Ezekiel 3

 

 

1 “Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat

this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.”  Eat that thou findest, etc.

The iteration of the command of ch. 2:8 seems to imply, like the words,

be not thou rebellious,” in that verse, some reluctance on the prophet’s part.

In substance the command was equivalent to that of Revelation 22:18-19.

The true prophet does not choose his message (Acts 4:20); his “meat” is to do

his Lord’s will (John 4:34), and he takes what he “finds” as given to

him by that will.

 

2 “So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that roll.

3“And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill

thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it

was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.”  It was in my mouth as honey, etc.

The words remind us of Psalm 19:10; Proverbs 24:13; and again of those of

Jeremiah in the darkest hour of his ministry (Jeremiah 15:16). They are

reproduced yet more closely by John (Revelation 10:9). There is, after the first

terror is over, an infinite sweetness in the thought of being a fellow worker

with God, of speaking His words and not our own. In the case of John,

the first sweetness was changed to bitterness as soon as he had eaten it;

and this is, perhaps, implied here also in v. 14. The first ecstatic joy

passed away, and the former sense of the awfulness of the work returned.

 

The Bread of Heaven (v. 3; ch. 2:9)

 

The appetites of the human body may be regarded by us as pictures and

symbols of the inner hunger of the spirit. Not more surely does the body

cry out for food than does the inner man crave for truth. He only who has

created this complex frame can meet its varied wants.

 

  • THE HUNGER OF THE SOUL. As the emotional element in man cries

out for friendship, as the intellectual asks for knowledge, so the spiritual

element eagerly asks after God’s will. “Lord, what wilt  thou have me to

do?” To be out of harmony with God is misery to the soul. To be ignorant

of God’s purposes and intentions respecting us must bring perpetual

disquietude. Hence the question in some form, either vague or clear, is ever

rising to the surface, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”

 

  • DIVINE PROVISION. In order to qualify Ezekiel more fully for his

undertaking, a fresh vision was vouchsafed to him. A hand was stretched

out from heaven, containing a parchment roll. In form, it seemed like the

bread that perisheth;” but it was in truth the heavenly manna — the

revelation of Jehovah’s will. Man, at the best, is under the dominance of

animal appetites; and consequently spiritual facts make most impression on

him when presented under material images. But God never deceives. He

unfolded the roll; showed him how full it was of instruction and meaning;

explained to him its real contents, viz. “mourning, lamentations, and woe.”

Like unleavened bread and bitter herbs, this knowledge of God’s will may

be most healthful for men at certain seasons of their life. God’s regard for

us is too genuine and profound for Him to indulge our appetites with

dangerous delicacies. The bitter must come before the sweet, darkness

before light, sorrow before joy.

 

  • PERSONAL DIGESTION REQUIRED. The command is heard, “Eat

that I give thee.” “Fill thy bowels with this roll.” A superficial acquaintance

with God’s will is not enough for the prophet’s equipment. He must

observe, learn, masticate, digest, incorporate, the truth. Here is indeed

precious counsel — a Physician’s wise advice. Less food, probably, but

more digestion. Heavenly counsel this, which every disciple should write in

golden letters on his chamber walls. The truth which God gives to men

does not become really theirs until it is assimilated into their own nature

becomes part and parcel of themselves. By examination and reflection and

practical obedience, this truth passes into the very blood and nerve and

fiber of our being. We become the truth — “living epistles, known and read

of all men.”  (II Corinthians 3:2)

 

  • THE TASTE PALATABLE AND PLEASANT: “It was in my mouth

as honey for sweetness.” The regenerate man will welcome all the truth of

God. Whatever God’s will be, he knows that God’s will is right, and that

righteousness must bring blessing and peace. He is not now so blind as to

limit his vision to the narrow present; he compasses, in the sweep of his

eye, the remote and the future. That the prophet learned that lamentation and

mourning were decreed, was an element of hope. Would the Divine Ruler

take such pains with men if He did not intend to do them ultimate good?

The very severity of the treatment implied that health would come at last.

To do the will of God is always sweet to the renewed man. Unless our

spiritual palate is in a diseased condition, every particle of heavenly truth

will be “as honey for sweetness.” “Thy words were found, and I did eat

them; and they were unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.”

(Jeremiah 15:16)

 

 4 “And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of

Israel, and speak with my words unto them.”  5 “For thou art not sent to a

people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of

Israel;  Of a strange speech and of a hard language, etc.; literally, as

in margin, both of Authorized Version and Revised Version, to a people

deep of lip and heavy of tongue; i.e. to a barbarous people outside the

covenant, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Scythians: not speaking the familiar sacred

speech of Israel (compare the “stammering lips and another tongue” of

Isaiah 28:11; 33:19). The thought implied is that Ezekiel’s mission, as

to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), was

outwardly easier than if he had been sent to the heathen. With Israel there

was at least the medium of a speech common both to the prophet and his

hearers. In v. 6 the thought is enlarged by the use of “many peoples.”

 

6 “Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language,

whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to

them, they would have hearkened unto thee.” Surely, if I sent thee to them, etc.

The “surely” represents the Hebrew “if not” taken as a strong affirmation, just as

if in Psalm 95:11 represents a strong negation; compare the use of the fuller

formula jurandi in I Samuel 3:17; II Samuel 3:35; 19:13; and of the same in

Deuteronomy 1:35; Isaiah 62:8; and in Ezekiel himself (ch.17:19). The margin

of the Authorized Version, If I had sent thee to them, would they not have

hearkened, etc.? expresses the same meaning, but is less tenable as a translation.

The thought in either case finds its analogue in our Lord’s reference to Sodom

and Gomorrah, to Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:12-14). Israel

was more hardened than the worst of the nations round her.

 

7 “But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not

hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and

hardhearted.”  For they will not hearken unto me, etc. The words are, as it

were, an a fortiori argument. Those who had despised the voice of

Jehovah, speaking in His Law, or directly to the hearts of His people, were

not likely to listen with a willing ear to His messenger. We are reminded of

our Lord’s words to His disciples in Matthew 10:24-25. Impudent

and hard-hearted; literally (the word is not the same as in ch.2:4), in

Revised Version, of an hard forehead and of a stiff heart. The word “hard”

is the same word as the first half of Ezekiel’s name, and is probably used

with reference to it as in the next verse.

 

The privileges of those who, in this Christian dispensation, hear the gospel of

salvation preached to them, far exceed the privileges of the ancient Hebrews.

To reject the testimony of Christ’s ministers is to reject Christ Himself, as

our Lord has explicitly declared  (Matthew 10:40; John 12:48). The

condemnation and guilt are tenfold when men harden their hearts, not only

against the authority of the Divine Law, but against the pleadings of Divine

love.

 

 

The Awful Consequences of Neglecting the Word of the Lord (vs. 4-7)

 

“And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel,”

etc. Here is a comparison between two possible spheres of prophetic

service — between the Israelites and the heathen (v. 5); between the one

house of Israel and many heathen peoples (v. 6).

 

Both these spheres of service would have presented difficulties in the

way of the fulfillment of the prophets mission. In the case of the heathen

nation or nations there would have been the linguistical difficulty. Ezekiel

would not have understood their speech; they would not have understood

his. European missionaries find this, and have to spend no inconsiderable

time in acquiring the language of those to whom they are sent before they

can begin their great work. In the case of the house of Israel the difficulty

was in their moral condition. It was not that the prophet’s speech was

unintelligible unto them, but that their hearts were hardened against the

Word of the Lord.

