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(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.”
(3.) RATIFICATIONS OF THE COMMISSION (Chap. Ezekiel 3:4-15)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 3:5-6. “Of a strange speech and of an hard language.” The marginal reading, deep of lip and heavy of tongue, indicates that nothing is referred to here about the characteristics of national languages. It is the obscurity and embarrassment of a foreign speech, to a man who cannot employ them, which are brought to view. Ezekiel is to speak no tongue but that of Israel. His sphere is definite and contracted. He will be able to give his whole attention to the meaning rather than to the vocal sounds of the words in which he declares the messages of the Lord, and must aim that his people thoroughly understand the words he uses. “They would have hearkened to thee.” The obstacle meeting the prophet, if he spoke in the words of the Lord to the heathen, would be their language. When he speaks to the Israelites, it is their hardness of heart. Familiarity with religious words often counteracts their power.
Ezekiel 3:9. “As an adamant.” A very hard stone of some kind. We may doubt if it be a diamond, as in Jeremiah 17:1; but it signified to Ezekiel that he would be made more than a match for the contumacy of Israel. He would be neither shamed, nor terrified, nor put down before his rebellious people.
Ezekiel 3:12. “The Spirit,” the same which moved in the living creatures, “took me up,” or, as in Ezekiel 3:14, “lifted me up.” He had been standing on his feet, but now there came a feeling as if he were raised from the ground and about to be removed from the spot at which he had seen “visions of God.” Just as he was turned, “I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing”—a sound of loud and commingled noises, but not that, as in our Bible, they only conveyed the cry, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place.” The appearance of the glory of the Lord was to be withdrawn for a season from the sight of Ezekiel, but wherever it might be, resting or moving, he was to know that matter for praise and honour must belong to it. It is not said who gave forth this doxology; but as the only articulate voice mentioned is (chap. Ezekiel 1:28) that of Him who is on the sapphire throne, the voice would appear to have proceeded from thence, and so clearly that it could be distinguished from the other accompanying sounds, which Ezekiel goes on to specify. Ezekiel 3:13. The sound of great rushing was caused also by “the noise of the wings of the living creatures”—when flying, the wings touched one the other, as was intimated chap. Ezekiel 1:24—“and the noise of the wheels.”
Ezekiel 3:14. “I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit.” He was depressed and also excited. He felt his own insufficiency, and in a glow of indignation regarding the work he had to do. He went straight to it, for he was mastered by the mighty hand. His state was akin to that of Paul (1 Corinthians 2:3-4), “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling; and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Under the hand of the Lord Ezekiel went into society.
Ezekiel 3:15. Tel-abib, the place near which, probably, Ezekiel’s home was; but instead of living in comparative seclusion, he was required to lay himself open to his fellow-exiles. “And I sat where they sat.” There is a difficulty in the Hebrew of this clause. The way of solving it which is taken by the English Bible is that suggested by ancient Jewish critics. The Septuagint has an other way, by leaving out “and,” and rendering the other words, “those who were there.” Some later commentators prefer a slightly different Hebrew punctuation, and translate, “and I saw them dwelling there;” while others give this version, “and where they were dwelling there”—a version perhaps the least open to objections—“I remained astonished”—stunned. Ezra 9:3-4, indicates that Ezekiel’s posture was that of a man who does not move by reason of his emotion and infirmity. There follows continuous silence for “seven days,” not as a fixed time for mourning, but as a period of purification and probation for appointed services (Leviticus 8:33).
This paragraph conveys to Ezekiel the purport of the order he had carried out in eating the roll. There are repetitions of matters which had already been communicated to him, but they are applied to a somewhat altered condition. The sight of the glory of the Lord, the summons to serve this God of Glory, the consent to do as he was instructed, are followed up by the command to go and do the service in the allotted sphere. Thus in later days Andrew, Peter, Philip followed Jesus of Nazareth before they were called by Him to become fishers of men. And in our days it is not enough to look to Christ and feel inclination to take up a portion of work for Him; men and women need to get the opportunity which is furnished by the Lord opening a door. By this He ratifies His own call.
I. The adaptedness of God’s messages (Ezekiel 3:4-6).
1. They are transmissible by means of words. Man’s language and thought are bound to each other by coherent links. Given words will suggest ideas correspondent to them, and so men can understand what the purport of a message is. The fact that God is on another plane than His creatures is not an obstacle to His communicating with them, if He choose to do so. But it is impossible for them to perceive His method of doing so. Yet it carries a self-evidencing power, and true men can unhesitatingly say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Mysteriousness does not invalidate consciousness. We may eat the fruit though we cannot tell how the tree produced it from soil and atmosphere.
2. They are translatable into every tongue of men. It may be rude or cultivated, that of Israel or of a heathen nation, no matter which, all men are His offspring and capable of receiving what God wishes to let them know. His children, scattered abroad over the earth—Cretans and Arabs, Indians and Negroes—hear in their own tongues wherein they were born the wonderful works of God. “He will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
3. They suppose competent messengers. A fit messenger will speak in the language of the people to whom he conveys the words of God. To repeat them in a dead language, or in a foreign language, or in the hard, unusual terms of a vernacular, is to go against the desire of God that all people should understand His will. Preachers and teachers should aim to employ language which will produce the clearest and most widespread impression of what God has given for their hearers. It was a characteristic of our perfect Exampler that “the common people heard Him gladly.” He should be copied in this, if possible, by all who would speak for the Father.
4. They do not compel acceptance. It may be no discredit to one who is endeavouring to do spiritual good to men that he is not attended to. He may speak precious truths in vain, and that not because of the unsuitableness of his message, but because of the state of those who hear. Like his Lord, he may feel grieved because of the hardness of their hearts. He makes his appeal to those whose eyes the god of this world has blinded—“who love the darkness rather than the light”—who are as free to reject as to accept the words of the Lord. But while believing this, let all who speak His words be sure that they state them as they ought, and then, if they are not hearkened to, they will be free from blame for their unsuccess—they will sorrow over the sad fact that it is God who is not hearkened to.
