Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 3

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

Verses 1-27

Chapter Three

Eating The Roll

“And He said unto me, Son of man, eat that which thou findest; eat this roll, and go, speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat the roll. And He said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.”-vers. 1-3.

In vision the prophet heard the command of the attendant messenger of the Lord of hosts, bidding him eat the scroll on which the word of the Lord was written. John had a similar vision on Patmos. Both he and Ezekiel are depicted as literally devouring the book. One is reminded of the declaration of Jeremiah, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). And again, the asseveration of the patriarch Job, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). In meeting the temptation of the devil to act without a command from the Father and so to make bread from stones, our blessed Lord quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3 when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Only as we feed on the Word can we become strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Before Ezekiel went forth to give the word of God to others, he must eat the roll-that is, feed upon that word himself. The testimony of the Lord must become a part of his very being, so to speak, if he would so declare it that those to whom he ministered would feel the force of it in convicting power.

At first the prophet took the roll into his mouth, but did not seem to swallow it. In this he was like many who have a certain head knowledge of or intellectual acquaintance with the truth of Scripture, but have never really made it their own. So to Ezekiel the word came imperatively, “Son of man cause thy belly to eat.” God desires truth in the inward parts. David could say, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalms 119:11). The truth must possess the very reins of our being. We must not only taste its sweetness, but also feed upon it, receive it into our inmost being, that it may completely dominate our lives. Then, and then only are we prepared to give it forth to others. The minister of God must enjoy the Word himself by meditating upon it, inwardly digesting it, and so making it a part of himself. Then he is ready to declare the whole counsel of God to those who are famishing for want of it.

“And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, if I sent thee to them, they would hearken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me: for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stiff heart”-vers. 4-7.

God would not have His servant under any illusions as to the possible effect of his message or of the attitude of those to whom he was sent to proclaim the Word of the Lord. He was not to go to the heathen, or to some nation of strange language and barbarous behavior. He was sent to his own people, the nation that had the law of God and had failed to obey it. As they had refused to heed the word spoken from Sinai, so they would refuse to heed that which the prophet was to put before them. But it was his business to proclaim the message. Results could be left to God. It is even so today. Those to whom it is given to preach the gospel are not responsible for its acceptance by their hearers. If men do receive the Word in faith, it becomes to them a savor of life unto life; if they refuse to obey, it is of death unto death. But God is honored as His servants speak for Him according to the illumination given by the Holy Spirit, and He has promised that His word shall not return unto Him void, but it shall accomplish that for which He sent it. The hearers of the message become the more responsible because of added light. The Word itself will be their judge in the day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed.

“Behold, I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, all My words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear”-vers. 8-11.

Ezekiel was sent of God, not so much to the remnant remaining in the land of Palestine, but to those who had been carried away already as captives. One might have supposed that their afflictions would have made their hearts soft and their consciences tender, and that in their distress there would have been a great turning to the Lord. But it was quite the contrary. They became all the harder as they resented the suf- fering that had come upon them. They despised the chastening of the Almighty, and so profited nothing by what they had been called upon to pass through. It was, therefore, a thankless errand on which Ezekiel was sent, as far as man’s estimation of his message was concerned. Naturally, he might be inclined to faint under all this and to become discouraged when there was no response to his words; but He who commissioned him was behind His servant, and He undertook to strengthen him for the task and to make him as strong for God as the people were strong against Him. The prophet was to stand as adamant against all the circumstances he would be called upon to meet. His strength lay in the realization that he had been divinely appointed to proclaim the truth of God without fear or favor. If the captives refused to hearken and obey the voice of the Lord, that was their responsibility, not Ezekiel’s. It is well for every man of God to understand this. Nothing else can so lift him above all that he may be called upon to experience in the way of contempt or open opposition of those whom he labors to help.

“Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed he the glory of Jehovah from his place. And 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. So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away; and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; and the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me. Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river Chebar, and to where they dwelt; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days”-vers. 12-15.

This was a fresh revelation of the power of God as Governor among the nations, given to encourage the prophet as he was about to begin his ministry. He had to learn that there was no might in himself; he could not carry on in what was merely human energy. The Spirit of God proceeding from the throne, took him up and placed him under divine control. This was ever true of our blessed Lord in the years of His humiliation. He ever chose to act, not in His inherent omnipotence as God the Son become flesh, but He put Himself under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who “drove Him into the wilderness,” and it was by the Spirit of God that He cast out demons and accomplished all His mighty works.

His servants, too, are to be under the same authority as they go forth to witness. The “noise of a great rushing” that stirred Ezekiel’s soul, reminds us of the sound as of a rushing, mighty wind at Pentecost, when the promised Comforter descended upon the one hundred and twenty disciples, baptizing them into one Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) and empowering them for service. The book of the Acts is far more truly designated as the Acts of the Holy Spirit than the Acts of the Apostles. It was the Spirit who empowered Peter and John and the rest for witness-bearing. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip when his work with the Ethiopian treasurer was done. The same Spirit opened and closed doors for Paul and his companions; and by the Spirit all testimony for Christ has been maintained throughout the centuries since.

It is evident that Ezekiel did not seek the position of being the mouthpiece of God. As a result of the book of “lamentations and mourning” which he had eaten, his own spirit was filled with bitterness. He was keenly conscious of the sadness of the burden of the Lord which he must proclaim. Borne along by the Spirit, however, he found himself among the captives at Tel-abib by the River Chebar. To them he was to give forth what God had given him. But so great was his inward exercise that for a full week he sat looking on, dumb with grief, as he considered their present condition and realized the hardness of their hearts and their unwillingness to heed what he was sent to declare unto them. At the end of the seven days God spoke again.

“And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest 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 thy hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and thou hast delivered thy soul”-vers. 16-21.

Solemn are the responsibilities put by God Himself upon one whom He calls to be a watchman and to speak for Him to His people. It was undoubtedly this and the kindred passage in chapter 33, that the Apostle Paul had in mind when he declared to the Ephesian elders, “I take you to witness that I am free from the blood of all men.” While among them, he had borne his testimony night and day with tears, and had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.

Though in an earlier dispensation, it was the same burden that was laid upon the heart of Ezekiel. Set apart by God and appointed to be a watchman in Judah, a tremendous responsibility devolved upon him. He was to warn the wicked of the judgments coming if they continued to live in defiance of God’s holy law; and, likewise, he was responsible to stress the importance of continuing in the way of righteousness when addressing those who were endeavoring to act in obedience to the commandments of God. If he failed to do this, and the wicked persisted in their evil ways until overtaken by judgment, and the unwarned who had walked in righteousness turned aside to commit iniquity, they should die in their sins, but their blood would be required at the watchman’s hand. He would have to answer to God for leaving the people unwarned. It was a terrible responsibility, but the same responsibility rests on every chosen servant of Christ today.

In considering these verses, we need to remember that it is righteousness according to the law of Moses that is in question. We do not have before us here the gospel of the grace of God. The time had not come for that glorious revelation. The law said, “Which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Leviticus 18:5). This, we are told distinctly in the Epistle to the Galatians, is the very opposite of the gospel.

In the Old Testament dispensation, where there was real faith in God, it would be manifested by delight in His Word and obedience to His law. But there might be outward conformity to the law without any true work of grace in the soul.

Israel was under the government of God as His covenant people, and hence responsible to walk before Him in righteousness. If they did this, they would be blessed in temporal things. If they became wilful and disobedient they would come under judgment.

The ministry of the prophets was to call the people back to righteousness and to warn them of the folly of going on in any evil way. It was this which the Lord stressed as He sent Ezekiel to proclaim His Word to the captivity. If faithful in declaring the Word of God, he would deliver his own soul at least, even though his preaching seemed to fall upon deaf ears; but if he failed to give the warning he would have to answer before God for the blood of those who were destroyed for lack of knowledge.

The chapter closes by telling us of another vision of God in His governmental ways, given to prepare the prophet further for the great task set before him. He says:

“And the hand of Jehovah was there upon me; and He said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee. Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of Jehovah stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. Then the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet; and He spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thy house. But thou, son of man, behold, they shall lay bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them: and I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover; for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house”-vers. 22-27.

We have here an oft-repeated story in the Holy Scriptures. No man is fit to go forth to represent God to other men if he himself has not been in the presence of God. Nor will one experience of the divine manifestation fortify one for all that is to come. One must needs be given new revelations from time to time of the glory, power, love, and wisdom of God, so that in freshness of spirit and vigor of soul he may stand before his fellows as one sent forth by divine command.

To know God and to be consciously in His presence always produces humiliation of soul and a sense of utter worthlessness, but it also leads to worship and adoration. It was so with Ezekiel. Overwhelmed by the vision of the glory of Jehovah, he fell prostrate on his face. Strengthened by the Spirit he was lifted to his feet, and his commission given its final form. In the power of the flesh he was to do nothing; he was not to speak except as the words were given him of the Lord. But when he received the message from the Lord, his mouth would be opened and he would declare unfalteringly, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah.” This ever gives authority to the Word preached when, instead of speaking as from oneself and in the wisdom of words, the servant of God gives forth that which has been communicated to him through the Spirit and the Word. Then, whether people hear or forbear, it is all one. The message is delivered: God is honored; and the messenger can be at peace, knowing he has discharged the obligation put upon him.

It was thus with our Lord Himself, who spake as never man spoke, with authority and not as the scribes; and it was so with His chosen representatives as they declared the Word, not in their own wisdom or might but as c f the ability which God gave.

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.