1 “Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat
this roll, and go speak unto the house of
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.
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?”
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.
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)
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.”
4 “And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of
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
Isaiah 28:11; 33:19). The thought implied is that Ezekiel’s mission, as
“the lost sheep of the house of
outwardly easier than if he had been sent to the heathen. With
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
was more hardened than the worst of the nations round her.
7 “But the
hearken unto me: for all the house of
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
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
etc. Here is a comparison between two possible spheres of prophetic
service — between the Israelites and the heathen (v. 5); between the one
Both these spheres of service would have presented difficulties in the
way of the fulfillment of the prophet’s 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
begin their great work. In the case of the
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 prophet’s 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 prophet’s 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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
mission had been to “the house of
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
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 –
seismos – earthquake, 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
not only losing its meaning but its value to secular man! CY –
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
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.
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 man’s 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?
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
refused to hear, there was a solemn dignity in the refusal of the prophet any
longer to speak. It is in
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’
God has different ways of dealing with men; sometimes not only
different, but apparently opposite ways, as in the case before us. And
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Now we all have liberty of hearing. The use and abuse of this liberty call for some
Ø All men are free to hear God’s 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
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 God’s 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.
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.
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
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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