Ezekiel 2–5. The Commission of God's Messenger.
a Witness to the Exiles.
Key Notes: The reluctant prophet. Resistance and responsibility. A year-long human siege display. A watchman on the wall. When to speak.
As we read in Ezekiel 1:1–28, Ezekiel first received a stunning vision of God, the Theophany, the Pre-incarnate Christ, appearing in judgment on Israel.
2:1–7 Then he was sent to the People of God to be their prophet.
2:8–3:3 He was warned not to rebel. God gave him a book full of sorrows, and told him to eat it. Although he might expect that it would taste bitter, it was sweet and it filled him. It was the Word of God. His prophecy to Israel would be first bitter, but then sweet [good news] at the end.
3:4–11 He was told that the house of Israel would resist his message because they did not listen to God on any account, but that he must be as hard as they and to give out the word of God whether it was accepted or not. His message was to be given to the exiles.
3:12–15 He was upset by his assignment. He felt bitterness, anger, and the pressure of God on him. He was overwhelmed for a week.
3:16–21 He was instructed to be a watchman, warning the people. If he warned the wicked, and they did not repent, he was absolved. If he did not warn the person, and the person died in sin, he was held responsible: "His blood I will require at your hand." He would save himself by saving others.
3:22–23 The vision of God was renewed, in preparation for his difficult first task. His assignment was to act out a set of visual images of Jerusalem.
3:24–27 He was to be housebound, tied with ropes, and speechless. He would make an brickwork image of the siege of Jerusalem. The prophecy was an acted out tableau, rather than a spoken message.
4:1–3 He was to lie on his left side 390 days, on his right side 40 days, equivalent to the years of Israel and Judah's punishment, going back to the spiritual decay under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. IK.14:22–24
4:4–17 He was to eat a near-starvation ration of grains made into 1/2 lb. of bread, and drink 600 ml (2.5 cups) of water daily for 390 days, cooking his food over a dung fire. This was to dramatize the starvation of Jerusalem in the siege. He begged God for relief from using human dung for fuel and was allowed cow dung in its place. [Cow dung is still used for fuel in Asia.]
5:1–5 At the end of the siege, he was to cut off his hair with a sword:
On third of the hair was burned with fire in the middle of the Jerusalem image represented a third of Jerusalem residents that would die of famine and disease.
One third of the hair was sliced with the sword represented a third of the people that would die from the invading army.
One third of the hair was scattered to the wind, with a small amount hid in his robe representing the remnant that would go into exile, but even some of these would end up in the fire. Only a few would be recalled to the land after 70 years in captivity.
The reason for this harsh, devastating prophecy about Israel was that although God had set Israel in the midst of the nations-- at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia--she had done worse than the pagans of the surrounding nations and God had decided to punish her severely. He was furious.
The work of a prophetic witness has two hard components: resistance and responsibility.
•Resistance. Israel will not listen.
Resistance is normal in any area of life. Students do not like to learn. People do not want to change their ways. They hate to admit that they might be wrong. My technician said "I have been a Hindu all my life. Don't tell me I followed the wrong way."
Any salesman--car-dealer, insurance agent-- must be like Ezekiel, thick-skinned, tough-minded, and confident of the message. But most of us are not good at selling and do not like to be rejected. We would rather not talk about the Gospel because we do not want to risk losing a friend or being spurned by a stranger.
Responsibility. This is the harder part. He was obliged for his own good, as well as theirs, to tell out the message. I am not sure what "his blood will I require at your hand" and "You will have saved your life" mean in terms of the Christ's atonement, but there is no doubt that Ezekiel was accountable.
Are we not accountable also? Consider Proverbs.
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
Hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this’,
Does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it,
And will He not requite man according to his work?” (Prov.24:11–12)
"As the Father has sent me,even so I send you." (Jn.20:21)
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men...." (IICor.5:10–11).
"So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us." (II Cor. 5:20)
“And convince some who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 22,23)
Ezekiel was a reluctant servant. He is in the company of many others like Moses, Jeremiah, Gideon, Amos, and Jonah, who found God's service not to their liking. It was bad enough to be in exile. He was upset over the rebellion of Israel and the ruin that was in store. He did not like being singled out. He certainly could not enjoy delivering his first message, lying down, tied up, mute, on starvation rations for more than a year, with the prophecy of Jerusalem’s fall.
But note that Ezekiel's message is not all bad news. Chapters 1–32 have the bad news, chapters 33–48 contain the good news. We Christians also have bad news and good news. The bad news is that we are all sinners and under the judgment of God. Unless people understand that, there is no need of the Gospels good news that Christ came into the world to save sinners.
Ezekiel's job was to be a watchman. The watchman patrols the wall, looking for the enemy, and patrols the streets, looking for thieves, fires, and lost people. He has the big picture. We also must understand our world and as much of foreign affairs, domestic affairs, currents in art, books, theater and movies as we can.
Like Ezekiel, we are to speak when God tells us. That is the hard part of the assignment. How are we to know?
"A word in season, how good it is." When is the "season"? When should we be silent? When is it right to antagonize? How should we address friends, family, and strangers? Christians have been mocked for a hundred years for their sincere, naive evangelistic efforts. (The Moonstone.W. Collins. Doubleday,’64; summary on p.248. Reprinted from‘68.)
The simplest solution is to start each day with God. Ask Him for guidance. Ask Him for someone to speak to. Be in prayer at all times. Have something in hand -- a church business card, or a portion of the Gospel, for occasions when speaking is inappropriate, like interactions with a table-waiter or a grocery-store clerk.
Speaking of being inappropriate, we must beware of harassment. We are careful not press people, or speak to strangers and coworkers if they refuse us. We must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.