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Deeper Commentary

Ezekiel 3:1 He said to me, Son of man, eat that which you find. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel- Eating the scroll spoke of the need at the beginning of his ministry to absorb the message personally into himself. Our preaching is not to be a mere forwarding of information to others, a sharing of fact in a mechanical way, a passive invitation to attend church social events. Rather is the reality of judgment to come and the real possibility of participating in the coming restored Kingdom of God to be part of our very core being. Only when we personally identify with it will our personal witness become compelling.

Ezekiel 3:2 So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat the scroll- Ezekiel was told to eat the scroll (:1), and when he expressed willingness to do so, he was made to eat the scroll- which otherwise, in a literal sense, would have been impossible. We recall how on Ez. 2:1 we noted that he was told to stand on his feet, and when willing to do so, the Spirit made him stand on his feet (Ez. 2:2). And this is how God works with us today. See on :11.

Ezekiel 3:3 He said to me, Son of man, cause your belly to eat, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you. Then I ate it; and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth- As explained on :1, Ezekiel like all preachers had to internalize God's word before preaching it. To eat a literal scroll would have seemed impossible; but he was willing, and so the Spirit - Angel empowered him to do so (:2). What he instinctively imagined to be bitter and impossible to digest- turned out as sweet as honey. But note: "In my mouth". The hope of the message was sweet to him, and to all who would accept it. But the content was "woe" to Jerusalem (Ez. 2:10). That bitter judgment could be turned to sweet honey- for those who chose true spirituality. The same figure is used in Rev. 10:9. There is indeed a silver lining to all suffering caused as a result of Divine judgment. But it's not immediate; it is the hope of the Kingdom and personal salvation for God's true people. But the reality was that the word would not be sweet for those judged by it; hence in Rev. 10:9 the scroll was sweet as honey in the mouth, but then bitter in his stomach. This may be reflected here by Ezekiel subsequently feeling "bitterness" (:14). Bitterness is the experience of the condemned, and the prophets so identified with their message and audience that like the Lord Jesus, they felt the bitterness of condemnation within themselves, whilst personally being innocent and experiencing the word and purpose of God as sweet as honey.

Ezekiel 3:4 He said to me, Son of man, go to the house of Israel, and speak My words to them- "Son of man" is of course the common title for the Lord Jesus, who Ezekiel pointed forward to. But the phrase can simply mean 'a human one'. It was Ezekiel's humanity which was to be the basis of appeal to the audience, as ours should be likewise.

Ezekiel 3:5 For you are not sent to a people of a foreign speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel- see on Jer. 23:18,22. The foreign, hard language is surely that of Assyria and Babylon (Is. 28:11; 33:19).

Ezekiel 3:6 Not to many peoples of a foreign speech and of a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you- The fact Gentiles would have responded in a given situation is often held up as an extra reason for Israel's condemnation. The God who knows all possible futures sees this more clearly then we do; if he or she or they had been given what we have been, they would have responded far better. See on Mt. 11:21.

We may well wonder why Ezekiel was sent to the first deportees in Babylon, to announce to them the sins of the Jews still in Judah and the impending destruction of the temple because of their idolatries. Why wasn't he sent to tell this to the Jews in Judah, so that they might repent? Perhaps the implication was that if the Jews in exile, that first group taken captive, had repented, then their repentance would have been enough to forestall the planned judgment upon those back in Judah. But it didn't work out like that. The tragedy was, according to Ez. 3:6, that had Ezekiel preached his message in the Babylonian language to the Babylonians, they would've repented. In this we have an insight into the pain of God, knowing as He does all possible futures, all potential outcomes. Truly the hardness of heart of the exiles was something amazing. And God likewise looks down upon our lives today, seeing all possibilities, and how unbelievers would respond so much more to Him than His own dear people. It's the pain of the parent, knowing that other children would respond so much more to their love than their own beloved offspring. The Lord Jesus had something of this when He commented that Tyre and Sidon would've repented had they had His message preached to them; but Israel would not (Mt. 11:21). See on Ez. 10:2,7.

