A Strange Command

Ezekiel 3

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2017

There are some strange commands in the Bible.  Some do not seem to make any sense and some actually seem immoral. Our pastor mentioned several on Wednesday night.  One example he mentioned was the Fall of Jericho.  God told the Jews to conquer the ancient city of Jericho.  It is in the West Bank today.  It is controlled by the Palestinians.

God said that he delivered Jericho in their hands but they had one problem.  The city was surrounded by huge walls.  It was a huge fortress.  God told them to march around the walls of Jericho for a week.  Blow a trumpet on the seventh day and shout really loud.  That was a strange military strategy but that was what God told them to do.  It worked.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son who he loved on a mountain as a burnt offering.  That did not make any sense. Isaac was Abraham’s only son by his wife.  He was the one through whom the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were to be fulfilled and God said to kill him.

That did not seem right.  In fact, it seemed immoral. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  He told him to marry an immoral woman. That is a strange command for God to give to a prophet.  We see another one in Ezekiel 3.  What happens in this chapter?

Ezekiel gets his call and begins his ministry.  He hears what sounds like an earthquake in this chapter- (3:12-13 ESV).  He sees the Shekinah glory (3:12).  He is teleported by the Spirit.  The Spirit lifts him up and takes him to a different place (3:14).   He also receives some strange commands in this chapter.

After getting a spectacular vision in chapter one, a shocking call in chapter two, God even gives Ezekiel some strange commands.  There are actually two strange commands in this chapter (3:1-3).  God tells Ezekiel to eat a book and the beginning of the chapter.  He tells him to lock himself in his house at the end of the chapter and do not leave it. He actually begins his ministry in silence (3:24-25).

But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, ‘Go, shut yourself within your house. 25 And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people.’”

And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ (ESV)

I am going to say more about this next week but today I want to focus on the strange command found at the beginning of the chapter.  It actually goes back to Ezekiel 2.

You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and EAT what I give you.”

9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, “Son of man, EAT what is before you, EAT this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.”

2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, EAT this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. 4 He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. (2:7-3:4 NIV).

This was a strange command.  Eat your Bible.  Gold told Ezekiel to do that four times.  There are a lot of strange foods in the Bible but this is one of the strangest in Scripture.

We may make our kids eat some strange things, which do not seem very appetizing to them (vegetables).  When they do not want to eat something, we tell them to open their mouths and we spoon feed them.  That is what God did to Ezekiel.  He said, “Open your mouth and eat what I give you” (2:8).  He treated Ezekiel, like parents threat little children.

He gives him a scroll and tells him to eat it.  God did not acts like some parents.  Some parents tell their kids to try it food and if they do not like it, they do not have to eat it.  God tells Ezekiel he has to eat it and feeds it to him.  A prophet eats paper.  Gary Owen, who is a member of our Sunday School class, called this “the first soul food.”

Did Ezekiel Literally Eat a Book?

That raises an interesting question.  Did John literally eat a book? This scroll was NOT made of chocolate, although it did taste sweet.  It was a papyrus scroll.  Was this literal?  Did God command Ezekiel to eat paper?

Of course it was literal.  Ezekiel says that God gave him a scroll to eat it and he ate it. Ezekiel even tells us what it tasted like in his mouth.  On the other hand, this happened in a vision.  One scholar called this “the scroll vision” (Brownlee).  It takes place in an apocalyptic book.

There are two people that God told to eat scrolls in the Bible, Ezekiel and John.  The Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation are apocalyptic.  There is a lot of visions and symbolism in both books.  In this vision, God gave him a book to eat and he ate it.  It was an edible book.

This was both literal AND symbolic.  If you eat the pages of an ordinary book, you do not assimilate the contents.  You just eat paper.  Ezekiel got the contents of the book when he ate it (mourning, lamentation and woe).  This book was as sweet as honey.  Ordinary paper does not taste like this and cannot even be digested.

Modern Application to this Command

What was the point of this command?  Got tells Ezekiel to do three things in Ezekiel 3:1- EAT, GO and SPEAK.  Notice these three commands.  There is a definite order.  “Eat and then go speak to rebellious Israel.”  He does NOT say, “Go, speak and then eat.”   That is very significant.

Before God’s Word is ever spoken to anyone, we have to do something.  We have to eat it.  We do not just have to put it in our mouth, we have to swallow it.  We have to put in our belly (3:3). We have to digest it.  We have to make it a part of us.

