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(1.) REQUISITES FOR EXECUTING THE COMMISSION (Ezekiel 2:1-8)
I. Lively attention. Ezekiel must no longer lie upon his face; he must stand upon his feet if he is rightly to hear the voice of him that speaks. The call of God demands of our human faculties a readiness for action. They may be dead in sins or stunned by some masterful emotion, and the first thing needed is that they should be raised from such a state; then they will be fitted to hear and to obey. To be in a condition to do the work of the Lord, so far as that condition is dependent on a man himself, is to be in an attentive attitude regarding Him. Are we watching so that the moment in which the Master of the house comes we will open to Him?
II. Impulses to secure apprehension. The Lord acts in nature. He pledged Himself of old that the seasons should not cease while the earth remaineth, and He sends forth His Spirit in spring and reneweth the face of the earth. He works thus on man. Spiritual power, understanding, and love are wrought in their hearts by Him. Supplies suited to all the duties He may impose are forthcoming. He will bring persons who may be unconscious into consciousness, in darkness into light, and the hardest position in His kingdom can be occupied when the Spirit of the living God has entered into the occupant and the words of the Almighty Speaker are heard. Until he is fitted by the Spirit to hear the voice, words would be spoken in vain, however adapted to the sins, or weakness, or ignorance of his soul. But he is quickened. The Spirit enters into him, and the words which follow profit him. So two factors develop our apprehension of God’s will—His Spirit in us and His words to us. The efficacy of the words proceeds from the Spirit; the words are the means by which the Spirit energises us. Read the Word of the Lord, preach it, spread it, but never be forgetful that the grasping it by the understanding and obeying it with the will come from the Spirit whom Christ sends from the Father.
III. A clear defining of the evil to be engaged with. God practises no concealment to His servant. He urges him to count the cost, and look, by His light, on the materials he has to deal with. He is to regard them as God directs. He is to submerge any tendency to make excuses for his people, and also his wishes for peace, comfort, honour, remuneration, and hold up to view the solemn and deep-searching decisions of the Lord.
1. The evil is contrariety to God. Israel had forsaken Him to serve idols. To leave Him, to pervert His ordinances, or the mixing up devices of their own with these is a renunciation of His authority—is rebellion. Departing from the Lord was the root which sent its sap into each branch, twig, leaf of their conduct before His sight, and gave character to every false, unjust, selfish, impure thought, word, or action, with which they were chargeable. In dealing with men on God’s behalf, His servants must never blink the fact that it is not mere mistakes, mere misfortune, they have to contend with; but it is with “the minding of the flesh, which is enmity against God.” Yet they will not refrain from urging His claims to implicit submission, and will desire to execute their service in the knowledge that they are “earthen vessels,” and “the excellency of the power” is with God alone.
2. The evil is hereditary. It does not die out when a generation is dead. It was operative in the Israel who dwelt in Canaan, and it is operative in the Israel captive in Babylon. As the fathers resisted the Holy Ghost so did the descendants. Parents should learn not to continue in sin against God for their children’s sake, and children learn that a father’s example is not a binding rule as to what to worship. Not from parentage, not from ancestors, not from mere antiquity must we learn our duty, but always try our procedure by the revealed will of God.
3. The evil affects both the inner and the outer life. The heart is at one with the conduct. No chasm, no rotted bridge lies between them and prevents them from uniting their forces against God. No regrets within hamper the words and deeds which offend Him, and the sinning men go with unblushing faces in their own ways. Such is the evil to be dealt with, and “who is sufficient for these things?” It is not merely perplexing to human strength and wisdom; it is impossible for men to encounter it effectively, except the Spirit is given them from above to know what God is, and what God purposes for salvation.
IV. Support from the authority of God. Any attempts to destroy such rooted impiety could bring nothing but reproaches, repulses, and defeats, if not under the authorisation of the Lord the Spirit. That is provided—
1. By positive appointment: “I send thee.” Ezekiel has good ground for the stand he is required to take. He is an ambassador of the great king—sufficient warrant for any message of woe or of comfort, and a pledge that all needs will be supplied. The secret place for receiving true power, knowledge, wisdom, and adaptation to a service is here. I do not go to it of myself. I do not seek my own things but the things which are Jesus Christ’s. I have behind me all forces, for He is with me who has “all power in heaven and in earth.”
2. By a full title to use His name. He deputes Ezekiel to stand in His stead. All that he is to say, so standing, will express the true state of the relations between God and the people, and will all hold good. His servants are prompted to learn thoroughly and to utter plainly that which God has revealed. If they are not able to appeal to any special vision or ordination of the Lord, they can lie open to His Spirit, be led into all the truth, and declare it with no hesitancy of accent. They “preach not themselves but Christ Jesus the Lord.” “Their word is with power.”