Ezekiel 3:7 But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are obstinate and hard-hearted- God told Ezekiel that Israel would not hear his preaching; and yet Ezekiel repeatedly prefaced his preaching addresses with an appeal to please hear God’s word (Ez. 6:3; 13:2; 18:25; 20:47; 34:7; 36:1,4). He was hoping against hope; his preaching work was asking him to attempt the impossible. To make a nation hear who would not hear. Jeremiah likewise was told that Israel wouldn’t hear him (Jer. 7:27), but still he pleaded with them to hear (Jer. 9:20; 10:1; 11:6; 16:12; 17:24; 38:15).

Ezekiel 3:8 Behold, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads- The idea is that he was face to face up against the Jews. The hardness of their foreheads was a reflection of how stiff hearted they were, as earlier lamented (:7). The heart effectively means the mind. Ezekiel was to have the Spirit work upon his heart, confirming him in the path and mental positions he had chosen; just as God had apparently confirmed Judah in their hard mindedness. There is an "evil spirit from the Lord" such as plagued Saul, and also the holy Spirit from Him. He confirms men in the mental path they choose. "Hard" is the word translated "obstinate" in :7. They both were confirmed or hardened in the mental attitudes they adopted.

Ezekiel 3:9 As an adamant harder than flint have I made your forehead. Don’t be afraid of them, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house- The hearts of the captives were to be described with the same word, "adamant" (Zech. 7:12). God can harden us in the way of either spirituality or hardness of heart. This psychological strengthening was necessary for Ezekiel as he engaged with Jews hardened by the experience of captivity. The command not to be dismayed is exactly that spoken to Israel as they first entered the promised land (Dt. 1:21; 31:8; Josh. 1:9; 8:1; 10:25). Ezekiel and the repentant remnant could likewise leave Babylon (cp. Egypt) and enter and possess the land, against all apparent obstacles. The same word is used in Is. 51:7, where the faithful at the time of the captivity are urged not to be dismayed because of opposition from apostate Jews. Jeremiah had been given the same encouragement (Jer. 1:17). Circumstances repeat between the lives of God's children. We are not alone. No situation is totally unprecedented. This is the value of empathetic Bible reading, as well as of fellowship with others within God's people; for through them we also realize that we are not alone.

Ezekiel 3:10 Moreover He said to me, Son of man, all My words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears- This appeal had been materially symbolized by the eating of the scroll with those words upon it. Ezekiel is several times encouraged not to be a mere purveyor or forwarder of information, but to internalize the message. This is even now what makes for credible, compelling witness.

Ezekiel 3:11 Go to them of the captivity, to the children of your people, and speak to them, and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh;’ whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear- Ezekiel was told to "go to them", he was willing, and was confirmed by the Spirit lifting him up and transporting him there in a moment. We have earlier seen this confirmation by the Spirit of his willingness; see on Ez. 2:2; 3:1,2.

Ezekiel 3:12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of Yahweh from His place- As noted on :11, this was the Spirit's confirmation of Ezekiel himself being willing to make the journey and "go". The Angels are involved with the Cherubim. Yet in Ezekiel's context, the language of chariots inevitably suggests the approach of enemy armies (Ez. 26:10). Thus the cherubim chariots represented not only the Angels, but also the chariots of God's enemies; for the Lord of the Angelic hosts was manifested on earth in the Babylonian hosts. The word for the "rushing" noise of the cherubim wheels is used elsewhere about the noise of the chariots of Israel's enemies and the Babylonian invasion (Jer. 10:22; 47:3; Nah. 3:2). The Angelic armies of Heaven were therefore revealed on earth in the chariots of Babylon; it was both Babylon and the Angelic cherubim behind them who took Judah captive, and who could also return them to their land. Hence the stress in Ezekiel's vision that the wheels of the cherubim were on the earth / land. Clearly enough, the things that go on in our lives, even those things which appear as brutal and tragic as the Babylonian chariots were to Judah, are not random machinations of men; they are, in some unfathomable way, under the direct control of a God of love, who only means to do us good at our latter end.

