Ezekiel 3 – The Messenger and the Watchman
A. Receiving the call.
1. (1-3) Eating the scroll.
Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness.
a. Son of man, eat what you find: Ezekiel 2 ended with God giving Ezekiel a scroll full of writing on both sides. Earlier in chapter 2 the prophet was told that he must eat the scroll (Ezekiel 2:8). Now, with the scroll in front of him the command is repeated.
i. “It is specially incumbent on those who have to go forth and speak, to open their mouths and eat the roll. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that, because we are constantly handling God’s Word for the purpose of teaching and exhorting others, we are therefore feeding on it for ourselves. It is possible to acquire an intellectual knowledge of the truth, while the heart is entirely unaffected.” (Meyer)
b. And go, speak to the house of Israel: The eating of the scroll was not just a spiritual experience for Ezekiel. It acted out a spiritual truth: Ezekiel must receive and internalize and digest the word of God before he could be a messenger of that word to the house of Israel.
c. So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll: The context is almost certainly a vision God gave the prophet. He didn’t actually eat a physical scroll, but experienced the happening of it in a vision, sort of a spiritual and divine virtual reality. It was real, but in a vision.
i. “It was in vision doubtless that the prophet did eat the roll, and not in very deed, as the foolish patient did the physician’s recipe.” (Trapp)
ii. “The reader will observe a blurring of boundaries between visions and reality in all Ezekiel’s visions. In any case, the experience is real—so real that the power of the divine word will propel the prophet for more than half a decade as he delivers his relentless messages of judgment to a hardened audience.” (Block)
d. Fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you: Ezekiel wasn’t to merely “taste” or “sample” God’s written revelation. He was to fill himself with it, especially because it was received from God (that I give you).
e. It was in my mouth like honey in sweetness: Ezekiel obeyed, and God caused this unusual food to be eaten. When he did, he experienced it as not only sweet but as sweet as the sweetest thing he could imagine.
i. In a sense, Ezekiel experienced what Psalm 119:103 says: How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! The Bible is filled with passage after passage that anyone with spiritual sensitivity would find sweet like honey. Passages like Psalm 23:1-3, Psalm 8:1, John 3:16, Romans 8:28, or Revelation 22:20 are just a beginning. If one can’t find something sweet and satisfying in such verses, their spiritual taste buds are dulled and defective.
ii. “If the word of God be not very sweet to me, have I an appetite? Solomon says, ‘The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.’ Ah, when a soul is full of itself, and of the world, and of the pleasures of sin, I do not wonder that it sees no sweetness in Christ, for it has no appetite!” (Spurgeon on Psalm 119:103)
iii. “The prophet declared that having eaten the roll, he found it in his mouth ‘as honey for sweetness,’ and by this declaration reveals that whereas the ministry he was about to exercise would be difficult, yet he himself was in perfect accord with the purpose of God and found delight in His will.” (Morgan)
2. (4-9) Strength for a difficult calling.
Then He said to me: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel, not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.”
a. Go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them: Ezekiel’s call as a prophet is once again stated, as in Ezekiel 2:3-5 and 2:7. As a prophet he could not be silent; he had to speak. Yet he could not speak his words, but God’s words to them.
b. You are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel: Ezekiel’s calling was not primarily to the Gentile nations, but to Israel. Jesus would also say that He was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).
c. Had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you: Ezekiel’s focus on his own people made his ministry harder. The Gentiles would have been more receptive to his message, even as Nineveh responded to the preaching of Jonah.
i. “People with prophetic or pseudo-prophetic gifts were regarded with awe in countries beyond their own, e.g. Elisha (2 Kings 5, 8:7-9), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:11-14) and Jonah (Jonah 3:6-10).” (Wright)
ii. “The words are used to point the contrast between the excusable inability of people of a foreign language to understand and the quite inexcusable stubbornness of Ezekiel’s Israelite hearers.” (Taylor)
iii. They will not listen to Me: “A man’s will is his hell, saith Bernard. And it is easier, saith another, to deal with twenty men’s reasons, than with one man’s will. What hope is there of those that will not hear; or, if they do, yet have made their conclusion beforehand, and will stir no more than a stake in the midst of a stream?” (Trapp)
iv. “Ezekiel 3:7 is one of the most dangerous verses in Scripture, though the Bible does not hesitate to include it…. It is a call to intense humility, for fear that we comfort ourselves concerning our off-putting presentation of the truth by calling our rejection the rejection of Christ. Off-putting presentation can lie in our own character as well as in inept words out of season.” (Wright)
d. For all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted: God repeated the description first used in Ezekiel 2:4. Ezekiel needed and received special strength from God for this difficult calling (I have made your face strong against their faces).
e. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead: Israel was committed to their rebellion and rejection of God. Strengthened by God, Ezekiel answered their commitment with a greater commitment on his part. If they were hard in their rebellion, God would make him harder than flint in his courage and integrity.
i. I have made your face strong: “God promised to equip Ezekiel emotionally and intellectually to deal with the anticipated rejection. God had made the prophet’s face and forehead just as hard as theirs. He would be able to ‘butt heads’ with his antagonists.” (Smith)
ii. “Make your face like adamant if their hearts are like adamant; if they are not ashamed to sin do not you be ashamed to warn them; if they are not ashamed of their unbelief, be not you ashamed of your faith in the divine testimony.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “It was certainly a characteristic mark of his ministry that he was able to outlast his opponents and not to be worn down by their apparent intransigence.” (Taylor)
iv. “God didn’t make Jeremiah’s head hard. Jeremiah had a soft heart, and he couldn’t stand up against all the trouble he faced. At one time he even went to the Lord and resigned. Ezekiel is not about to resign. God says, ‘The children of Israel are hardheaded, and I am going to make your head harder than theirs.’” (McGee)
3. (10-11) Receiving the message and going to those who must hear.
Moreover He said to me: “Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ whether they hear, or whether they refuse.”
a. Receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you: The prophet’s work began with receiving. He had to listen and receive everything God said. In the later words of Paul, he needed to receive the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
b. Go, get to the captives, to the children of your people: Having received God’s word, Ezekiel then needed to get among his people, those to whom he would speak. He needed to know them and be among them.
i. “It’s a good thing for the servant of God to be among his people, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, for he can better minister to them when he knows their hearts and feels their pain.” (Wiersbe)
c. Speak to them, and tell them, “Thus says the Lord GOD”: Once he was among his people, Ezekiel then had to actually speak to them God’s word. His job was to deliver God’s message and not one from himself or any other.
d. Whether they hear, or whether they refuse: Ezekiel had to faithfully deliver this message no matter how it was received. His proclamation of it didn’t depend on their reception. Among all the prophets Ezekiel probably spoke in the most unusual and innovative ways, yet it was always to deliver God’s message.
4. (12-15) The conclusion of the vision of the LORD and the living creatures.
Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a great thunderous voice: “Blessed is the glory of the LORD from His place!” I also heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, and a great thunderous noise. So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me. Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
a. Blessed is the glory of the LORD from His place: Ezekiel heard a great thunderous voice behind him say these words, probably from one of the living creatures (cherubim) that came again to his attention. Having been given such a difficult commission, it was important for Ezekiel to remain impressed by and confident in the glory of the LORD.
i. Blessed is the glory of the LORD from His place: “The expression has been retained in Jewish devotions and is to be found in the morning service of the Jewish Prayer Book.” (Taylor)
b. I also heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures: The strange and amazing vision of Ezekiel 1 once again came into view. The sense is that the living creatures and the wheels and all associated with them remained present all the time, but Ezekiel was so focused on God and his own experience of calling that he paid them little attention.
c. So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away: We don’t completely understand what happened to Ezekiel physically or spiritually. He spoke of being taken away, yet he began at the River Chebar (Ezekiel 1:3) and was still there at the end of the vision (I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar).
i. We know what the vision was not. “Ezekiel’s transportation was not a case of hypnotism, autosuggestion, or the parapsychic phenomena of bodily levitation.” (Alexander)
ii. “The prophet was reluctant to leave the scene of his dramatic encounter with God. He was not anxious to undertake the hard service to which he had been assigned. So God took matters into his own hands. Ezekiel felt himself being “lifted up” and taken away by the Spirit of God.” (Smith)
iii. Tel Abib: “This is Hebrew for ‘the hill of ears [of corn].’” (Vawter and Hoppe)
d. I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit: Perhaps Ezekiel was bitter at his lot as a captive, while others still lived and served in Jerusalem at the temple. Perhaps he was bitter at the difficulty of his call. Perhaps he was bitter at the sin and rebellion of the people of Israel. Whatever the exact cause, Ezekiel was bitter, angry, and stunned (astonished).
i. God’s word was sweet to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:3), but he soon experienced some bitterness in carrying out his call.
ii. “Hebrew mar, ‘bitter’, can express fierce temper or anger, as of a bear robbed of her cubs (2 Samuel 17:8); discontentment, as of the Adullamites (1 Samuel 22:2); or wretchedness, as of Job (Job 3:20) and Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:15). Of these possible meanings the associated phrase ‘heat of spirit’ points to anger as the dominant emotion in Ezekiel’s heart.” (Taylor)
e. I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished: Ezekiel did what God told him to do. He said, go, get to the captives (Ezekiel 3:11) and he did. Once among them, he spent seven days stunned by the amazing vision and call of God upon his life.
i. “Perhaps it is not without significance that seven days was the period for the consecration of a priest (Leviticus 8:33) and Ezekiel may have regarded this as the preparation for his ordination to a prophetic priesthood.” (Taylor)
ii. “This was a time of reflection and observation such as many great men of God experienced prior to launching their ministries. Those days of silence changed his attitude about his mission. He learned patience; he came to accept responsibility.” (Smith)
B. The responsibility of a watchman.
1. (16-19) The responsibility to warn the wicked.
Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
a. I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel: God used the figure of the watchman to describe Ezekiel’s responsibility, here and in Ezekiel 33. He fulfilled his role as a watchman not primarily by observing others, but by faithfully proclaiming God’s word and bringing God’s warning to the people. God was gracious to provide a watchman at all.
i. “A watchman: “See therefore that thou be Episcopus, not Aposcopus; an overseer, not a byseer; a watcher, not a sleeper.” (Trapp)
ii. “Ezekiel was not the first to define the prophetic office in terms of a sentry. The 8th-century prophet Hosea makes the identification in Hosea 9:8, and alludes to it in Hosea 5:8 and Hosea 8:1, where he calls for the blowing of the horn. Isaiah 56:10 refers to blind sentries, visionaries who are asleep, presumably false or negligent prophets.” (Block)
iii. There are many who consider themselves watchmen to the people of God today. They watch carefully and look for signs of error or apostasy. There is always a place for those to do what Ezekiel was called to do as a watchman – to hear a word from God’s word and to give them a warning. Yet many who do this focus on the examination of supposed error more than the proclamation of God’s truth. This is a distortion of Ezekiel’s calling as a watchman.
iv. Another way this modern office of watchman may distort the Biblical idea is by untruthful or unfair examination of others in search of error or apostasy. If a watchman alerts people to dangers but does not give an honest and fair report, then he will not be believed when he warns of a genuine danger.
v. “Herodotus telleth of one Euenius, a city shepherd, who for sleeping and allowed the wolf to enter the fold and kill sixty sheep, had his eyes pulled out. God threateneth the like punishment upon sleepy watchmen, idol shepherds. [Zechariah 11:17].” (Trapp)
b. When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning: God explained the sin and the penalty for failing to be a faithful watchman. If God’s message was not delivered, then his blood I will require at your hand. Again, the focus of the watchman’s work is not on the examination of the wicked, but on the faithful declaration of God’s message.
i. His blood I will require at your hand: “Hear it, ye priests, ye preachers, ye ministers of the Gospel; ye, especially, who have entered into the ministry for a living, ye who gather a congregation to yourselves that ye may feed upon their fat, and clothe yourselves with their wool; in whose parishes and in whose congregations souls are dying unconverted from day to day, who have never been solemnly warned by you, and to whom you have never shown the way of salvation, probably because ye know nothing of it yourselves! O what a perdition awaits you! To have the blood of every soul that has died in your parishes or in your congregations unconverted laid at your door! To suffer a common damnation for every soul that perishes through your neglect! How many loads of endless woe must such have to bear! Ye take your tithes, your stipends, or your rents, to the last grain, and the last penny; while the souls over whom you made yourselves watchmen have perished, and are perishing, through your neglect. O worthless and hapless men! better for you had ye never been born! Vain is your boast of apostolical authority, while ye do not the work of apostles! Vain your boast of orthodoxy, while ye neither show nor know the way of salvation! Vain your pretensions to a Divine call, when ye do not the work of evangelists! The state of the most wretched of the human race is enviable to that of such ministers, pastors, teachers, and preachers.” (Clarke)
c. Yet, if you warn the wicked: If Ezekiel did faithfully deliver God’s message, then he would bear no guilt if the message was rejected. The one who rejected the message would die in his iniquity, under the judgment of God. Yet of Ezekiel, faithfully delivering God’s message, it would be said, you have delivered your soul.
i. “A phrase which our fathers often used, is not heard to-day frequently, about the work of the prophet. I refer to the phrase, ‘blood-guiltiness.’ Yet that phrase finds its warrant in this paragraph. There is such a thing. If the wicked die in wickedness for lack of the prophetic word, the prophet is guilty of his blood.” (Morgan)
d. Shall die in his wickedness: This probably has the sense of death in this life, not eternal death – though, of course, most all who would be specifically judged with death in this life would be judged with death in the age to come. Death was part of God’s promised curse for disobedience to the Mosaic covenant.
i. The judgment of death had special relevance in the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. False prophets gave false hope to the people and told them to resist the Babylonians and put their trust in the Egyptians to save them. Those who did this would die either in conquest or exile. The path of safety was an obedient trust in the judgments of God.
ii. “‘Life’ and ‘death’ in this context are to be understood as physical, not eternal, life and death. The concept of life and death in the Mosaic covenant is primarily physical.” (Alexander)
2. (20-21) The responsibility to warn the righteous.
