Bible Commentary: Ezekiel 2-3

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Ezekiel 2-3

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Ezekiel's Calling and Commission

We read here of Ezekiel's calling and commission. God begins by addressing Ezekiel as "son of man." This title is used to refer to Ezekiel almost 100 times in the book. The only other uses of the title in the Old Testament occur in the book of Daniel—when the archangel Gabriel addresses Daniel and also to refer to Christ (Daniel 8:17; Daniel 7:13). The original Hebrew expression in these instances is ben adam—which means "son of Adam." The idea is that of a person representative of the human race. Remember that Ezekiel is a priest—a human representative who serves as an intermediary between God and man. A prophet likewise serves as such a representative.

"Son of Man" is used of Jesus Christ in the New Testament 88 times, almost all of these occurrences being references He made to Himself. Jesus also served and serves as a priest—our High Priest, in fact (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 3:1)—and prophet (Acts 3:22, Acts 3:26) and, in many ways, as a representative of humanity. Yet in Jesus' case, the definite article "the" precedes the phrase. Used alone, "son of man" refers to a descendant of Adam. When used with the definite article it means a specific, looked-for representative—the long-awaited Messiah—who, as "the Second Man" or "Last Adam," takes the place of the first Adam. Paul uses this terminology in 1 Corinthians 15.

God commands Ezekiel to stand (Ezekiel 2:1). Then Ezekiel has a transforming experience—God's Spirit enters him and is the agency that sets him on his feet (verse 2). This is no doubt spiritually significant. To stand before God is essentially a metaphor for taking a stand for God. God commands Ezekiel to do so—and then empowers him to do so through the Holy Spirit. As mentioned previously in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary, it is interesting to consider that the giving of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament on the Day of Pentecost was accompanied by the sound of rushing wind and the appearance of fire (Acts 2)—particularly when we learn that this section of Ezekiel was read by the Jews of Christ's day on Pentecost.

God then gives Ezekiel his new job description. He is being sent to people who are not so keen to obey God's voice. The Israelites are a rebellious people. Actually, all people who do not yet have God's Spirit are rebellious by nature (Romans 8:7), but it seems that Israelites generally are more independent and self-willed than many gentile nations (see Ezekiel 3:6-7). Yet Ezekiel is told to give them God's warning message even if they refuse to listen. When the prophecies come true they will know that a prophet of God has been among them—a recurring theme in the book of Ezekiel. Indeed, this would be a witness to them—to deny them the excuse that they were never warned yet also to provide them with a context for later coming to understanding their predicament and perhaps repenting then.

Ezekiel is told to be courageous. During the time of his ministry, he is to expect torment as if from briars and thorns and as if living among scorpions, so great would the animosity against him be. Jeremiah certainly experienced this in a major way. And this brings to mind the words of Jesus just after His final Passover with His disciples. He said His servants should expect to be rejected by men (John 15:18-20). Indeed, as we have seen from the examples of other men of God, the lives of those who have proclaimed God's message have never been easy.

God then utters a surprising warning to Ezekiel: "Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house" (verse 8). Even though Ezekiel was God's inspired servant with God's Spirit, this was still a possibility. After all, he was human like the rest of his people and had been immersed in their culture, with its outlook and attitudes, since childhood. Though now strengthened by God, there was a real danger that Ezekiel could be pulled back into their carnal ways—especially if he gave in to defeat in the face of the hostility and persecution he was going to experience. This should serve as a warning to all Christians today to not be overcome by the pressures of society or by its evil enticements and thereby sink into sin and rebellion against God.

In contrast to rebellion, God tells Ezekiel in the same verse, "Open your mouth and eat what I give you." This signifies being receptive to God. Ezekiel sees a hand stretched out to him with a scroll—no doubt of the ancient kind, written on skins sewed together to make a long piece, which was then rolled up from an end. The writing was usually on one side, but in this case it was on both sides—as if running over—to express the abundance of the lamentations, mourning and woes with which the scroll was filled.

Ezekiel is instructed to eat the scroll, which he does (Ezekiel 3:1-2). However, remember that the account is still that of a vision (Ezekiel 1:1). The eating of the scroll did not actually happen except in Ezekiel's mind. What did it mean? Recall Jeremiah's account of his calling: "Then the LORD put forth His hand [similar to what Ezekiel saw] and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: 'Behold, I have put My words in your mouth'" (Jeremiah 1:9). So in Ezekiel 2-3, the scroll with writing represented God's message that Ezekiel was to proclaim. Eating the words means the prophet accepts them and internalizes them. We see the sentiment repeated in verse 10: "Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears." Here, receiving into the heart replaces receiving into the stomach. It is interesting to note that Holy Scripture, the "word of righteousness," is referred to as food in the New Testament (compare Hebrews 5:13-14; Matthew 4:4). Even today, we still employ the metaphor of "digesting" information.