Yet the cherubim also speak of God's people. The LXX here has "the voice as of a great earthquake". Later, he hears the "noise" of "shaking" or earthquake as the bones of Israel in exile come together by the spirit / Angelic operation of Yahweh (Ez. 37:7). The Spirit came from four places (Ez. 37:9)- just as there were four cherubim. As the sound of the cherubim was as of a great army (Ez. 1:24), so revived Israel stood up as a great army (Ez. 37:10).The Angel cherubim would work with God's disillusioned and broken people, to revive them, so that they would become like the guardian Angels of Israel above them. The point was that the Angel cherubim system which Ezekiel had seen at work amongst the captives was able to gather them together, and give life to the nation. And yet that didn't happen to those exiles- because they didn't walk in step with the spirit.

Ezekiel 3:13 I heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, even the noise of a great rushing- The four Angels or groups of Angels that comprised them had wings which "kissed one another" (A.V. mg. ) and moved with a soft, smooth sound, despite all four being distinct in some ways. Thus the loving co-operation of the Angels in their work is emphasized. See on Gen. 1:26. The wings made a noise, but apparently didn't turn or move as they "went" (Ez. 1:9). This again is the paradox of God's working- motion without movement, winged beings moving without moving their wings. And so it seemed to the exiles; the apparent lack of Divine movement was in fact movement. And this likewise explains the apparent silence of God in our human lives.

Ezekiel 3:14 So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away- This was in confirmation of his own desire to "go" there in obedience (:11).

 And I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; and the hand of Yahweh was strong on me- The bitterness is explained on :3. The word of judgment was sweet as honey in Ezekiel's mouth, but when John ate a similar scroll, it was sweet as honey in his mouth but then bitter in his stomach (Rev. 10:9). This is the bitterness spoken of here. Ezekiel had absorbed the word into himself, so that he felt the bitterness for those who would be judged by it. See on :15.

Ezekiel 3:15 Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib, by the river Chebar, and to where they lived; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days- He sat astonished and silent among the captives for seven days when he arrived to them with his message of judgment. The connection with Job’s friends is obvious and intended. Ezekiel, the one whom Israel hated and rejected as they did all the prophets, beating some and killing some, felt their grief and sat with them, deeply sympathizing, just as Job’s friends initially did. The Hebrew translated “astonished” is usually translated “destroyed”, “desolate” or “wasted”. All that had happened to Israel for their sins, Ezekiel felt had happened to him, such was his identification with sinners. Two closely related words occur in Ez. 3:14,26 [marah cp. maree]: “I went in bitterness… they are a rebellious house”. Why was Ezekiel bitter / rebellious of spirit when he went to preach to his people; even though he personally was willing to preach to them? Surely it was because he shared their spirit with them; he so entered into their spirit that he reflected their feelings within himself, even though he was not ultimately rebellious personally as they were. Because Israel’s heart would melt and be feeble “Because of the tidings” which Ezekiel taught, therefore his heart sighed and broke because he identified with how they would later feel when his words came true (Ez. 21:6,7).

Ezekiel 3:16 It happened at the end of seven days, that the word of Yahweh came to me, saying- The seven days of Ezekiel's silence could be interpreted as disobedience to the command to speak. Hence he needed encouragement. He perhaps feared their looks, perceiving they were men hardened by the traumas of captivity and exile. He was therefore temporarily disobedient, or hesitant to obey, the commands not to fear their looks.

Ezekiel 3:17 Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me- As suggested on :16, this can be read as a rebuke of Ezekiel's seven days silence. If Ezekiel personally was Israel's watchman, then he is the watchman in view in Ez. 33:2,6,7.

Ezekiel was prepared for his ministry by being told to eat and absorb the roll containing the words he was to preach. He was then picked up the spirit-wind, and transported to his audience (Ez. 3:12,13). The noise of the wind in the wings of the cherubim is elsewhere interpreted as the sound of God's word (Ez. 10:5). Yet Ezekiel 3 goes on to warn Ezekiel that if he doesn't preach the word to his audience, their blood will be upon his head (Ez. 3:17-21). This warning was given after Ezekiel had been transported to the people but sat silent with them for 7 days (Ez. 3:16). I understand from all this was that God's intention was that His message was not to be merely parroted out by Ezekiel, but that it was to be fundamentally part of him; and the message of God's word, symbolized by the awesome wind-spirit generated by the movement of the cherubim's wings, was to propel him forward to make his witness to hard faced men and women. This is the ideal. And yet Ezekiel even when he failed to live to up it, was still propelled forward in the mission. And many a missionary knows the truth of this. I take the way that Ezekiel was told to go preach to the captives, and yet was then taken up and transported there, to suggest a reluctance on his part. Perhaps being struck dumb until the fulfilment of the prophecies (Ez. 3:26; 24:27) suggests this was a punishment of Ezekiel for a lack of faith- for this is exactly the judgment upon Zacharias for faithlessness (Lk. 1:20).

