. More than any other prophet, he will embody the message he proclaims, functioning as a sign of its reality and power (cf. 24:24). Herein lies the key to the prophet’s authority: he carries in his own body the word of God.
2. Internalizing a Delicious Meal
“Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.”
Feinberg: Though the message was a bitter and difficult one, he had the joy of knowing he was the channel for the Lord’s truth to Israel. 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.
Charles Dyer: The sweetness came from the source of the words (God) rather than the content of the words (judgment).
Lamar Cooper: When Ezekiel obeyed the command to consume the scroll, he discovered that its taste was sweet though its message was stern (vv. 2–3). The subject of his message was judgment, a message that was just and right in light of Judah’s rebellion and disobedience.
MacArthur: Even though the message was judgment on Israel, the scroll was sweet because it was God’s Word (cf. Pss 19:10; 119:103) and because it vindicated God in holiness, righteousness, glory, and faithfulness, in which Jeremiah also delighted (Jer 15:16). Bitterness also was experienced by the prophet (3:14) in the message of judgment confronting Judah’s rebellion (v. 9). The Apostle John records a similar bittersweet experience with the Word of God in Rev 10:9, 10.
II. (:4-11) THE RESOLVE TO FAITHFULLY COMMUNICATE GOD’S WORD — THE FAITHFUL COMMUNICATOR OF GOD’S WORD MUST BE FEARLESS IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGING RESISTANCE
A. (:4) Commissioned to a Challenging Mission
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel
and speak with My words to them.’”
Lamar Cooper: vv. 4-11 — These verses reiterate the message of 2:3–7. Their unity is confirmed by the parallel phrases at the beginning and end, “Go now to the house of Israel” in v. 4 and “Go now to your countrymen in exile” in v. 11. The focus is on the difficulty of the assigned task and the specific qualities with which God had endowed the prophet to enable him to face opposition. The irony in this passage is its observation that foreigners would have been more receptive to a message from God than were the Israelites. The difficulties of cross-cultural communication are nothing compared to the obstacle of spiritual blindness.
B. (:5-6) The Challenge is Surprising — Not Due to Cross-Cultural Differences
“For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech
or difficult language, but to the house of Israel,
nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. But I have sent you to them who should listen to you;”
David Thompson: This would be one odd ministry. He was being sent to a people who could clearly understand God’s Word in their own language, but they would treat God’s Word as if it were a foreign language.
Bruce Hurt: The point is that Israel was more hardened than the worst of the nations round her. Going to another culture and nation would have been difficult because of the language barrier, the results would have been more rewarding for they would listen to him. It is amazing and sad that those who knew nothing of the One Living God would have been more responsive than those who claimed His Name.
C. (:7) The Challenge Involves Stubborn Resistance
1. Don’t Take the Resistance Personally
“yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you,
since they are not willing to listen to Me.”
Douglas Stuart: Perhaps the key statement in the present passage is found in verse 7, “Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me.” Ezekiel must understand that the rejection he encounters is not ultimately personally directed, though it may appear so. If he speaks only what God has given him, adding nothing of his own making to the inspired word (2:10; 3:4), then he can at least have the confidence that any lack of acceptance of his message is not his fault.
2. Expect Stubborn Resistance
“Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate.”
Bruce Hurt: Obstinate describes the whole house of Israel as fixed and unyielding in course or purpose with the implication of usually an unreasonable persistence in such behavior. The whole house of Israel is perversely adhering to their opinion, purpose, and course (in this case headed for disaster) in spite of God’s reasoning, arguments, and persuasion through his prophets like Ezekiel. In 3:10 Ezekiel by contrast was to have a supple, teachable, tender heart ready and willing to receive all of the Words of the LORD. How is your heart? Tough or tender? Resistant or receptive to His Word.
D. (:8-9) The Challenge is Scary – But God Has Hardened Ezekiel for the Mission
1. (:8-9a) Resolve Enabled by Divine Hardening
“Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces,
and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.
Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead.”