5. They are partial in their diffusion. There are tribes and nations which have not received any special messages regarding the glory and grace of the God and Father of their spirits. “His ways are past finding out.” It is sometimes said that if the servants of God had been more devout and enterprising, such a condition of ignorance as to the true God would not have remained. There is a certain amount of truth in this representation; but it would be an error if we let that aspect alone be regarded. We have this also to notice, that behind it there is the mightier and more mysterious fact that God has not commissioned messengers to go to certain peoples, who yet, if He had done so, would have embraced His messages! “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” We are dumb with silence. We can only wait, believing that “He doeth all things well.”
II. Sufficient grace proffered (Ezekiel 3:7-11).
1. To meet foreshadowed difficulties. The Lord is wishful that His servants should not be surprised at hindrances. Their first impression generally is, that, having become obedient to the Almighty One, He will make a clear way for them to walk in. That impression is not caused by anything He has said or omitted to say. He knows how the consciences of men will deal with His righteous claims and turn themselves away from hearing the law; so He urges His people to count the cost of serving Him, to expect rebuffs and disappointments. Then, if they fail to win men, God will have prepared them for just such an event. They need not be cast down, however painful their trials; they must act on His authority, though they have to make a hard, determined advance.
2. To enable to stand firm. For all such failures God will bestow surpassing strength. If the rejecters are obstinate, He will make His servants more tenacious than they. He will “give a mouth and wisdom, that all their adversaries will not be able to gainsay or resist.” They go forth with precious promises from “a faithful Creator.” He does not pledge Himself to give them comforts or converts—He does pledge Himself to give “mercy to the faithful.” Jeremiah heard Him say, “They shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee to deliver thee.” Suspicious and angry looks may confront us, but they will not dismay us, for the Lord is at our right hand. “God so wishes sometimes His servants to acquiesce in His government that they should labour even without any hope of fruit. Therefore let us learn to leave the event in the hand of God when He enjoins anything upon us. It ought to suffice us that our obedience is pleasing to Him.”—Calvin.
3. To maintain unbroken communion. His words remain with His people. His Spirit is ever bringing to their remembrance the things He hath spoken. Ready to receive Him, they find a spring opened on every parched pathway—something fitted to sustain them in all duties and discouragements. It will be from their own negligence, or fear, or unbelief, that they will lose the light of His countenance. “The same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth and is no lie; and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.”
4. To promote conduct correspondent to His assurances. “He giveth grace upon grace.” “To him that hath shall be given;” and intimation is made to Ezekiel that He expects:
(1.) Acknowledgment of His authority. From Him alone is it derived. No man, no ordinance, no institution can convey the power to receive God’s words to any person. Every claim to possessing such power is baseless, since He claims that it belongs to His own in working, and is communicated to whomsoever He chooses. Men can truly speak with a “Thus saith the Lord,” but it is because they have been “called” of God, and have bowed to that call. Such men may preach boldly, for they will be warranted to believe that they do so through the power of Christ speaking in them.
(2.) Unwavering adherence to His word of truth. There must be no compromises with selfish and worldly thoughts. Whether the truth is listened to approvingly or carelessly, whether it is acquiesced in or utterly rejected, no part of it is to be concealed—“all my words”—no part is to be mutilated, for He who speaks is “the Lord God.” The rain cometh down from heaven and falls on soil which absorbs it, or on flinty rocks which throw it off, so is the word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord. “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.”
III. Appointment to labour for God (Ezekiel 3:12-15).
1. By the energy of the Spirit. He knoweth the deep things of God, and is able to show where, when, and how His servants must go to speak from His mouth. It cannot be an impossible duty to be “filled with the Spirit:” it cannot be a special duty for a few amongst those who obey the Lord: one in the lowliest sphere may receive this “unspeakable gift” as assuredly as one in the most conspicuous sphere; and, supplied with the Spirit, all believers in Jesus will hear His voice calling them into His footprints, and act for His glory in all ways. They will learn to prosecute His interests, and not their own, wherever He leads them. Not by desire for a position amongst men, not for “filthy lucre,” not for success will they be led amongst acquaintances or strangers. They will go to be “a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish.” Sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they will speak in His mighty power.
2. In the face of soul-reluctances. The circumstances into which the Spirit lifts the children of God are not always agreeable to them. Nothing promising may appear, their opportunities may be few and contracted, or the people may be apathetic and scornful. Not despondency only, but chagrin may infest the hearts of those whom He has “chosen for Himself, that they might show forth His praise.” They are disposed to murmur that they are not kindly treated by being appointed to such a work, or are not qualified to face the difficulties, and, with more pity for themselves than trust in the Lord, to exclaim, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Alas! in such “bitterness of spirit” there may be the result of misapprehension of the ways of God and irritation against them. Our only security against mistakes and disobedience is in obtaining the gift of power—in the hand of the Lord being strong upon us. Under it we may have a masterful experience like that of Paul, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” We shall bear the strain, however we may feel as if we could cry, “Send by whom Thou wilt send, but not by me.”
3. With sufficient upholding. “All the need” of those who have given themselves up to the rule of God has a guaranteed supply. Their weakness, fear, and much trembling do not exhaust it. They will not long falter, and will not retreat, because they “go in the strength of the Lord God.” They will bear the heat and burden of their day of labour, because “greater is He that is for them than all that can be against them.”
4. Affected by strange hindrances. A wide door and effectual was opened before Ezekiel, but disablement and silence formed his first experiences upon entrance thereunto. Peter is to be converted before he can strengthen his brethren. Paul has to go into Arabia before he is fit to be a chosen vessel unto the Lord. Many a later Christian has found unexpected obstacles interfering with the service to which he believed himself called by his Master. Weak health, uncertainty what first to do, severe temptations and doubts have appeared obstructing his devotedness. Sometimes he is inclined to give up or let despondency unman him. But no: he has to hope in God, for he will yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. He must sow the good seed of the kingdom, if he can; if he cannot, he must wait till God tells him to go and work in the field. All delay, all pain, all inability to do what we hoped to do have purposes which will not really hinder “the end of the Lord.” “All things work together for good to them that love God” and to the interests of His righteousness and salvation amongst men.