Many times we read of how those who hold God's word are to shine it out to others. The Old Testament tends to use a Hebrew word translated "warn" in speaking of how prophets like Ezekiel were to warn-out, or shine out, God's word to others (Ez. 3:17,18 etc.). Yet the same word occurs in Dan. 12:3 about how the preachers of God's word will "shine" eternally in His Kingdom. The connection is clear- how we shine forth God's word now, is how we will eternally shine it forth. Thus in the practice of preaching today, we are working out who and how we shall eternally be. The very concept of preaching is therefore partly designed by God for our benefit, to develop us into the persons we shall eternally be, by His grace. When we read that God will 'require the blood' of those to whom we fail to preach His word (Ez. 3:18), we may here have another reference to a 'going through' of our deeds at the day of judgment. There, perhaps, we will have to give an account, an explanation, of why our neighbours and workfellows lie eternally dead- because we were too shy, too weakly convinced of the eternal realities we knew, to tell them. For the Hebrew word translated "require" implies some kind of inquisition / explanation. Here we see the vital importance of witness.


Ezekiel 3:18 When I tell the wicked, You shall surely die- The same phrase used in Genesis for the condemnation of Adam. Adam is everyman.

And you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand- We may reason that if we fail to upbuild a brother, or preach, then God will somehow do it anyway. But this doesn’t seem to be the spirit of Ez. 3:18. We are to appeal to men and women with the message that there is no third road; that it truly is a case of believe or perish. There is no example of apologetics in their preaching, but rather an utter confidence that they were holding out to men the words that gave eternal life. Their words, lives and body language reflected their deep sense of the peril of those outside of Christ. By preaching, they were freed from the blood of men (20:26); evidently alluding to how the watchman must die if he didn’t warn the people of their impending fate. In line with this, “necessity is laid upon me…woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). Not talking to folks is perhaps the easiest and commonest sin of omission in our lives.

Ezekiel 3:19 Yet if you warn the wicked, and he doesn’t turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have saved your own life- The "you" in view is primarily Ezekiel, the watchman. By sitting there with the captives, scared of their hard, sceptical looks and saying nothing... Ezekiel was risking his eternal salvation. By warning them, he was saving his life. We note that the captives were in a "wicked way"; and yet in Ez. 18 they apparently reasoned that they were innocent and unfairly suffering because of their fathers' sins. "Turn" is the word commonly used for repentance and also for the 'return' from Babylon to the land. If the captives repented, then the return and restoration would have happened. This was the significance and deep weight of Ezekiel's ministry.

Ezekiel 3:20 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 have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at your hand- If a person turns to sin, God confirms them in that way by laying a stumbling block before them. We are not to do this; but God can. He confirms us in the way we choose to go. The idea of righteous deeds being remembered struck a chord with Nehemiah, who would have been aware of this prophecy; he asks for his good deeds to be "remembered" (Neh. 13:14,31). This was not, therefore, a works reliant attitude. Nehemiah was citing Ezekiel's words. We are saved by grace, the penny a day of the parable which all receive (Mt. 20:2); and yet the nature of our eternity will be a reflection of the works we do in this life. All we do for God will have its eternal moment and significance. Our lives therefore should be devoted to such good works. For we are thereby shaping our eternal experience.

Ezekiel 3:21 Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man, that the righteous not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you have saved your own life- The allusion is to Elisha warning (s.w.) the king of Israel, and the king thereby saving his life from the Syrians (2 Kings 6:10). And the leadership of God's people were again being warned by a prophet, and could save their lives from the potential invasion by Babylon. The sword was coming upon Judah, and Ezekiel as the watchman was warning them, so that they could save their lives and avert the invasion planned by God (Ez. 33:3-9 s.w.). This was the tragedy of the final Babylonian invasion which destroyed the temple and sacked Jerusalem. It was avoidable, if Ezekiel's message had been heeded.