Daniel Block: Yahweh assures Ezekiel that he will equip him fully with the emotional resources needed for the challenge—I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their forehead. Instead of being hardened against God, he will become “Ezekiel” (yĕḥezqēʾl, “God hardens”) in the fullest sense of the name. To emphasize the superlative degree of hardening, Yahweh compares the mettle of his forehead with emery (šāmîr), a form of corundum, the hardest substance known at the time, and here described as harder than flint. This divine hardening rendered realistic Yahweh’s challenge to Ezekiel not to fear or be terrified (tēḥat), emotionally shattered, by the rebellious reaction of his audience.
Charles Dyer: Figuratively “forehead” expresses determination or defiance (cf. Isa. 48:4; 50:7, “face” is lit., “forehead”; Jer. 3:3, “the brazen look of a prostitute” is lit., “a harlot’s forehead”; 48:45). Ezekiel’s determination would not waver when beset by opposition.
2. (:9b) Resolve Required by Opposition and Intimidation
“Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them,
though they are a rebellious house.”
Leslie Allen: vv. 5-9 — The continuation of the basic message in 2:3–4a was concerned with Israel’s fundamental rejection of Yahweh, while the context of 2:7a had to do with Ezekiel’s hostile reception in the constituency to which he was being sent and with the need for an unflinching commitment to his task (2:6). These two themes are now developed together. The three parties of Yahweh, Ezekiel, and Israel would be split adversarially: Israel vs. Yahweh and Ezekiel.
E. (:10-11) The Challenge Requires Faithful Communication of God’s Message
1. (:10) Pay Attention to God’s Authoritative Message
“Moreover, He said to me, ‘Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I shall speak to you, and listen closely.’”
Leslie Allen: Ezekiel also had a part to play in this partnership with Yahweh. His prophetic ministry must be in tune with his rite of ordination. Two lessons are drawn. First, the once-for-all command to digest the scroll in 3:3a was to find a constant counterpart in his inner acceptance of God’s messages. Second, the command to “hear” in that sacramental rite, which was symbolically interpreted as eating with one’s mouth (2:8), must be a watchword for his future ministry.
2. (:11) Proclaim God’s Authoritative Message
“And go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them
and tell them, whether they listen or not, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’”
John Taylor: In the concluding words of his vision Ezekiel hears his sphere of ministry specifically defined as the people in exile (lit. ‘to the Gôlâ, to the sons of thy people’). For all practical purposes the exiles were the house of Israel as far as Ezekiel was concerned; and they were his people for whom he had a responsibility. He was not to be influenced by their reactions to his words, but he was to declare authoritatively a message that was not his own, Thus says the Lord God. At the same time the phrase all my words that I shall speak to you allows for the possibility of further revelations that are yet to come to Ezekiel for him to assimilate and to pass on to his hearers.
III. (:12-15) THE ACTIVITY OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD — THE FAITHFUL COMMUNICATOR OF GOD’S WORD MUST BE DRIVEN BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD
A. (:12) The Activity of the Spirit of God Reinforces the Glory of God
“Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me, ‘Blessed be the glory of the LORD in His place.’”
Douglas Stuart: In verse 12, the statement, “Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place” is apparently the result of a scribe’s copy mistake, at a time when the Hebrew letter mem could easily be mistaken for the Hebrew letter kaph. Thus an original berûm (“as … arose”) was miscopied into barûk (“blessed …”). It would be best, then, to translate “I heard behind me a great thunderous sound [Hebrew, gôl] as the glory of the Lord arose from its place,” which fits the context completely and lets us know that God’s great omnidirectional chariot was taking off and Ezekiel’s inaugural vision had come to an end.
Peter Pett: 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.
David Guzik: Having been given such a difficult commission, it was important for Ezekiel to remain impressed by and confident in the glory of the LORD.
B. (:13) The Activity of the Spirit of God Makes a Lot of Noise
“And I heard the sound of the wings of the living beings touching one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, even a great rumbling sound.”
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel was lifted by the Spirit (v. 12), the same activating force of 2:2. This was a subjective visionary experience like the one experienced in 8:3 when he returned in a vision to Jerusalem. As he was “lifted,” he also heard the sound of the wings of the creatures and the movement of the wheels, suggesting the movement of the chariot throne and the end of the vision (v. 13). The Spirit took the prophet to his place among the captives by the River Kebar at Tel Abib (v. 15). This was the same location identified in 1:1, where only the river was mentioned. But here in v. 15 the name of one city of the exile appears.
