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Son of man, etc. It is noticeable that the phrase (ben adam), as addressed to a prophet, occurs only in Ezekiel, in whom we find it not less than eighty times, and in Daniel 8:17. As used elsewhere, e.g. in Numbers 23:19; Psalms 8:4; Job 25:6; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 56:2, and in Ezekiel's use of it, it is probably connected with the history of Adam, as created from the ground (adamah) in Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19. The prophet is reminded, in the very moment of his highest inspiration, of his Adam nature with all its infirmity and limitations. In the use of a like phrase (bar enosh, instead of ben adam) in Daniel 7:13 we have the same truth implied. There one like unto man in all things is called to share the sovereignty of the "Ancient of Days," the Eternal One. Here the prophet, nothing in himself, is called to be the messenger of God to other sons of men. It is in many ways suggestive that our Lord should have chosen the same formula for constant use when speaking of himself (Matthew 8:20, and passim in the Gospels). Stand upon thy feet. The attitude of adoration is changed, by the Divine command, into that of expectant service, that of awe and dread for the courage of a soldier of the Lord of hosts (compare the parallels of Ezekiel 3:24; Ezekiel 43:3, Ezekiel 43:5; Daniel 8:18).
And the Spirit, etc. It scarcely admits of question (though the Hebrew has no article, and so far Luther's Version, "Ich ward wieder erquickt," is tenable) that the word is used in the same sense as in Ezekiel 1:20, Ezekiel 1:21 (comp. Ezekiel 3:24). The Spirit which moved the "living creatures" and the "wheels" in the mysterious symbol was now in him. Ezekiel finds in that fact the ground of his prophetic inspiration (comp. Numbers 24:2; Judges 11:29; 1 Samuel 10:6, 1 Samuel 10:10; Isaiah 11:2, etc.)
To a rebellious nation; literally, with Revised Version, nations that are rebellious. The Hebrew word (goim) is that used elsewhere for "heathen" and that may be its sense here. As in Ezekiel 28:22. Judah and Israel may be thought of as having fallen to the level of the heathen. Part of Ezekiel's work was actually addressed to the heathen as such (ch. 25-32.). The word may, however, be used in the plural to include both Judah and the remnant of the northern kingdom. They and their fathers. The words anticipate the teaching of Ezekiel 18:1-32. The people to whom the prophet was sent could not say that they were suffering for the sins of their fathers. They, in their own persons, had transgressed up to the very day on which the prophet received his mission. They had rebelled as their fathers had done in the days of Moses and Joshua (Numbers 14:9; Joshua 22:18).
Impudent children and stiff-hearted; literally, hard of face (i.e. callous to their shame) and stiff of heart. The LXX. gives aptly, σκληροπρόσωποι και σκληροκάρδιοι (compare the "past feeling" of Ephesians 4:19). Thus saith the Lord God. In the Hebrew, Adonai Jehovah; which the LXX. represents by Κύριος Κύριος, and Luther by "der Herr Herr." The two highest names of the God of Israel were 'used to denote the fulness of the prophet's inspiration. The same formula occurs in Ezekiel 3:11, Ezekiel 3:27 : Ezekiel 13:8; Ezekiel 22:28, and passim. So also in 2 Samuel 7:18, 2 Samuel 7:19, 2Sa 7:20, 2 Samuel 7:29; and elsewhere.
Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, etc. The latter word is used in the sense of "cease" or "desist," as in 1 Corinthians 9:6 and Ephesians 6:9. The same formula meets us in Ephesians 6:7; Ezekiel 3:11, Ezekiel 3:27. The prophet is warned beforehand of the (at least) probable failure of his mission, wholly or in part. We note the parallelism of thought, though not language, in 2 Corinthians 2:15, 2 Corinthians 2:16. Such, at all times, has been the condition of the prophet's work. The expectation is grounded upon the antecedent fact of their being a "rebellious people." There is the consolation that in the end, partly through the fulfilment of his words, partly, it may be, through the witness of their own conscience, they shall know that there has been a prophet among them (comp. Ezekiel 33:33; Jeremiah 28:9). We note that it is the first time that Ezekiel claims that name for himself.
Though briers and thorns be with thee. The two Hebrew nouns are not found elsewhere, and have consequently puzzled translators. The LXX. gives two verbs, παροιστρήσπυσιν καὶ ἐπισυστήσονται ἐπὶ σὲ; the Vulgate, increduli et subversores. The words, however, are formed from roots that imply "pricking" or "burning," and the Authorized Version rendering, followed by the Revised Version, is tenable enough. A cognate form of the first is found in Ezekiel 28:24, and there the LXX. gives σκόλοψ, and the Vulgate, spina. A like figurative use of "scorpions" is found in 1 Kings 12:11 and Ecclesiasticus 26:7 (compare also our Lord's words in Luke 10:19). Be not afraid Compare the like command in Jeremiah 1:17. The words imply, probably, a past as well as a future experience. Ezekiel had already known what it was to dwell among those whose hearts were venomous as scorpions. The comparison was a sufficiently familiar one among both Eastern and Greek writers.
Thou shalt speak my words, etc. The words conveyed
(1) a ground of encouragement in the fact that the words would be given by Jehovah (romp. Jeremiah 1:7, Jeremiah 1:17; Matthew 10:19, Matthew 10:20); and
(2) a warning against the intermingling of lower thoughts and a self-originated message (Ezekiel 13:7; Ezekiel 22:28). They are most rebellious; literally, the Hebrew being a noun, they are rebellion, or stubbornness, itself.
Be not thou rebellious, etc. The words convey a warning against the prophet's natural weakness. Instinctively he shrank, as Moses had done (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:10-13) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), from his dread vocation of being a "mortal vessel of the Divine Word." In so shrinking he would identify himself with the very "rebellion" which he was sent to reprove, and would incur its punishment. Eat that I give thee. As in the parallel of Revelation 10:9, the words imply that what was to be given him was no message resting, as it were, on the surface of the soul. It was to enter into the prophet's innermost life, to be the food and nourishment of his soul; to be, in our familiar phrase, "inwardly digested" and incorporated with his very flesh and blood. He was to live "not by bread only" (Deuteronomy 6:3), but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of Jehovah.
An hand was sent (put forth, Revised Version) unto me, etc. Apparently the hand was not that of the human form seated on the throne (Ezekiel 1:26), nor of one of the four living creatures (Ezekiel 1:8), but one appearing mysteriously by itself, as in the history of Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5:5). The words connect themselves with the use of the hand stretched out of a cloud as the symbols of the Divine energy both in Jewish and Christian art. The writer has in his possession a Jewish brass tablet, probably of the sixteenth century, commemorating the legend of the miraculous supply of oil at the Feast of the Dedication, in which such a hand appears as pouring oil into the seven-branched candlestick, or lamp, of the temple. Lo, a roll of a book, etc. The words remind us of the volume, or roll, in Psalms 40:7; Jeremiah 36:2; Zechariah 5:1; like those which are still used in Jewish synagogues.
It was written within and without. Commonly such rolls, whether of vellum or papyrus, were written on one side only. This, like the tables of stone (Exodus 32:15), was written, as a symbol of the fulness of its message, on both sides. And as he looked at the roll thus "spread before" him, he saw that it was no evangel, no glad tidings, that he had thus to identify with his work, but one from first to last of lamentations, and mourning, and woe. Jeremiah had been known as the prophet of weeping, and was about this time (probably a little later) writing his own Lamentations (the Hebrew title of the book, however, is simply its first words) over the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel's work was to be of a like nature. The word meets us again (Ezekiel 19:1, Ezekiel 19:14; Ezekiel 26:17; Ezekiel 27:2, Ezekiel 27:32; Ezekiel 28:12; Ezekiel 32:2, Ezekiel 32:16) as the keynote of his writings. Out of such a book, though the glad tidings were to come afterwards, his own prophetic work was to be evolved.
God speaking, and man listening.