 

The liaguistical hindrance to the success of the prophets mission was

far less serious than the moral. Time and patient application would enable

him to surmount the former; but what human skill or assiduity can

overcome the strong prejudice or moral obstinacy of the heart?

 

The mortal hindrance to the success of the prophets mission is

sometimes humanly insuperable. (v. 7.) What is the reason of this, that

the untaught heathen would have attended unto the prophet, while the

privileged Israelites would not hearken unto him?

 

  • THE FAMILIARITY OF THE ISRAELITES WITH THE TRUTHS

PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD DEPRIVED THOSE TRUTHS

OF THE INTEREST WHICH ARISES FROM NOVELTY. The

unfamiliar and the new have great attractions for many minds (compare Acts

17:19-21). Ezekiel had no new fundamental truths to make known unto the

house of Israel. What Moses and other prophets had taught he had to

enforce and apply to their present circumstances. With the general

principles of his teaching they were well acquainted. His message had no

interest to them. But to the heathen his message would have been fresh and

charged with interest. It would have awakened inquiry, etc. And alas! how

many in Christian congregations today are so familiar with the gospel of

Jesus Christ THAT THEY HEED IT NOT!   Things which, compared

with it, are the trifles of an hour, secure their eager attention, while it is

treated as an unimportant and unprofitable thing.

 

  • THE LONG INDIFFERENCE OF THE ISRAELITES TO THE

TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD RENDERED THEM

INSENSIBLE TO THE POWER OF THOSE TRUTHS. They had heard

them without heeding them, until heedlessness had become habitual in

relation to them. They had refused to recognize their importance so long

that now they seemed to them to have no importance. But the heathen

would not have been thus indifferent to these truths. For them they would

have had, not only the interest of novelty, but the influence arising from

their practical relation to their hearts and lives. Is it not to be feared that in

Christian countries at present there are many who, like the house of Israel,

how so long been indifferent to “the glorious gospel of the blessed God”

(I Timothy 1:11) that now it is natural to them NOT TO FEEL ANY

PERSONAL CONCERN FOR IT!   The offer which is repeatedly

disregarded is ere long unnoticed. Warnings which are frequently

unheeded at length cease to be heard.

 

  • THE PRACTICAL OPPOSITION OF THE ISRAELITES TO THE

TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD HARDENED THEIR

HEARTS AGAINST THOSE TRUTHS. They had so long refused to do

the will of God that they had become insensible to the power of his Word.

They were “impudent and hard-hearted”“ stiff of forehead and hard of

heart.” They would not hear the Word of the Lord. But the heathen would

have beard it if that Word had been sent unto them; for they had not

hardened themselves against it. They were accessible to its influence, etc.

This solemn truth receives confirmation from other portions of Scripture.

While the house of Israel rejected their prophets, the heathen of Nineveh

retorted at the preaching of Jonah. Our Lord also confirms this truth in

solemn words (Matthew 8:10-12; 11:20-24; 12:38-42). The history of

modern missions supplies illustrations of the power of the gospel of Christ

to interest and astonish, to attract and fascinate, to convince and convert,

heathen peoples. Yet in this highly favored land there are millions who are

unmoved by that gospel. And of these many, many, we fear, have hardened

themselves against the will and Word of God. They who persist in so doing

become “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19).  Moral power fails to impress them.

They are “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin  (Hebrews 3:13).

When holy authority has no force for men, and Divine threatenings no

awakening power, and truth and righteousness no sacred majesty, and

death and eternity no solemnity, and the deepest, tenderest love no spell

upon the heart, when men are indifferent to these, harden themselves

against these, WHAT MORAL INFLUENCES OF A SAVING

CHARACTER CAN BE BROUGHT TO BEAR UPON THEM?

 

Let us “take heed how we hear  (Luke 8:18).   Let us “Despise not

prophesyings(I Thessalonians 5:20).  Beware of hearing the Word of the Lord

with indifference; for indifference may grow into OBDURACY OF THE HEART

WHICH NO MORAL FORCE CAN PENETRATE!

 

8 “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy

forehead strong against their foreheads.”  I have made thy face strong;

literally, as in the Revised Version, hard. Ezekiel’s name was at once nomen

et omen. Hard as Israel might be, he could be made harder, i.e. stronger, than

they, and should prevail against them (compare the parallels of Isaiah 50:7;

Jeremiah 1:18; 15:20). The boldness of God’s prophets is a strictly supernatural

gift.  Whatever persistency there may be in evil, they will be able to meet it,

perhaps to overcome it, by a greater persistency in good.

 

9 “As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear

them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a

rebellious house.” Adamant. The Hebrew word shemir is used in Jeremiah

17:1 (where the Authorized Version gives “diamond” for a stone used in

engraving on gems. In Zechariah 7:12 it appears, as it does here, as a

type of exceeding hardness. It is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament.

It is commonly identified with the stone known as corundum, which

appears in some of its forms as the sapphire and the Oriental ruby, and also

as the stone the powder of which is used as emery. The special point of the

comparison is, of course, that the adamant was actually used to cut either

flint itself or stones as hard as flint. Neither be dismayed at their looks.

The words indicate the extreme sensitiveness of the prophet’s natural

temperament. He had shrunk not only from the threats and revilings of the

rebellious house, but even from their scowls of hatred.

 

 

Adamant (v. 9)

 

  • WHAT IT IS FOR THE FOREHEAD TO BE OF ADAMANT.

 

Ø      It is external hardness. Zechariah writes of those who “made their

hearts as an adamant stone” (Zechariah 7:12). Ezekiel is not to do

this; he only has his forehead made as adamant. The adamantine

heart is a sign of sin. It is sure to fail in all attempts at spiritual work.

We must feel sympathy with those whom we would help. But it is

possible to have a “tough skin with a tender heart.” Unfortunately,

those people who are pachydermatous are also too often tough hearted.

Yet the forehead of adamant does not imply want of sensitiveness to

the finer feelings. It only means a certain callousness in regard to

external criticism.

 

Ø      It is hardness against hindrances to progress. The adamant is to be in

the forehead, in the front. It is like Christian’s armor, with a good

breastplate, but no protection for his back. We want most strength and

security in advancing.

 

Ø      It is hardiness before the seat of thought. The forehead guards the

brain.  Much may move our hearts, but no human considerations

should shake our convictions.

 

Ø      It is hardness before a vital organ. The brain must be sheltered, or the

life will be forfeited. We may bear attacks on the outworks of our

religious life. The crowning citadel of faith must not be touched.

 

  • WHY THE FOREHEAD SHOULD BE OF ADAMANT.

 

Ø      It is required by the opposition of men. Ezekiel had to face fierce

opponents. The servant of truth must often encounter unpopularity.

If men always speak well of a Divine messenger, there is a suspicion

of weakness in following the popular whims. There must be

unpleasant truths for the faithful preacher to declare.

 

Ø      It is necessary for success. The prophet must guide, mold, influence

men. If he is but a weather cock, his mission has failed. Often he

must set himself like a rock in the middle of a raging torrent. Decision

and firmness are essential in the work of a leader of men. The

Christian minister who is afraid of his congregation has forfeited

all right to be their teacher.

 

Ø      It is demanded by loyalty to God. The prophet is God’s messenger.

The Christian minister is Christ’s servant. To his own Master he

stands or falls.  Obsequiousness (flattery; sweet talk) before men

means a betrayal of the duty owed to God.

 

  • HOW THE FOREHEAD MAY BECOME OF ADAMANT. Many of

the truest servants of God are naturally so sensitive and timorous that they

well need some such assurance as that given to Ezekiel. Now, God had

made His prophet’s forehead as adamant. It is a Divine work. But there

are human ideas through which He works.

