EZEKIEL’S CALL Ezekiel 1–3
“You must speak My words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you” (Ezek. 2:7–8).Ezekiel’s call reminds us that any person who realizes who God is, is obligated by that knowledge to communicate His Word—whether others choose to listen or not.
Ezekiel was a member of a priestly family deported to Babylon with the captives taken there in 597B.C He was 30 (1:1), the age when qualified descendants of Aaron were permitted to take their place as ministering priests, when God appeared to him in a vision and called him to serve as a prophet. The year was 593B.C, and until the destruction of Jerusalem in 586B.C Ezekiel emphasized Judah’s sin, warning of the coming destruction of the Holy City and its temple. This message was as unpopular in Babylon as Jeremiah’s words were back in Judah. The exiles hoped desperately for a return to their homeland; a hope that was encouraged by false prophets. Yet until the people of Judah acknowledged the full extent of their sin, and gave up all hope of divine reprieve, no spiritual healing or restoration could begin. In Judah, Jeremiah called on the nation to repent. In Babylon, Ezekiel emphasized the importance of individual repentance and recommitment. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel would face resistance, and know discouragement. There was little glory in being a prophet whose words brought about little change. Yet like Jeremiah, Ezekiel remained faithful to God. And the words he spoke so long ago have great meaning for you and me today. May we, unlike the exiles among whom Ezekiel lived, hear—and respond.
Ezekiel saw the glory of God in a vision (1:1–28), and was told to speak God’s words to His rebellious people (2:1–9). The reluctant Ezekiel ate a scroll containing God’s words, and was again warned that the Israelites would not listen (3:1–15). Yet Ezekiel was to be a watchman, giving warning, and had to speak when God gave him a message to convey (vv. 16–27).
Understanding the Text
“The likeness of the glory of the Lord” Ezek. 1:1–28.
Ezekiel’s vision has fascinated biblical scholars. It was not unusual for prophets to have visions (cf. Isa. 6). But the content of this vision is unique, and the Hebrew describing it difficult to translate. Briefly, Ezekiel described a great wheeled crystalline platform, resting on four upright living creatures. Each creature had four faces, representing God’s creative work in human, wild and domestic animal, and bird kingdoms. The whole structure moved nimbly but noisily in any direction. Despite the wonder these details may create, the focus of the vision is One seated on a throne resting atop the crystalline platform (called an “expanse” in the NIV). This Person, clearly God, appeared humanoid, but His figure burned so brightly that Ezekiel could see no other details. Even the light surrounding Him, encompassed by rainbow-like radiance, was too overwhelming for Ezekiel to bear, and he fell facedown before the Lord. Artists have toyed with representations of this vision. Scholars have struggled with the Hebrew, and argued alternate translations. Yet Ezekiel moved quickly in his description from the vehicle to its Rider. As awe-inspiring as his details of wheels within wheels and strange living creatures may be, the focus of Ezekiel’s vision is God Himself. It is Ezekiel’s glimpse of God—too glorious to be scrutinized or described—that caused the prophet to fall to the ground in the traditional posture of worship and praise. There are times when our attention is drawn to spectacular settings—grand cathedrals, stained glass, crowds of thousands singing, beautifully staged TV shows—all may perhaps enhance our worship. But at times they may distract our attention from the Lord. The challenge you and I face is to look above these “platforms” for worship, and to view the intrinsic glory of the One they are intended to honor. For our worship to be meaningful, we need to see the Lord and, in awe of His splendor and love, fall down with Ezekiel before Him. “Son of man, stand up on your feet, and I will speak to you” Ezek. 2:1–2. What a stunning verse! “Son of man” here simply means “human being.” In Hebrew “son of” has the meaning, “sharing the nature of.” Here the text emphasizes the fact that Ezekiel, a mere man, is accepted by God! Not only was Ezekiel addressed, but he was told to “stand up.” In the ancient East a person prostrated himself before even a human ruler or overlord. To be told to stand in such a person’s presence was a mark of acceptance and honor. Here God is the One who told Ezekiel, “Stand up on your feet.” Finally, the apparition told Ezekiel, “I will speak to you.” God not only pays attention to a mere man, and lifts him up, but communicates as well! In