Where as chapter one was filled with visions of God, these chapters contain the words of God and the command to Ezekiel to receive His word and speak it to the nation n of Israel. We remember the greater context of Ezekiel living with the exiles in Babylon – an exile which came about because of Israel’s persistent rebellion. The chapter opens with Ezekiel by the Kebar river in Babylon and fallen face don because of the awesome visi n of the Almighty that he has seen…and he hears the voice of one speaking.
As far as a structure to these chapters go, it should be seen to include chapter one also. This allows us to see that Ezekiel’s vision bookends the section of 2:1-11 and that 3:16-27, although related, make a separate event.
- 1:4-28 vision of the LORD
- 2:1-7 Speech
- 2:8-3:3 Action
- 3:4-11 Speech
- 2:1-7 Speech
- 3:12-15 vision of the LORD
- 3:16-27 The Call to be a Watchman
The theme of this section seems to revolve around God commanding Ezekiel to take His words and speak to Israel, who are most likely not going to listen – but Ezekiel is to listen. Let’s look at some of the interesting phrases that appear in the text.
“Son of man” This appears several times. It is aimed at Ezekiel and could mean either, he is just a man in comparison to the Almighty voice speaking to him, or it could point to a biblical title for all of Israel. Daniel 7 uses the phrase as a title which we know points to Jesus as the true Israel and the true King on the throne. It’s likely that it simply compares Ezekiel with the Almighty.
“stand up on your feet…the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet…” 2:1-2 The voice commanded Ezekiel to rise (since he was prostrate) and then sends the Spirit to raise him. This is a beautiful picture of God’s command for us to follow and giving us his Spirit to obey. The image is of a ‘dead man’ being raised up – an image that will come again in bulk at chapter 37! Notice the amount of times the Spirit is described as raising and moving (2:2, 3:12, 14, 24). This Spirit was active throughout the vision of chapter one also.
“the Israelites…a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me.” Israel is called rebellious (2:3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3:26, 27), obstinate and stubborn (2:4, 7) and also thorns, briers and scorpions (2:6). This is why Israel is in Exile and why they will be further removed from the land. They are stubborn rebels who will not listen. But they will not be allowed to be punished without warning – this will further mark their doom.
“They and their ancestors.” 2:3 This is not to state that the sin is from their ancestors but that God has been very patient with them.
“Do not be afraid…You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen…” (2:7, see also 10-11). It is not wasted to speak the words of God to the people of God even if the expectation is not to listen. God is with Ezekiel and he is not to fear those he will speak to. God will give Ezekiel a head that is hard as Israel’s heart to protect him and keep him firmly on task. Is this where the expression “he’s a hard headed man” come from?
“But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you…” 2:8. In contrast, this is the expectation of Ezekiel. He will prove to be a very loyal prophet but not without a hiccup. 3:14 seems to suggest that Ezekiel was not looking forward to this assignment. 3:15 places him among the Exiles in Tel Aviv saying nothing and deeply distressed. See below on 3:16.
“…a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll…And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat the scroll…”…So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (2:9-3:3) This is odd. The hand comes from the glory of the LORD and in it is a scroll. These symbolise the message that is to go to Israel by Ezekiel, and they are words of “lament and mourning and woe.” The scroll is full of these words on both sides. Ezekiel is being “spoon fed” the message to go back to the rebel nation. They refused to receive God’s word but Ezekiel is asked to feed on it and fill his stomach (3:3).
Although the words are lament and woe, the taste to Ezekiel is sweet. This is a description of the word of God found also in the Psalms (Psalm 19:10; 119:103). Wisdom is described as honey to taste in Proverbs 24:13-14. This Ezekiel event is replayed in the book of Revelation which describes the message of the scroll to be bitter to the stomach but sweet in the mouth (Rev 10:9-10).
I have an image in my mind of children who refuse to eat what their parents put on the table. They cry and whinge and rebel. But when the hand of the parent stretches out and places the food in their mouth, they agree that the food is yummy to eat. While the word of the LORD that is targeted at Israel is woe and destruction, the word of God contains life and joy to those who will listen and digest it. See the prayer for the week below for an Anglican prayer taken from the Prayer Book.
“I sat among [the exiles] for seven days – deeply distressed. At the end of the seven days…” 3:15-16. Rather than speaking the words of woe to the rebels in Tel Aviv, Ezekiel kept quiet and in distress. This was a massive task for him to do. One man speaking against a nation of rebells and scorpions! These two verses remind me of the prophet Jonah, although Ezekiel didn’t run away. Earlier, in 2:5-6, Ezekiel was reminded that he is not going off to a strange land with strange tongue but to his own people. He is not being asked to do what Jonah did. Actually, this will be harder because a foreigner to Israel would repent and listen!
“I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel.” 3:17. This section from verse 16-27 acts like a second commissioning of Ezekiel. He was commissioned to go and he was sent to the exiles in Babylon but he said nothing. Now, God instructs him on how important for himself it will be to speak. If he stays silent and the people are judged, Ezekiel too will be found guilty. But if Ezekiel speaks, no matter what the outcome, Ezekiel will not be guilty for their blood. See Hosea 9:8 and Jeremiah 6:17 for other times the title ‘watchman’ is used. It is the picture of an eye for the city to see what danger approaches. Isaiah 52:8 has a watchman rejoicing because the Lord returns to Zion but Ezekiel, Hosea and Jeremiah describe the watchmen as keep watch for danger but nobody is listening to them. Ezekiel sees the danger coming and is being asked by God to do his job as a watchman.
“I will hold you accountable for their blood” 3:20. This sounds quite harsh but the warning is for Ezekiel to get on with the task that God has commanded him to do. If he refuses, then judgement will fall on him also. See Acts 20:26-27; 1 Timothy 4:16. Note that the heavy warning in Ezekiel is for Ezekiel. We must remember that this message for God is first and foremost written to that prophet for that time and that reason. Having said that, we ought to take a sober lesson from this principal. If we know that there is judgement coming and remain silent about it, are we serving our King proudly? The guilt of sin remains on the sinner. We, however, ought to be ready to make ways of warning people. See 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. We may not find ourselves guilty of anyone else’s blood, but we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.
Judgement against rebellion did not come from God without more than plenty of warnings. God’s word is sweet and we ought to consume it, listen to it, read it and obey! We should also expect many to not listen to God’s word but this is not an excuse to remain quiet.
- As Christians, we have the word of God and the same choice as Ezekiel to either feed on it or refuse it.
- The word of God is sweet to those who know and fear God but to the rebel heart, it is bitter and full of bad news.
- If God has reconciled you to Christ and you still of air in your lungs, you are God’s representative on earth – his mouthpiece. What kind of words can we be speaking to this generation? In what ways can we bring the gospel to others?
- God is patient with us when we are slow to obey him. But he does desire for us to trust and obey.
- The Spirit of God is with us to do the work of an evangelist.
- When we speak, it is not our mission to make sure a conversion happens as if our souls depend on that. The hearer will either respond and live, or walk away at their own peril. Our prayer is that the Spirit of God does what He does well.
- Especially the ministers of the gospel who have been set apart to preach God’s word – they have the responsibility to preach and teach without fearing what people think, say or do. Not only paid ministers, but especially them! Pray for boldness and courage to fear God more than men!
- Are there any other applications you get from this passage? Is there anything specific that your group could talk and pray about?
Prayer of the week – this is a prayer (a ‘Collect’) copied and pasted from the Anglican Prayer Book.
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.