Communication from God.—He can have His infinite and, at the same time, His finite side of being. He has His own eternal thought, and can also think, and does constantly think, the thoughts of time. He is all-knowing, and, therefore, more intimately present in our souls, yea, spiritually nearer to us, we may say, than we are to ourselves. He knows us not by media, by signals outward or interior, not by induction from effects or by foreknowledge from causes, but by direct and immediate presence, even by spirit-pervading, interpenetrating spirit. He can think our thoughts as we think them, feel our feelings as we feel them, know our knowledge as we know it; if He cannot do this, then are there deep places in His universe of soul unknown to Him as they truly are. If He can do this, then he can make a revelation in language, in any language, in any actions, signals, symbols, in any outward representations, in any inward affections of the soul, in any finite way. If God thus comes down to us, we see reason why He should adopt that style of speech which is the most outward, the most phenomenal, and, therefore, the most universal. It is the language of the Infinite speaking through media to the human mind, even as one unseen human soul speaks to another human soul through the outward undulations of the air. The words and images are specially selected and specially arranged with reference to the wants of our human race in their peculiar moral history. The words are not outwardly spoken to the prophet’s ears or telegraphically signalled to his imagining sensorium. They are, psychologically, the prophet’s words, the prophet’s images, yet still none the less specially designed through the linked media of revelation, as the very best possible words, the best possible imagery through which such an approximate communication of the ineffable could be made to human minds. Let us be thankful for every type, for every metaphor, for every impassioned appeal, for every instance of the divine condescension in coming down to us, taking the scale of our thoughts, and speaking to us in our own human emotions, our own human conceptions, as well as in our own human words.—Lewis. No man by searching could ever comprehend the glories of a sunrise. Only as the sun, coming up from behind the hills of the morning, reveals himself, could we know what morning is. And so only as God, moving up by a law of motion inherent and undiscoverable, lifts Himself into the horizon of man’s observation, can man know what God is. All we know of God, therefore, we know because of revelation made of Himself by Himself.—Murray. Nearer than “the next street,” even nigh to our spirits within, and yet above us high as heaven is above the earth, is God felt to be when the words of [prophets and] apostles address themselves “to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” While not rejecting the thought of exceptional dealings amounting to the miraculous, my faith acknowledges as normal, and underlying all hope in preaching as all responsibility in hearing, a true inward divine teaching in the Spirit, enabling him who is yielded to is, and in the measure in which he is yielded to it, to understand and welcome revelation.—Macleod Campbell.
The evil religious condition.—In the national spirit and character prevalent in any age, every member of the nation without exception has a share. Every one contributes to this spirit, not only when as a child of the age he is infected, if not by all, yet by one or other of the sins universally diffused; but also when, through neglect of energetic protest, admonition, correction, and punishment, he does not meet it with opposition sufficiently decided. But sinful acts, manifold and widely ramified, point back to sinful tendencies, of which they are manifestations. There is nothing external without an internal counterpart. At the root of illegal acts lies the illegal condition.… God’s eye pierces to the heart, and His lips of truth describe the sinful tendency as already a sinful act, a transgression of that law of His which requires obedience of heart and inclination.—Philippi.
Submission.—What we can help and what we cannot help are on two sides of a line which separates the sphere of human responsibility from that of the Being who has arranged and controlled the order of things. The divine foreknowledge is no more in the way of delegated choice than the divine omnipotence is in the way of delegated power. The Infinite can surely slip the cable of the finite if it choose to do so.—Holmes. It is absolutely necessary that, in activity as in rest, you should not only support the idea of God, but that it should be welcome to you; that you should feel the need to blend it with everything; that it should not disturb but complete your life. If it were not so, God would not be to you what He ought to be, nor would you be to Him what you ought; in both cases your life would be mutilated, false, absurd.—Vinet. Every time Jesus had to act or speak He first effaced Himself, then left it to the Father to will, to think, to act, to be everything in Him. Similarly, when we act or speak, we must first efface ourselves in presence of Jesus; and after having suppressed in ourselves, by an act of will, every wish, every thought, every act of our own self, we are to leave it to Jesus to manifest in us His will, His wisdom, His power. With Jesus the believer holds direct communication, and through Him alone we find and can possess the living Father.—Godet.
Receptiveness to truth.—I must have my spirit brought into contact with the quality and character and reality of truth, so as to be affected by it in accordance with its proper nature. All spiritual truth is addressed to the conscience in man, and is understood only by the conscience; and if the conscience is not in action, the truth is to him like light grasped by the hand instead of received by the eye. A grammarian or logician is apt to forget that there may be meaning in the words or reasonings which require the co-operation of another faculty. All spiritual truth is of inspiration, and speaks to what is of the nature of inspiration within man. All that God speaks to us through others, or from without, is intended to make us better apprehend what He is speaking to each in the secret of His being.—Erskine.
Prescience of God.—It cannot but seem to us a higher perfection to know all things at once than gradually to arrive to the knowledge of one thing after another, and so proceed from the ignorance of some things to the knowledge of them; and that nothing is more certain than that all possible perfection must agree to God: so we find His own word asserting to Him that most perfect knowledge which seems to exclude the possibility of increase. It is not impossible to assign particular instances of some or other most confessedly wicked actions, against which God had directed those ordinary means of counselling and dehorting men, and which yet it is most certain He did foreknow they would do; as Ezekiel was directed to speak to the revolted Israelites with God’s own words to warn and dehort them from their wicked ways.—Howe.
Differing results from truth.—It is from no fault inherent in the earth that it enables the upas-tree poison to be eliminated from the same soil that gives us the bread of life. The tree elaborates deadly essences through an organism and chemistry of its own—a devil in the tree—so the heart of man misuses the good things of God.—W. M. W.