This second chapter of the prophecies of Ezekiel introduces us to the personal call and commission of the prophet. The first chapter was engaged with preliminary and preparatory visions. Now the prepared soul receives the direct word from God.
I. GOD SPEAKING. God speaks to Ezekiel:
1. In words. Previously the prophet's attention had been arrested by visions—glorious, awful, soul-stirring visions—visions that not only roused his feelings, but that must also have awakened in his mind many strange thoughts by their profound suggestiveness; still only visions, and therefore mysterious revelations shrouded in a measure of uncertainty. Now God proceeds from the vague vision to definite speech. It matters not whether we consider that the speech came in physical sound, in real air waves, that any other listener, had he been present, might have understood, or whether the words were impressed on the mind of the prophet. In any case, he heard them, and thus he received a clear, definite, unmistakable message. We are not left to uncertain visions, nor even to the difficult hieroglyphics of nature. We have a revelation in language, a written Bible.
2. In direct address. God spoke immediately to Ezekiel. Here is the contrast between the prophet and the ordinary bearer of a Divine message. We receive our messages at second hand from God's inspired teachers. They held direct communications with Heaven. But may not we do something similar, not indeed in new prophecies or gospels, but at least in the illumination of soul which makes the old truth stand out in a new light, or helps us to make a fresh application of it to new circumstances? By his Spirit God does thus speak directly to every listening soul, though the words are those of familiar truth.
II. MAN LISTENING. Speech is useless without a hearer. For ages the "silent proclamation" of nature has been spread before the gaze of heedless witnesses. The difference between the seer and the man who beholds only material facts may lie in the natures of the men more than in the external facts that are presented to them. The one is a seer because he has eyes to behold what is equally present to the other, though unperceived for lack of sight to discover it. So the prophet must have "ears to hear" the message of God. And all who would receive God's message in their souls must have the heating ear. The manner of the delivery of the Divine message to Ezekiel suggests the way in which it should be received.
1. In a certain human simplicity. Ezekiel is addressed as "son of man." When nearest to Heaven he must not forget his human nature. The prophet is our fellow man. The knowledge of heavenly truth does not kilt human nature, nor destroy the kinship between the enlightened and the ignorant.
(1) Here all pride is rebuked. The prophet must not suppose that he is anything more than a man.
(2) Human interests are to be considered. The message is given to one man for the sake of his fellows.
2. In manly obedience. Ezekiel is to stand up. He had fallen in fear before the vision of glory. To hear the word of revelation he must arise. God does not delight in the humiliation of his children. We are exhorted to "come boldly unto the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). Religion does not destroy manliness. Yet God expects the attention shown by a servant to his master. Ezekiel is not to sit. He who receives a word from God is to be awake, listening, attentive, and ready to obey, like the servant who stands by his master's side.
The entrance of the Spirit.
If it were not for another reference to the Spirit in Ezekiel 4:3, we might reasonably suppose that the prophet was referring to his own spirit, and indicating, in picturesque language, that he recovered from faintness, or that his "spirits" rose, that he gained courage and strength. But since this passage plainly shows that none other than the Spirit of God can be meant, it is clear that a very close connection between the Holy Spirit and man is here indicated. The possibility of misunderstanding as to what spirit is designated only emphasizes the idea of the intimate association of the human and the Divine.
I. THE SPIRIT OF GOD ENTERS MAN. We can never fathom the mystery of the nature of God. But it would seem that certain modes of the Divine Being are more within touch of us than others. So, while as our Father God rules and blesses us, and while the Son of God enters humanity generally by taking our nature upon him and becoming our Brother, the Spirit enters into individual souls, and unites himself with our very selves. The Christian is a temple of the Holy Ghost. Something more must lie in this fact than the omnipresence of God, for God is everywhere, and therefore does not need to enter any region of creation. The spiritual entrance must therefore mean the manifestation of his presence
(1) by an exercise of energy, or
(2) by a revelation to consciousness.
The prophet may know the latter form of Divine entrance. The former, however, is the more usual in experience. Now, it is very much to know that God does indeed dwell with the children of men. The earth is not a God-deserted waste. Religion is not a one sided effort of man to reach after God. Spiritual life is not simply an exercise of a man's own powers. God has his share in the soul's experience, touching it in its inmost secret being. He is nearer to the spiritually minded man than that man's own thoughts.
II. THE DIVINE SPIRIT ENTERS THROUGH THE DIVINE WORD. Ezekiel tells us that "the Spirit entered into me when he spake unto me." So it was in the days of the early Church. The apostles preached first; then, after their word had been received, the Holy Ghost descended upon the hearers. While it is commonly recognized that prayer is a fitting means through which to obtain a fuller presence of the Spirit of God,
is it so often acknowledged that the reception of truth is an equally important condition? God's Spirit does not come like a flash of lightning, striking the unexpectant soul, nor like a gift of magic. The understanding of truth is the open door through which the inspiration of life enters. Hence the importance of teaching, preaching, reading the Bible, meditation, cultivating spiritual intelligence and enlightened faith. Yet this very connection between the Spirit and the Word is a rebuke to cold intellectualism. The Word by itself is not enough. When we have comprehended and embraced it to the full, it is still but the door through which to receive the far more important gift of the Holy Ghost.
III. THE ENTRANCE OF THE SPIRIT IS A SOURCE OF STRENGTH. Ezekiel was bidden to stand up. At first it would seem he was so overwhelmed with awe in the presence of sublime visions of heaven, that he could scarcely obey. But as the first sounds of the Word of God reach his dazed ears, the Spirit of God enters him, and at once he acquires a new energy, and is able to stand erect in manly strength. Shame for sin casts us down; inspirations of God lift us up. To see God afar off is to fail down before him in confusion and terror; to welcome God in the shrine of the heart is to enjoy a cheering encouragement and an uplifting power. The Church too often droops and languishes for lack of this inspiring presence. She should remember that God's Spirit is not only a purifying, enlightening, and comforting influence, but also the supreme Source of energy. That same Spirit which of old brooded over the face of the waters, and brought life and order out of chaos and death, now broods over the human world with infinite powers of life to bestow on all who will receive him. Then, in receiving strength from the incoming of the Spirit, the soul is able to receive more truth from God, as Ezekiel heard more Divine words when he stood up in his new strength. Thus there is no limit to the growth of knowledge and power m this twofold process.
Ezekiel 2:3, Ezekiel 2:4
An embassy to rebels.
The people of Israel are regarded as a vassal nation that has added rebellion to disloyalty, and has gone so far as to throw off its allegiance to its suzerain lord, and now the Supreme Sovereign sends his prophet as an ambassador to declare his will at this terrible crisis.
I. TRANSGRESSORS RIPEN INTO REBELS. They and their fathers had transgressed in the past. But the children have exceeded the wickedness of their parents by breaking out into open revolt. This may refer to the idolatry that follows neglect of the service of the true God, or to the abandonment of Jehovah after previously disobeying him.
1. All sin tends to aggravate its own evil. Rebellion is worse than transgression. The bad child may be more wicked than his corrupt parent—at least, if only left to the evil influences of his home. In every man, if sin is chosen, a downward course is being followed into blacker iniquity and more outrageous wickedness, till the goal is reached and the sinner has fully developed the kingdom of hell within him.
2. Moral transgression leads to personal opposition against God. At first the transgressor may have no desire to quarrel with God. He only wants to have his own way, and possibly regrets the misfortune that this happens to be opposed to the Divine will. For a time he tries to sever morality from devotion, and to retain his worship after he has broken up his obedience. This state of discord cannot last. The enemy of God's Law cannot but become an enemy of God. He who resists the law opposes the government.
3. Concealed iniquity ends in confessed impiety. The transgression may be secret; the rebellion will be open. The sudden fall of a saint that sometimes surprises and shocks the Church may be only the step from disloyalty to rebellion.