V. Persevered in through all circumstances.
1. Because fitted for men. A divine message is not dependent for its truth on any earthly position in which it may be uttered, or on any treatment which it may receive. Accepted or rejected, it retains its authority and adaptation. Farmers must prosecute operations in their fields whatever the appearance of the clouds may be, sure that vivifying rays of the sun will act. So they who are sent with the truth of God must affirm its declarations, even if to do so be both arduous and unproductive. Their encouragement and their constancy are to be taken from God, not from the results which might gratify the mind of the flesh.
2. Because it will not be altogether vain. Should no success, such as teachers are eager to see, ever come, and people maintain their attitude of disobedience to God, some end, which He has proposed, shall be sure of accomplishment. He will vindicate His righteousness and love somehow, and present the way of truth so that men will not be able to plead ignorance of His appeal to them. They shall know, even though they persist in stubbornness and rebellion, that a prophet—a man with words of rebuke and impulse—has been among them. “The light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light.”
3. Because obstacles are not bound to paralyse efforts. Men who have God on their side are stronger than all that can be against them. His kingdom never has attempted an advance except in face of chiding, and adverse reports, and sullen looks. His servants are not to count such trials as strange things, but set their faces as a flint and urge His warnings and entreaties unwaveringly. When the Lord is on their side they need not fear men’s procedure. Like their perfect Exampler, they should be warranted to say, “When I would have gathered you, ye would not.”
VI. Demands implicit submission. To stand before the Lord of hosts, like Elijah, and be empowered to bear His messages, what stronger force can there be than that to constrain men, who are loyal to God, to do whatsoever He wishes? What if their preaching and teaching seem to be addressed as to a blank wall? That will not prompt them to falter, to blunt the edge of the sword of the Spirit, or to compromise the claims of any truth. “It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful.” They are not so to the interests of the kingdom of God, they who are unwilling to meet evil reports or good reports; to stand in the midst of calumnies, threats, oppressions; to find in the very obstinacy of their hearers that which develops a deepening regard for God and a deepening sympathy for men. For all true-hearted men will be anxious not to be rebellious as others whom they see to be rebellious, being sure of this, nobody but himself can make him a rebel. Above all, should preachers and teachers hear the voice of Jesus, so that they shall speak what He bids them, and never be disheartened by the indifference, the levity, the contempt, the resistance shown by those who do not take heed how they hear.
(2.) CONSCIOUS ACCEPTANCE OF THE COMMISSION (Chaps. Ezekiel 2:8 to Ezekiel 3:3)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 2:9. “Sent unto me;” rather, put forth unto me (as in chap. Ezekiel 8:3). Ezekiel 2:10. “Written within and without,” as indicating the number of overwhelming afflictions which were to fall upon the rebellious.
Chap. 3 Ezekiel 2:3. “Cause thy belly to eat and fill thy bowels with this roll.” So the eating could not be corporeal; it, too, was happening in the visions, and enjoined Ezekiel to take whatever would be spoken to him into his inner man, there to be assimilated with his own feelings, thoughts, will, and then to be declared to the people.
DUTY ACCEPTED FOR REASONS
I. As the commission issues from a divine source. This is signified—
1. By its direction. A hand carried the symbolic medium of the commission, and Ezekiel recognised that hand to be His whose mighty voice he heard. God often appoints to duties by figures which are not unfamiliar to men. Moses saw a bush burning, Isaiah had a live coal laid upon his lips, Jeremiah’s mouth was touched by a hand, and Ezekiel is shown a book. And now, when men hear of the cross, the tomb, the throne, they are told of that which is not revealed by flesh and blood, but by our Father in heaven. Thus the Christ, who is always with us, directs to hearts the truth He would have them believe and obey, and what we ought to desire is not vision but faith. “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
2. By its plainness to the understanding. Ezekiel could not have made anything out of the book unless its Holder had unrolled it and showed its contents. Then he gets a glimpse of the persons to whom he has to go, and of the prominence he is to give to threats of coming woes. The Lord would let His servant clearly see what he has to do. He wishes no vagueness or obscurity to be in any mind as to the certain retribution for sin. He wants to convince our intelligence. Mysteries there cannot but be in His procedure, but He sanctions no blind faith. He gives us as much light as we can bear for the time, and more will be added. “He opens the understanding to understand the Scriptures.” “He gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” The boldest of all followers of Christ the Way will be those who most clearly see that He is the Light, and that “whoso believes in Him shall not abide in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” They have the witness in themselves. Lighten our darkness, O Lord!