Independence.—Warm your body by healthful exercise, not by cowering over a stove. Warm your spirit by performing independently noble deeds, not by ignobly seeking the sympathy of your fellows.—Thoreau.
To feel, to think, to do only the holy right,
To yield no step in the awful race, no blow in the fearful fight.—Anon.
There is tonic in the things that men do not love to hear, and there is damnation in the things that wicked men love to hear. Free speech is to a great people what winds are to oceans and malarial regions, which waft away the elements of disease and bring new elements of health; and where free speech is stopped, miasma is bred and death comes fast.—Beecher. Find, in every stress of spiritual fortune, in every hour of supreme exposure to evil, in every time of assault from wickedness, find your resources within yourselves; not of yourselves, but within yourselves. Too many people have an outside God. What they need, what the world needs, is, as Paul said, “Christ in you the hope of glory.”—Murray.
Inspiration.—As the water with which we water the seed sown in the ground does not create the plant which grows out of it, but stimulates the development of the organs which had previously been formed in the germ and sets their power in action, so the Holy Spirit does not substitute Himself for the individuality of the sacred author. He awakens his faculties, He groups his experiences, He places him in immediate contact with salvation, and by that means confers upon him a special gift—the distinct intuition of that aspect of gospel truth which answers most specially to his own character and needs. The pole which attracted the sentiment or intelligence of each writer was not situated for all at the same point on the sphere of revelation.—Godet.
Moral government.—Who shall not aim at the same end at which God aims in revealing the gospel—that end to which creation, providence, laws, precepts, ordinances, grace, reason, conscience, revelation, everything else is subservient—right moral action in principle and practice? Who shall not use the same means for this end which God uses—that truth or system of truth which is imbedded in His perfect moral government—which ever places man in the attitude of an agent, teaching his dependence on God only as a reason for acting and doing? Who shall not aim to make the same impression on the human mind which God aims to make by His commands to act, His exhortations to act, His invitations, His entreaties to act, thus throwing every iota of responsibility for the issues of eternity on man as an agent—for what he does, for the deeds done in the body? God’s revealed moral government, the glorious gospel of the blessed God, is by Him designed and fitted, not to hold a world of moral beings like this in the slumbers of spiritual death, but to rouse and move and stir them to the instant, the ceaseless, the joyous activities of that spiritual life which is the only and absolute perfection of a spiritual being.—Taylor.
Spirit and matter.—All life, individual as well as universal, has, as its ground of origination and subsistence, as its root and its link, God’s λογος and God’s πνευμα. Everything lives and moves and subsists, closely united and reciprocally attracted in one element—in Him. “As an army is organised by its general, and is arranged according to his plan of battle, even so are banded together the starry hosts and the groups of atoms according to the will of one Eternal Spirit. This creating and ordaining Spirit pervades every cell, generates and regulates the flight of every working bee, according to the eternal purpose of the whole.… That which generates the galvanic current in the most opposed elements of the voltaic pile; that which gives the living weapon of defence to the electric eel, by the contact of moist heterogeneous parts; that which inclines the magnetic needle to the north—precisely the same creative principle orders and controls the whole fabric of the world, creates and vitalises the organic cell, arranges the intercourse between spirit and matter.” Above the material stands the power as the material of materials; above the power stands life as the power of powers; above life stands the spirit as the life of life; above all spirits stands God as the Spirit of spirits, and there is no solution for the enigma of the reciprocal action of all things but this all-effecting and pervading chief monad, which unites all contraries in itself and through itself.—Delitzsch.
Self-sacrifice.—The completest self-sacrifice gives the completes self-possession; only the captive soul which has flung her rights away has all her powers free; simply to serve, under instant orders of the living God, is the highest qualification for command. This is the meaning of that great saying of Cromwell’s, “One never mounts so high as when one knows not whither one is going”—a saying which the wise and prudent scorned as a confession of blindness, but which reveals to simpler minds the deepest truth.—Martineau.
Waiting.—God has so arranged the chronometry of our spirits that there shall be thousands of silent moments between the striking hours.—Martineau. She accepted it all absolutely, unconditionally. The past never confused the present: her life went on from moment to moment, from step to step, as naturally as plants grow and flower. She said, “I think there are lighthouses all along our lives, and God knows when it is time to light the lamps.”—Anon.
Let tongue rest and quiet thy quill be!
Earth is earth and not heaven, and never will be.
Man’s work is to labour and leaven—
As best he may—earth here with heaven.
’Tis work for work’s sake that he is needing;
Let him work on and on as if speeding
Work’s end, but not dream of succeeding;
Because if success were intended,
Why, heaven would begin ere earth ended.—Browning.
II.—THE ENTRANCE BY EZEKIEL ON THE EXECUTION OF HIS COMMISSION. CHAPS. Ezekiel 3:16-17
Ezekiel had been fully accredited, but did not begin his work as a messenger of the Lord when he was sent among the people. He remained in their midst, silent and astonied—stunned—for a season. Then came instructions, conveying distinct intimation of the responsibilities of his position, of the thraldom in which he would be held, and thereto the first communications for the people followed.
1. RESPONSIBILITIES ILLUSTRATED (Chap. Ezekiel 3:16-21)
EXEGETICAL NOTES. Ezekiel 3:16. “At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came.” The power to prophesy is not inherent in man. It is not produced by his agency. It comes and goes according to occult influences which do not obliterate the mental condition of the recipient. Rather they enter into such correlation with him as to enhance his susceptibility for what is divine, and are always in a certain correspondence with constitutional ability, circumstances, acquirements of the person on whom they operate.