 

Ø      God is to be feared more than man. We must remember that

the fear of man… bringeth a snare”  (Proverbs 29:25).

While shrinking from man’s petty anger we risk

the awful thunders of the wrath of God.

 

Ø      Trust is to be put in the protection of God. He wilt not desert

His own agents at the post of peril. When men do their worst,

Almighty aid is at hand. If death is to be encountered, there

is the martyr’s crown beyond.

 

Ø      There must be a deep conviction of the truth of our message. A

wavering mind will not support a countenance of adamant. We must

first be sure ourselves. Then we can dare to face the world. Truth

is the adamant that hardens the forehead against unbelief,

misrepresentation, opposition. It has been well said, “Those men

are strongest who stake most on a deep and worthy conviction.”

 

Ø      An honest kindness of intention will create the firmness of adamant.

Selfishness wavers; sympathy is strong. The murderer’s hand trembles;

The surgeon’s hand is steady, though his patient shrieks under the knife.

When we earnestly desire to benefit people, we can afford to have them

misunderstand us, and perhaps even smile when they cry out against our

unkindness. Mixed motives weaken the front we present to the world. A

pure, unselfish devotion will be brave, strong, firm as adamant.

 

10 “Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall

speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.”

All my words, etc. The stress lies on the first word. The

prophet was not to pick and choose out of the message, but was to deliver

all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Take into thine heart, etc. An

inverted order of the two commands would, perhaps, have seemed more

natural. What we actually find, however, is sufficiently suggestive. The

message of Jehovah is first received into the inner depths of the soul, but in

that stage it is vague, undefined, incommunicable. It needs to be clothed in

articulate speech before it can be heard with the mental ear and passed on

to others. The mouth speaks out of the fullness of the heart.

 

 

The Inpouring of Divine Fullness (v. 10)

 

A great and strong nature is sometimes observed to obtain a vast

ascendancy over others, to communicate opinion, to exercise influence, to

control, to impel, to restrain, to inspire. Now, the prophet is the man to

whom the Lord, who is the eternal Truth and Wisdom and Authority,

stands in such a relation. As is strikingly described in the text, God pours

into the ears and the heart of the prophet the words which are the

expression of His infinite mind and will, and thus fits him to stand as His

own representative before his fellow men. There was no doubt a special

immediateness in this relation between God and the ancient prophets such

as Ezekiel; yet the remarkable language of this passage may justly be taken

as describing the relationship which exists between the Father of spirits and

those whom He has made partakers of His nature and of His truth and life

and love.

 

  • THE ABUNDANCE OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. There is

grandeur in the language here attributed to the Eternal: “All my words

 that I shall speak unto thee.” How can we gather up into one apprehension

all the communications, the words, addressed by God to man?

 

Ø      All nature may fairly be regarded as the speech of Him who, being

at once the Father of spirits and the Author of the universe, makes

use of the works of His hands as the medium by which to

communicate with the beings whom He has endowed with

capacities for knowing Hmself and for sharing in His character.

 

Ø      Man’s moral nature is in an especial manner the organ by which the

Creator reveals His most venerable and admirable attributes; unless

man had a heart to feel, he would remain forever a stranger to the

glorious character of his God.

 

Ø      The text refers undoubtedly to a special revelation accorded to

selected individuals for definite purposes. And although there are

those who would admit the manifestations of God previously

described, and yet would question the reality of a supernatural

revelation, there are good reasons for believing that we are

indebted to such special provision for not a little of our most

precious knowledge of our God.

 

  • THE OBSTACLES TO HUMAN RECEPTIVENESS, These are not

so much intellectual as moral. It is the worldly nature, engrossed with the

pursuits of earth and the pleasures of sense, THAT REPELS DIVINE

COMMUNICATION.   The atmosphere is too dense and foggy for the rays

of Divine righteousness and purity to pierce. It is SIN which makes the ear

deaf and the heart impenetrable so that the words of wisdom and of love die

away unheeded and upheard.

 

  • THE PENETRATION AND OCCUPATION OF HUMAN

NATURE BY THE IMPARTING OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS:

The purpose of the Eternal was that the whole being of the “son of man”

should be taken up and occupied by the words to be uttered. And surely

this is the intention of God regarding, not Ezekiel alone, but every child of

man. There is no obstacle upon the Divine side. On the contrary, the

purpose of infinite benevolence is that our humanity may be receptive of

Divine blessing.

 

Ø      Divine truth is intended to fill the intelligence. In God’s light it is for us

to see light. Truth regarding God and man, and regarding God’s relation

to man, is communicated in wonderful and abundant measure to the

truth-seeking soul, and especially by Him who is “the Truth.”

 

Ø      Divine love is intended to fill the heart.

 

Ø      Divine authority is intended to control the will — the active

nature of man.

 

Ø      And Divine service is intended to fill man’s life, so that the words

of God may produce their perfect fruit in the actions and the habits

of man.

 

11 “And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy

people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord

GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.”

Get thee to them of the Captivity, etc. In ch. 2:3 and here vs.1 and 4

the mission had been to “the house of Israel generally; now it is

specialized. He is sent “to them of the Captivity.” They are the rebellious

house. There is an obvious significance in the phrase, thy people.”

Jehovah can no longer recognize them as His. The words of ch.2:7

are repeated. Here also, even among the exiles, who were better than those

that remained in Judah, he was to expect partial failure, but he was not, on

that account, to shirk the completion of his task. Thus saith the Lord

God; Adonai Jehovah, as in ch.2:4.

 

12 “Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a

great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the LORD from his

place.”  Then the Spirit took me up, etc. The words are to be

interpreted as in ch. 2:2. Luther, however, gives “a wind lifted me

up.” The parallels of ch. 8:3 (where, however, we have the

addition, “in the visions of God”) and ch.11:1 suggest the

conclusion that this was a purely subjective sensation, that it was one of the

phenomena of the ecstatic state, and that there was no actual change of

place. On the other hand, the use of like language in the cases of Elijah

(I Kings 18:12; II  Kings 2:16), of our Lord (Mark 1:12), of

Philip (Acts 8:39), would justify the inference that the prophet actually

passed from one locality to the other. The language of I  Kings 18:46

probably points to the true solution of the problem. The ecstatic state

continued, and in it Ezekiel went from the banks of Chebar to the dwellings

of the exiles at Tel-Abib (see note on ch. 1.), at some distance from it. I

heard behind me, etc. The words imply that the prophet, either in his

vision or in very deed,  had turned from the glory of the living creatures and

of the wheels, and set his face in the direction in which he was told to go.

As he does so, he hears the sounds of a great rushing (Septuagint - σείσμος

seismosearthquake, tempest, rushing - Luther, “earthquake”), followed by

words which, though  in the form of a doxology, uttered, it may be presumed,

by the living creatures, were also a message of encouragement. His readiness

to do his work as a preacher of repentance calls forth the praise of God from

those in whose presence there is “joy over one sinner that repenteth  (Luke

15:10).  We are reminded of the earthquake in the Mount of Purification

and the Gloria, in excelsis of Dante (‘Purg.,’ 20:127-141; 21:53-60). The

words, from his place (belonging, probably, to the narrative rather than the

doxology), point, not to the sanctuary at Jerusalem, which Jehovah had

forsaken, but to the region thought of as in the north (see note on ch.1:4),

to which he had withdrawn himself.

 

13 “I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that

touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against

them, and a noise of a great rushing.” And I heard, etc. There is no

verb in the Hebrew, but it may be supplied from v. 12. We lose in the

English the kissing, or touching, poetry of the original, “each its sister.”

