Big Idea: Serve God God's Way.
Ezekiel's Calling (Chapter 1-3). (1) The Vision: An Encounter with God (Ezekiel 1). (2) The Commission and Mission: Driven by a High Calling (Ezekiel 2-3a). (3) The Vocation: A Strange Job Description with Strange Restrictions and Instructions.
“Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house…you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. 26 I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them…” (Ezekiel 3:25-26).
Eze 3:14-15 offers a window into Ezekiel's heart and mind.
- He is bitter (Eze 3:14a). It expresses his mood and contrasts it with the sensation he had enjoyed after eating the scroll (Eze 3:3).
- He is angry (deeply disturbed) (Eze 3:14b). Literally, he was "angry in his spirit." Apparently, Ezekiel is infuriated by the divine imposition on his life and the implications of God's commission for him. The prophet does share some of the hardened disposition of his compatriots.Rather than offering the prophet consolation, or promising his presence, God continued to pressure the prophet with his strong hand (Eze 3:14c).
- He is deeply distressed (stunned) (Eze 3:15). The account ends with Ezekiel sitting for seven days in the midst of the exiles. The word means "to be desolate, appalled" with the range of nuances it conjures: silence, desolation, despair, distress, shock. What may have caused him to have such strongly negative emotions that left him in a wretched state -- socially ostracized, physically exhausted and emotionally disturbed?
- The encounter with God.
- The digestion of the scroll.
- The charge to go and preach to an unresponsive audience.
- The hardening of his forehead.
- The sound of the throne-chariot,
- The pressure of the hand of God upon him.
Thus he sat among his fellow exiles for an entire week, resisting the call of God, but feeling the relentless pressure of God's hand upon him. When called by God Jeremiah did not sit with others but sat alone (Jer 15:17). Ezekiel, however, does not sit alone, and this is his problem. To be used by God he must be weaned from his compatriots. But this separation, this distancing of the prophet from his people, does not come easily. For a week he struggles inwardly with God, with his calling, and with the message he is charged to proclaim. When he submits to God he is a man set apart, under orders from God. His calling (to prophetic ministry) was not only an invitation to be the spokesman for the glorious God; it also involved a sentence to a life of loneliness, alienation and desolation. Physically he lived among his own people, but spiritually he would operate in another realm, a zone governed by divine realities. In the end he emerges a conscript (compulsory service) for the kingdom of God, a man totally possessed of the Spirit of God.
In the 4 case scenarios (3:16-21), the following themes emerge:
- Judgment. Those who reject God's word (covenant) fall under the judgment of God. Ezekiel's words emphasizes the accountability of the individual sinner (Eze 3:18-20). Thus, an individual cannot hold others responsible for his or her own guilt. Although Ezekiel's ministry will be concerned primarily with the nation's fate, Israel's salvation depends on the covenantal fidelity of individual citizens.
- The wages of sin. The wages of sin is death. The wicked are by definition opposed to God and his word and to the covenant. Ezekiel's warning is to members of the authentic covenant community, those who have in the past trusted in God and submitted to his lordship. God's word through Ezekiel establishes the seriousness of perseverance in the faith. It is not how one begins the race that counts, but how one ends.
- The grace of God. The voice of the prophets symbolize the grace of God reaching out to those under the sentence of death. A backslider's righteousness will not be credited to him if he persists in sin, so the previous evil of the sinner will not be held against him if he repents of the error of his way. God is on the side of life, even for the wicked, rather than intent on death.
- Responsibility. With the privilege of being a prophet comes an awesome responsibility for the people under their stewardship. To be negligent in the fulfillment of one's calling and duty is a capital crime. The prophet is to sound the horn not only when God sends the signal but as God dictates. The message of God is that sin and wickedness require a radical prescription: repentance and casting oneself totally on the mercy of God.
- Faithfulness, not success. The messenger of God is called not to success but to faithfulness. God's calling is not "to save souls" (which is God's affair), but to proclaim the message he receives from the word of God. Faithfulness in service is measured not by effectiveness but by fidelity to the divine charge.
God's instructions and requirements for Ezekiel's job--which are restrictive measures--are:
- Go home and shut yourself up in your house (Eze 3:24).