4. The progress of sin coarsens and hardens the sinner, The parents "transgressed." The children are "impudent" and "stiff-hearted." Reverence cannot long outlive obedience. The conscience which is roughly used loses its sensitiveness and becomes harsh and callous, like the skin of the hand that works with rough materials. Thus the worst sin is least acknowledged, and the greatest sinner most impenitent.
II. GOD DOES NOT NEGLECT HIS REBEL CHILDREN.
1. God has not lost his claims on them. Men may throw off their allegiance to God, but they cannot destroy his rightful authority over them. No soul can outlaw itself. To renounce a sovereign is not to escape from the power of his rule. If an English soldier declared himself a republican, he would not be exonerated from the service of the queen. God is the Judge of all the earth—of those who reject his Law as surely as of those who obey it.
2. God desires to recover them. The message may come in wrath, threatening destruction. Yet it need never have been sent at all. The ambassador might have been spared, and an avenging army despatched to the rebellious nation. But God sends warnings before judgments, preaching prophets before destroying angels, invitations to return before mandates of extermination, gospels of grace before swords of doom. The darker the message of warning is, the more assuredly is it prompted by mercy; because, if an exceedingly dreadful punishment is deserved and is even impending, it is an especial mark of God's forbearance towards the worst of sinners that he holds it back in the hope of urging to repentance those who have been treasuring up for themselves so fearful an accumulation of wrath. Much more, then is the gospel of Christ a message of mercy, inviting sinners back into the kingdom of heaven instead of trampling them underfoot as worthless rebels.
Dwelling among scorpions.
I. THE DISTRESS. Ezekiel lay on no bed of roses. His messages of stern denunciation raised up enemies who gave him worse than a thorny couch—a very house of scorpions to dwell in. No more hideous picture of distress can well be conceived than that of the faithful prophet thrust into a thicket of briers, which turns out to be a scorpions' nest. The thorns are bad enough, yet fierce stinging creatures are added. This is a prophet's Inferno. Captives who only suffered from the grief of exile would hang their harps on the willows in heart-broken despair. Ezekiel's is a far worse case—to be tormented by his fellow captives in return for his faithful words.
1. A great mission may bring a great distress. The common people are spared; the prophet is tormented. Ezekiel has his scorpion-neighbours; St. Paul, exalted to the third heaven, receives his thorn in the flesh; Christ, the Holy One, is crowned with thorns, pierced with nails, and more terribly wounded with cruel hatred.
2. A man's worst enemies may be those of his own household. The scorpions are not pagan Babylonians, but Jews. No rancour is so bad as that of one whose milk of natural affection is turned to the venom of a brother's hatred. This is the murder spirit of Cain the fratricide, the devilry of Judas the traitor.
3. A guilty conscience is a dangerous sting. If it does not wound its owner, it is likely to turn on its accuser. Ezekiel had to accuse the Jews of sin. We may often take the very ferocity of the attack made upon the gospel as a sign that its opponents are not at ease in their own hearts.
4. A spiteful tongue stings like a scorpion. Ezekiel was cruelly hurt when no bodily harm was done to him. Possibly his enemies were scarcely conscious of the keenness of their words. But the rankling wound which comes from venomous speech is more painful than the fiery swelling of the worst scorpion sting. Spiteful slanderers are more mischievous than the most repulsive insects.
II. THE DUTY. Though scorpions infest the sphere of his labours, still the faithful prophet must toil on, braving their threatening stings. The people at Banias build leafy booths on the tops of poles, for residence during the hot season, in order to escape the attacks of scorpions, which are very abundant in their neighbourhood. No, such escape is permitted to the prophet of God.
1. Unpopularity may be a sign of fidelity. This is a shamefully forgotten doctrine in our day of easy living. Now the popular preacher is regarded as the great preacher, and the unpopular servant of God is regarded, even by his brethren, as a "failure." If so, then Ezekiel and Jeremiah were "failures," while their now-forgotten comrades, who prophesied smooth things, were great "successes." Such a doctrine would have given us no Hebrew prophets to stand in the first rank of God's heroes. But time is a great avenger. Frederick Robertson of Brighton, whose sensitive spirit was assailed by a scorpion press during his lifetime, is now recognized as a prince of Divine teachers; while the very names of his enemies—happily for them—are forgotten.
2. The duty of fidelity in the midst of persecution is blessed with heavenly rewards. The rewards begin on earth in the soul's culture. Mediaeval monks would roll in thorns for self-chastisement. Persecuted prophets needed to invent no such fantastic devices. The thorns were thrust upon them; their path was beset by scorpions. There is danger in the path of ease. It is better to be stung by the vicious scorpion than bitten by the deadly cobra. The thorn bush of persecution has its venomous insects, but in the flower beds of pleasure lies the serpent whose bite is death.
Preaching to unwilling hearers.
There can be no more difficult or painful duty than that of a preacher to unwilling hearers. But it was seen in the case of Hebrew prophets; it was illustrated in Christ's brave dealings with the Pharisees and Sadducees; and it must necessarily fall at times to the lot of every faithful Christian minister in the present day.
I. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE PREACHER TO DELIVER A MESSAGE TO ALL KINDS OF HEARERS. He cannot select his favourite audience. He has no right to wait till men ask lop his message. He is the herald sent into the camp, who must declare the will of his Master, even though his hearers are too busy with their work or amusement to give him attention, or too unsympathetic to care to hear what he says. With most things the supply is regulated by the demand. The farmer will not grow more corn than the people need for food; the manufacturer turns out the largest quantity of those products that sell must widely. But this spirit of commerce should not obtain any footing in the Christian Church. Yet, no doubt, it has invaded the Church, and the temptation is to echo popular cries from the pulpit, and to bow to the will of the pew. Many people ask for short sermons, restive under the strain of attention to more lengthy discourses. Some wish for pleasant, cheerful themes; they are particularly desirous that no demands shall be made on their thinking faculties; they would luxuriute in sweet, soothing fancies. Then the temptation is to concede what is thus demanded. That is to lower the claims of truth. In this region it is necessary to create the right hunger, and here the supply must precede and exceed the demand. The negligence of the people is no reason for the preacher's reticence.
II. THE DUTY TO PREACH TO UNWILLING HEARERS RESTS ON DIVINE OBLIGATIONS AND ON HUMAN NEEDS.
1. Divine obligations. The preacher is not the slave of his people, but the servant of God. If he is sent to speak for God, a burden of responsibility is laid upon him. Moreover, he is the custodian of truth. Truth seeks the daylight and the free sir. Men have no right to imprison her because her presence in the busy world is sometimes unwelcome. God's truth must be brought even where it is not sought, even where it is hated and rejected.
2. Human needs. They who are most reluctant to hear a message from Heaven most need that message, for their very indifference or opposition is a sign of that state of alienation which God is seeking to overcome. If the family were awake when the house was on fire there would be no necessity for the watchman to call to them. But in their sleep is their great danger. Just because they are indifferent they most need to be warned.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IS LIMITED TO THE FAITHFUL DELIVERY OF HIS MESSAGE. Mark this—the delivery must be faithful. There is a snare for the preacher in our subject. He may lay the charge of the failure of his message against his hearers, when he ought to have taken it home to himself. Though he cannot command success, it is his duty to aim at it and to labour for it with the utmost assiduity. Possibly the message has not been rightly apprehended by him nor wisely and affectionately commended to the people. He may have been indolent in preparation. He may have been cold or stern, haughty or aloof from his hearers, when he should have approached them in a loving brotherly way. Or his own heart may not have opened to receive the message. How, then, can he expect his hearers to be interested in it? One cold heart can inspire no warmth in other cold hearts. But when the preacher has done his best in the strength of God, he must leave his message. At this point the responsibility shifts to the hearers. Even the words of him who spake as never man spake sometimes fell by the wayside and on stony ground. What wonder if ours seem to fail? The apparent failure of the faithful is indeed no real failure; the words may fail, but the man has not failed, for he has done his duty—and no man can do more than that.
Faithful among the faithless.