The attitude as of wings raised for flight, and the sound of both the wings

and wheels, implied the departure of the glorious vision, presumably to the

region from which it came.

 

14 “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in

bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was

strong upon me.”  The Spirit lifted me up (see note on v. 12). Here the

Septuagint has the more definite phrase, “the Spirit of the Lord.”

For bitterness (see note on ch.2:3). The heat of my spirit. The first noun is here

translated literally. Elsewhere it is rendered as “wrath” (Deuteronomy 29:23;

Job 21:20; Proverbs 15:11, et al.), “fury” (Jeremiah 4:4).  Here probably it

points to the conflict of emotions — indignation against the sins of his

people, the dread of failure, the consciousness of unfitness.

The hand of the Lord, etc. The word for “strong” is the same as that

which enters into Ezekiel’s name. Taking this and v. 9 into account, there

seems sufficient reason for translating as the Vulgate does, confortans (so

Luther, “held me firm”), at least for thinking of that meaning as implied

(compare Ezra 7:9; 8:18; Nehemiah 2:8; Daniel 10:18). There was

a sustaining power in spite of the “bitterness” and the “heat.” In a more

general sense, as in ch.1:3, it is used as implying a special intensity

of prophetic inspiration, as in the case of Elisha (II Kings 3:15); but this

is the only case in which it occurs with the adjective “strong.”

 

 

The Start in Life (v. 14)

 

Ezekiel here describes the commencement of his active ministry. Hitherto

he has been under preparation, receiving communications from heaven in

vision and word. Now the time has come for him to start on his errand and

begin his work among the captives of Babylon.

 

  • THE PROPHET IS CARRIED AWAY BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD.

Although we need not suppose that Ezekiel was carried up bodily into the

clouds, blown over the fields, and dropped down in the midst of a crowd of

his countrymen, we are not to suppose that his visit to them was any the

less one of Divine impulses. Like Philip the evangelist, when he was taken

from the Ethiopian convert and sent to Azotus (Acts 8:39-40), Ezekiel

felt a mighty power of God driving him to his work. Inspiration does not

only illumine; it impels. The Spirit of God drove Christ into the wilderness

(Mark 1:12). Such an action does not involve forcible constraint

against the will. God only works on men in this way through their wills.

The will of the man is so completely subservient to the will of God that it

no longer acts separately; it voluntarily obeys as though it were but a

Divine instrument. The highest work for God is always done in this way.

Without the mighty spiritual impulse such tasks as God sets His servants

could never be accomplished; but with it the hardest service ends in

success.

 

  • THE PROPHET GOES IN GRIEF AND ANGER.

 

Ø      In grief. The prophet is in bitterness. The cause of his sorrow is that he

is to speak of bad subjects, and to face unwilling hearers. Nothing can

be more painful to a sympathetic soul. If a preacher could delight in

denunciation and take a pleasure in describing the horrors of future

punishment, he would be little better than a demon at heart. A true

preacher of repentance must be a voice of sorrow. Moreover, it must be

painful to a sensitive man to find himself compelled to create

unpopularity for himself by fidelity to his message. His face may be as

adamant; but his heart will bleed.

 

Ø      In anger. Ezekiel went “in heat.” There is a righteous wrath. Christ

could be “moved with indignation” (Matthew 20:24) against cruelty

and hypocrisy. The man who is incapable of this anger lacks power of

conscience. Love must lie at the heart of the servant of God, but anger

at sin and at the wrong of it to God and man may show itself in his

voice and manner.

 

  • THE PROPHET FEELS THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD UPON

HIM. God does not only send His servant; He accompanies him. The Spirit

carried Ezekiel forth; the hand of God was strong upon him all the way.

This hand of God is felt in various ways.

 

Ø      In pushing forward. God thus keeps His servants to the front.

While He is with them He will allow of no cowardice or indolence.

 

Ø      In support. This hand of God is a helping hand, a holding hand, a

supporting hand. God sustains those whom He sends.

 

Ø      In restraint. While pushing His servants on in the right way, God

is ready to hold them back from peril, error, and ruin.

 

Ø      In uplifting. The servants of God may slip and even fall. Then they are

not deserted. The same strong hand which sent them forth lifts them

up and sets them on their feet again. Thus the mighty ever-present

God stands by to help his feeblest servants and lead them on to victory.

 

 

            Human Bitterness and Divine Strength (v. 14)

 

The Prophet Ezekiel would have been more or less than human had he not

felt poignantly the painful commission with which he was entrusted. He

was a patriot as well as a prophet; and his distress and trouble arose not

merely from the discouragement natural to his position and service, but

from his sympathy with his fellow countrymen, his censure of their sin, his

sorrow for their fate. Yet it was not the will of God that his grief should

interfere with the efficiency of his ministry. And the Lord who called him

to his special work chose the occasion of the prophet’s depression as the

occasion of His intervention upon his behalf and for his strengthening. It

was when Ezekiel was in bitterness and the heat of his spirit that the hand

of the Lord was strong upon him. Nor was this experience peculiar to this

prophet; many have, in God’s service, known Ezekiel’s bitterness, and

have, in the time of their bitterness, felt God’s hand upon them, a hand of

encouragement, of guidance, and of blessing.

 

  • THE NATURAL DEPRESSION OF THE DISAPPOINTED

WORKER FOR GOD. The circumstances described in the context are

abundantly sufficient to account for the bitterness and heat of the prophet’s

spirit. Every faithful servant and minister of God can enter, more or less

completely, into his feelings. The conditions of labor are often

discouraging and distressing.

 

  • THERE IS DANGER LEST THE EFFECT OF MENTAL

BITTERNESS SHOULD BE THE CRIPPLING OF THE HANDS FOR

EFFICIENT LABOR. A cheerful mind contributes to efficient toil. Even

if the task be difficult and painful, it will not be well performed if bitterness

and heat of spirit prevail. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah

8:10)

 

  • DIVINE INTERPOSITION CAN IMPART STRENGTH, CAN

ALLAY VEXATION, CAN FIT FOR SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. “The

hand of the Lord,” says the prophet, “was strong upon me.” This

metaphorical expression is full of significance.

 

Ø      Strong to uphold, as a father’s hand sustains his child in a difficult

and dangerous road.

 

Ø      Strong to defend, as the hand of an escort may ward off from his

charge the attack of a foe.

 

Ø      Strong to direct, as the hand of the helmsman may steer the ship

upon her course.

 

Ø      Strong to cheer and encourage, as the hand of the husband may

grasp that of the wife, to comfort and to animate with courage,

in times of common difficulty, sorrow, and distress.

 

Ø      Strong to save, as the hand of a deliverer may rescue a drowning

form from raging floods.

 

15 “Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the

river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there

astonished among them seven days.”  16 “And it came to pass at the

end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,”

At Tel-Abib, etc., We now enter on the first scene of the prophet’s ministry.

The Septuagint leaves the proper name. The Vulgate rightly

translates it as acervus novarum frugum, the “mound of ears of corn” (the

meaning appears in the name of the Passover month, Abib). Luther gives,

strangely enough, “where the almond trees stood, in the mouth Abib”).

Jerome’s suggestion, that here also there was a nomen et omen. and that

those who shared Ezekiel’s exile were regarded as the “firstfruits of the

future, is at least ingenious, and finds some support in Psalm 126:5-6.