Ezekiel 3:17. “I have made”—given—“thee a watchman.” This shows to Ezekiel how he is to think of himself in the work appointed. He is, as it were, to cover with his eyes the objects placed under his view, and to take action in correspondence with their appearances. He is to look, search, announce or denounce. The watchman is thus closely allied to the seer—only this is the passive state of which the former is the active. “Unto the house of Israel.” Not as an organic unity, but as made up of individuals, part of whom are wicked and part righteous, and the prophet is to inspect carefully the marks which are traceable on each so as to impart appropriate warnings. “Hear the word at my mouth.” He is not to produce his own opinions, or to state that which may agree with the opinions of the people; he is to stand in the light of pure truth and goodness and tell its manifestations. “Give them warning.” Be not a lecturer on history or business; do not sit as a professor to set forth the doctrines that are to be accepted as credible; spend not your time in making up complaints for the people about their distresses as captives in a foreign land. Show that the real evil is in themselves, not in their environment; rouse up a conviction of danger to them so long as they cherish any delusion as to external relationship to the Lord God, if they are disregarding His laws. The future is ominous with storms, and they will be struck down if they follow the ways of their own heart. “From me.” It is I who warn. I speak to thee and use thy capabilities. Take a fearless message, for I am with thee. Do not travesty the sketch I intrust thee with by inserting colours which I warn thee not to put there.
Ezekiel 3:18. “When I say unto the wicked.” God comes into personal communication with transgressors when His servant delivers His message faithfully. “Thou shalt surely die.” The identical threat against the first sinner (Genesis 2:17) is valid throughout all generations. In every world sin is death as contrasted with life. “Nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way.” Once to give warning is not to fulfil the charge devolving on the prophet. There are to be repetitions and perhaps private appeals. The representations are to be made, moreover, against both the man and his doings; for there are sin and sins—an evil disposition and exhibitions thereof. “To save his life.” The purpose of the Lord in speaking to the wicked man is to bestow life upon him—not merely to put a stop to iniquity. He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked. If life is not secured he “shall die in his iniquity,” in the sins he has committed; so he will bring the penalty upon himself; “but his blood will I require at thine hand.” His blood is typical of his life, and He, whose are all souls, will take a reckoning for that life towards the loss of which a guilty negligence has contributed.
Ezekiel 3:19. “Yet if … he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way;” if he do not repent—change his mind and conduct; “thou hast delivered thy soul:” thou wilt stand clear of any accusations of having dealt unfaithfully in thy office. In later times Paul was able to say, “I am pure from the blood of all men.”
Ezekiel 3:20. A parallel case to that of the wicked is now illustrated, but having reference to a righteous man. It is supposed that “a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness.” He does not show a simple weakness in obeying, but a disposition to evil. He yields his members to “commit iniquity, and I lay—give—a stumblingblock before him.” God tempteth not any man, but He arranges the circumstances of men so that an evil heart finds occasion to assert its power, and to draw from the paths of righteousness into the ways of sin. Thus gold and silver (chap. Ezekiel 7:19), and a regard for sensuous worship (chap. Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 14:7), affected the Israelites so that they stumbled. Pharaoh is an illustration of an individual, under providential events, becoming hardened against the good and holy will of the Lord (Exodus 7:3; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:15). “Because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin.” The watchman will be counted guilty of negligence, but his neglect will not excuse the sin of the wanderer from righteousness. That will bring death. “And his righteousness,” his external habits and actions, which, “touching the righteousness which is in the law,” were blameless, “shall not be remembered,” they shall be regarded as if they had never been.
Ezekiel 3:21. On the other hand, “if thou warn the righteous man that the righteous sin not;” or, if thou warn the righteous not to sin as a righteous man, i.e., as professing to have a character which is unspotted by iniquity, and he is confirmed in his right standing by your words, “thou hast delivered thy soul.”
Thus Ezekiel learns the principles by which he is to be moved in carrying on the office of a watchman. Incidentally the procedure of the divine government, in respect to moral character, is indicated, but that is a subject deferred to chaps. 18 and 33 more especially.
God’s call to service is a trust (Ezekiel 3:16-17)
Such a call may be special and capable of being distinctly realised, as by Ezekiel; or it may be general and only its principles appreciated, as by those on whom wishes to do good, vague aspirations, dreams, impressive events have been operating; but whatever be the method in which the call is made, its character as a trust is never altered.
I. Its features as relating to God show this.
1. The call is conveyed by God. He can act on the human will through any one of the faculties which affect it. Prepared eyes can see visions of God, as did Ezekiel, Paul and others; sensitive ears can perceive the sounds of His voice, as did Isaiah, John, and others. He uses the means for producing clear views of duty, more or less definite desires and purposes, firm resolves; and whether these tend towards prophesying, preaching, teaching in families or schools, directing the sickly or dying, they who experience them should receive them as coming from the Father of Lights, the Ruler of all events. They may be recognised, so far as they issue from Him, as sent by Him, though the recipients should not have “heard His voice at any time or seen His shape.” The labourers go to work in His vineyard at the hour in which He finds them idle. The child of a godly mother responds to His impulse with, “O Lord, truly I am thy servant.” An apostle affirms, “A dispensation of the gospel is committed to me.”
2. It is concerned with the truth of God. His truth contains knowledge for the wayfaring man, guidance for the lost, bread for the hungry, healing for the wounded, life for the dead in sins—who will dare to smother its virtue? Let the methods of the call be what they may, the work is to be begun and continued in simple acquiescence to that which He reveals. He will not allow another standard. No herald, soldier, minister should think of modifying the terms in which a government made a declaration of war or a proffer of peace to another government. Less reasonable is it to affect to modify the terms which the mighty God may instruct His servants to bear. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” His words are perfectly and always true. One man’s mind may apprehend them somewhat differently from that of another man, one speaker proclaim them less vigorously than another; but, in any case, the truth in Jesus must not be departed from, must not be tampered with; it must be set forth as His.