Ezekiel is to go among the rebellious people; but he is to be most careful not to rebel himself against the will of God. Though he stand alone, yet he must be true.
I. A SEVERE TRIAL. It is difficult to be faithful among the faithless. There is a subtle poison in the atmosphere of evil society. No doubt Christ instituted his Church in part that his followers might be lifted out of the malarious regions of sinful associations, and drawn into a more wholesome climate of saintly companionship. Ezekiel was scarcely allowed any such help from Church fellowship. Like Nehemiah, he had to stand alone and face the current of rebellion. Then, beyond the unconscious temptation to go with the multitude to do evil, there was a very visible danger in the case of Ezekiel. He was called to testily against his brethren with such a message that they would turn against him like so many scorpions. He was to find himself in a border of thorns as the penalty of his fidelity (see verse 6). Although this visible persecution is now rare, the spirit of it is not dead, and there are places still where the faithful must stand alone and be made to smart severely for their integrity. How often this is the case with one high-principled Christian young man in a house of business where the methods of conducting trade and amusement both assail his fidelity! It is hard to be faithful under such circumstances. Yet the duty does not cease. The rebellion of others is no excuse for us also to rebel.
II. A LOFTY DUTY.
1. Extraordinary fidelity. Ezekiel was not only warned not to rebel in the exact manner of his fellow countrymen. He had a higher command laid upon him than any that was imposed upon them. They were only required to keep the general Law of God; he was commissioned to a special task of difficulty and danger in a prophet's career, and his faithfulness was to consist in his not rebelling against this great task. The most honoured servants of God are those who are set in the posts of greatest danger and required to discharge the most arduous service. Brave men leap to such service and danger in human pursuits, eagerly volunteering to join expeditions into the heart of Africa or in search for the north pole. Some, too, are as eager in God's service. These are God's heroes.
2. Superhuman aid. Ezekiel was a man of God, a man of faith and prayer. Hence his power to be faithful. To stand faithful we must feel the influence of God's grace. It is possible to be
"True as the needle to the pole,
Or as the dial to the sun,"
because needle and dial shadow follow great commanding influences.
III. A SPLENDID EXAMPLE. One faithful man among a host of traitors is a mighty encouragement to the weak. He can be a nucleus about which they can cluster, although they would never have had strength to stand without his great personality. Like a lighthouse in a wild and wintry night, the solitary example of fidelity sheds its encouraging rays far out to the darkness round about. Joseph in immoral Egypt, Daniel in unprincipled Babylon, Paul at wicked Rome, Luther at Worms, Latimer at Oxford,—these men are beacon lights shining down the ages. It is worth the cost of all the hardship of exceptional trials of fidelity to become such magnificent inspiring influences for all time.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Son of man.
This expression is so constantly used with reference to Ezekiel that it cannot be considered a mere Oriental idiom with no peculiar significance. There were special reasons why Ezekiel, as the prophet chosen to communicate God's will to Israel, should be thus designated.
I. TRUE HUMANITY IN THE PROPHET ENABLED HIM TO HOLD COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER OF SPIRITS. Man is God's chosen vehicle for communicating with man. The ministry of angels is a reality, but such ministry is subordinate to that which is strictly human. Man is made in the likeness of God, and shares in the Divine reason. His highest thinking, it was grandly said by Kepler, is thinking over again the thoughts of God. It is in virtue of this prerogative that human beings are able to enter into the counsels of the Eternal Wisdom. The inferior inhabitants of this globe may indeed express in their structure the designs of the Creator. But man is more than the creature; he is the child of the heavenly Father, who calls his children to share in the revelation of his own character and will. And certain selected individuals, notably those designated "prophets," are admitted into special relations with the Infinite Spirit, that they may be made the medium of carrying out his purposes of wisdom and of love.
II. THE PROPHET'S TRUE HUMANITY ENABLED HIM TO ENTER INTO THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND NEEDS OF THOSE TO WHOM HE MINISTERED. The prophets sprang from the people, and knew them from familiar intercourse and intimacy; they knew their sins and weaknesses, their temptations and struggles. Some, like Elijah and John the Baptist, led a life secluded and ascetic—only now and again coming forth from their retirement and mingling with their countrymen for some special purpose. But others lived amongst those whom they had known in childhood and youth, and made themselves acquainted with their temporal condition and their spiritual wants. It seems to have been so with Ezekiel. And as participation in common sorrows and sufferings often draws men closer together, it is reasonable to believe that comrades in exile were upon terms of closest fellowship and correspondence. The prophet knew well, in virtue of a common nature and a common lot, the people amongst whom he dwelt, and to whom he was called to minister.
III. THE PROPHET'S TRUE HUMANITY RENDERED HIS MINISTRY SYMPATHETIC, AUTHORITATIVE, AND EFFECTIVE. Men may see much of one another, may be brought frequently into contact with one another, and yet may have little mutual knowledge, and even feel little interest in one another's experiences. But this was not the case with Ezekiel, who did not harden his heart against even the disobedient, rebellious, and unresponsive, but, on the contrary, cultivated, as a man, a spirit of true brotherhood with his fellow men. He was deeply pained when it was his duty to threaten or to denounce; he was sincerely glad when it was given him to speak words of kindness and encouragement. There was, in consequence of this human sympathy, an especial authoritativeness in his prophetic ministrations. What he said and did went home, in many cases, to the hearts of those whom he addressed; because they interpreted his words and deeds in the light of his spirit and character.
IV. THE PROPHET WAS THUS A TYPE OF CHRIST HIMSELF, WHO WAS WONT TO DESIGNATE HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN. Perfect Man as well as perfect God, the Lord Christ entered into the position of those whom he came to save. Like Ezekiel, the Lord Jesus came to a captive people; like Ezekiel, he addressed to them words of reproach, words of warning, words of consolation, words of hope. He did more than this: he bore their sins, and carried their sorrows. And thus he brought deliverance to the bondmen, opened the prison doors, and bade the oppressed go free.—T.
This must have been a bard message for Ezekiel to deliver to his fellow countrymen. It was the heathen, the Gentiles, who were usually designated "nations;" and in applying this designation to Israel, he seemed to degrade the chosen people from their peculiar position of honour, and to rank them with the idolatrous nations whom they were accustomed to despise. And it has been surmised that, in employing the plural, the prophet intended to intimate that the Hebrews no longer constituted one people, one state, but were divided among themselves, dissolved as it were into disconnected and opposing sections and factions. It may be just and profitable to regard Israel as representative of the human race, in respect to this lamentable charge of rebellion, which may certainly be brought against mankind at large.
I. REBELLION IMPLIES ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO ARE GUILTY OF IT THE POSSESSION OF A VOLUNTARY NATURE. If there is no liberty, there can be no rebellion. Rebellion implies intelligent apprehension, and it implies deliberate purpose. The rebel knows what is the authority which he defies, and he defies that authority, not only intelligently, but of purpose. Brutes do not rebel; but men and angels may do, and have done Hence the serious responsibility attaching to rebellion against God on the part of wilful though misguided men.
II. REBELLION IMPLIES A JUST AUTHORITY AGAINST WHICH, CONTRARY TO EIGHT, THE REBEL SETS HIMSELF. There can be no rebellion where there is no government, no rebel where there is no governor. Neither can there be rebellion, properly speaking, against a usurper, who has no claim upon the loyalty and allegiance of those whom he may unjustly denominate his subjects. The moral government of the world is a fact, and its administration is characterized by equity. As the universal Legislator and Judge, God demands the subjection and obedience of mankind; all are his lawful subjects. There is no rebel against Divine authority who can bring against the rule and sway of the great Governor of the universe the charge of injustice and tyranny. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
III. REBELLION AGAINST GOD INVOLVES GREAT GUILT AND MISERY. This awful fact is not to be questioned by any reasonable student of the moral history of mankind. Nowhere more strikingly than in the history of Israel has it been shown that they who resist Divine authority and violate Divine Law incur the most awful guilt and entail upon themselves the most awful punishments. Sentimentalists may complain that such assertions are the expression of severity and fanaticism; but it remains forever true that "the way of transgressors is hard," and "the wages of sin is death."