The place has not been identified, and its position depends on that of the

river with which it is connected (see note on ch. 1:1). The word

“Tel” is commonly applied to the mounds formed out of masses of ruins,

which are common all over the plains of Mesopotamia. The name in this

case may suggest that the earth had gathered over it, and that it was

cultivated. I sat where they sat, etc. The ministry begins not with speech,

but silence. Our Western habits hardly enable us to enter into the

impressiveness of such a procedure. The conduct of Job’s friends (Job

2:13) presents a parallel, and as Ezekiel seems to have known that book

(ch.14:14, 20), he may have been influenced by it. Like actions

meet us in Ezra 9:3-5 and Daniel 4:19.

 

17 “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel:

therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from

me.”  A watchman unto the house of Israel. The seven days’

session of amazement came to an end, but even then there was at first no

utterance of a message. The word of the Lord came to his own soul, and

told him what his special vocation as a prophet was to be. He was to be a

watchman unto the house of Israel.” He was, like the watchman of a city

on his tower, to be on the look out to warn men against coming dangers,

not to slumber on his post. In II Samuel 18:24-27 and II Kings 9:17-20

we have vivid pictures of such a work. It had already been used

figuratively of the prophet’s work by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:17). The

cognate verb, with the image fully developed, meets us in Habakkuk

2:1. Its use in Hosea 9:8 is doubtful as to meaning, and in Isaiah

52:8 and 56:10 it may be, if we accept the theory of a Deutero-Isaiah, an

echo from Ezekiel. It is reproduced with special emphasis in ch.33:2-7.

More than any word it describes the special characteristic of

Ezekiel’s work. He is to watch personally over individual souls. So in a like

sense, a corresponding word is used of the Christian ministry in

Hebrews 13:17 (compare also for the thought, though the word is not

the same, Isaiah 21:11-12; 62:6; Psalm 127:1). A vivid picture of

the work of such a watchman is found, it may be noted, in the opening

speech of the ‘Agamemnon’ of AEschylus. Give them warning, etc. It is,

I think, a legitimate inference that the prophet acted on the command while

he was with the exiles and before the departure of v. 22, not by

harangues or sermons addressed to the whole body of the exiles, but by

direct warning to individuals.

 

 18 “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest

him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked

way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity;

but his blood will I require at thine hand.”  Thou givest him not warning, etc.

The word, as in the parallels already referred to, is characteristic of Ezekiel,

almost indeed, peculiar to him. Psalm 19:11 may be noted as another instance

of its use. When the watchman saw danger coming, he was to blow the trumpet

(ch.33:3-6). The prophet was to speak his warnings. Thou shalt

surely die; literally, dying thou shalt die. Were the words of Genesis 2:17

in the prophet’s mind? To save his life; literally, for his life, or that

he may live. Shall die in his iniquity. Do the words refer only to physical

death coming as the punishment of iniquity? or do they point onward

further to the judgment that follows death, the loss of the inheritance of

eternal life which belongs to those whose names are written in the book of

life? Looking to the tremendous responsibility implied in the words, we can

hardly, I think, in spite of the questions which have been raised as to the

belief of the Hebrews in the immortality of the soul, hesitate to accept the

latter meaning. Ezekiel anticipates the teaching of Philippians 4:3;

Revelation 3:5; 13:8, if, indeed, that meaning was not already familiar

to him in Exodus 32:32-33. For “in” his iniquity we may, perhaps, read

because of.” The negligence of the watchman does not avail to procure a

full pardon for the evil doer. The degree in which it may extenuate his guilt

depends on conditions known to God, but not to us. In any case, as in our

Lord’s words (Luke 12:47-48), a man’s knowledge and opportunities

are the measure of his responsibility. But the unfaithful watchman has his

responsibility. It is as though the blood of the sinner had been shed. His

guilt may be described in the same words as that of Cain (Genesis 9:5).

Compare Paul’s words in Acts 18:6 and 20:26 as echoes of Ezekiel’s thought.

 

19 “Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness,

nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast

delivered thy soul.”  Thou hast delivered thy soul, etc. This phrase is again an

eminently characteristic one (compare ch.33:9). Here also, though

the words do not necessarily imply more than deliverance from bodily

death, thought of as a judgment for negligence, it is, I think, scarcely

possible to avoid finding in them a “springing and germinant” sense,

analogous to that which we have found in the preceding verse. The dread

warning has for its complement a message of comfort. The judgment

passed on the prophet does not depend on the results of his ministry.

“Whether men will bear, or whether they will forbear,” he has “delivered

his soul,” i.e. saved his life, when he has done his duty as a watchman. The

phrase is noticeable as having passed out of the language of Scripture into

familiar use. A man can say, “Liberavi animam meam,” (I have freed my

soul) when he has uttered his conviction on any question of importance affecting

the well being of others.

 

 

The Watchman’s Office (vs. 17-19)

 

Every servant of God conceives his service in his own manner, under the

special light of his own experience and character. Ezekiel evidently felt the

peculiar solemnity of his position among the children of the Captivity, and

evidently was consumed by a desire to discharge his difficult and painful

duty with fidelity and efficiency. Hence his habit of regarding himself, as

indeed the Divine Spirit prompted him to do, as a watchman set to

admonish and protect the Hebrew exiles in the East. In many respects this

figure sets forth the vocation of every true minister of Christ called upon to

watch for souls as one who must give account unto God.

 

  • THE WATCHMAN’S COMMISSION. The spiritual guardian and

keeper does not undertake this duty at the suggestion of his own thoughts

and inclinations; he is called to it by the voice of God Himself. The word of

the Lord comes unto him. He is stationed where he stands by Divine

authority. He has to listen for the Divine voice, to give heed to every

direction, to be ready to utter such messages as he may receive from

Heaven.

 

  • THE WATCHMAN’S DUTY. This is, generally, to testify to man

according to the instructions he receives. He has to hear in order that he

may speak, to take in the truth in order that he may give it forth. It is,

therefore, not enough that he be attentive and intelligent; he must impart

the tidings, the message, which he receives. He has a ministry, a trust, to

fulfill for the benefit of his fellow men — he has to seek to bring them into

conscious relations with the Father of spirits.

 

  • THE WATCHMAN’S SPECIAL OFFICE FOR THE

REBELLIOUS. Watching for men, the spiritual guardian is bound to

remember the special character of those over whom he is placed. He is not

simply an instructor entrusted with the duty of declaring truth, of

inculcating lessons and precepts. He has to deal with “a rebellious house.”

Hence one great function of the watchman is to warn. Throughout this

book the greatest stress is laid upon this duty. “Warn them from me!” is the

admonition of God to the faithful watchman. The people are in danger

from manifold temptations; and they have to be put upon their guard

against the spiritual perils by which they are threatened. The wicked are to

be warned, that they may repent; the righteous have to be warned, lest they

fall from their righteousness.

 

  • THE WATCHMAN’S RESPONSIBILITY. The office thus described

is indeed an honorable one; but it is difficult and responsible. Much

depends upon the way in which the duty is discharged; the safety of the

people and the acceptance of the guardian are both alike at stake.

 

Ø      The watchman’s fidelity will be rewarded. If he fulfill his duty, he will

deliver his soul, he will be approved and recompensed, promoted and

honored.

 

Ø      The watchman’s unfaithfulness will be punished. If he do not his duty,

others will suffer, but he himself will not escape just retribution. The

blood of the lost will be required at his hand.

 

Those who are appointed to watch for souls must have their ears open to receive

the Word of the Lord; their lips must be open to speak that Word.

 

Here is a lesson for those who enjoy the benefit of spiritual ministrations. It is not

only an awful and responsible duty to watch; it is an awful and responsible privilege

to listen to the watchman’s warning. If the preacher is accountable for his utterances,

the hearer is accountable for the spirit in which he receives those utterances.