C. (:14) The Activity of the Spirit of God Takes Me Out of My Comfort Zone
1. Lifts Me up and Takes Me Away
“So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away;”
2. Stirs My Emotions
“and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit,”
Two possibilities here:
– Ezekiel was wrestling internally with the challenging message of judgment
– Ezekiel was identifying with God’s indignation against the sins of His people
Clarke: translates the verse: “Being filled with indignation at the wickedness and obstinacy of my people, I went, determining to speak the word of God without disguise, and to reprove them sharply for their rebellion; and yet I was greatly distressed because of the heavy message which I was commanded to deliver.”
Feinberg: As Ezekiel was conveyed to Tel-abib, he entered into the spirit of his message, projecting himself into bitterness and intensity of spirit. He assumed the same position as God did toward their sin; like Jeremiah (6:11) he shared God’s indignation against Israel.
3. Controls My Destiny
“and the hand of the LORD was strong on me.”
Douglas Stuart: The bitterness and heat (anger and agitation) that he felt were understandable. His life had been changed by the call of God from what may well have been a quiet, perhaps even comfortably secure existence to one characterized, according to God’s promise, by difficulty, rejection, and hostility. The word “but” should read “and” in verse 14, since the idea of the Lord’s hand being “strong” (Hebrew, hāzāqāh) upon someone is a way of conveying that one has been forced into a difficult set of circumstances. We already learned from 1:3 that the Lord’s hand (control) was on Ezekiel. Now we know that it was not always a pleasant experience.
D. (:15) The Activity of the Spirit of God Disturbs the People Around Me
“Then I came to the exiles who lived beside the river Chebar at Telabib,
and I sat there seven days where they were living,
causing consternation among them.”
Daniel Block: The encounter with God, the digestion of the scroll, the charge to go and preach to an unresponsive audience, the hardening of his forehead, the sound of the throne-chariot, and the pressure of the hand of Yahweh upon him have left Ezekiel in a wretched state—socially ostracized, physically exhausted, and emotionally disturbed.
Lamar Cooper: One other fact that contributed to the overwhelming weight of the moment was the prophet’s declaration, “I sat among them seven days” (v. 15). As a prophet in the midst of the people, he was able to identify their needs and feel the weight of impending judgment. It is a reminder that we must identify with the needs of those who search for God. While we do not participate with them in a godless lifestyle, we must seek to understand their emptiness and alienation if we are to be effective communicators of the words of God.
John Taylor: On the period of seven days (15), compare Ezra’s experience of sitting in a state of horror until the evening sacrifice (Ezra 9:4). Job’s friends sat with him for seven days and seven nights without speaking a word to him (Job 2:13). Saul of Tarsus needed three days without food and vision to recover from his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:9). Perhaps it is not without significance that seven days was the period for the consecration of a priest (Lev. 8:33) and Ezekiel may have regarded this as the preparation for his ordination to a prophetic priesthood. Certainly he was not yet ready to open his mouth in prophecy. A period of readjustment was needed as he sat with his fellow-exiles and allowed the vision and the message to sink in. The message that he had received was a horrifying one, of judgment and misery and bloodshed. What made it even more horrifying was that he had to proclaim it not just to the winds, but to real people whom he knew and liked, who had suffered with him on the long journey from Jerusalem to Babylon, and with whom he had learnt to live in the strange new community of the exiles. ‘Zeal for God becomes tempered and humanized in actual service’ (Davidson).
Charles Dyer: Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory had provided the needed perspective for his task (1:4—2:7). The message he was to deliver was provided by God (2:8—3:11). Then he needed motivation to direct him to the task. That motivation was provided by the ‘hand of the LORD’ (cf. 1:3). He was first guided by the Spirit to his place of ministry (3:12-15); he was then formally appointed as God’s watchman to Israel (vv. 16-21); then the Lord imposed several physical restraints on Ezekiel (vv. 22-27).