IV. MAN'S GUILTY REBELLION PROMPTED INFINITE MERCY TO PROVIDE A VAST REDEMPTION AND DELIVERANCE. The history of the Hebrew people exhibits instances not only of human apostasy, but of Divine compassion and merciful interposition and deliverance. Thus the Captivity was itself a punishment for rebellion, for idolatry, and for all the evils idolatry brought upon the nation. Yet God did not forget to be gracious. He made the Captivity an occasion for displaying his grace; mercy triumphed over judgment. Repentance and submission took the place of resistance and defiance. Discipline, chastisement, answered its appointed purpose. God pitied the rebels even whilst he censured the rebellion. And very similar has been his treatment of mankind at large. The whole race has rebelled, and the whole race has been redeemed. There is spiritual amnesty provided through Christ Jesus, reconciliation through faith and repentance, restoration to affectionate loyalty and to happy subjection through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit.
V. WHEN REBELLION IS SUBDUED, AND THE REBEL HUMBLED, SUBJECTION IS FOLLOWED BY LOYALTY AND HAPPINESS. God does not leave his work half done. He pardons the penitent, but he blesses the loyal and the reconciled. Great is the change which takes place in the state of him who has laid down the weapons of rebellion and has cast himself in penitence and submission before the footstool of the throne. As rebellion is exchanged for loyalty, and defiance for submission and gratitude, so disgrace is exchanged for honour, and the just sentence of death for the merciful assurance of Divine favour and eternal life.—T.
Ezekiel 2:4, Ezekiel 2:5
The prophet's commission.
Nothing is clearer than that the prophets did not believe themselves to be acting and speaking simply upon the promptings of their own inclinations or their own convictions of what was right and expedient. Whether they were self-deluded or not, certain it is that they deemed themselves ministers and messengers of the Eternal. It was this which gave them both courage and authority. In the most explicit manner, Ezekiel in this passage records his commission to go among his fellow countrymen as the herald of God's wisdom, authority, and grace.
I. THE COMMISSION. "I do send thee unto them." There is great simplicity and great dignity in this language of authorization; he who heard it could never forget it. When disappointed in the result of his ministry, or alarmed at the threats of those whom he sought to benefit, these words must often have recurred to the mind of the prophet, inspiring him with fresh zeal and courage. If the ambassador of a powerful king is strengthened in the fulfilment of his trust by the recollection that he received his authority from a court honoured by friends and feared by foes, how much more must the ambassador from God derive courage and confidence from the knowledge that he is sent by the Supreme, who will never desert those who engage in his service and do his will!
II. THE MESSAGE. At first the prophet received no other message than this: "Thus saith the Lord God." But this was the earnest of much to follow. And, indeed, the whole of the prophecies were amplifications of this. Ezekiel was to go among the children of the Captivity with words from Jehovah. A prophet is one who speaks for, on behalf of, the Divine Being by whom he is commissioned. If the speaker had his own special reasons for believing that the words he uttered were not his own, but God's, those who listened to his declarations of warning and of promise had a witness within, in the testimony of their own conscience, assuring them that the prophet spoke with Divine authority. And this is so still with all who will listen reverently and obediently to the heavenly voice. It is thus that the Scriptures possess over our minds a preeminent power; their writers preface every authoritative utterance with the statement, "Thus saith the Lord."
III. THE VARIOUS RECEPTION OF THE MESSAGE. It is in accordance with the reasonableness of the inspired writers that. they cherished such moderate expectations regarding the effect to be produced by their ministry. Fanatics would have felt assured that, in such circumstances, they must meet with ready credence and immediate obedience. Ezekiel certainly had no such delusive anticipations, and was indeed expressly warned that his message would meet with varying reception. Some would hear, some would forbear. It was with Ezekiel as in the Christian dispensation it was with Paul; we are told that the result of his ministry at Rome was that "some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved."
IV. THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED BY GOD'S MESSENGER UPON THOSE TO WHOM HE WAS SENT. "They shall know that there hath been a prophet among them." Even those who were so much under the influence of ignorance, prejudice, evil example, and sin, that they did not and would not turn unto God, nevertheless were well aware that their obstinate impiety was unjustifiable. They might ridicule the prophet in their language, but they reverenced him in their hearts. Beneath the laugh of incredulity was a deep-seated fear, springing from an inward conviction that the voice they rejected was indeed the voice of God. Had one come among them flattering their vanity and pride, and ministering to their sinful tastes, they would in their heart of hearts have despised him. But when one came fearlessly upbraiding them with their unfaithfulness, and denouncing their guilty defection, they could not but know that a prophet had been among them.
APPLICATION. This passage has an especial significance for ministers of God's Word, and for all religious teachers. It shows them where their strength lies; warns them against enunciating their own speculations or inculcating precepts founded upon their own experience; and directs them to go among their fellow men with this dignified and effective message, "Thus saith the Lord." They may be tempted to court men's favour and good will by uttering words of flattery. But it is well that, when so tempted, they should remember that there is in men a conscience, which may be repressed, but which cannot be crushed, which renders a homage, though silent, to the just authority of truth and righteousness, and which recognizes, even though it does not lead to practical obedience, the precepts and the warnings which are from God.—T.
This Book of Ezekiel is one abounding in figure and symbol; it would be a mistake to take all its contents literally. When we read that the prophet was required by God to eat that which was given him, and are then informed that a written scroll was that which was to be eaten, we are at first surprised. But then we recollect that eating has been in many religions regarded as a sacred and symbolical act. The Mosaic dispensation had its Paschal meal, and the Christian religion has its sacrament of the Lord's Supper. So that the symbol of the text is quite in accordance with the practices which, upon Divine authority, have prevailed in the Church throughout the ages.
I. IN ORDER THAT THE TEACHER MAY IMPART TO HIS FELLOW MEN, HE MUST FIRST RECEIVE FROM GOD. That this is the meaning of the symbol of this passage is evident from the context. It was in connection with the prophet's commission that he was bidden to eat the scroll. It was thus that he was to fit and qualify himself for his special ministry; he was to take from God, that he might have wherewith to supply the needs of the people.
II. THE REVELATION OF GOD MUST BE GRADUALLY AND COMPLETELY APPROPRIATED AND ASSIMILATED BY THE MINISTER OF DIVINE TRUTH, Eating is a process by which suitable nutriment is introduced into the bodily system, and assimilated by the organs of digestion, so that it both builds up the bodily structure and supplies the organism with renewed power for life work. Such is the function fulfilled by God's truth in connection with the spiritual being and life. The teacher of the revealed mind and will of the Supreme cannot be fitted for his service by a superficial and slight acquaintance with his message. That message must sink into the depths of his nature, must penetrate his being, must enter into all the functions of the spiritual life.
III. THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER MAY HAVE TO CONTEND WITH AND OVERCOME NATURAL DISINCLINATIONS TOWARDS SOME PARTS OF THE MINISTRY ENTRUSTED TO HIM. The requirement of God could not but awaken in the prophet's mind something of repugnance, The scroll he was bidden to eat was filled with lamentations, mourning, and woe; the message he was commissioned to deliver was a message of reproach, of expostulation, of warning, of threatening. Such a ministry could not be agreeable to his natural inclinations; he must have shrunk from it as uncongenial and distasteful. It must often happen that the fulfilment of duty is distressing to the faithful and yet sensitive preacher of righteousness; it is a bitter thing to deliver a message of condemnation to one's fellow men.