Take heed what, and how, you hear!  (Mark 4:24)

 

20 “Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness,

and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he

shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in

his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be

remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”

21 “Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin

not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned;

also thou hast delivered thy soul.”  From his righteousness. The Hebrew

gives the plural, “his righteousnesses— all his single righteous acts that lie

behind. I lay a stumbling block, etc. The word is again characteristic (ch.7:19;

14:3-4).  It occurs in Jeremiah 6:21, and Ezekiel may have learned the

use of the word from him. It is found also in Leviticus 19:14 and

Isaiah 57:14; but the date of these, according to the so called higher

criticism, may be later than Ezekiel. In Isaiah 8:14: the word is

different. The English word sufficiently expresses the sense. One of the

acts of Eastern malignity was to put a stone in a man’s way, that he might

fall and hurt himself Here the putting the stone is described as the act of

Jehovah, and is applied to anything that tempts a man to evil, and so to his

own destruction (Jeremiah 6:21). The thought is startling to us, and

seems at variance with true conceptions of the Divine will (James 1:13).

The explanation is to be found in the fact that the prophet’s mind did

not draw the distinction which we draw between evil permitted and the

same evil decreed. All, from this point of view, is as God wills, and even

those who thwart that will are indeed fulfilling it. Glimpses are given of the

purpose which leads to the permission or decree. In the case now before us

the man has turned from his righteousness before the stumbling block is

laid in his way. The temptation is permitted that the man may become

conscious of his evil (so Romans 7:13). If the prophet preacher does

his duty, the man may conquer the temptation, and the stumbling block

may become a “stepping stone to higher things.” If, through the prophet’s

negligence, he comes unwarned, and stumbles and falls, he, as in the case

of the wicked, bears the penalty of his guilt, but the prophet has here also

the guilt of blood upon his soul. The righteousnesses of the man (here, as

before, we have the plural), his individual acts of righteousness, shall not

be remembered, because he was tried, and found wanting in the essential

element of all righteousness. The highest development of the thought is

found in the fact that Christ Himself is represented as a “stumbling stone”

(Isaiah 8:14; Romans 9:32-33; I Corinthians 1:23). Paul’s solution of the

problem is found in the question, “Have they stumbled that they should fall?”

 (Romans 11:11). Was that the end contemplated in the Divine purpose?

Will it really be the end?

 

 

Responsibility (vs. 15-21)

 

It is a serious thing to be responsible for our own conduct; it is (if possible)

yet more serious to have responsibility for others. The two things are

inseparably intertwined.

 

  • RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM NATURAL RELATIONSHIP.

Relationships are of all kinds — near and remote. No man is completely

detached from others. His life penetrates other lives. A father is responsible

for his children. Brothers are responsible for sisters, and vice versa, it was

not until the demon of murderous hate had strangled the natural instinct of

brotherhood, that the sullen miscreant asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

(Genesis 4:9)

 

  • RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM OFFICIAL POSITION. The

eternal God had exalted Ezekiel to a position of honor in His kingdom;

and high rank is another name for high responsibility. To make this clear to

His servant, God employed comparison, analogy, forcible illustration. On

the city watchman hung the fate of the city — the lives of fellow citizens.

He was exempted from other duties that he might the better discharge this.

For many reasons, some manifest, some hidden, God appoints men, not

angels, to be the exponents of His will to men. Faithful service will be richly

rewarded; the loss of such rewards is a heavy penalty. But responsibility, if

abused, bears a prolific harvest of disasters.

 

  • RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE.

If knowledge is power, knowledge is responsibility also. The light of

wisdom or of science is entrusted to us that it may be diffused. In

proportion to the practical value of the knowledge is the responsible duty

to propagate it.  (“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing

them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20).  Hence the special insight into man’s fallen state, the

subtlety of temptation, and the overwhelming results of impenitence — in

brief, the special knowledge of God’s intention with respect to guilty men

this entails on every prophet and preacher an imponderable

responsibility to be faithful. Men might have been saved had they known

both the generous and the judicial purposes of God; we knew and might

have instructed them.

 

  • RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM POSSIBLE INFLUENCE. To

the utmost extent that we can touch the springs of motive and of action in

our fellow men are we responsible for them. Our responsibility does not

begin and end with the message we deliver. We are to warn men. This

mystic influence we possess over others is reflected from every smile and

tone and feature. Hence temper, motive, fervor, earnestness, are elements

of our power. We warn others by our own abstinence from sin, by our self-

denials, our heavenly-mindedness, our fruitful goodness, our pious walk

and converse. Responsibility ends only when we have exhausted every

method to draw men heavenward.

 

  • RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM THE KNOWN RESULTS OF

NEGLECTED TRUST. The God who has placed His servants in

responsible positions has deigned to inform them what shall be the effects

of neglect and cowardice. To the unwarned wicked the effect shall be

destruction: “They shall surely die.” To the unfaithful watchman the effect

shall be dishonor and loss: “The blood of the unwarned shall be required

at his hand.” The wicked might have died, though warned; but he might

have repented and lived. A diseased man may die, although the remedy be

applied; but if the known remedy be withheld, the blame of that death will

fall on the slothful attendant. God has not seen it to be wise or fitting to

make provision against unfaithfulness in His prophets. If they fail in the

discharge of their momentous functions, no other agency will supply the

room. The impenitent (who have no claim on God for any remedial

measures) will, in such a case, die in their iniquity. For every position of

influence, or honor, or usefulness we hold, “we must give account of

ourselves before God.”  (Romans 14:12)n

 

 

Varieties of Judgment (vs. 17-21)

 

The duties and responsibilities of the prophet as a watchman, which are

here first described, receive more elaborate attention later in the book,

where therefore they can be best studied. The other side of the subject —

that which concerns the guilt and dangers of the people, which is also set

forth in the passage before us — is worthy of grave consideration on its

own account. Let us take that alone now.

 

  • JUDGMENT IS DETERMINED BY PERSONAL GUILT. God is

discriminating and fair. He does not deal out judgment in the gross; each

case is taken in detail. There is to be no wholesale deluge of future

retribution; every man will bear his own share of guilt. There will be

differences between the treatment of one sinner and that of another.

Differences in conduct and circumstances are noted. Temptation is

weighed on the one side; light and opportunity on the other. The child of

the thieves’ den cannot be judged as the son of a Christian home. The

ignorance of the heathen puts them in quite another category in the day of

judgment from that in which the favored inhabitants of Christendom will

stand. There is thus not only a difference between the guilt of different

deeds — as of minor morals or great crimes; there is also a difference in

the guilt of similar deeds committed by people differently situated.

 

  • JUDGMENT IS AFFECTED BY AFTER CONDUCT. The whole

passage treats of this after conduct. It presupposes that sin has been

committed. Yet it shows a variety of possibilities according to subsequent

behavior. We cannot return on the past. History is not to be wiped out.

What is done remains as a fact accomplished. Yet its evil fruit may be

crushed, or it may be eaten to the last bitter morsel. Later conduct may

aggravate the guilt, deepen the black dye, and add to the weight of the

impending conduct. Or it may be such as to lift the load of doom and open

a door of escape. We have to do with a personal God, not with a blind

Nemesis. God rules by law, but this law is not a mechanical system.

Therefore:

 

Ø      There is hope for the worst of men. None need despair.

 

Ø      It is wrong and foolish for the sinner to be reckless. Nobody’s fate is

so bad that it cannot be made worse. Even the vilest sinner may be

warned of the danger of intensifying his already heinous guilt and

multiplying the many stripes which he has already earned. The

possibilities of evil are infinite; so also are the possibilities of

heightened penalties. As there are third heavens and seventh

heavens, so are there deeper and darker and yet more horrible inner

circles of future punishment.