There are many places where the Bible is compared to food.  It is compared to HONEY.  The Psalmist says, “You words are sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).  It is compared to BREAD.  Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It is compared to MILK and to SOLID FOOD.  Babies drink milk and solid food as they get older.  Both are compared to the truths of Scripture in the Book of Hebrews.  The Bible contains simple truths for new Christians and advanced truths for older Christians.

We have to feed on the Word.  We need it to survive as much as we need food.  Feeding on the Word means more than a casual reading of the Bible.  We have to hide it in our hearts.  We have to memorize it.  We have to study it.  We have to meditate on it.

We have to apply it to our own life.  We have to internalize it.  We have to do that BEFORE we can deliver it to anyone.  We have to preach to us before we preach to others.

God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet.  He prepares him for the job.  He lets him know what the message is.  He has him eat it.  He lets him know in advance what the response will be to this message by the nation.  Many will reject it

He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. 5 You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. (3:4-5 NIV).

God did not call Ezekiel to travel.  He called Abraham to leave him home and travel hundreds of miles away to a new place.  Ezekiel was not called to travel to some nation on the other side of the planet.  He was not called to learn a foreign language, and to minister to complete strangers.

Ezekiel was called to minister to his own people. He was called to do home missions, not cross-cultural or foreign missions.  Ezekiel not only gets to minister to Jews, he gets to minister to Jews in Babylon.  He got to minister to Jews exiled to Babylon.

The problem is that the nation is APOSTATE.  Most of them were unbelievers. God called them stiff-necked, stubborn (2:4) and rebellious (2:3).  They were hard and obstinate (3:7).  They were religious but they were still rebellious.  The people who crucified Jesus were religious. ISIS fanatics are religious but are wicked.

People were wicked in Ezekiel’s day and were wicked six hundred years later in the time of Jesus.  He called the people in his day “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39; 16:4).  People are not too different in our own day.  Human nature has not changed much.

The irony is that if God had sent Ezekiel to a foreign country, they would have listened to him.  That is what happened to Jonah.  God sent Jonah to Assyria to preach to the city of Nineveh and the people repented.  A revival took place.

Jesus said the same thing six hundred years later.  He ministered to his own people and the very cities that He performed most of his miracles rejected him.  In fact, he said if He did those some miracles in a different place, they would have accepted Him.

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (Matthew 11:20-23 ESV).

The three cities where Jesus performed most of his miracles were Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida.  They were all in northern Galilee and were close to each other.  Two were fishing villages.  Capernaum is right on the Sea of Galilee. These three cities rejected Jesus.

They were Jewish cities.  Jesus said that people in Tyre and Sidon would have accepted Him.  They were Gentile cities in Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon).  He even said that the city of Sodom would not have it as bad on the Day of Judgment as these cities (Matthew 11:24)

God CALLED Ezekiel to be a prophet.  He PREPARED him for the reaction he would receive.  He EMPOWERED him.    The Holy Spirit entered Ezekiel (2:2; 3:24). The hand of God was upon him (1:3; 3:14). Is God’s hand upon you?

He was also divinely toughened.  God also said, “All the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. 8 But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. 9 I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint” (3:8-9 NIV).  God promised to make him hard-headed.

That fits the occupation.  Many preachers today are hard-headed.  They are stubborn and closed-minded.  Ezekiel was hard-headed in a good sense.  We could learn a lot from Ezekiel.  He was not weak and soft.  He was tough.

He didn’t let criticism get to him.  He didn’t take it personally.  He did not cry a lot.  He was not a people-pleaser.  He had the strength to stand up to his critics.  He had a lot of courage.  He did not fear his critics or those who hated him.  He knew he had God on his side.

Ezekiel’s Reaction to his Call

This chapter shows us Ezekiel’s reaction to is call.  It is not a pretty picture.  It shows us the human side of this prophet.  Ezekiel was not a perfect man.  We see some of his flaws in this chapter.

God called Ezekiel to be a prophet and he did not want to be a prophet. He did not volunteer to be a prophet. He did not ask to be a prophet.  He wanted to be a priest.  His dad was a priest.  Ezekiel could not be too happy that his ministry would be a failure.  He was called to deliver a message that no one wanted to hear.

The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. 15 I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed. (3:14-15 NIV)

Ezekiel comes to where the exiles are located.  They are located in a place called Tel Aviv.  That is not the Tel Aviv in Israel. This city was in Babylon (Iraq).  It had the same name as the other city but was in a different location.  He stayed with them for seven days.  We are not told that he began a preaching ministry.  He did not say “Thus says the Lord.”