Ezekiel 3:22 The hand of Yahweh was there on me; and He said to me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with you- Just as the Lord Jesus heard God's word in private and then revealed it to Israel, so with Ezekiel. "Plain" here could as well be translated "valley" as it is in Ez. 37:1,2. "The valley of dry bones" may have been the same valley in view as here.

Ezekiel 3:23 Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and behold, the glory of Yahweh stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face- The point to note is that God's glory was as much in that plain / valley, perhaps in the Jerusalem area, as it was by the Chebar in Babylonia. Stephen was to later point out that "the God of glory" likewise appeared to Abraham when he was outside of the promised land. He was not limited by geography nor nationality. The cherubim of glory are described as the Lord being “there”, and yet they move away to Babylon. Israel were being asked to follow their Angel, as they had followed the Angel in the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness. But they refused, generally, and therefore the great things the Angels had potentially made possible were not realized. Our following of the Angel is just as real, and just as much a matter of daily freewill choice, as it was for the exiles. See on Ez. 35:10.

Ezekiel 3:24 Then the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet- As noted on :22, the "plain" is the same Hebrew word translated "valley" in the valley of dry bones prophecy (Ez. 37:1,2). And the connection continues, and that the Spirit enters Ezekiel and he stands on his feet- the very same words used of the dry bones in Ez. 37:10. Ezekiel was representative of what could have happened to all the dry bones of Israel in captivity.

And He spoke with me, and said to me, Go, shut yourself inside your house- The wonderful vision given was to strengthen him for the pain of the abuse he was about to suffer. They Jews bound him and placed him under house arrest; but before that happened, he himself was to shut himself inside his house, representing how God had for the time being closed His house to the Jews. Psychologically this was also powerful, in that what they wanted to do to Ezekiel he had effectively already done to himself. They bond him with shackles (:25) but then God does this to Ezekiel in Ez. 4::8. God was in control even of their own apparently freely chosen hatred of Ezekiel, and worked through it to further His appeal for repentance.

Ezekiel 3:25 But you, son of man, behold, they shall lay shackles on you and shall bind you with them- This suggests Ezekiel was actually tied up by the Jewish captives he prophesied to by the river Chebar; they set their foreheads hard against hearing the prophecies of hope (Ez. 3:9). See on Ez. 2:6. In Ez. 4:8 it is God who puts shackles (s.w.) upon Ezekiel so that he lives out an acted parable of captivity. But perhaps this refers to Him working through the angry Jews who bound Ezekiel with these shackles.

And you shall not go out among them- The same words are used of how Jeremiah had gone out among the people preaching his message, and was then imprisoned (Jer. 37:4). Jeremiah was experiencing this about the same time as Ezekiel. Their lives were in parallel, just as through fellowship with other believers we too learn that we are not alone nor are our experiences as terribly unique and unprecedented as we may feel without that fellowship.

Ezekiel 3:26 I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth, that you shall be mute, and unable to reprove them; for they are a rebellious house- This may not have been permanent, because we twice read of Ezekiel's mouth being opened to prophecy (Ez. 24:27, four years later; and Ez. 29:21). The idea may be that their rejection of him and his message meant that there was no more word from Yahweh to the people. But it could be that he was dumb literally. This would have been a powerful acted parable. They likely would have liked to imagine that being struck dumb was judgment from God as in Lk. 1:22. But the more perceptive would have realized it was in fact God's silence toward them, and Ezekiel was a living embodiment of the word he preached. For he had internalized the word preached, represented by eating the scroll of the words, and therefore he was the word made flesh to his audience, as we should be.

Ezekiel 3:27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh: He who hears, let him hear; and he who forbears, let him forbear;’ for they are a rebellious house- These words are quoted by the Lord Jesus when He invites those who have ears to hear, to hear (Mt. 11:15; 13:9). He was the One whose mouth Yahweh had opened supremely. The LXX  "He who is disobedient, let him disobedient" is quoted in Rev. 22:11. Clearly Ezekiel's preaching to the captives is no mere historical record, but is set up by way of NT allusion as representative of all who hear the Gospel of the restored Kingdom and the call to repent in view of that.