 

  • GUILT VARIES ACCORDING TO THE SINNER’S WARNING

AND HIS TREATMENT OF IT. Here are four possible cases.

 

Ø      The unwarned sinner suffers. He cannot be excused because no

prophet was sent him. On the face of it this looks unjust; but it is

not so, since no man could have been a sinner at all unless he had

known he was doing wrong. Therefore by the light of his own

conscience he must be judged and condemned. Moreover, the

moral degradation of sin in the heathen and in

ignorant people nearer home is a fact that must bring its natural

consequences. If only the pure in heart can see God, the impure must

miss the beatific vision by lack of faculty to receive it. Sin kills the

soul by natural necessity.

 

Ø      The warned sinner who persists suffers a worse penalty. He not only

dies. His blood is on his own head. This must imply an aggravation of

guilt and a consequent increase of punishment.

 

Ø      The fallen righteous man is punished, though he is not warned. His

previous goodness gives him no immunity in present sin. He of all

men can plead no excuse in the lack of warning, for certainly he should

have known his danger. His eyes were once open. He may have been

careless and surprised into sin. But this would not destroy guilt, for

should he not have watched and prayed against entering into

 temptation?

 

Ø      The fallen righteous man who repents on receiving warning is

forgiven.  He is judged by his returning course of conduct. Too

often despair follows the fall of good men, or reckless indifference.

But the grace of Christ is for His own repentant people, as well

as for those who had never known Him.  He who bade His disciples

forgive seventy times seven offences is as long suffering and patient

in His own treatment of genuine penitents among His brethren.

 

22 “And the hand of the LORD was there upon me; and He said unto

me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee.”

23 “Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory

of the LORD stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river of

Chebar: and I fell on my face.”  And the hand of the Lord was there upon me, etc.

There is obviously an interval between the fact thus stated and the close of the

message borne in on the prophet’s soul. Psychologically, it seems probable

that the effect of the message was to fill him with an overwhelming,

crushing sense of the burden of his responsibility. How was he to begin so

terrible a work? What were to be the nearer, and the remoter, issues of

such a work? Apparently, at least, he does not then begin it by a spoken

warning. He passes, at the Divine command borne in on his soul, from the

crowd that had watched him during the seven days’ silence, and betakes

himself to the solitude of the “plain,” as distinct from the “mound” where

the exiles dwelt, and there the vision appears again in all points as he had

seen it when he stood on the river’s bank.

 

24 “Then the spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and

spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine

house.”  Go, shut thyself within thy house, etc. The command

implied that he was to cease for a time from all public ministrations. There

was a time to keep silence, as well as a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7),

and for the immediate future silence was the more effective of the two. It

would, at least, make them eager to hear what the silence meant.

 

25 “But thou, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon thee,

and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among

them:”  26 “And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth,

that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they

are a rebellious house.”  They shall put bands upon thee, etc. Did the warning

mean that the prophet’s hearers would treat him as the men of Jerusalem treated

Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:3; 33:1; 38:6)? Of this, at all events, we have no

record, and so far we are led to the other alternative of taking the words

(as in ch.4:8) in a figurative sense. The prophet would feel, as he

stood in the presence of the rebellious house, as tongue tied, bound hand

and foot by their hardness of heart, teaching by strange and startling signs

only, and, it may be, writing his prophecies. In ch. 24:27, four

years later, and again in ch.29:21, we have a distinct reference to a

long period of such protracted silence. We may compare, as in some sense

parallel, the silence of Zacharias (Luke 1:22). That silence unbroken for

nine months was a sign to those who “were looking for redemption in

Jerusalem,” more eloquent than speech.

 

 

A Prophet Stricken Dumb (v. 26)

 

This is something abnormal, almost monstrous. A prophet is a speaker by

calling. His mission is to use his voice. Something is strangely amiss if he is

to be driven to silence. The occurrence, the causes, and the consequences

of such a phenomenon must be of exceptional importance.

 

  • THE FACT. The prophet’s tongue is to cleave to the roof of his mouth.

If he would speak, he shall not be able to do so. Then, as before the time of

Samuel, the word of the Lord must be “rare” (I Samuel 3:1). Divine

messages cease.

 

Ø      No light. The sun is eclipsed. At noon it is night. Truth sinks into

obscurity. Heaven ceases to have a meaning. Man is left to earth

alone.  (It seems to me as America forsakes God, that life is

not only losing its meaning but its value to secular man!  CY –

2014)

 

Ø      No guiding hand. Left in the dark, people may plunge into quagmires

of error or fall into pits of destruction; there is no warning to keep

them safe.

 

Ø      No commanding voice. Now the people feel free to choose their own

course.  (It is not in man to direct his steps!  Jeremiah 9:23)

 

Ø      No consolation nor message of grace. The prophets were not all

Cassandra, nor was every message a prediction of judgment. These

men were the consolers of the sorrowful. They bore Messianic

messages of hope. Now their words are hushed. If the black

thundercloud is dispelled, so also is the rainbow that spanned it.

 

  • THE CAUSE.

 

Ø      By the power of God. It is God who paralyzes the tongue of His

servant.  This is no matter of willful reticence or sullen silence on

the part of the prophet. If God sends a message, He can also

withhold one. Revelation is not extorted from heaven by cunning

sorcery. It is freely vouchsafed by the will of God, and if He chooses

to hide it, no skill or might of man can extract it. The lips of the

prophet from whom God has withheld a message are as surely

sealed to all new Divine revelation as the lips of a corpse. The dead

can tell no secrets, the uninspired prophet can make no revelation.

 

Ø      On account of mans sin. This is a judicial act. God does not work in

caprice. But neither does He act with mechanical uniformity. He will not

waste His gracious words forever. Christ warned His disciples not to cast

their pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).  How many have heard the

gospel so often and heeded it not, that they may well feel they deserve

to be shut out from hearing it any more! Why should the sower cast his

seed by the wayside again, only to be trodden underfoot or stolen by

the wild birds?

 

  • THE PURPOSE. There must be an object in this cessation of

prophecy, and that object must be more than the mere economy of effort.

God has positive ends in view in all that He does, for He is ever advancing

to larger good, and never simply withdrawing from fruitless fields as

though frustrated and confined to a smaller area. At first the cessstion of

prophecy may be accepted as a relief from inconvenient admonition. It

used to remind men of ugly facts — of sins committed and duties

neglected. Now they are free from its annoying insistence. But presently

other effects may be seen.

 

Ø      To show the value of what was neglected. Though we may not

recognize the fact, the presence of a Divine voice is a great boon —

it is light and counsel and help. Men may learn to value it when

they have lost it. We do not know how precious our friends were

till they are taken from us.  Perhaps we were sometimes irritated

by what they said. Oh that we could have them back now that

we have learned their value! But it is too late.

 

Ø      To speak by silence. Many words have failed. Silence itself may be

eloquent. The very cessation of prophecy may provoke reflection

on the old messages.

 

Ø      To spare the aggravation of guilt. The more words of warning are

unheeded, the worse is the guilt of the rejection.

 

27 “But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt

say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; He that heareth, let him

hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a

rebellious house.”  When I speak with thee, etc. This then, as ever, was the

condition of the prophet’s work. He was to speak out of his own heart.