3. Its contents are meant for all hearers. Ezekiel is appointed watchman, not for some individuals or for some sections of his people, but for the whole house of Israel. The Lord of the spirits of all flesh has teachings for the young and adult, for poor and rich, for wicked and righteous, and it is not for those whom He calls to be His messengers to alter or prescribe limitations to the reach of His words. He may endow one with a gift suited for children, and another with that adapted to the rough or the cultured, and a third with that fitted for the unconverted or believers; each is to use his gift in the distinct understanding that the truth of God is applied to specific conditions. Underlying this conviction of the adaptation of God’s word to each person should be the strong living thought that the whole world lies within the scope of the divine holiness and love. In our own houses, or outside of them, there are those for whom His food is prepared, and are we not to distribute it? “I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise.”
II. Its features in those who are called show this.
1. In reference to the messages they receive, there is to be:
(1.) A consistent impressibleness to their power. His servants must stand in living and persistent regard to God. Creeds, catechisms, systems, churches, and ecclesiastical assemblies of all kinds, are as likely to interfere now between Him and the single-mindedness of those whom He sends forth, as was manifested by the old priesthood, of whom it was said, “Ye have caused many to stumble at the law.” We need to abide with the Holy Spirit, so that the truths already learned of Christ should retain as fresh a divine power over us as truths which may have been newly given to us; we should seek for the ability to link on the one to the other, so as to be “perfect and complete in all the will of God” whensoever we speak for Him.
(2.) A readiness to accept more. Ezekiel had seen the glory of the Lord and been lifted up by the Spirit, but he is to expect further revelations. None have such abundance of light and impulse for service that they need no more. They have not yet attained. The glory and grace of the Only-begotten cannot be comprehended in a lifetime. Our minds must receive the mould which is suited to our Lord’s own promise, “To him that hath shall be given.”
2. In reference to the responsibility imposed on the messengers. They are required:
(1.) To look at things in the light of God. It is sometimes an object of desire to see the truth of things just as God sees them. Such desire is worse than foolish, whether it relate to our sins or duties. But to ask that we may rightly perceive how either sin or duty stands in view of the Holy One is wise, and fitted to move us toward conformity to the mind of Christ. Many a sailor can satisfactorily tell what he must do with his vessel in a storm, and yet is unable to measure the pressure or the velocity of the wind. And the simplest servants of the Lord may so learn His thoughts and ways as that they shall be practically agreed with God, and yet be still far from complete knowledge of Him. Nevertheless, practical walking in the light of His countenance is to be maintained continually.
(2.) To tell others what is shown of God. The spiritual eye and the heart sensitive to His presentations respecting man’s procedure and what man should do are not to be unused. They are to be made means of convincing all and judging of all ungodly deeds and righteous efforts. Plainness and faithfulness must be brought to the front. Evasion or compromises are out of place in the service of Him who seeth not as man seeth. The message is from Him, and will be associated with His gracious power working in us to will and do. “If a watchman want eyes and knowledge, how can he discern danger, instruct the ignorant, heal the wounded, reduce the straying, lift up the fallen, feed the hungry, comfort the feeble, resolve conscience, and compare things past with things present and future?”—Greenhill.
Postulates for an effective watchman (Ezekiel 3:18-21).
1. Discrimination in addressing the people. He has to act for all, but the wicked are to be spoken to as wicked and the righteous as righteous. Human intelligence may not be capable of distinguishing the inward moral character of persons; that inability must not lead to the confounding of wickedness with righteousness. The warning has to be uttered with all plainness, in reference to disposition or action. The application must be somewhat personal—like that of Nathan to David, “Thou art the man!” The forms of application may be indefinitely varied, but the gist of it will ever define the separation which discriminates “the precious from the vile.” The fear or the gentleness which prevents a follower of Christ from making it clear that sin is death—no matter whether the sinning one be poor or rich, a so-called worldly man or a so-called Christian—must be counteracted by the remembrance that “God cannot be mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” Preachers and teachers of the gospel may be deficient in some valuable qualifications; they must not be deficient in determination to avoid whatever will lead into a mistake as to moral conduct. They have nothing to learn from the maxim, “Live and let live.” They have to hold forth the word of life to those who may be dead in sins, and to those who may have been freed from sin but been tempted to go back to their former master, so that they may know they have not life.
2. Singleness of aim. The purpose of God, in calling men to receive and promulgate His messages, is to save from death. He does not want the soul to revise its past records but to make new records. He does not care so much to avert punishment as to repress the tendencies to punishable conduct—to turn from wickedness and wicked ways to righteousness and righteous ways, from death to life. There may be many pleasant results following our religious efforts, yet the labourer must not aim at less than saving the souls alive of those for whom he acts. He is intrusted with that on which depends, not the mere pleasure or comfort or happiness of men, but their lives, and no consideration should be allowed to divert the directness of the aim he is appointed to take.
3. Certainty of influence. He who brings the word of the Lord does not work in vain. It may be that he does see results such as he wishes to see, or results such as he most earnestly deprecates should not occur; but the Master sees that he sheds “a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.” Still it can never be matter of indifference to learn what is the influence which is exerted. “When Jesus beheld the city He wept over it.” “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” “What is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” How needful to abide under the seriousness of the conviction that we are affecting, for weal or for woe, those with whom, as Christ’s servants, we have intercourse, and seek “by all means to save some.” “Let us throw the net oft, we may catch fish in a dead sea.”
4. Subordination to God. He retains in His own power all decisions as to death and life, and His messengers are but instruments for declaring the principles on which He grounds His procedure. He calls them to “be not weary in well-doing”—to be “instant in season, out of season;” but to not one of them does He give a title to pronounce, over the wicked or righteous man, the sentence, “I condemn thee to die. I absolve thee from thy sins.” “Who art thou that judgest another?” It is arrogancy and boldness to step into Christ’s place, and impose any laws, decrees, or inventions of men upon the consciences of others, or to judge the conditions of men, without warrant from Christ and His Word. Prophets may not do it, much less others. That power is not transferred; the power which He does confer is to declare that God Himself denounces death on the impenitent, that He gives life to those who turn to His ways. He who teaches otherwise does not stand to his appointment as a watchman and travesties the authority which he might rightly wield.
