God’s Demanding Call, Ezekiel 2—3

Some jobs are harder others.  Some jobs are physically demanding, others are emotionally draining, and some are hard just because they offer no challenge.   The life of the prophet cannot be separated from his job, and without a doubt the job of the Biblical prophet was the most difficult and demanding job in that era.

Ezekiel was a Biblical prophet with a difference.  He did not work in Israel nor did he work in Judah.  But he did preach to his people.  It wasn’t that he worked “out of town,” it was that during most of his ministry there was no Israel and there was no Judah.  His work took place during the exilic period while Judah was either controlled by Babylon or after all of its citizens had been deported to Babylon.  Ezekiel himself was taken away during the second of three deportations.

His ministry began about seven years (on or about 593 BC) before the Temple was destroyed.  Those who remained in Judah were traumatized when their Temple was leveled; the Temple was more than just a “church,” it was where Jehovah lived.  With no Temple, the people had no hope.

Ezekiel’s wife died during the siege of Jerusalem, which was tragic enough, but God forbade Ezekiel a period of mourning as sign to his people that a greater tragedy was occurring—

15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners.”  (see Ezekiel 24:15—24)

Regardless of how poor Ezekiel may have felt, regardless of His personal loss, God needed His man to focus on his mission; nothing was more important than fulfilling the call of God and taking God’s Word to the people.

Life as a dedicated, consecrated servant of God is not an easy life.  It wasn’t easy during Ezekiel’s day and it still isn’t today; which may explain why we don’t see more Ezekiel’s roaming the countryside today.

1.  The challenge of God’s call, 2:1—7

The Appearance, verses 1, 2

Chapter one serves as a kind of preface to Ezekiel’s call with chapters two and three describing the prophet’s call in some detail.

In verse 1 and in over 80 other instances, the Lord addresses Ezekiel as “son of man.”  Of all the prophets, major and minor, only Ezekiel is so addressed.   This title was to serve as a reminder of the frailty and weakness of the man as he humbly stood before the majestic God, his creator.  By using this ascription, the Lord gently reminded Ezekiel that despite his high office as prophet, he was utterly dependent on the power of the God’s Spirit.  It was only through His Spirit that Ezekiel was able to hear the Lord speaking to him.  In fact, the prophet would have been of no use to God whatsoever except the Lord fill his mouth with His word.

In verse 2, the Lord tells His prophet to “stand up.”  It took the Spirit of God to get Ezekiel on his feet; the Spirit entered him and empowered him.  Through the power of God’s Spirit, Ezekiel was physically strengthened for the task that he was called to and that same Spirit enabled the man to hear God’s voice.

The mission, verses 3—7

To the man drafted for prophetic service, the message was clear:  Israel was a rebellious nation.  God had nothing good to say about the nation He called into existence.  Ezekiel referred to them as (literally):  “hard of face,” “hardheaded” and “brazen.”  What other adjectives would fit people who had been judged and found wanting, yet refused to repent or admit their sin?  Their “hard faces” meant that generations of willful rebellion and sinful living had caused their hearts to become hard.

While the commission side of Ezekiel’s call takes up most of chapters 2 and 3, the thrust of his message starts off depressing and gets worse.  The Lord describes His people in a horrible progression of hurtfulness:  from briers to thorns to scorpions.

The message was bad, but the truly disquieting feature of Ezekiel’s calling was that his message was not to be conditioned on his listener’s response (verse 5).  Even if nobody listened, the prophet was to keep on preaching the same message; only then would those stubborn people realize that a prophet had been among them.   If God’s spokesman then had to minister with that kind of single-minded devotion, how important it is that God’s spokesmen today heed that same principle!

In light of the difficult ministry to which Ezekiel had been called, the Lord gave him two directives:  he was not to be afraid and he was to keep on preaching regardless.  Really, the message, as important as it was, was secondary to these main directives, for if Ezekiel failed to be obedient, the message would have never been delivered.

2.  Internalizing God’s Word, 2:8—3:3

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. (3:1, 2)

A true spokesman of God never preaches a message impersonal to him, with which he has never wrestled with personally; over which he had never struggled.  The word a preacher delivers to others has first passed through his own soul.

So it was with Ezekiel.  He was called to speak for God, but first God’s Word had to become part of the prophet.  It was absolutely necessary for the prophet to hear, understand, and assimilate God’s message prior to delivering it to anybody.  His “eating” the scroll symbolized his complete acceptance of the Lord’s difficult message.  The message Ezekiel was to proclaim was written on the scroll; it was like a funeral dirge, full of mourning and lamentation; it was not a joyous message.  Yet even when Ezekiel’s ministry would prove to be difficult and often distasteful, the Lord would cause His Word to be as sweet as honey!  The words of verse 3 bring to mind Psalm 119:103—

103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

3.  Emboldened by God’s call, 3:4—14

The audience, verses 4—7

As it was the later Son of Man, Ezekiel’s great Anti-type, so the prophet was commissioned to go to the House of Israel.  Verse 11 clarifies and limits the extent of his audience—

11 Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”

The people to whom Ezekiel was to preach were not strangers, they were his own people.

Special empowerment, verses 8, 9

Though stiff-necked, rebellious, and obstinate, and though it would have been much easier to take his message to strangers, Ezekiel was to be strong and determined.  This would be no problem for the prophet, because the Lord had prepared him by making him more determined than the people of Israel.  God never sends out his messengers without first preparing them.    Greater is He who was FOR Ezekiel, than the multitude against him!

It may seem strange that God would call such a mild-mannered person as Ezekiel to such a mission.  As we read his book, we see that Ezekiel was a man who shrank from “crossing swords” with those who opposed his message.  He often dramatized his message using symbolic acts rather than words, perhaps because the words were too difficult to speak.  But just as the weeping prophet Jeremiah was given strength for a task not natural to him, (Jeremiah 1:18; 20:7—18), so was Ezekiel.

The ministry, verses 10—14

The Word of the Lord was to literally become part of Ezekiel before he could go and proclaim it, and so he was to meditate on it.  Verse 12 begins the conclusion of his commission-giving vision.  The prophet was raised up by the Spirit to the heights where he heard a final benediction, assuring him that he indeed had seen and heard a revelation of God’s awesome glory.

Did God supernaturally transport the prophet from where he was to where his people were?  Or did Ezekiel witness his people in a vision?  Certainly he had seen a vision and been given a revelation of God, but most scholars believe the latter, and that verses 14 and 15 merely recount the prophet’s objection to his commission.  As Ezekiel was “brought back to earth” and walked among his people, he like all prophets before and after him, struggled with his calling.

We are told it took him seven days to come to grips with what God had called him to do.  All the while, however, the Lord’s hand was on him, suggesting that God was controlling him, as he sat appalled at the condition of his people and the content of his message.  Like any of us, Ezekiel struggled with the very idea of having to deliver such a distasteful, negative message to people who would not receive it.   Many of us would wonder, “What is the point of it all?”  But again, even Ezekiel’s period of mourning and struggle was used by God to teach the onlookers a lesson.  A week was both a period of mourning for the dead (the House of Israel) and also the length of time for a priest’s consecration (Ezekiel).  On his 30th birthday, Ezekiel was being consecrated for the priesthood and commissioned to proclaim his people’s funeral dirge.

The work of the Lord is not always easy or attractive.  Often the Lord calls people to do things way outside their “comfort zones.”  But we can be sure that if we are obedient to our calling, the Lord will more than equip us to perform that which He has called us to.

©  2010 WitzEnd

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