IV. YET IT IS SWEET TO OBEY AND TO FULFIL THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD. When the disinclination to undertake the painful commission had been overcome, a profound satisfaction followed. The prophet found that in keeping God's commandments there is great reward. The distress is temporary and brief the satisfaction is lasting. The surgeon may often inflict pain upon his patient; the physician may see it right to order a course of treatment which is repulsive. To act wisely and conscientiously may, in such cases, be painful. But let the duty be discharged, and there follows a true satisfaction. It was so with Ezekiel; it is so with every true and faithful servant of God. The office may he one arduous and difficult, painful and repugnant; yet, if it is the office to which God calls a man, obedience and fidelity, the unshrinking fulfilment of the service, will bring a rich reward. Sweet are the delights of those who conquer self, who yield themselves up to the service of that Saviour who himself carried the cross. They shall enter into the joy of the Lord.—T.
It is certainly remarkable that, whilst the ministry of Ezekiel was to be fulfilled by word of mouth, the communication of its substance should be figuratively represented by the scroll—"a roll of a book, written within and without." What the scroll was to the prophet, it may fairly be said, the volume of Holy Scripture is to us. Holy Writ is the record of successive revelations, and its form, as literature, answers very important purposes. Scripture is the standard of faith and doctrine and practice, to which the ministers of the gospel are bound to refer, according to the well known saying, "The Church to witness, the Scripture to prove." This strikingly symbolical passage suggests valuable truth regarding both the form and the substance of the inspired volume.
I. THE FORM OF THE WRITTEN REVELATION. The fact is that we have the scroll, the volume, i.e. the mind of the holy and inspired men of old perpetuated in the written form. Certain advantages are by this means secured, which more than compensate for any disadvantages which may possibly be connected with the literary form which revelation assumes.
1. A written revelation, as compared with one merely oral, is deliberate. What men say in conversation, or under the stress of popular oratory, is not to be compared in this respect with what is carefully committed to a literary form. Speech is often intended merely to produce an immediate impression; what is written is probably intended to bear examination, to stand the test of reflection and of time.
2. Continuous. Fragmentary and disjointed utterances are all that can be expected from an ordinary speaker; and even a thoughtful and powerful speaker must usually, by the very conditions of his work, come short in the point of orderliness and continuity. The preparation of a book, and especially of a volume containing in many books the revelation of the Divine mind, involves a design, a plan, a connection and correspondence among the several parts which go to make up the whole.
3. Incorruptible. The untrustworthiness of tradition is proverbial. Wisdom is apparent in the arrangement by which the communication of God's will to man has been placed beyond the corrupting influences to which every oral tradition is liable.
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE WRITTEN REVELATION. The "roll of a book" delivered to Ezekiel may be presumed to have been the emblem of the communications which were to form the matter of his prophetic ministry. And although the writing is described as consisting of mourning and woe, this is probably only because such was the prevailing tenor of the earlier portions of his prophecies. We may say generally that the written revelation through Ezekiel is a summary of that which occupies the entire Bible. The scroll, accordingly, may be considered as:
1. Displaying the Divine interest in mankind.
2. Revealing Divine acquaintance with men's sinful character their wanderings from God, and the various errors and follies into which sin has ever led its victims.
3. Declaring God's foresight of the miserable condition into which idolatry, apostasy, and every kind of moral evil and error must certainly plunge the rebellious. Nowhere is this more vividly displayed than in this book of prophecies.
4. Expressing the Divine solicitude for man's welfare, and the Divine provision for man's recovery and salvation. In all these several particulars the Book of Ezekiel is a miniature of the Bible. The theme of the prophet, and the theme of Holy Writ as a whole, is surely nothing else than this—the exhibition of man's heinous sin, and the offer of God's merciful salvation.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Ezekiel 2:1, Ezekiel 2:2
The interlacing of Divine command and Divine strength.
The commands of God are acts of kindness. If he had abandoned us, he would give us no indications of his will. He is not so unreasonable as to give commands without also proffering help. If he says "This is the way," he also says, "I will be with thee." Hence, with Augustine, we may say to God, "Give what thou requirest, and require what thou pleasest."
I. COMMAND. "Stand upon thy feet." The form of address, "son of man," was intended to encourage the prophet. The vision of God's kingdom, and of his royal state, bad oppressed the mind of Ezekiel, and he had prostrated himself before such majestic splendour. But now the voice of the supreme Monarch assures him that he may also find a place among the honoured servants of Jehovah. Though but a frail man, a descendant of erring progenitors, he was yet a man, and therefore capable of high attainment and noble service. There was no hardship implied in this command to stand upon his feet. It chimed in with his own predisposition. Duty taken step by step, in easy gradations, becomes a delight. The requirement was honourable. There had been occasion for prostrate humility in the presence of the holy God. But humility is the way to honour. Now he is required to lift himself up to the full stature of his manhood, and to be ready for active and willing service. Use thy feet! Look heavenward! Be a man! Equip thyself for service!
II. PROMISE. "I will speak unto thee." This is a stupendous act of Divine condescension to hold intercourse with fallen, fickle men. It is a mark of special favour if an earthly monarch calls a commoner into his presence, discloses to him royal counsels, and engages his services for the throne. Much greater token of good will is it, if that commoner had been heretofore a detected criminal, a dangerous rebel. But the similitude serves very poorly to illustrate the immeasurable grace of the heavenly King, who stoops to converse with the children of men. Human monarchs have set times, which they set apart to give audience to the noblest of their subjects. But God permits us to approach him at all times, and, if we will but speak to him, he will also speak unto us. "His delights are with the sons of men." He loves to employ men in his service. Yea! he has determined to employ none but men in proclaiming to their brethren the royal purposes of redemption.
III. INDWELLING POWER While Jehovah spake to his servant, "the Spirit entered into him." Finding in Ezekiel a readiness to obey, God immediately imparted to him the needed strength. If the will be present with us, the power to perform will not long be absent. When humility opens the door of the human heart, God will enter and abide there. It was not so much Ezekiel who put forth his strength and rose erect, as the indwelling Spirit, "who set him on his feet." Verily, "in God we live, and move, and exist." "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Ezekiel's name was no misnomer. In very deed, God was his Strength. And the result of the Spirit's entrance, further, was "that I heard him that spake unto me." The very power to hear, whether by the organ of sense, or by the finer aptitude of the spirit, comes alone from God. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."—D.
An arduous embassage.
Every prophet is a missionary; every true missionary is a prophet. In an inferior sense of the word, he is a mediator—a mediator between God and man.
I. THE MISSIONARY CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET. He is one "sent." He goes not to this difficult and responsible work by the impulse of his own reason or will. He is in the employ and under the direction of another—of One whom he cannot disregard. He cannot go or stay, as he pleases, he is a servant. The Son of God himself has undertaken similar work. He was "sent" into our world on an errand of kindness. "As thou hast sent me, so have I sent them."
II. THE MISSIONARY'S UNPROMISING FIELD OF ACTION. "I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation." The possession of outward advantages, or of special Divine favours, does not ensure gratitude or obedience on the part of men. In Eden, man transgressed. In Canaan, the glory of all lands, the Hebrews rebelled. Righteousness is not conveyed by blood relationship. The piety of Abraham did not descend in the line of natural posterity. But rebellion is a weed that grows freely in the degenerate soil of the human heart. The people of Israel, in Ezekiel's time, were hardened in sin. The evil had become inveterate by long centuries of vicious habit, sad all the alternate measures of kindness and severity which God had employed had failed to reduce the people to submission. Though now in exile and disgrace, yet "to that very day" the rebellious spirit continued. Nor were they even ashamed of the past. No blush tinged their cheeks. All right feeling seemed petrified within!
III. THE MISSIONARY'S INSTRUMENT. He is armed simply with the authoritative Word of God. What he hears from God, that, and that alone, may he speak! He is not allowed to elaborate, from his own judgment, conditions of reconciliation. He is not to rely for success on the inventiveness of reason, nor on beguiling acts of sophistry, nor on the persuasiveness of subtle rhetoric. He is to proclaim everywhere, "Thus saith the Lord!" Authority is the weapon on which he is to rely—not human authority, but Divine. He is to be simply the mouthpiece of Deity. But, being this, he will become the power of God and the wisdom of God. His business is to speak Divine truth with all the pathos of Divine love.