5. Award according to faithfulness. Office in the kingdom of God does not screen its holder from the righteous judgment of God if he is negligent in duties. He will reckon with them, both for what has been let alone or unfaithfully carried out, and for what has been attended to and faithfully fulfilled. The day will come when He will announce the reward or woe. Omission of duty may be as fatal as commission of evil—the negligence which does not extinguish a spark may occasion a conflagration as destructive as that which intentional malice may cause. How earnestly is the question to be pondered: Do we watch for souls as they that must give account, that we may do it with joy and not with grief?
Laws for judging moral conduct (Ezekiel 3:18-21)
1. Impartiality will be dealt out. “There is no respect of persons with God.” The righteous man, if he turn to evil, is condemned equally with the wicked man, and a wicked man, if he turn to righteousness, is saved equally with a righteous man. They who have served the Lord cannot expect that He will wink at, or take no account of their transgressions of His law, on the ground that they have been serving Him, just as they whose hearts have been stout against Him are not to suppose that He will be indifferent to the repentings which are kindled in them. They who have begun wrong may turn to righteousness and will be treated as righteous doers, while they who have done right may turn into a wrong way and will be treated as wrong. This rule for moral life has to be looked at without blinking—I am to have sentence passed upon me by the holy God not for what I profess to be, but for what I do.
2. Judgments proceed according to the direction of conduct. One step aside does not of itself proclaim that a man has left the way in which he has been walking. His fixed departure is known by the steps which succeed to the first. Those successive steps will result from the disposition of the traveller, and God alone can judge of that. We can see, however, that a first stumble out of the way of righteousness may be the commencement of a new course, which, if followed on, will bring to the way of wickedness. The man, as he verges away, may still wear some of the habits he has used hitherto, and may speak in an idiom often different from that of the country whose frontiers he has crossed over; but he has changed his direction—the light falls upon his back, and his face is becoming more suffused with the darkness towards which he is tending. His case calls for the warning that he has left the right way, and that the end of his movement is death—no matter if he does retain some resemblance of his former gait. A wicked man abides in death not because of one sin, or one class of sins, so much as because he goeth on still in his trespasses—because he “hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
3. Guiltiness is not transferable. One’s wicked or righteous doing is from himself. No scheme is possible to be devised by which we can transfer our moral conduct so that it shall be no longer ours. There is no escape from the righteous judgment of God. Circumstances, tempters, preachers can never bear the blame of that which has been perpetrated by our own hearts. We may not have been advised or warned by those whose duty it was to advise or warn us; their failure does not, in any degree, alter the character of the direction we have taken. “Every man must bear his own burden.” Ignorance may be a ground for inflicting few stripes upon a disobedient servant, but cannot destroy his obligation to the master. “I never was told” will never be a lever by which we can lift off from ourselves the unrighteousness and the death which is by sin.
Readiness to serve.—It is infinitely sweet and lovely to be the organ and spokesman of the Most High. The most painful divine truths have for the spiritual man a gladdening and quickening side.—H.
To my Master I stand or I fall; what to me is the world’s acclaim?
I hear not its loud applause, I heed not its bitter blame.
I am not bound by the laws of Herod’s judgment-hall,
When it praiseth me, it hath cause;
Yet what it seeth for flaws
It seeth, nor seeth it all.—Greenwell.
He shall die.—Christ died to save the world from the curse of death under which it is; not a future death of misery, but an actual death of worse than misery, a death which involves our liking that which is evil. It does not occur to us that to like to be wicked is to be damned. We say that mere wickedness, mere self-indulgence, merely being alienated from God, is not worthy to be called death unless there be misery conjoined with it—that suffering is more to be feared than sinning. In that speaks the death of man. That is death which fears suffering more than sinning. A sinful state is the chief of evils; sinning is damnation: self-indulgence is to be cast into hell; the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched are unbridled passions. To be damned is not to be miserable but to be bad, and Christ is spoken of as saving us from sin, from corruption, from vain conversation, from this evil world, never from pain. It is hard to believe that damnation can be a thing that men like. Corruption is corruption in man’s view, though worms like it. Is damnation less damnation in God’s view, though men like it? To be loved by a man whom we treat as an enemy is to have coals of fire heaped upon our head. To be loved as God loves us, we being such as we are, is to be cast into a lake of fire. The love of Christ, the sight of God as He truly is, must have power to save men from sin. They learn that sin is damnation and understand their Maker.—Hinton.
A wrong direction fatal.—
The painful warrior, famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foiled,
Is from the books of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled.—Shakespeare.
2. PROPHETIC THRALDOM (Ezekiel 3:22-27)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—A fresh impulse from the Lord impresses upon Ezekiel another characteristic of his mission. By eating the roll he was taught that his words should be those of the Spirit of God; by being a watchman, that he must speak boldly and without fear of consequences. Now he is to learn that there is a time to be silent as well as a time to speak, and that both are appointed by God.—Speaker’s Com.
Ezekiel 3:22. “The hand of the Lord was there upon me.” The people amongst whom Ezekiel sat had not been altered by seeing his strange condition, and the divine power, which had impelled him to go to them, now impels him to go from them, “into the plain,” or, better, valley, as in chap. Ezekiel 37:1—probably the same depression of ground as this near Tel-abib.
Ezekiel 3:23. “And behold the glory of the Lord stood there.” The same manifestation of majesty, which had commissioned him, again appears to warrant him to hear, speak, act as His messenger.
Ezekiel 3:24. “Then the Spirit entered into me,” as the power which enables men to accept communications from the Lord, and which fulfilled the pledge of Ezekiel 3:22. “And he spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine house.” Ezekiel was to be a sign unto the people, and here is commanded to do that which would be a symbol to teach them. In Ezekiel 3:15 he had sat “astonished among them seven days,” but he is not to do so again. They are to be taught by the fact that he had withdrawn into the privacy of his own house. Thus isolated he preaches to them through their eyes at any rate.