- Your fellow exiles will tie you up with ropes, preventing you from circulating among them (Eze 3:25).
- God will cause his tongue to stick to the roof of his mouth, rendering him speechless (Eze 3:26). This may be a divinely imposed silence, or a call for voluntary self-imposed silence. Yet Ezekiel does address his audience orally, delivering messages he receives from God (Eze 3:27). This suggests that there are temporary suspensions of his malady of speechlessness, or they may represent voluntary utterances of God's word (oracles/prophecies), since one of Ezekiel's primary roles is to function as Israel's accuser. Thus, his speechlessness cannot represent a prohibition on rebuking or pronouncing guilt.
Ezekiel's dumbness and God's explicit denial of intercessory liberty may also represent one or more means of God dealing with his resistance to his calling. For seven days Ezekial sat among his fellow exiles, resisting the call to be God's mouthpiece. This became a seven-year speechlessness (Eze 24:27): one year of divinely imposed speechlessness for one day of self-determined resistance. This formula of one year for one day resurfaces in chapter 4, Ezekiel's first recorded sign-act (Eze 4:4-6). From now on Ezekiel must stifle any impulse to side with his people, or to mediate on their behalf. Through his calling, God had served notice that the fate of the nation was sealed. The sentences of lamentation, mourning and woe cannot be withdrawn (Eze 2:10). By imposing this dumbness God denies him the freedom to avert the fall of Jerusalem either by appealing for a reprieve or calling the people to repentance. Inwardly he may weep for his compatriots and long for their salvation, but personal sentiment may not interfere with his official duty as a watchman/sentry.
Ezekiel's calling and initiation into prophetic office reiterates and strengthens the following themes:
- God is present with his messenger. The glory of God, the visible sign of his divine presence appears at three stages in Ezekiel's call. But the glory symbolizes more than mere presence. It reminds the one who is called of the supreme majesty and sovereignty of the one who has called him, and by association the privilege of the vocation. In spite of the turmoil outside, God's servants may be secure in the knowledge that all is well for them in the hands of the ever-present Lord.
- God's ways are often strange and inscrutable. The drama enacted in Ezekiel's house portrays the complete mastery of God over his servant. God first calls him to preach. Then he closets him away in his own house and ties his tongue. The messenger's role is like that of a puppet on a string. He dare not challenge the ways of God, or even call for an explanation, any more than clay may question the work of the potter (Jer 18:1-6).
- Your mouth should not be interfered by your emotions. The messenger's heart may not interfere with his mouth. His resolve must match the determination of the one whose message he is to announce. The message may not be pleasant or palatable, or even comprehensible. But as God issues the orders, one must respond. At times, a spokesman for God must stifle his or her emotions and the inclinations of his or her heart, not letting personal preference interfere with divine obligation.
- Bear the signs of your calling. The prophet bears in his own body the signs of his calling. Ezekiel is infused with the spirit of him whom he represents and is dedicated to the proclamation of his message.
- After Ezekiel’s glorious encounter with God, how did he feel (3:14-15)? What sensation did he previously have (Eze 3:3)? Why did he now have such strong negative emotions (3:4-11)? Why seven days? Did God give him a choice?
- What do each of these phrases signify and suggest?
- “Son of man” (3:10; 2:1, 3; 3:1, 3, 4).
- “…whether they listen or fail to listen” (3:11; 2:4, 7).
- “…the Spirit” (3:12, 14, 24; 1:4, 20, 21; 2:2).
- “…the (strong) hand of the Lord” (3:14, 22; 1:3).
- “…the glory of the Lord” (3:12-13, 23; 1:28, 1).
- Examine the four case scenarios with the prophet, the accused and their respective fate (3:18-21):
Case Response of Prophet Fate of Prophet Response of Accused Fate of Accused
What do the above four case scenarios teach about:
- The wages of sin?
- The grace of God?
- What are the three rather strange instructions and restrictions that God imposed on Ezekiel (3:24-27)? Why do you think God did this? What can we learn from them?
- Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997.
- Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel, BST (Bible Speaks Today). IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001.