“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.”
a. When a righteous man turns from his righteousness: The previous verses told of Ezekiel’s responsibility to warn the wicked. Then God told him he also had a responsibility to warn the righteous who may stray from God’s path. If Ezekiel did not give him warning, he would share in the responsibility for the sin (his blood I will require at your hand).
i. “The righteous (Heb. saddiq) was essentially the man who showed by his good living his adherence to the covenant. It went without saying that he was dutiful in carrying out the requisite religious observances.” (Taylor)
ii. “Ezekiel admonished the righteous man not to turn from his righteous ways—loyalty to the Mosaic code—and disobey God’s commands; for if he did, he would surely die.” (Alexander)
iii. A stumbling block: “It does not here indicate that God deliberately sets out to trip up the righteous and bring him crashing to the ground, but that he leaves opportunities for sin in the paths of men, so that if their heart is bent on sin they may do so and thus earn their condemnation.” (Taylor)
iv. “The idea that God tests the fidelity of the righteous is a well-worn biblical theme, most graphically presented in the prose story of the book of Job. In the Lord’s Prayer there is a petition that God preserve the believer in the midst of such a test. Elsewhere Ezekiel speaks of stumbling blocks that God has laid in Israel’s path in the form of silver and gold (Ezekiel 7:19) and idolatry (Ezekiel 14:3; 44:12).” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. His righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered: This is the tragic price paid by many righteous men and women who fail to finish well. The real good they have done shall not be remembered. One sin or a short season of sin can easily wipe out an otherwise good reputation.
c. If you warn the righteous man: If Ezekiel were faithful to bring the message and the righteous were appropriately warned and kept from their sin, it would be good for the one who kept the warning (he shall surely live because he took warning), and good for the prophet (you will have delivered your soul).
3. (22-23) Another vision of the glory of the LORD.
Then the hand of the LORD was upon me there, and He said to me, “Arise, go out into the plain, and there I shall talk with you.” So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face.
a. The hand of the LORD was upon me there: For the third time (Ezekiel 1:3, 3:14) Ezekiel experienced this. Once again Ezekiel had to prepare himself to hear and receive God’s word.
b. Behold, the glory of the LORD stood there: Once again, Ezekiel had a vision similar to that which he experienced in Ezekiel 1.
i. “Although this is the third time he sees the kabod, the sight still catches him by surprise and overwhelms him with awe. His relationship with God never becomes familiar or casual—even a commissioned and authorized spokesman must prostrate himself in the presence of God.” (Block)
ii. “First he has a renewed vision of the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 3:22-23). Already, perhaps, he had begun to turn in on himself under the strain that he could foresee was coming. A wise man once said something to the effect that we should take ten looks at Christ to one at ourselves.” (Wright)
4. (24-27) The difficulty of the call restated.
Then the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and spoke with me and said to me: “Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, O son of man, surely they will put ropes on you and bind you with them, so that you cannot go out among them. I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and not be one to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.
a. The Spirit entered me and set me on my feet and spoke with me: As in Ezekiel 2:1-2, God made Ezekiel stand before speaking His word to him.
b. Go, shut yourself inside your house: God told Ezekiel to symbolically act out a message through isolation, inactivity, and silence. There are several different ways this action has been interpreted.
· An acted-out prophecy of what would happen to Ezekiel from the people of Israel as they rejected his message and punished him (Trapp).
· An acted-out prophecy of the doom and helplessness to come upon Israel (Vawter and Hoppe).
· God’s restriction upon Ezekiel, keeping him inactive and silent until the appointed time (Wright, Taylor).
· An illustration of God’s silence toward Israel (Clarke).
c. I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth: To illustrate that Israel had no regard for the word of God, the LORD told Ezekiel not to speak. Possibly, God afflicted Ezekiel with a temporary muteness to illustrate God’s silence to those who will not listen.
d. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth: God would not stay silent forever, and neither would Ezekiel. God would restore his ability to speak and he would fulfill his role as God’s messenger.
i. Ezekiel’s call came over time. “It seems therefore preferable to regard Ezekiel 3:22–27 as the final episode in a protracted period of commissioning which lasted some days and in which there were these various high-point experiences, when God spoke to Ezekiel and the course and pattern of his ministry were gradually unfolded.” (Taylor)
e. He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse: With Ezekiel speaking as he should, delivering God’s message, the responsibility would be on those he spoke to and not upon himself. Israel as a rebellious house would have to answer for their own sin and could not claim they never heard.
i. He who hears, let him hear: “The two Hebrew words, hassomea yisma, lit. ‘let the hearer hear’, or ‘he who hears will hear’ (Ezekiel 3:27), are the prototype for our Lord’s favourite formula: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’.… The hearer’s response is dictated by his inner being.” (Taylor)