When the “time to speak” came, words would be given him (Matthew

10:19). And those he would then speak would be as the echo of those in

v. 11. In our Lord’s words (Ibid. 11:15; 13:9) we have, it may

be, a deliberate reproduction of Ezekiel’s formula. The Septuagint, in this

instance, it may be noted, translates the second clause by “ He who is

disobedient (ἀπειθῶν apeithon), let him be disobedient,” which in

its turn finds an  echo in Revelation 22:11.

 

That God should enjoin one of his own prophets to silence is certainly a very thing.

It is evidence of Israel’s unbelief and inattention. When the people

refused to hear, there was a solemn dignity in the refusal of the prophet any

longer to speak.  It is in rebuke of Israel’s attempt to silence the Lord’s messenger. The

people would have their monitor hold his peace; and God gave them their

wish. The silencing of the prophet was judicial. Punishment is a reality; and

severe indeed is the penalty inflicted upon that nation in which the voice of

God’s prophets is silenced. The effects of such sin recoil upon the sinners’

heads.

 

God has different ways of dealing with men; sometimes not only

different, but apparently opposite ways, as in the case before us. And

indeed,:

 

  • one man may be reached and benefited by speech;
  • another man, by silence.

 

In whatever way God deals with us, we are equally and inevitably

responsible. It is indeed in our power to hear or to forbear, i.e. to obey or

to disobey. But to every man faith and obedience bring blessing; and

moreover (which is still more important), they are in themselves right and

becoming. Ours is the privilege; ours is the accountability for its proper use!

 

 

The Silenced Prophet, a Calamity (vs. 22-27)

 

The apparent success of wickedness is a seed of retribution. The people do

not wish to hear, therefore their ears shall be hardened. They gnash their

teeth on God’s prophet, therefore God will remove him into a corner.

 

  • SECLUSION FROM MEN BRINGS NEARER ACCESS TO GOD.

Such experience our Lord Himself passed through. “I shall be left alone;

and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John 16:32).

 “Arise, and go forth into the plain,” said God to Ezekiel, “and I will there

talk with thee”  (v. 22).  It is painful to be hindered and repulsed on a mission

of mercy; but the servant of God may remember that the opposition is not to

him, but to his Master. We naturally love society; we love success; we love to

feel that our influence is moving men in the right direction. Resolute and

persistent opposition is painful; but the friendship of God compensates for

a thousand disappointments. If He smiles, it matters little who may frown.

 

  • THE OPPOSITION OF MEN BRINGS ALL GOD’S HOST TO THE

PROPHET’S SIDE. The glorious vision which Ezekiel had seen on the

banks of the Chebar was repeated in the plain. Representatives of all the

living forces of heaven appeared again as the prophet’s allies. In such a

cause, and with such allied powers, triumph must eventually ensue. Though

repelled, the prophet is not defeated; “Though cast down, not destroyed”

(II Corinthians 4:9).  If He pleased, God could have secured outward and

apparent success for His messenger. He could have smitten with sudden

death the more rebellious, and made the calamity an instrument for impressing

and silencing others. But His wisdom preferred another course. “His thoughts

are not our thoughts”  (Isaiah 55:8).  Ezekiel very likely required yet further

training for his work. We see not the scope and grandeur of Jehovah’s plans at

present;  but by and by we shall be able to say, “He hath done all things well.”

(Mark 7:37)

 

  • THE DEAFNESS OF MEN CURTAILS THE REVELATION

FROM GOD. Men’s pride usually becomes their punishment. They

scourge themselves with their own sins. If they make themselves dear, God

will make His servant dumb. The time will come when they shall earnestly

desire to hear some message from the Lord, but they shall desire in vain.

They may attempt to force the prophet into speech, but they will attempt in

vain. Saul, the first King of Israel, was disobedient to the heavenly voice;

yet when he was entangled in thick dangers, he cried to God, but God

answered not, neither by prophet, nor by vision, nor by Urim or Thummim

(I Samuel 28:6).  “Because I called, and ye refused… I also will laugh at

your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh”  (Proverbs 1:24-26).

Reproof was the kindest message the people could have from God, yet they

understood it not. The hardened soil must be broken up by the plough before

it is of any use to cast in the seed.  The diseased man needs medicine, not

sweetmeats. And when, at times, God does give His prophets a word to utter,

it is only the word of reproof again. He will bring their self-will and pride

again to remembrance. The pearls of His gospel he casts not before swine.

(Matthew 7:6)

 

 

Liberty of Hearing (v. 27)

 

Now we all have liberty of hearing. The use and abuse of this liberty call for some

consideration.

 

  • THE USE OF THE LIBERTY OF HEARING.

 

Ø      All men are free to hear Gods Word. This is not a message for the

priests; it is given to the people. It is not sent to the few elite; it

belongs to the multitude. There is no esoteric doctrine in the

Christian revelation.

 

Ø      All men can understand the Divine Word. Little children can

grasp its most precious truths. Simple folk can receive what is

vital and most valuable. (“And a highway shall be there, and a

way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean

shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those; the wayfaring

men, though fools, shall not err therein.”  - Isaiah 35:8).

The path is such that a wayfaring man, though a fool, may

 not err therein if he follows it with a true heart.

 

Ø      All men have a right to receive Gods Word. It is our duty

to circulate the Bible throughout the world. If God has given

utterances that are intended for all peoples and nations and

languages and tongues, it is the duty of those to whom these

oracles of God have been committed to see that everything is

done to put them within the reach of those who have not

yet received them.  (This is the sole purpose of this web site –

CY 2014)

 

Ø      All men to whom the Word of God has come are under a solemn

obligation to give heed to it. Liberty does not exonerate from duty;

on the contrary, it is the essential condition of the performance of

any duty as such. If God speaks, we can refuse to hearken, but we

ought to listen; and only by thus listening can the Word of God be

of any profit to us.

 

  • THE ABUSE OF THE LIBERTY OF HEARING. It is possible to

forbear, if the hearing is within our own power. God forces no one to hear

His Word. nor does He force any one to enter His kingdom. The Good

Shepherd seeks the wandering sheep, but when he finds it he does not drive

it before Him; He calls it to him, and even then, if the foolish creature is so

madly inclined, it can turn a deaf ear to His merciful voice.

 

Ø      It would be useless to compel a hearing. God does not desire

unwilling service. The revelation that is not welcome can bring

little good. God blesses us through our own acquiescence; in the

rebellious heart the blessing would be soured into a curse.

 

Ø      To be understood, the Word of God must be received sympathetically.

This is not a statement of external facts so much as a light to shine into

the heart. If, therefore, the language of it were dinned into our ears,

syllable by syllable, the spirit, the truth itself, would still remain

outside. We should hear the sounds, not the message they contained.

 

Ø      To refuse to hear the Word of God is to incur a grave responsibility. As

a word of command it requires obedience. To decline to receive the

message is to rebel and disobey. As a word of grace this Divine utterance

offers a boon. To refuse it is to insult the gracious Speaker. It is also to run

the risk of severe judgment when we fail for lack of that which would

have saved us IF WE HAD GIVEN ATTENTION TO IT!   They who

act thus are without excuse. It will be “more tolerable for Tyre and

 Sidon in the day of judgment than for such.  (Matthew 11:21)

 

 

CONCLUSION. Our subject addresses to us solemn admonition as to our

treatment of the Word of the Lord. If we persistently despise or disregard

that Word, He may withdraw it from us, or place us beyond the sphere of

the ministry thereof. Neglected privileges may justly and reasonably be

taken away from those who have neglected them.  “Behold, the days come

saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of

bread, not a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  And

they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they

shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, AND SHALL NOT FIND

IT!”  (Amos 8:11-12).

 

 

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