this one verse we sense the wonder of God’s love for all mankind. God comes to us, for we cannot find or approach Him. He calls to us, despite the fact that we corrupt and puny beings run from Him. He lifts us up, though we should only grovel at His feet. And He speaks to us, communicating His will, that we might participate in bringing righteousness to His universe. It’s good for us to fall down with Ezekiel before the holy God. But it is good too to remember that this God invites us to stand and, even though we are merely human beings, to serve Him as messengers to the rest of mankind. “Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them” Ezek. 2:3–8. Even in biblical times words seemed fearful. It’s not as though Ezekiel were in danger of execution. Or of being put in prison. What Ezekiel had to face was simply harsh and hostile words. Angry words, yes. Ridiculing words, yes. But just words. It’s like this in our day. Fear of witnessing to others isn’t quite rational when we stop to think about it. We’re not likely to be beaten for speaking about Jesus. We’re not likely to be fired from our jobs or lose our homes or be imprisoned. The worst that’s likely to happen is that someone may hurl a few hostile words at us, or talk about us behind our backs. And yet so many Christians are literally afraid to speak out. God didn’t ridicule Ezekiel’s fears, and He doesn’t ridicule ours. He simply told the prophet, whose society was far more hardened than our own, “Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them.” And then God reminded Ezekiel of the obligation which was his because of his own personal experience of the Lord: “You must speak My words.” How people respond to our sharing of the Gospel is irrelevant. God’s command to speak is not. “Eat this scroll” Ezek. 3:1–3. Eating the scroll symbolized digesting and applying the words of God. Only when we have taken God’s words to heart can we share them with others. “You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel” Ezek. 3:4–15. Ezekiel is the model of an unheralded missionary: a man who evangelizes in his own country. Yes, there’s a need for foreign missionaries. But most Christians are called to minister to people in their own society, whose language and customs are familiar. The eager 20-year-old applying to the mission board for overseas service was asked how many people he had witnessed to during the preceding week. His answer was, “Well, none.” How about the preceding month? Six months? Again, the answer was, “No one.” The chairman of the interviewing board then asked him, “Young man, what makes you think being overseas will make you into a missionary, when you do no missionary work at home?”
Watchman, Watchman(Ezek. 3)
Some job descriptions are complicated, and others are relatively simple. To help Ezekiel understand the nature of his ministry, God gave him a title belonging to a person whose responsibilities were absolutely clear-cut. Ezekiel was to serve as a “watchman.” This post, though one with heavy responsibilities, required no special skills or training. In biblical times the watchman simply stood on the city walls and, if any danger approached, raised the alarm to warn the city’s citizens. They then were responsible to rally to the city’s defense. Oh, I suppose a loud voice might be necessary. And the ability to stay awake nights. But beyond that, there wasn’t much to the watchman’s job at all. How was Ezekiel to be like a watchman? Well, he was to warn the people of Judah of impending doom: to shout about the danger that approached. Then it was up to those who heard his cries to heed and deal with the danger. As God told Ezekiel, “If you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin” (v. 19). No one could blame the watchman if the citizens, warned about the danger, plugged their ears, rolled over, and went back to sleep! But the watchman, while his job was easy, carried a heavy responsibility. What if danger approached, and the watchman didn’t cry out? In biblical times that watchman rightly forfeited his life! And so the Lord told Ezekiel, if “you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood” (v. 18). Today it’s helpful if we think of each Christian’s “job description” in the same way. It takes no special qualification to serve our neighbors as a watchman. No seminary degree is required. Not even mastery of Scripture, or great spiritual depth. All that’s called for is awareness that friends without Christ are in terrible peril—and a voice to lift to give them warning. We can’t guarantee that any individual will respond. But if we remain silent, we carry some responsibility for that other’s fate.
A word of warning to another clears us of guilt, and may lead him or her to eternal life.