Ezekiel tells us that he was bitter an angry.  He was not too quick to do the will of God.  We are quick to criticize Ezekiel here but how often do we do the same thing.  How quick are we to do what God calls us to do?

Ezekiel did not immediately obey his call.  He sat among the exiles for seven days quietly, so God showed up again and spoke to him Ezekiel received another word from the Lord.  Ezekiel is not only called to be a PROPHET, he is called to be a WATCHMAN.

At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.

19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself. 20 “Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die.

Since you did not warn them, they will die for their sin. The righteous things that person did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 21 But if you do warn the righteous person not to sin and they do not sin, they will surely live because they took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” (3:16-21 NIV).

Ministry of a Watchman

1) A watchman’s ministry involves warning others

The primarily ministry of a watchman is a WARNING ministry.  The job of a watchman is to warn of impending danger.  They stood on guard in a high place, while everyone else was sleeping.  Their only job is to deliver a message.  What people do with that message is their own business.  Ezekiel’s job was not to convert anyone.  It was not to save anyone.

It is not our job either.  His job (and our job) is simply to preach a message.  He was to preach that message to everyone.  We have a similar job today to warn people about Hell and the judgment that is to come.  Every Christian should be a watchman.

Ezekiel is not a literal watchman but a spiritual watchman.  He warned the people to repent and turn from their evil ways.  His job was not to warn of a military threat but a spiritual threat due to sin.

He was a watchman to Israel.  We need watchmen in the church today.  One of the jobs of pastors and elders involves warning.  It is not their only function but it is an important function.

2) It does not take the place of personal responsibility

People are responsible for their own actions.  Ezekiel is the prophet of personal responsibility.  If the righteous sin, they die.  If the wicked sin, they die.  Even if Ezekiel does not warn them, they still die.

Ignorance is no excuse. The wages of sin is death.  We cannot blame anyone else for what we do.  We cannot say, “The Devil made me do it.”  We can’t even say, “No one ever told me or warned me.”

3) Watchmen deal with matters of life and death

The job of a military watchman is to keep people safe from a surprise attack.  The job of a watchman is to save lives.  When it is not done properly, people die.  The job of a watchman is serious business. God told Ezekiel that if he did not warn the wicked he would be guilty of murder.

The Apostle Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:14 ESV)  Christians who do not do their job as watchmen may make it to heaven but will be held accountable at the judgment seat of Christ for not warning people.

Can Salvation be Lost?

Does this passage teach that you can lose your salvation? Some say that is exactly what it teaches. Arminians, like Adam Clarke, use this passage to prove that a righteous man can fall from grace, lose his salvation and die spiritually.  Are the Arminians right?  Yes and No.

They are right that people can turn from their righteousness.  That is what Ezekiel 3:20 teaches.  The righteous can fall into sin.  They can backslide.  They can commit apostasy. The NT says the same thing.  It is possible to turn from the path of righteousness.  That is the teaching of II Peter 2:21.

This is a real danger today.  Matthew Henry says, “The best men in the world need to be warned against apostasy.”  Why?  As Paul put it, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12 ESV).

Where they make a big mistake is to apply this passage to salvation.  It is not dealing with salvation in the context.  It is not dealing with eternal life. It is dealing with physical life.

Ezekiel 3:18 mentions a wicked person dying and someone else being held responsible for their blood.  It is clearly talking about physical death.  When it mention the righteous living in Ezekiel 3:21 it is talking about physical life. God says if the righteous turn from their righteousness and does evil, they will die and their righteous deeds will NOT be remembered (3:20).  That seems strange.

If a man lives a made lives a model life for forty years, and even attends church and teaches Sunday School but then commits rape and murder, how will he be remembered?  Will a righteous judge say, “You have done a lot of good in your life.  Your good deeds outweigh your one bad deed” or will he punish him severely?

If you lost your salvation every time you sinned, you would lose your salvation every day.  If this is teaching that you can lose your salvation, then it also teaches that salvation is by works.  That is very clear as well.

If the wicked sin, they die.  If the righteous turn from their righteousness and sin, they die.  They way not to die is not to sin.  That puts all of the burden on you.  If this is dealing with salvation, it is teaching salvation by works.

That contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture.  The Bible is very clear that salvation is by grace and not by works.  One of the rules for interpreting Scripture is never to take an obscure passage and use it contradict the clear teaching of Scripture.  The NT teaches how God can justify the ungodly.  He declared sinners righteous.




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