Ezekiel 3:25. “They shall put bands upon thee.” This shows that the people had access to the prophet within his house; but it is not to be taken literally. If the “they” refer to the captives, the phrase will express the idea that their rebelliousness would interfere with the prophet’s mission and hinder its development—as was illustrated in after-times with respect to the mission of One greater than Ezekiel: “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” But the reference is probably to the procedure of the Lord Himself, since in chap. Ezekiel 4:8 it is said, “I will lay bands upon thee.” Of what efficacy they will be is indicated in the words, “and thou shalt not go out among them.” This is not merely a result from the binding, it is rather a command of the Lord. Ezekiel is not to consider himself free to do as he likes. He must confine himself strictly to his house; on no account to sit where his people sit, for to do so would be to obliterate the lesson given by his isolation.
Ezekiel 3:26. This lesson is further inculcated by enforced silence. “Thou shalt not be to them a reprover,” a man who will endeavour to convict them of their sins, except so far as and how I direct thee. They are not always in a state fit to hear rebukes, “for they are a rebellious house,” and nothing effective can be accomplished as yet.
Ezekiel 3:27. “When I speak with thee I will open thy mouth.” The time to declare the Lord’s mind will come, and then Ezekiel must openly and boldly announce what he receives from Him to communicate. It does not seem that this temporary restraint hindered verbal statements about ordinary matters, but only those which came to him in the word of the Lord. His silence or his utterance of the divine message was to be dependent on the express sanction of his Lord. Thus when his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth, when he cannot speak the words given him by God, if his mouth is opened the words he utters will appear the more distinctly divine. “The divine injunction extends over the whole period which ends in the fulfilment of the prophecies of threatening by the destruction of Jerusalem. This appears especially from this, that in Ezekiel 24:27 and Ezekiel 33:22 there is an undeniable reference to the silence imposed upon him in our verse, and with reference to which it is said, that when the messenger should bring back the news of the fall of Jerusalem, his mouth should be opened and he should be no longer dumb.”—Keil.
RESTRAINTS IN SERVING THE LORD
I. They are often experienced. The whole course of the history of the kingdom of God, as traced in the Old Testament, may be pointed to as showing that the godly, whose service is outlined therein, met with recurring impediments to their efforts. The like feature is observed in the New Testament. Every true life for Christ, at one step or another, verifies the expression of Paul, “Without are fightings, within are fears.”
1. The restraints may be in the servants. They may be ready to spread the gospel, but are forbidden to enter the door which is apparently opened, or are afflicted with disease and unable to enter, or are prostrated in their energies by some domestic event and unfit to enter. In such and similar cases they must not conclude that they have offended the Lord because silence is imposed on them; they are not to write bitter things against themselves; they are to bow in acquiescence and wait till God open their lips.
2. The restraints may be from those for whom the service is required.
(1.) They may become violent against the persons who stand up for the rights of God. A prophet like Jeremiah was “cursed” by every one, and cast into a miry dungeon; an apostle like Paul was mobbed, beaten and imprisoned, and unnumbered injuries have been committed against less-known followers of Him who was crucified by wicked hands.
(2.) Or the people may be rebellious in heart. It was because of this their state that Ezekiel was shut up and trammelled. The soil, into which the seed of the kingdom was to be cast, had not those elements in it which would act upon and vitalise the germs. The gospel is unproductive in many a sphere, not because it is not plainly and faithfully set forth, but because men are irresponsive and unimpressed. They reject the medicine which would bring them health and cure. Such sad conditions should not prevent further efforts for the redemption of souls, though former ones have been made apparently in vain. We must not repress our longings for a change. We must watch as servants who wait for the Lord.
II. The restraints are under the direction of the Lord. He concerns Himself with every matter relating to His kingdom amongst men. The enforced silence and disablement of the prophet and the “gross” heart of the people are controlled for His righteous and good ends.
1. Traces of His working are perceptible. Restraints are felt teaching His suffering servants to be patient, vigilant for Him, and so qualifying for future action and future reward. “If we suffer with Him we are glorified together.” Also by those restraints the evil which lies in hearts is disclosed. Their enmity to God is elicited. Their hardness becomes more intense. Blinded thus, they lead the blind and “provoke” God to send a famine of His Word. What more deplorable state can a lost traveller be in than that in which he can be no longer tracked by the guides who go in search of him? What more painful illustration of their state can there be than when the wicked and the righteous hear warnings no more?
2. Hopes of His working may be entertained. When men make void His law, that is a time to ask God to do special work. The restraints which lie in the prophet’s disablement or the people’s sin will not always continue to press. God will not be served only by silence. He will open a door of utterance, and again send forth His words to the people that He may prove whether there is yet a heart in them which will take heed how they hear.
III. Restraints may be associated with communion between the Lord and His servants.
This fact is brought to pass—
1. By a fresh consciousness of God in His service. When His faithful followers are “troubled on every side,” they often realise the power of God and the preciousness of Christ; when they are weak, then are they strong through His grace. He seems to come nearer to them, and they say, “Thou holdest me by my right hand.”
2. By a deepened conviction that He who has led them is the same for ever. Ezekiel is not left to remember that he had seen the glory of the Lord; it is shown to him again. He learns that God is all that He was. The glory of Christ which we see when He is first revealed in us, the glory which moved us to consecrate our lives to Him and His work on earth, that glory will be shown again and again, if we wait for Him. It is not the memory of a first love which is to sustain us in suffering and duty; it is a renewed sight, “day by day.” We are prostrated before His glory, but we, beholding that glory, shall be changed into the same image, from glory to glory—from the glory of suffering for Christ to the glory of reigning with Christ.
3. By the power of the Holy Spirit. He is given to dwell in our body as His temple. He takes the things that are Christ’s and shows them to us. He teaches to profit, and we receive power, love, and a sound mind. The efficacy of all true ministry depends on His energy. It is as the servants of the Lord live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit that they adequately fulfil the mission to which they are called. And since He is freely and fully promised for the asking—as the gift of a father to his children—what sorrow and shame may not affect us who might have received so much of His power and yet have been satisfied with so little! “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Are these His doings?”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26