IV. THE MISSIONARY'S ENCOURAGEMENT. Whether the people would hear, or whether they would forbear, was still an unsolved problem so far as the prophet was concerned. God had not given to him the promise of visible and direct success. But whether they accepted or rejected the Divine overtures, the end which God anticipated would be realized. The people should have this conviction inwrought in their minds, viz. that a messenger from God had been among them. This was all that Ezekiel might confidently expect. This was the goal at which he was to aim, viz. to convince them that he was God's prophet—to commend his mission to the consciences of the people. Hence, if no other end was gained, he was not to feel depression of soul. Whether the people relented or further rebelled, he was to continue his simple work; and rest assured that God would defend his own cause, and bring final good out of present evil.—D.
God's ambassador a warrior.
The path of duty, since the Fall, is never smooth. We may have an inward sense of delight—tranquil satisfaction, arising from the approval of conscience and the smile of God—but from without we must expect sharp opposition. There is demand for vigilance, skill, and courage.
I. OPPOSITION FORESEEN. Men who have long time departed from God are not easily induced to return. The tree that has grown wildly crooked, cannot readily be restored to straightness and shape. Those who have abandoned the paths of truth and righteousness, sadly degrade their original nature. The cedars are reduced to thorns and briers. Sinners are unprofitable and injurious in the world—a curse to society. They bear no fruit, or only sour and poisonous fruit. They choke the promise of better things. Or they are like scorpions, bent only on mischief. Originally lords of nature, they have sunk to the level of the meanest insects. There is poison in their crafty words. There is a danger in their very looks.
II. COURAGE DEMANDED. "Be not afraid of them." Why should God's servants fear? Our adversaries' words are mere breath. Not a particle of power have they but such as is permitted them by our Master. While they open their mouths in loud boasting, the finger of death is loosening the silver cord within. As the mighty God hath said to the angry waves, so hath he said to these, "Thus far shall ye go, and no further." They may loudly bark, but it is seldom they have power to bite. The fierce opposition of the ungodly may turn to our good; it may and ought to develop our courage. The severer the conflict, the more strength we may gather, and the greater will be our triumph. As they are so zealous in a bad cause, how much more zealous should we be in the very best of enterprises?
III. THE ONLY WEAPON PERMITTED. In this conflict with human folly and rebellion, our only weapon is to be "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." "Thou shalt speak ray words unto them." If they meet us with contempt and malice, we have but to repeat in calmer tones, and with undisturbed patience, the same facts—the message from the lips of God. Any addition of ours, however suitable it may seem, only weakens the force of the message. We must see to it that the edge of the weapon is not blunted by our own carelessness. Our only concern should be that we do speak all the counsel of God—that it is the Word of God, both in substance and form, which we utter.
IV. AN INSIDIOUS DANGER EXPOSED. "Be not thou rebellious like that rebellions house." One foe within the camp is more injurious than a thousand outside. If a germ of disease be in the medicine, it will invalidate all its efficacy. Rebellion assumes a myriad forms. It is a hydra with more than a hundred heads. Listlessness in hearing the heavenly commission—a tampering with its fixed terms, a rash attempt to improve the Divine original—these and such-like acts are seed germs of rebellion in the soul. "If the salt be deprived of its savour," wherewith shall the corruptions of the world be purged out? An unfaithful ambassador adds fresh aggravation to the revolt of a province. Sin is a contagious evil.—D.
Verse 9-ch. 3:3
The bread of heaven.
The appetites of the human body may be regarded by us as pictures and symbols of the inner hunger of the spirit. Not more surely does the body cry out for food than does the inner man crave for truth. He only who has created this complex frame can meet its varied wants.
I. THE HUNGER OF THE SOUL. As the emotional element in man cries out for friendship, as the intellectual asks for knowledge, so the spiritual element eagerly asks after God's will. "Lord, what writ thou have me to do?" To be out of harmony with God is misery to the soul. To be ignorant of God's purposes and intentions respecting us must bring perpetual disquietude. Hence the question in some form, either vague or clear, is ever rising to the surface, "What must I do to gain eternal life?"
II. DIVINE PROVISION. In order to qualify Ezekiel more fully for his undertaking, a fresh vision was vouchsafed to him. A hand was stretched out from heaven, containing a parchment roll. In form, it seemed like the "bread that perisheth;" but it was in truth the heavenly manna—the revelation of Jehovah's will. Man, at the best, is under the dominance of animal appetites; and consequently spiritual facts make most impression on him when presented under material images. But God never deceives. He unfolded the roll; showed him how full it was of instruction and meaning; explained to him its real contents, viz. "mourning, lamentations, and woe." Like unleavened bread and bitter herbs, this knowledge of God's will may be most healthful for men at certain seasons of their life. God's regard for us is too genuine and profound for him to indulge our appetites with dangerous delicacies. The bitter must come before the sweet, darkness before light, sorrow before joy.
III. PERSONAL DIGESTION REQUIRED. The command is heard, "Eat that I give thee." "Fill thy bowels with this roll." A superficial acquaintance with God's will is not enough for the prophet's equipment. He must observe, learn, masticate, digest, incorporate, the truth. Here is indeed precious counsel—a Physician's wise advice. Less food, probably, but more digestion. Heavenly counsel this, which every disciple should write in golden letters on his chamber walls. The truth which God gives to men does not become really theirs until it is assimilated into their own nature—becomes part and parcel of themselves. By examination and reflection and practical obedience, this truth passes into the very blood and nerve and fibre of our being. We become the truth—"living epistles, known and read of all men."
IV. THE TASTE PALATABLE AND PLEASANT: "It was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." The regenerate man will welcome all the truth of God. Whatever God's will be, he knows that God's will is right, and that righteousness must bring blessing and peace. He is not now so blind as to limit his vision to the narrow present; he compasses, in the sweep of his eye, the remote and the future. That the prophet learnt that lamentation and mourning were decreed, was an element of hope. Would the Divine Ruler take such pains with men if he did not intend to do them ultimate good? The very severity of the treatment implied that health would come at last. To do the will of God is always sweet to the renewed man. Unless our spiritual palate is in a diseased condition, every particle of heavenly truth will be "as honey for sweetness." "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and they were unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart."—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The commission to prophetic service.
"And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel," etc. We have here—
I. A DISCOURAGING SPHERE OF PROPHETIC SERVICE. (Ezekiel 2:3, Ezekiel 2:4.) Ezekiel was sent to:
1. A people who had mournfully fallen. "I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me." By descent they were sons of Israel, who had engaged in mighty wrestling with God, and by faith had prevailed; and they ought to have been his sons in character. But instead of that they are here spoken of as "the rebellious nations." The word is plural, as in the margin; and it is that which is used to denote the heathen as distinguished from the people of God. They are designated "nations," as if they had something of the sins of all heathen peoples. They were sadly degenerate branches of a noble root. In former times the Israelites had been the Lord's "peculiar treasure … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6); now they were "the rebellious nations that have rebelled against" him.
2. A people persistently rebellious against God. Observe the repetition of this charge against them in verses 3, 5, 6, 7, 8. Their rebelliousness had existed long. Generation after generation they had been revolters against Jehovah. "They and their fathers have transgressed against me unto this very day." The children trod in the sinful steps of their rebellious fathers. Unless restrained by the grace of God, children will imitate their parents, however wicked they may be. Let parents remember the power of their example over their children, and so live that their children may imitate them with advantage.
3. A people openly obdulate in wickedness. "They are impudent children, and stiff-hearted." They were hard of face; they had lost shame; they had ceased to blush by reason of their sins. "Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush" (Jeremiah 6:15). And they were "stiff-hearted"—an expression which denotes steadfastness and determination in their evil ways; they were hardened in wickedness.
4. A people resolutely hostile to the Lord's prophets. "Briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks." Three ideas are suggested concerning the people.