3. By its announcing tribulations to come. God only can tell the sorrows, pains, and harassment which will be imposed on any sinners; and Ezekiel may see written on the roll those future sufferings which men could not foresee. The Israelites did suffer in their native land, and if sin had been its own punishment, the punishment would assuredly have ended there. But it did not, and they were deported into foreign countries in order to be visited there also for their rebelliousness. Sin is not its own avenger. The evils which follow it are signs of God’s rule. He manifests His righteous character, and His determination to govern the world in righteousness. In due places and at fit times He will make His utter abhorrence of wrong to appear. He is never at a loss where to strike, or whom. “We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth,” and that all suffering among the peoples of the world to-day are in accordance with His purposes of old. He is fulfilling them before our eyes, though we cannot compare them with predictions of them, as Ezekiel and Israel could. “The Lord reigneth, let the people tremble.”
II. As the commission is accompanied with power to fulfil it. The book-roll was not handed to Ezekiel with the guarantee of priests or church, nor from the archives of the Temple. It was from the Lord Himself. Ezekiel may gather from this fact—
1. That there would be new revealings of the rule of the Lord. He had not exhausted all methods for characterising the proceedings and the destinies of men. Fresh conditions, such as those in which His chosen people were found, opened up the occasion by which He could unfold distincter views of His just and good will. It might be said that all He can show must be already indicated; but Israel would not, or could not, read the logical conclusions implied in the law and the prophets. They needed further teaching, and God is no miser with His knowledge and wisdom. He freely would impart to all; He never binds Himself to use only established institutions, and thus does He the more thoroughly bring His word to the platform from which all classes hear. We expect more light, even with a knowledge of His will far beyond that which Ezekiel could receive; and in presence of novel conditions of science, politics, ecclesiastical developments, we should be on the outlook for further manifestations of Christ, “who is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” If it be said that the Book of Revelation is closed now, it should not be said that wider and distincter views of Revelation are also shut out. We must welcome the better things which the Lord will spread before us.
2. That there would be sensitiveness to receive fuller knowledge. Nature had presented to Ezekiel its storms and lights and animal forms actuated by one controlling force, and he had been deeply moved; but no special message was there of which he could say, “This is for me alone.” Now there is, not Ezekiel’s case only, but myriads of other cases attest that the Spirit of the living God does speak to human consciences with the old appeal, “Thou art the man!” He will not let His Word miss its opportunities. He singles out one and another on the ground of their competence to obey Him; and if there be a single person who has no sense of God being near and bringing something to him personally, it is because he or she is shutting the ear “lest they should hear with their ears and understand with their hearts.” For “the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart.” God opens the door of faith, and men may enter in and receive that which flesh and blood could not give, but which He can.
3. That this knowledge would be assimilated to his thoughts and ways. Ezekiel has to eat the book. It is not that he is merely to learn its meaning, but it is that he is to make all its words his own. He is to “inwardly digest” them, that they may obtain a form suitable to his character and environment. The Lord imparts them so that they shall be turned into bone and muscle for prophetic tasks. Thus they will be psychologically the prophet’s own representation, and yet prepared by divine energy to convey an adequate idea of what the people must hear from the mouth of the Lord. This power to take and eat the book symbolises the truth that, without having thus assimilated the words of God, no one ought to teach and preach. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Certainly no one will live for ever who does not eat of the bread of life which Christ gives. The word of hearing does not profit if not mixed with faith, but when with the heart man believeth, then will fruit be borne. God knows our need; He gives power to the faint, and “in Christ strengthening we can do all things.” This is “true inspiration. The divine does not remain as a strange element in the man; it becomes his own feeling thoroughly, penetrates him entirely, just as food becomes a part of his bodily frame” (Umbreit).
III. As the commission produces satisfaction with itself. Ezekiel had the sweet experience that he was called by God to serve Him, and found it eminently pleasant to “know no will but His.” This experience follows on complete submission to all that He gives us to know of Himself. Once taught of God, we should have no doubts and no reserves. Men’s commissions often disappoint, because power to carry them out is not welded into them. God never lets His workers go on their own charges; He is prepared to supply all their need. Let them but be consecrated to Him, present their bodies as a living sacrifice, take all the strength and love which Jesus has for them, and they will be enabled to exclaim, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, for Christ’s sake.” To be used for the Lord will be a sweeter experience than we shall find elsewhere. Even if we have to tell of painful and woful things, we shall do so, knowing that we are not acting on the promptings of our own temper, not serving our own desires, but obeying “the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, who will by no means clear the guilty.” Come what may in our life-service, a little or a great duty, one to which we run or one from which we shrink, we shall surely be able to say, as Jeremiah did, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart; for I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26