The words to Ezekiel are, in his mouth, as sweet as honey (Ezekiel 3:3). Yet he is soon in "bitterness" (verse 14). Very similar imagery is presented to us in the book of Revelation, when John is told to take a little "book" from an angel: "I went to the angel and said to him, 'Give me the little book.' And he said to me, 'Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.' Then I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter" (Revelation 10:9-10). In both cases, this seems to express the joy and wonder of initially coming to understand prophecy—followed by the great heartache that sets in when considering the terrible judgments people are going to have to suffer and the abominable sins that have necessitated such punishment (and perhaps anguish over the fact that the message will provoke great hostility and derision).

Ezekiel is commanded, "Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them" (Ezekiel 3:1). This certainly meant the people of Judah in Ezekiel's immediate context, as they are the people to whom he actually proclaimed his message (that is, to a percentage of those in Babylonian exile). But, as we will see in going through his book, many of Ezekiel's prophecies were intended for all of Israel—that is, the northern 10 tribes as well, who had gone into captivity about 130 years earlier. So Ezekiel's commission must be understood in a broader context. He was to "go" to the rest of the house of Israel in a metaphoric sense by sending them a message—His book. He would not personally deliver the message to these recipients. Instead, others would later bear the responsibility of getting the word to them. Jesus Christ sent His disciples to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6). And His disciples today still have that duty.

God informs Ezekiel that even though he speaks the same language as his audience, he should not expect a great response to his warnings. God states that the pagan gentiles who have never known Him would be more likely to listen. Jesus stated essentially the same thing, telling Jewish cities of His day: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes...And you, Capernaum...if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day... The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah" (Matthew 11:21-23; Matthew 12:41).

God states that the house of Israel would not listen to Ezekiel because they would not listen to Him, as when God told Samuel, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Samuel 8:7). Yet God encourages Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 2:6, He had told His servant not to be dismayed by the looks of the people. Now God says He will make Ezekiel's face stronger than theirs: With great intensity and determined will (the rock-hard forehead), he would be able to face them down (Ezekiel 3:8-9). God had similarly told Jeremiah, "Do not be dismayed before their faces... For behold, I have made you this day a fortified city and an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land" (Jeremiah 1:17-18). These are encouraging words for all who preach God's truth to others, since we learn to rely on His strength instead of our own. God helps us to be properly "thick-skinned," being more concerned about His will than the judgments of other people.

Ezekiel is then specifically instructed to go and preach God's message to the Jewish captives in Babylonia (Ezekiel 3:11). In verses 12-13 we are reminded that all the while, this blazing vision of God's glorious throne has been ongoing. The great "rushing wind" sound of the cherubim's wings is again heard. Ezekiel himself is "lifted up" and transported (verses 12, 14). This is evidently still part of the vision, for in verse 15 we find him among those he started out with as the book opened (see 1:1).

The exact location of Tel Abib, or Tel Aviv (not to be confused with the modern Tel Aviv, Israel), is not known—though it is said to be on the River Chebar, which, as noted previously in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary, was evidently a canal adjoining the Euphrates southeast of Babylon.

Ezekiel sits astonished with the captives for seven days. His preaching is not yet started. Rather, he now has to try and assimilate all that God has told him he will be responsible for proclaiming. Interestingly, priests were required to take seven days to be consecrated for their office (Leviticus 8:33). And it is at the end of the seven-day period that God actually places Ezekiel in the position of watchman.

"A watchman in O[ld] T[estament] times stood on the wall of the city as a sentry, watching for any threat to the city from without or within. If he saw an invading army on the horizon, or dangers within the city like fire or riots, the watchman would immediately sound the alarm to warn the people" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Ezekiel 3:16-17). If a watchman failed to do his job and people suffered as a result, that watchman was held accountable. God informs Ezekiel that the only way for him to save himself is to relay God's message—whether or not anyone responds to it. God tells Ezekiel that he will be held accountable for the evil that people do if he doesn't warn them of the consequences.

Isaiah recorded how watchmen of Israel have not done their job. Isaiah 56:10-12 states: "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain. 'Come,' each one cries, 'let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better'" (NIV).

Again, "the hand of the LORD was upon" Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:22). As God instructs, he goes out to the plain—“the wide open plain common in the heart of Babylonia" (Expositor's, footnote on Ezekiel 3:22)—and sees, again in vision, the glorious picture of God's throne he recorded in chapter 1 (Ezekiel 3:23).

Ezekiel is then told to go into his house. He is to live as if under house arrest and must remain in his house unless he is giving a special message from God. In many cases he is to pantomime or act out what is going to happen. There are 25 pantomimes of Ezekiel recorded for us in this book, many of which were stressful and self-sacrificing to carry out. Staying in his house is the first one. God established when Ezekiel would prophesy. Ezekiel was to remain in his house, except when God required him to go outside to dramatize His messages. The fact that he is to remain mute is a restriction against public speaking. It probably doesn't mean that he could never speak in private. This condition of being restrained from speaking publicly would last for almost seven and a half years—until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (Ezekiel 33:21-22). However, as we will see, there were several times during this period that God directed him to speak.