(1) Their barrenness. They were as destitute of the fruits of righteousness as dry thorns.
(2) Their injuriousness. They would prick and sting as briers and thorns.
(3) Their venomousness. Like scorpions, they would seek to poison the heart and life of the prophet. They would assail him with envenomed words, and scowling, threatening looks. The life of a prophet of Jehovah was generally one of trial and persecution. Ezekiel is here forewarned of the pains and penalties awaiting him in his future course. In like manner our Lord made known to the twelve apostles the persecutions they would have to encounter in the fulfilment of their mission (Matthew 10:16-22). What an evidence it is of the mercy of God that he should send his prophet to so rebellious a people (cf. Hosea 11:7-9)!
II. THE SUBLIME CHARACTER OF PROPHETIC SERVICE. It involves two main functions.
1. Reception of Divine communications. "Son of man, hear what I say unto thee." The prophet must be a devout listener in the glorious temple of God's great universe. His spiritual ear must be keenly sensitive even to the whispers of the Divine voice.
2. Publication of Divine communications. "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God" (verse 4). "And thou shalt speak my words unto them." It is his business neither to expound the systems of other men, nor to propound his own opinions, but to declare the Word of the Lord. He must speak what he receives from God; and he must speak it in his Name and by his authority. The Christian minister is an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, offering his pardon, etc. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).
III. THE UNCERTAIN RECEPTION OF PROPHETIC SERVICE. "Thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether: they will hear, or whether they will forbear." It was not granted to Ezekiel to know how his message would be regarded by his fellow countrymen. He received no assurance that they would hear and. heed it. Rather it was suggested to him that they might refuse to hear his testimony. Nevertheless, he must deliver to them the words which he received from God. He must
"Learn a prophet's duty:
For this cause is he born, and for this cause,
For this cause comes he to the world—to bear Witness."
And now the ministers of Jesus Christ must speak his Word faithfully, irrespective of the treatment which is given to that Word. The treatment which the gospel receives from their hearers they are not responsible for; but for fidelity in the proclamation of that gospel they will be held responsible (cf. Ezekiel 3:16-21).
IV. THE DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT IN PROPHETIC SERVICE.
1. Obedience to the Divine call demands this service. "I send thee to the children of Israel" (verse 3); "I do send thee unto them" (verse 4); "Be not thou rebellious" (verse 8). The true prophet, whether Hebrew or Christian, is called of God. He cannot decline the service without grievous unfaithfulness and disobedience. He is encouraged to fulfil it by the fact of the Divine commission; for he who calls strengthens and sustains his servants.
2. Attention to the Divine exhortations strengthens for this service. "Be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words," etc. (verse 6). This exhortation implies that he who gives it will defend his servant. "Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 1:8; and see Matthew 10:26-31).
3. The assurance of its vindication encourages in this service. "They, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them." Because of his covenant relation to the children of Israel, the Lord will send his prophet unto them. "His testimony, the tidings from him, must be heard in the midst of Israel." The declaration of that testimony was a proof of the fidelity of the Lord to his covenant engagements. And the people should know the genuineness of that testimony. Those who truly heard it would know, by blessed experience of the results of obedience, that a prophet had been among them. And those who rejected it would know by bitter experience, know to their confusion, that a prophet had been among them, and that his words were true. So also shall the mission of every true Christian minister be vindicated, as we see from 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.
1. Let those who have received a mission from the Lord be encouraged to fulfil it. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:1.)
2. Let those to whom the Word of the Lord is preached "take heed how they hear."—W.J.
The vision of the roll; or, a view of the prophetic message.
"And when I locked, behold, an hand was sent unto me," etc. This section concerning the roll of prophecy must be looked upon as being of the nature of vision. It pertained not to the external and material, but to the internal and spiritual. It suggests the following observations concerning the prophetic message.
I. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE IS RECEIVED FROM THE LORD. "And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; and he spread it before me." The volume was unrolled before him that he might become acquainted with the Divine commission given to him; "undertake his mission with a clear consciousness of its difficulty;" and know the Word of the Lord which he was to proclaim. He was not to promulgate his own thoughts, opinions, or convictions however true or noble they might have been); but the things which were revealed to him by God. "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God … And thou shall speak my words unto them" (Ezekiel 3:4, Ezekiel 3:7). And the Christian minister is to "preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15), to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2), after the example of the apostles who, "when they had preached the Word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel," etc. (Acts 8:25). "They ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42; and cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 1:27, Colossians 1:28).
II. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE IS BOTH LONG AND MOURNFUL. The roll was "written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe." This roll is intended to represent the book of the prophet.
1. It was long. "Written within and without." Such was the extent and fulness of the revelation that the one side, which generally was alone used for writing on, was insufficient to contain it; both sides were required.
2. It was mournful. "There was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe." A correct description of many of the prophecies of this book. How mournful was the moral condition of the people as set forth by the prophet! How woeful the judgments which he proclaimed unto them! Very often the Word of the Lord by the prophets was in fact a heavy "burden" (cf. Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1). And the Word of the Lord to the rebellious and the hardened (such as the Israelites were) is still a stern word—a word of condemnation and woe. The true prophet cannot prophesy smooth things to stiff-necked sinners. To such characters he must proclaim "the severity of God."
III. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE MUST BE WELL DIGESTED BY THE PROPHET. "Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou fin, test; eat this roll," etc. (Ezekiel 3:1-3). The meaning of this is given in Ezekiel 3:10, "Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears." He must receive it, meditate upon it, appropriate it, make it a part of his being. "Here we have the right expression," says Umbreit on eating the roll, "to enable us to form a judgment and estimate of 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." There is need of a similar appropriation of the Word of God by Christian preachers today. That Word should be in them not only by intellectual apprehension, but by spiritual assimilation also. It should be not merely on their lips, but in their hearts. This will give the accent and power of conviction to their words when they publish it.
IV. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE WAS DELIGHTFUL UNTO THE PROPHET. "Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." "Thy words were found, and I did eat them," etc. (Jeremiah 15:16). It seems strange that this roll of "lamentations, and mourning, and woe" should be sweet to Ezekiel. It was so probably:
1. Because it was the Word of the Lord. (Cf. Psalms 19:10; Psalms 119:103.)
2. Because of the honour conferred upon him in making him the agent of the Lord in hearing and speaking that Word. "It is infinitely sweet and lovely to be the organ and the spokesman of the Most High" (Hengstenberg).
3. Because even its severest portions were righteous. There was nothing that would clash with his sense of justice and truth. Says Calvin, "The sweet taste means Ezekiel's approbation of God's judgment and commands."
4. Because behind the severest judgments there was the grace of the Lord God. In the roll there were promises of mercy and restoration to the penitent. "Athwart the cloud," says Hengstenberg, "the rainbow gleams. Better to be condemned by God than comforted by the world. For he who smites can also heal, and will heal, if his proclamation of judgment, and the judgment itself, be met by penitence; while, on the other hand, the comfort of the world is vain." So the roll was in the prophet's "mouth as honey for sweetness." Yet there were times when his stern message and his arduous mission were not sweet to him, and he "went in bitterness, in the heat of his spirit" (Ezekiel 3:14; and cf. Revelation 10:9, Revelation 10:10). The work of the Christian preacher has its sweetness and bitterness; its high and holy joys, and its deep and heart-rending sorrows.
V. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE MUST BE FAITHFULLY DELIVERED. "Son of man, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel." Even despite the determined opposition of those to whom he is sent, he must discharge his mission with fidelity (cf. Ezekiel 3:4-11, the meaning of which is very similar to that of the paragraph, Ezekiel 2:3-8, which has already engaged our attention). And it is required of the ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ that they be faithful to the great trust which is committed to them (1 Corinthians 4:1,1 Corinthians 4:2; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:2). Blessed are they who in the review of their life can humbly declare, with St. Paul, that they have kept the glorious deposit which was entrusted to them (cf. 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 4:7).—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany