Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ ezekiel-3.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Eat that thou findest, etc. The iteration of the command of Ezekiel 2:8 seems to imply, like the words, "be not thou rebellious," in that verse, some reluctance on the prophet's part. In substance the command was equivalent to that of Revelation 22:18, Revelation 22:19. The true prophet does not choose his message (Acts 4:20); his "meat" is to do his Lord's will (John 4:34), and he takes what he "finds" as given to him by that will.
It was in my mouth as honey, etc. The words remind us of Psalms 19:10; Proverbs 24:13; and again of those of Jeremiah in the darkest hour of his ministry (Jeremiah 15:16). They are reproduced yet more closely by St. John (Revelation 10:9). There is, after the first terror is over, an infinite sweetness in the thought of being a fellow worker with God, of speaking his words and not our own. In the case of St. John, the first sweetness was changed to bitterness as soon as he had eaten it; and this is, perhaps, implied here also in verse 14. The first ecstatic joy passed away, and the former sense of the awfulness of the work returned.
Of a strange speech and of a hard language, etc.; literally, as in margin, both of Authorized Version and Revised Version, to a people deep of lip and heavy of tongue; i.e. to a barbarous people outside the covenant, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Scythians: not speaking the familiar sacred speech of Israel (compare the "stammering lips and another tongue" of Isaiah 28:11; Isaiah 33:19). The thought implied is that Ezekiel's mission, as to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24), was outwardly easier than if he had been sent to the heathen. With Israel there was at least the medium of a speech common both to the prophet and his hearers. In verse 6 the thought is enlarged by the use of "many peoples."
Surely, if I sent thee to them, etc. The "surely" represents the Hebrew "if not" taken as a strong affirmation, just as "if" in Psalms 95:11 represents a strong negation; compare the use of the fuller formula jurandi in 1 Samuel 3:17; 2 Samuel 3:35; 2 Samuel 19:13; and of the same in Deuteronomy 1:35; Isaiah 62:8; and in Ezekiel himself (Ezekiel 17:19). The margin of the Authorized Version, If I had sent thee to them, would they not have hearkened, etc.? expresses the same meaning, but is less tenable as a translation. The thought in either case finds its analogue in our Lord's reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:12-14). Israel was more hardened than the worst of the nations round her.
For they will not hearken unto me, etc. The words are, as it were, an a fortiori argument. Those who had despised the voice of Jehovah, speaking in his Law, or directly to the hearts of his people, were not likely to listen with a willing ear to his messenger. We are reminded of our Lord's words to his disciples in Matthew 10:24, Matthew 10:25. Impudent and hard-hearted; literally (the word is not the same as in Ezekiel 2:4), in Revised Version, of an hard forehead and of a stiff heart. The word "hard" is the same word as the first half of Ezekiel's name, and is probably used with reference to it as in the next verse.
I have made thy face strong; literally, as in the Revised Version, hard. Ezekiel's name was at once nomen et omen. Hard as Israel might be, he could be made harder, i.e. stronger, than they, end should prevail against them (compare the parallels of Isaiah 1:7; Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 15:20). The boldness of God's prophets is a strictly supernatural gift. Whatever persistency there may be in evil, they will be able to meet it, perhaps to overcome it, by a greater persistency in good.
Adamant. The Hebrew word shemir is used in Jeremiah 17:1 (where the Authorized Version gives "diamond" for a stone used in engraving on gems. In Zechariah 7:12 it appears, as it does here, as a type of exceeding hardness. It is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is commonly identified with the stone known as corundum, which appears in some of its forms as the sapphire and the Oriental ruby, and also as the stone the powder of which is used as emery. The special point of the comparison is, of course, that the adamant was actually used to cut either flint itself or stones as hard as flint. Neither be dismayed at their looks. The words indicate the extreme sensitiveness of the prophet's natural temperament. He had shrunk not only from the threats and revilings of the rebellious house, but even from their scowls of hatred.
All my words, etc. The stress lies on the first word. The prophet was not to pick and choose out of the message, but was to deliver "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Take into thine heart, etc. An inverted order of the two commands would, perhaps, have seemed more natural. What we actually find, however, is sufficiently suggestive. The message of Jehovah is first received into the inner depths of the soul, but in that stage it is vague, undefined, incommunicable. It needs to be clothed in articulate speech before it can be heard with the mental ear and passed on to others. The mouth speaks out of the fulness of the heart.
Get thee to them of the Captivity, etc. In Ezekiel 2:3 and Ezekiel 3:1, Ezekiel 3:4 the mission had been to "the house of Israel" generally; now it is specialized. He is sent "to them of the Captivity." They are the rebellious house. There is an obvious significance in the phrase, "thy people." Jehovah can no longer recognize them as his. The words of Ezekiel 2:7 are repeated. Here also, even among the exiles, who were better than those that remained in Judah, he was to expect partial failure, but he was not, on that account, to shirk the completion of his task. Thus saith the Lord God; Adonai Jehovah, as in Ezekiel 2:4.
Then the Spirit took me up, etc. The words are to be interpreted as in Ezekiel 2:2. Luther, however, gives "a wind lifted me up." The parallels of Ezekiel 8:3 (where, however, we have the addition, "in the visions of God") and Ezekiel 11:1 suggest the conclusion that this was a purely subjective sensation, that it was one of the phenomena of the ecstatic state, and that there was no actual change of place. On the other hand, the use of like language in the cases of Elijah (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16), of our Lord (Mark 1:12), of Philip (Acts 8:39), would justify the inference that the prophet actually passed from one locality to the other. The language of 1 Kings 18:46 probably points to the true solution of the problem. The ecstatic state continued, and in it Ezekiel went from the banks of Chebar to the dwellings of the exiles at Tel-Abib (see note on Ezekiel 1:1-28.), at some distance from it. I heard behind me, etc. The words imply that the prophet, either in his vision or in very deed. had turned from the glory of the living creatures and of the wheels, and set his face in the direction in which he was told to go. As he does so, he hears the sounds of a great rushing (LXX; σείσμος; Luther, "earthquake"), followed by words which, though in the form of a doxology, uttered, it may be presumed, by the living creatures, were also a message of encouragement. His readiness to do his work as a preacher of repentance calls forth the praise of God from those in whose presence there is "joy over one sinner that repenteth." We are reminded of the earthquake in the Mount of Purification and the Gloria, in excelsis of Dante ('Purg.,' 20.127-141; 21.53-60). The words, from his place (belonging, probably, to the narrative rather than the doxology), point, not to the sanctuary at Jerusalem, which Jehovah had forsaken, but to the region thought of as in the north (see note on Ezekiel 1:4), to which he had withdrawn himself.
And I heard, etc. There is no verb in the Hebrew, but it may be supplied from Ezekiel 3:12. We lose in the English the kissing, or touching, poetry of the original, "each its sister." The attitude as of wings raised for flight, and the sound of both the wings and wheels, implied the departure of the glorious vision, presumably to the region from which it came.
The Spirit lifted me up (see note on Ezekiel 3:12). Here the LXX. has the more definite phrase, "the Spirit of the Lord. For bitterness (see note on Ezekiel 2:3). The heat of my spirit. The first noun is here translated literally. Elsewhere it is rendered as "wrath" (Deuteronomy 29:23; Job 21:20; Proverbs 15:11, et al.), "fury" (Jeremiah 4:4). Here probably it points to the conflict of emotions—indignation against the sins of his people, the dread of failure, the consciousness of unfitness. The hand of the Lord, etc. The word for "strong" is the same as that which enters into Ezekiel's name. Taking this and verse 9 into account, there seems sufficient reason for translating as the Vulgate does, confortans (so Luther, "held me firm"), at least for thinking of that meaning as implied (comp. Ezra 7:9; Ezra 8:18; Nehemiah 2:8; Daniel 10:18). There was a sustaining power in spite of the "bitterness" and the "heat." In a more general sense, as in Ezekiel 1:3, it is used as implying a special intensity of prophetic inspiration, as in the case of Elisha (2 Kings 3:15); but this is the only case in which it occurs with the adjective "strong."
At Tel-Abib, etc; We now enter on the first scene of the prophet's ministry. The LXX. leaves the proper name. The Vulgate rightly translates it as acervus novarum frugum, the "mound of ears of corn" (the meaning appears in the name of the Passover month, Abib). Luther gives, strangely enough, "where the almond trees stood, in the mouth Abib"). Jerome's suggestion, that here also there was a nomen et omen. and that those who shared Ezekiel's exile were regarded as the "firstfruits" of the future, is at least ingenious, and finds some support in Psalms 126:5, Psalms 126:6. The place has not been identified, and its position depends on that of the river with which it is connected (see note on Ezekiel 1:1). The word "Tel" is commonly applied to the mounds formed out of masses of ruins, which are common all over the plains of Mesopotamia. The name in this case may suggest that the earth had gathered over it, and that it was cultivated. I sat where they sat, etc. The ministry begins not with speech, but silence. Our Western habits hardly enable us to enter into the impressiveness of such a procedure. The conduct of Job's friends (Job 2:13) presents a parallel, and as Ezekiel seems to have known that book (Ezekiel 14:14, Ezekiel 14:20), he may have been influenced by it. Like actions meet us in Ezra 9:3-5; Daniel 4:19.
A watchman unto the house of Israel. The seven days' session of amazement came to an end, but even then there was at first no utterance of a message. The word of the Lord came to his own soul, and told him what his special vocation as a prophet was to be. He was to be a "watchman unto the house of Israel." He was, like the watchman of a city on his tower, to be on the look out to warn men against coming dangers, not to slumber on his post. In 2 Samuel 18:24-27 and 2 Kings 9:17-20 we have vivid pictures of such a work. It had already been used figuratively of the prophet's work by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:17). The cognate verb, with the image fully developed, meets us in Habakkuk 2:1. Its use in Hosea 9:8 is doubtful as to meaning, and in Isaiah 52:8 and Isaiah 56:10 it may be, if we accept the theory of a Deutero-Isaiah, an echo from Ezekiel. It is reproduced with special emphasis in Ezekiel 33:2-7. More than any word it describes the special characteristic of Ezekiel's work. He is to watch personally over individual souls. So in a like sense, a corresponding word is used of the Christian ministry in Hebrews 13:17 (compare also for the thought, though the word is not the same, Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12; Isaiah 62:6; Psalms 127:1). A vivid picture of the work of such a watchman is found, it may be noted, in the opening speech of the 'Agamemnon' of AEschylus. Give them warning, etc. It is, I think, a legitimate inference that the prophet acted on the command while he was with the exiles and before the departure of Hebrews 13:22, not by harangues or sermons addressed to the whole body of the exiles, but by direct warning to individuals.
Thou givest him not warning, etc. The word, as in the parallels already referral to, is characteristic of Ezekiel, almost indeed, peculiar to him. Psalms 19:11 may be noted as another instance of its use. When the watchman saw danger coming, he was to blow the trumpet (Ezekiel 33:3-6). The prophet was to speak his warnings. Thou shalt surely die; literally, dying thou shalt die. Were the words of Genesis 2:17 in the prophet's mind? To save his life; literally, for his life, or that he may live. Shall die in his iniquity. Do the words refer only to physical death coming as the punishment of iniquity? or do they point onward further to the judgment that follows death, the loss of the inheritance of eternal life which belongs to those whose names are written in the book of life? Looking to the tremendous responsibility implied in the words, we can hardly, I think, in spite of the questions which have been raised as to the belief of the Hebrews in the immortality of the soul, hesitate to accept the latter meaning. Ezekiel anticipates the teaching of Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8, if, indeed, that meaning was not already familiar to him in Exodus 32:32, Exodus 32:33. For "in" his iniquity we may, perhaps, read "because of." The negligence of the watchman does not avail to procure a full pardon for the evil doer. The degree in which it may extenuate his guilt depends on conditions known to God, but not to us. In any case, as in our Lord's words (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48), a man's knowledge and opportunities are the measure of his responsibility. But the unfaithful watchman has his responsibility. It is as though the blood of the sinner had been shed. His guilt may be described in the same words as that of Cain (Genesis 9:5). Compare St. Paul's words in Acts 18:6 and Acts 20:26 as echoes of Ezekiel's thought.
Thou hast delivered thy soul, etc. This phrase is again an eminently characteristic one (comp. Ezekiel 33:9). Here also, though the words do not necessarily imply more than deliverance from bodily death, thought of as a judgment for negligence, it is, I think, scarcely possible to avoid finding in them a "springing and germinant" sense, analogous to that which we have found in the preceding verse. The dread warning has for its complement a message of comfort. The judgment passed on the prophet does not depend on the results of his ministry. "Whether men will bear, or whether they will forbear," he has "delivered his soul," i.e. saved his life, when he has done his duty as a watchman. The phrase is noticeable as having passed out of the language of Scripture into familiar use. A man can say, "Liberavi animam meam," when he has uttered his conviction on any question of importance affecting the well being of others.
From his righteousness. The Hebrew gives the plural, "his righteousnesses"—all his single righteous acts that lie behind. I lay a stumbling block, etc. The word is again characteristic (Ezekiel 7:19; Ezekiel 14:3, Ezekiel 14:4). It occurs in Jeremiah 6:21, and Ezekiel may have learnt the use of the word from him. It is found also in Le Ezekiel 19:14 and Isaiah 57:14; but the date of these, according to the so called higher criticism, may be later than Ezekiel. In Isaiah 8:14 : the word is different. The English word sufficiently expresses the sense. One of the acts of Eastern malignity was to put a stone in a man's way, that he might fall and hurt himself Here the putting the stone is described as the act of Jehovah, and is applied to anything that tempts a man to evil, and so to his own destruction (Jeremiah 6:21). The thought is startling to us, and seems at variance with true conceptions of the Divine will (James 1:13). The explanation is to be found in the fact that the prophet's mind did not draw the distinction which we draw between evil permitted and the same evil decreed. All, from this point of view, is as God wills, and even those who thwart that will are indeed fulfilling it. Glimpses are given of the purpose which leads to the permission or decree. In the case now before us the man has turned from his righteousness before the stumbling block is laid in his way. The temptation is permitted that the man may become conscious of his evil (so Romans 7:13). If the prophet preacher does his duty, the man may conquer the temptation, and the stumbling block may become a "stepping stone to higher things." If, through the prophet's negligence, he comes unwarned, and stumbles and falls, he, as in the case of the wicked, bears the penalty of his guilt, but the prophet has here also the guilt of blood upon his soul. The "righteousnesses" of the man (here, as before, we have the plural), his individual acts of righteousness, shall not be remembered, because he was tried, and found wanting in the essential element of all righteousness. The highest development of the thought is found in the fact that Christ himself is represented as a "stumbling stone" (Isaiah 8:14; Romans 9:32, Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23). St. Paul's solution of the problem is found in the question, "Have they stumbled that they should fall?" (Romans 11:11). Was that the end contemplated in the Divine purpose Will it really be the end?
And the hand of the Lord was there upon me, etc. There is obviously an interval between the fact thus stated and the close of the message borne in on the prophet's soul. Psychologically, it seems probable that the effect of the message was to fill him with an overwhelming, crushing sense of the burden of his responsibility. How was he to begin so terrible a work? What were to be the nearer, and the remoter, issues of such a work? Apparently, at least, he does not then begin it by a spoken warning. He passes, at the Divine command borne in on his soul, from the crowd that had watched him during the seven days' silence, and betakes himself to the solitude of the "plain," as distinct from the "mound" where the exiles dwelt, and there the vision appears again in all points as he had seen it when he stood on the river's bank.
Go, shut thyself within thy heroin, etc. The command implied that he was to cease for a time from all public ministrations. There was a time to keep silence, as well as a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7), and for the immediate future silence was the more effective of the two. It would, at least, make them eager to hear what the silence meant.
They shall put bands upon thee, etc. Did the warning mean that the prophet's hearers would treat him as the men of Jerusalem treated Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:3; Jeremiah 33:1; Jeremiah 38:6)? Of this, at all events, we have no record, and so far we are led to the other alternative of taking the words (as in Ezekiel 4:8) in a figurative sense. The prophet would feel, as he stood in the presence of the rebellious house, as tongue tied, bound hand and foot by their hardness of heart, teaching by strange and startling signs only, and, it may be, writing his prophecies. In Ezekiel 24:27, four years later, and again in Ezekiel 29:21, we have a distinct reference to a long period of such protracted silence. We may compare, as in some sense parallel, the silence of Zacharias (Luke 1:22). That silence unbroken for nine months was a sign to those who "were looking for redemption in Jerusalem," more eloquent than speech.
When I speak with thee, etc. This then, as ever, was the condition of the prophet's work. He was to speak out of his own heart. When the "time to speak" came words would be given him (Matthew 10:19). And those he would then speak would be as the echo of those in Ezekiel 3:11. In our Lord's words (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9) we have, it may be, a deliberate reproduction of Ezekiel's formula. The LXX; in this instance, it may be noted, translates the second clause by " He who is disobedient (ἀπειθῶν), let him disobedient," which in its turn finds an echo in Revelation 22:11.
Eating a book.
I. THE FOOD PROVIDED.
1. This is in the form of literature. Ezekiel receives a written roll. All good literature is mental food—not merely a plaything or a sweetmeat, but soul stuff for sustaining intellectual life and promoting mental growth. God feeds our highest nature through literature. His Spirit comes through his Truth, his Truth is revealed in his Word, and his Word is contained in a book—the Bible.
2. This must be taken as it is provided. Ezekiel did not write the roll. He found it. The word of God was sent to him. He did not invent or imagine it. We do not create Divine truth. We find it in the Bible. if we would be honest we must take what we discover there, and not feed on our own notions to the neglect of the Divine revelation.
3. The Divine provision is full and ample. The roll was inscribed on both sides—"written within and without" (Ezekiel 2:10). The Bible has far more in it than Ezekiel's roll. It is a library in itself, both extensive and closely filled. There is no verbosity in it. Its many words are rich and deep. No age will ever consume the whole of its vast and varied teachings.
II. THE MEAL CONSUMED. Ezekiel must not only read the roll; he must eat it. All Divine truth needs to be treated thus. We must feed on the Bible to profit by it.
1. There must be personal appropriation. We take a thing to ourselves in the most absolute kind of possession when we eat it. No book will profit much until it is thus appropriated. The bibliomaniac is not always a student of literature. The possession or a large library is no guarantee of great learning. The mind is fed by the books which are studied, not by those that only collect dust as they stand on the shelves. The Bible profits only as it is used. The clasps of some Bibles are suspiciously stiff. They suggest that the books are more prized than searched.
2. There must be internal consumption. There is no good in running over the words of a book with the eye, if the thoughts of it are not absorbed into the mind. Good books cannot be profitably skimmed. We may have much verbal knowledge of the Bible without ever making it our food. The meaning of texts, historical and geographical allusions, side lights of manners and customs, may all be studied, and yet the Bible may lie outside us, and our souls starve for want of spiritual food, because we do not take its essential truths down into our inner being in comprehension, meditation, and application.
3. There must be assimilation. The food, when digested, is converted into a part of the bodily fabric—blood, bones, nerves, and flesh. A good book well digested becomes a part of a man's life. It colours his thought and gives tone and character to his mind—its own breadth and elevation enlarging and exalting the reader. This is the highest use of literature. In assimilating Plato or Milton the great souls of the philosopher and the poet take possession of our souls, and lift them into a higher atmosphere.
III. THE EFFECTS FOLLOWING.
1. There is a pleasant taste. Ezekiel found the roll as honey for sweetness. The mentally inert have no idea of what rare delights they miss by not preparing themselves to enjoy the pleasures of literature. The writer of Psalms 119:1-176 found the highest of these delights in the Law of God. To the loving student of the Bible that grand ancient literature of man and God is a source of most profound delight. He who truly sympathizes with the spirit in which the Bible was written will never need to read it as a task. He will delight in it as in a savoury meal.
2. Pain ensues. This was the case in the parallel vision of St. John (Revelation 10:10). Ezekiel also found bitterness later (verse 14). The reason is that "lamentations, and mourning, and woe" were written on the roll (Ezekiel 2:10). There are bitter truths to be considered in God's Word. Conscience makes the pleasant reading of the Bible to be followed by painful reflections. Yet this bitterness is a wholesome tonic.
3. The final result is an increase of strength. Ezekiel is able to set his face like an adamant (verse 9), and prophesy to the rebellious people. Feeding on God's Word tits us to teach that Word and to exemplify it by our conduct.
Ezekiel was not sent, like Jonah, to a foreign city; though living among people of a strange language, he was not called upon to preach to the natives. His mission was to a colony of fellow Jews in a foreign country. He is the typical colonial missionary of the Old Testament.
I. THE CLAIMS OF COLONIAL MISSIONS. Broadly stated, there are two great claims in colonial missions.
1. Close kinship. The colonists are our brethren. Charity begins at home, and the English home now stretches to Canada and to Australia. It is stated by those who know our colonies that the affection tot the old country is warm among them. To treat them with coldness is a cruel neglect of family ties.
2. Pressing need. It has been said that the colonies should provide for their own religious requirements. Such a sweeping statement betrays ignorance of the condition of our colonies. They cannot be lumped together in a mass when we discuss them; for there are enormous differences between the several colonies in regard to resources and capacity for religious activity. An old colony, such as we find in parts of Australia, can well provide for itself. But we have to consider new colonies, cities springing up like mushrooms, with the most raw civilization. Here the fight for life is fierce. Here young men, leaving behind all home influences, find themselves in close companionship with the roughest characters. Little or no provision can be made on the spot for the spiritual assistance of these people. We must follow them into the bush, or leave them to sink to mere animalism.
II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF COLONIAL MISSIONS.
1. Lack of novelty. We cannot draw romantic pictures of these missions like those pictures of New Guinea or Central Africa, which thrill the spectator with emotion. The work is English, commonplace, without much adventure. But it is only the superficial mind that should be discouraged by so childish an objection when real need presses.
2. Roughness of character. The backwoodsmen may not speak a rough dialect, but the freedom of their life tempts into their neighbourhood some of the wildest characters. Two classes emigrate—the most energetic and best workmen, who go of their own accord; and the most worthless persons, who are sent by their friends. We ship our "ne'er-do-weels" off to the colonies. But change of scene does not bring change of character. Those who were scoundrels in the streets of London do not become all of a sudden respectable citizens in Melbourne. While we continue to pour into our colonies the scum and refuse of the old world, a great burden is being laid upon these young communities to protect themselves from dangerous influences.
3. Width of area. The colonies are vast in extent, yet they are but thinly peopled. The colonial missionary must travel far. His parish may be as large as a county. Men of great energy and devotion are required for such work.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS OF COLONIAL MISSIONS.
1. Readiness of access. Travelling is safe. There are no native chiefs to conciliate. The interference of a foreign government has not to be considered. The colonists speak our own language, and thus no time is spent in learning a foreign tongue before the real work begins. The missionary has the claims of kinship to help him.
2. A great future. No missions have been more successful than those to the South Sea Islands, yet the population of those islands is rapidly dwindling away, and in course of time all effects of the missions will have vanished, simply because the people will have died out. It is just the opposite in the case of our colonies. There population advances by leaps and bounds. Greater Britain is already one of the wonders of the world. If Christianity loses hold of this young giant, the ultimate result will be disastrous to mankind; but if the colonies are won for Christ, the freshest, strongest, most promising life of the world is secured for the cause of truth and righteousness. Moreover, no work is so remunerative in result as successful colonial missions. The new Churches have only to be planted and fostered for a time. Before long they will stand alone and become centres of usefulness. While foreign mission Churches are too much like the ivy, that must always cling to an external support, colonial Churches are like the saplings, needing a stake for a time to keep them straight and to help them to stand against the gale, but which can soon dispense with that aid. Lastly, where colonies are planted among native races, colonial missions may save these poor creatures from the ruin which bad white men always bring, and thus the colonies may become centres of Christianizing influence for the heathen.
I. WHAT IT IS FOR THE FOREHEAD TO BE OF ADAMANT.
1. It is external hardness. Zechariah writes of those who "made their hearts as an adamant stone" (Zechariah 7:12). Ezekiel is not to do this; he only has his forehead made as adamant. The adamantine heart is a sign of sin. It is sure to fail in all attempts at spiritual work. We must feel sympathy with those whom we would help. But it is possible to have a "tough skin with a tender heart." Unfortunately, those people who are pachydermatous are also too often tough hearted. Yet the forehead of adamant does not imply want of sensitiveness to the finer feelings. It only means a certain callousness in regard to external criticism.
2. It is hardness against hindrances to progress. The adamant is to be in the forehead, in the front. It is like Christian's armour, with a good breastplate, but no protection for his back. We want most strength and security in advancing.
3. It is hardiness before the seat of thought. The forehead guards the brain. Much may move our hearts, but no human considerations should shake our convictions.
4. It is hardness before a vital organ. The brain must be sheltered, or the life will be forfeited. We may bear attacks on the outworks of our religious life. The crowning citadel of faith must not be touched.
II. WHY THE FOREHEAD SHOULD BE OF ADAMANT.
1. It is required by the opposition of men. Ezekiel had to face fierce opponents. The servant of truth must often encounter unpopularity. If men always speak well of a Divine messenger, there is a suspicion of weakness in following the popular whims. There must be unpleasant truths for the faithful preacher to declare.
2. It is necessary for success. The prophet must guide, mould, influence men. If he is but a weather cock, his mission has failed. Often he must set himself like a rock in the middle of a raging torrent. Decision and firmness are essential in the work of a leader of men. The Christian minister who is afraid of his congregation has forfeited all right to be their teacher.
3. It is demanded by loyalty to God. The prophet is God's messenger. The Christian minister is Christ's servant. To his own Master he stands or falls. Obsequiousness before men means a betrayal of the duty owed to God.
III. HOW THE FOREHEAD MAY BECOME OF ADAMANT. Many of the truest servants of God are naturally so sensitive and timorous that they well need some such assurance as that given to Ezekiel. Now, God had made his prophet's forehead as adamant. It is a Divine work. But there are human ideas through which he works.
1. God is to be feared more than man. We must remember that "the fear of man … bringeth a snare." While shrinking from man's petty anger we risk the awful thunders of the wrath of God.
2. Trust is to be put in the protection of God. He wilt not desert his own agents at the post of peril. When men do their worst, Almighty aid is at hand. If death is to be encountered, there is the martyr's crown beyond.
3. There must be a deep conviction of the truth of our message. A wavering mind will not support a countenance of adamant. We must first be sure ourselves. Then we can dare to face the world. Truth is the adamant that hardens the forehead against unbelief, misrepresentation, opposition. It has been well said, "Those men are strongest who stake most on a deep and worthy conviction."
4. An honest kindness of intention will create the firmness of adamant. Selfishness wavers; sympathy is strong. The murderer's hand trembles; the surgeon's hand is steady, though his patient shrieks under the knife. When we earnestly desire to benefit people, we can afford to have them misunderstand us, and perhaps even smile when they cry out against our unkindness. Mixed motives weaken the front we present to the world. A pure, unselfish devotion will be brave, strong, firm as adamant.
The start in life.
Ezekiel here describes the commencement of his active ministry. Hitherto he has been under preparation, receiving communications from heaven in vision and word. Now the time has come for him to start on his errand and begin his work among the captives of Babylon.
I. THE PROPHET IS CARRIED AWAY BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD. Although we need not suppose that Ezekiel was carried up bodily into the clouds, blown over the fields, and dropped down in the midst of a crowd of his countrymen, we are not to suppose that his visit to them was any the less one of Divine impulses. Like Philip the evangelist, when he was taken from the Ethiopian convert and sent to Azotus (Acts 8:39, Acts 8:40), Ezekiel felt a mighty power of God driving him to his work. Inspiration does not only illumine; it impels. The Spirit of God drove Christ into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). Such an action does not involve forcible constraint against the will. God only works on men in this way through their wills. The will of the man is so completely subservient to the will of God that it no longer acts separately; it voluntarily obeys as though it were but a Divine instrument. The highest work for God is always done in this way. Without the mighty spiritual impulse such tasks as God sets his servants could never be accomplished; but with it the hardest service ends in success.
II. THE PROPHET GOES IN GRIEF AND ANGER.
1. In grief. The prophet is in bitterness. The cause of his sorrow is that he is to speak of bad subjects, and to face unwilling hearers. Nothing can be more painful to a sympathetic soul. If a preacher could delight in denunciation and take a pleasure in describing the horrors of future punishment, he would be little better than a demon at heart. A true preacher of repentance must be a voice of sorrow. Moreover, it must be painful to a sensitive man to find himself compelled to create unpopularity for himself by fidelity to his message. His face may be as adamant; but his heart will bleed.
2. In anger. Ezekiel went "in heat." There is a righteous wrath. Christ could be "moved with indignation" against cruelty and hypocrisy. The man who is incapable of this anger lacks power of conscience. Love must lie at the heart of the servant of God, but anger at sin and at the wrong of it to God and man may show itself in his voice and manner.
III. THE PROPHET FEELS THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD UPON HIM. God does not only send his servant; he accompanies him. The Spirit carried Ezekiel forth; the hand of God was strong upon him all the way. This hand of God is felt in various ways.
1. In pushing forward. God thus keeps his servants to the front. While he is with them he will allow of no cowardice or indolence.
2. In support. This hand of God is a helping hand, a holding hand, a supporting hand. God sustains those whom he sends.
3. In restraint. While pushing his servants on in the right way, God is ready to hold them back from peril, error, and ruin.
4. In uplifting. The servants of God may slip and even fall. Then they are not deserted. The same strong hand which sent them forth lifts them up and sets them on their Jest again. Thus the mighty ever-present God stands by to help his feeblest servants and lead them on to victory.
Silence. When Ezekiel came upon a settlement of captives he sat down with them in silent amazement for seven days. At the end of that time a Divine message roused him, and sent him forth on his mission. We have now to consider the lessons of the week of silence. They may be the more valuable for us because we seem to have lost the faculty of keeping quiet. The rush and roar of modern life have killed that ancient power, and its depth and spiritual range are lost to us. No doubt much of the superficiality and unreality of modern life may be traced to the habit of ceaseless chatter: It would be well if we could rediscover silence. Silence has many shades according to the varying circumstances in which it arises and the diverse moods in which it is cherished. Some of the characteristics of silence are illustrated in the case of Ezekiel.
I. THE SILENCE OF GRIEF. Ezekiel grieved to see the sorrowful state of his fellow captives, and to think that it was his mission at first even to add to their distress by words of rebuke and warning. Like a true patriot, he found the troubles of his countrymen occasions of personal mourning. As a tender-hearted man, he could not fail to be pained at their moral shame and peril. Their grief silenced his voice. The greatest sorrow lies too deep for words. The widow of Tennyson's "warrior" was stricken into a fearful silence. Referring to a season of extreme trouble, David said, "I was dumb with silence, I held my peace" (Psalms 39:2). Thus terrible blows stun the sufferer.
II. THE SILENCE OF WONDER. The prophet was astonished, The fearful spectacle of his kindred in distress overwhelmed him with amazement. A great surprise produces a shock of silence, by throwing us off the familiar lines of thought, so that we know not what to think or say. It is fortunate for us that this is the case, or we might blunder into some very rash expressions. We may well be silent before "the burden and the mystery of all this unintelligible world."
III. THE SILENCE OF SYMPATHY. Job's three friends "sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great" (Job 2:13). In the deepest trouble the kindest words sound harsh. You cannot handle an open wound in the most tender manner without giving pain. A look of sympathy is more helpful than a speech of most choice phrases. To weep with those who weep is better than to preach to them.
IV. THE SILENCE OF ANTICIPATION. Ezekiel has not received the message which he is to give to the captives. So he waits for it in silence. Having as yet no utterance to give, he is wise in keeping his lips closed. It has been truly remarked that we should not attempt to speak because we have to say something, but only because we have something to say. Macaulay delighted his companions by "flashes of silence" in the torrent of his conversation. It would be well if some of us kept longer silence, that when we did open our mouths some words of weight might come forth. It is good to understand the libeling of 'II Penseroso,' and to be able to welcome the "spirit of contemplation"—
"Come, pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure."
(See on Ezekiel 33:1-9.)
Varieties of judgment.
The duties and responsibilities of the prophet as a watchman, which are here first described, receive more elaborate attention later in the book, where therefore they can be best studied. The other side of the subject—that which concerns the guilt and dangers of the people, which is also set forth in the passage before us—is worthy of grave consideration on its own account. Let us take that alone now.
I. JUDGMENT IS DETERMINED BY PERSONAL GUILT. God is discriminating and fair. He does not deal out judgment in the gross; each case is token in detail. There is to be no wholesale deluge of future retribution; every man will bear his own share of guilt. There will be differences between the treatment of one sinner and that of another. Differences in conduct and circumstances are noted. Temptation is weighed on the one side; light and opportunity on the other. The child of the thieves' den cannot be judged as the son of a Christian home. The ignorance of the heathen puts them in quite another category in the day of judgment from that in which the favoured inhabitants of Christendom will stand. There is thus not only a difference between the guilt of different deeds—as of minor morals or great crimes; there is also a difference in the guilt of similar deeds committed by people differently situated.
II. JUDGMENT IS AFFECTED BY AFTER CONDUCT. The whole passage treats of this after conduct. It presupposes that sin has been committed. Yet it shows a variety of possibilities according to subsequent behaviour. We cannot return on the past. History is not to be wiped out. What is done remains as a fact accomplished. Yet its evil fruit may be crushed, or it may be eaten to the last bitter morsel. Later conduct may aggravate the guilt, deepen the black dye, and add to the weight of the impending conduct. Or it may be such as to lift the load of doom and open a door of escape. We have to do with a personal God, not with a blind Nemesis. God rules by law, but this law is not a mechanical system. Therefore:
1. There is hope for the worst of men. None need despair.
2. It is wrong and foolish for the sinner to be reckless. Nobody's fate is so bad that it cannot be made worse. Even the vilest sinner may be warned of the danger of intensifying his already heinous guilt and multiplying the many stripes which he has already earned. The possibilities of evil are infinite; so also are the possibilities of heightened penalties. As there are third heavens and seventh heavens, so are there deeper and darker and yet more horrible inner circles of future punishment.
III. GUILT VARIES ACCORDING TO THE SINNER'S WARNING AND HIS TREATMENT OF IT. Here are four possible cases.
1. The unwarned sinner suffers. He cannot be excused because no prophet was sent him. On the face of it this looks unjust; but it is not so, since no man could have been a sinner at all unless he had known he was doing wrong. Therefore by the light of his own conscience he must be judged and condemned. Moreover, the moral degradation of sin in the heathen and in ignorant people nearer home is a fact that must bring its natural consequences. If only the pure in heart can see God, the impure must miss the beatific vision by lack of faculty to receive it. Sin kills the soul by natural necessity.
2. The warned sinner who persists suffers a worse penalty. He not only dies. His blood is on his own head. This must imply an aggravation of guilt and a consequent increase of punishment.
3. The fallen righteous man is punished, though he is not warned. His previous goodness gives him no immunity in present sin. He of all men can plead no excuse in the lack of warning, for certainly he should have known his danger. His eyes were once open. He may have been careless and surprised into sin. But this would not destroy guilt, for should he not have watched and prayed against entering into temptation?
4. The fallen righteous man who repents on receiving warning is forgiven. He is judged by his returning course of conduct. Too often despair follows the fall of good men, or reckless indifference. But the grace of Christ is for his own repentant people, as well as for those who had never known him. He who bade his disciples forgive seventy times seven offences is as long suffering and patient in his own treatment of genuine penitents among his brethren.
On the plain and in the house.
The prophet is sent first into the plain and then into his house. In both cases he follows Divine leadings. In both he is separated from his friends and neighbours. But there are certain differences between the two experiences, all full of significance.
I. ON THE PLAIN.
1. The scene. If Ezekiel was sent into the plain, this must have been because it was a place adapted to what was to happen there. Its characteristic features must eater into the significance of the prophet's errand. Note some of these.
(1) Retirement from society. The mournful crowd of Jews was by the riverbank, and Ezekiel was to detach himself from them and retreat to the solitude of the plain. It is not good for man to live in a crowd. Depth of soul is to be cultivated in retirement. God does not often reveal himself in the din of the world. A too public life is both shallow and callous.
(2) Breadth of view. The plain is broad and spacious. There is ample range for the eye to rove over its vast expanse. The soul may here lose its cramped feelings. The suffocation of the crowd is escaped. When God's glory appears it has room for a large display. Heavenly painting requires a broad canvas.
(3) Openness to heaven. There is no roof over the plain. You can look thence right up to the sky. The lark can rise from his nest on the plain and soar as high as his unwearied wings will bear him. We want freedom from earthly limitations. The smoke of the city hangs over the haunts of men. We must go forth from all human entanglements to seek free intercourse with God.
2. The events. Once on the plain this man of visions, the Prophet Ezekiel, saw new wonders, and there the glory of God appeared to him. Other men had been on the plain before; wild tribes of the desert have ranged over it since, and perhaps herded their cattle or pitched their tents on the very site of the great revelation. Yet to them the heavens have been as brass. Fitting scenes may prepare us for heavenly visions, but they cannot create them. When the glory is revealed no higher privilege could be vouchsafed. It is worth any journey—if need be, across Siberian plains—to have such a privilege. No longer do we look for this in outward show. But there may be a Divine glory upon the plain to the naturalist who examines the meanest weed that grows there, as an angel of Divine revelation, an embodiment of heavenly wisdom and beauty.
II. IN THE HOUSE. The sight of the glory on the plain smites the prophet to the ground with awe and reverence. But he is not to lie there dismayed. Heavenly words follow the heavenly vision, and these words have a practical import. God does not reveal himself only to dazzle beholders with a splendid pageant. A vision of glory is not enough without a message of truth. Revelation makes known the mind of God. So the voice speaks, and speaks with a practical aim, bidding the amazed prophet arise and go to his house.
1. The scene.
(1) The greatest privacy. On the plain Ezekiel was in retirement. In the house he is in seclusion. Christ bade his disciples go into their closet, and shut the door, to pray to their Father in secret (Matthew 6:6).
(2) Separation from the external world. On the plain a man has space; at home he is shut in by four walls. On the plain he is open to the voices of nature; alone in the house he is left to subjective experiences.
(3) Cessation of work. The prophet must leave his ministry for a season, and wait in patience.
2. The use of this scene. Retirement and seclusion give a time of rest, which all busy workers need. They afford opportunities for meditation and prayer. Here the soul can take stock, can review its forces, can seek fresh supplies. Note: Ezekiel sees the vision on the plain before he goes to retire to the solitude of his house. To be profitable, meditation must be based on revelation.
A prophet stricken dumb.
This is something abnormal, almost monstrous. A prophet is a speaker by calling. His mission is to use his voice. Something is strangely amiss if he is to be driven to silence. The occurrence, the causes, and the consequences of such a phenomenon must be of exceptional importance.
I. THE FACT. The prophet's tongue is to cleave to the roof of his mouth. If he would speak, he shall not be able to do so. Then, as before the time of Samuel, the word of the Lord must be "rare" (1 Samuel 3:1). Divine messages cease.
1. No light. The sun is eclipsed. At noon it is night. Truth sinks into obscurity. Heaven ceases to have a meaning. Man is left to earth alone.
2. No guiding hand. Left in the dark, people may plunge into quagmires of error or fall into pits of destruction; there is no warning to keep them safe.
3. No commanding voice. Now the people feel free to choose their own course.
4. No consolation nor message of grace. The prophets were not all Cassandra,, nor was every message a prediction of judgment. These men were the consolers of the sorrowful. They bore Messianic messages of hope. Now their words are hushed. If the black thundercloud is dispelled, so also is the rainbow that spanned it.
II. THE CAUSE.
1. By the power of God. It is God who paralyzes the tongue of his servant. This is no matter of wilful reticence or sullen silence on the part of the prophet. If God sends a message, he can also withhold one. Revelation is not extorted from heaven by cunning sorcery. It is freely vouchsafed by the will of God, and if he chooses to hide it, no skill or might of man can extract it. The lips of the prophet from whom God has withheld a message are as surely sealed to all new Divine revelation as the lips of a corpse. The dead can tell no secrets, the uninspired prophet can make no revelation.
2. On account of man's sin. This is a judicial act. God does not work in caprice. But neither does he act with mechanical uniformity. He will not waste his gracious words forever. Christ warned his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine. How many have heard the gospel so often and heeded it not, that they may well feel they deserve to be shut out from hearing it any more! Why should the sower cast his seed by the wayside again, only to be trodden underfoot or stolen by the wild birds?
III. THE PURPOSE. There must be an object in this cessation of prophecy, and that object must be more than the mere economy of effort. God has positive ends in view in all that he does, for he is ever advancing to larger good, and never simply withdrawing from fruitless fields as though frustrated and confined to a smaller area. At first the cessstion of prophecy may be accepted as a relief from inconvenient admonition. It used to remind men of ugly facts—of sins committed and duties neglected. Now they are free from its annoying insistence. But presently other effects may be seen.
1. To show the value of what was neglected. Though we may not recognize the fact, the presence of a Divine voice is a great boon—it is light and counsel and help. Men may learn to value it when they have lost it. We do not know how precious our friends were till they are taken from us. Perhaps we were sometimes irritated by what they said. Oh that we could have them back now that we have learnt their value! But it is too late.
2. To speak by silence. Many words have tailed. Silence itself may be eloquent. The very cessation of prophecy may provoke reflection on the old messages.
3. To spare the aggravation of guilt. The more words of warning are unheeded, the worse is the guilt of the rejection.
Liberty of hearing.
Jeremy Taylor wrote on 'Liberty of Prophesying,' when that right had been interfered with unjustly. In more lawless times liberty of hearing has also been put under restraint. Where it is unhampered it brings its own responsibility. Now we all have liberty of hearing. The use and abuse of this liberty call for some consideration.
I. THE USE OF THE LIBERTY OF HEARING.
1. All men are free to hear God's Word. This is not a message for the priests; it is given to the people. It is not sent to the few elite; it belongs to the multitude. There is no esoteric doctrine in the Christian revelation.
2. All men can understand the Divine Word. Little children can grasp its most precious truths. Simple folk can receive what is vital and most valuable. The path is such that a wayfaring man, though a fool, may not err therein if he follows it with a true heart.
3. All men have a right to receive God's Word. It is our duty to circulate the Bible throughout the world. If God has given utterances that are intended for all peoples and nations and languages and tongues, it is the duty of those to whom these oracles of God have been committed to see that everything is done to put them within the reach of those who have not yet received them.
4. All men to whom the Word of God has come are under a solemn obligation to give heed to it. Liberty does not exonerate from duty; on the contrary, it is the essential condition of the performance of any duty as such. If God speaks, we can refuse to hearken, but we ought to listen; and only by thus listening can the Word of God be of any profit to us.
II. THE ABUSE OF THE LIBERTY OF HEARING. It is possible to forbear, if the hearing is within our own power. God forces no one to hear his Word. nor does he force any one to enter his kingdom. The good Shepherd seeks the wandering sheep, but when he finds it he does not drive it before him; he calls it to him, and even then, if the foolish creature is so madly inclined, it can turn a deaf ear to his merciful voice.
1. It would be useless to compel a hearing. God does not desire unwilling service. The revelation that is not welcome can bring little good. God blesses us through our own acquiescence; in the rebelious heart the blessing would be soured into a curse.
2. To be understood, the Word of God must be received sympathetically. This is not a statement of external facts so much as a light to shine into the heart. If, therefore, the language of it were dinned into our ears, syllable by syllable, the spirit, the truth itself, would still remain outside. We should hear the sounds, not the message they contained.
3. To refuse to hear the Word of God is to incur a grave responsibility. As a word of command it requires obedience. To decline to receive the message is to rebel and disobey. As a word of grace this Divine utterance offers a boon. To refuse it is to insult the gracious Speaker. It is also to run the risk of severe judgment when we fail for lack of that which would have saved us if we had given attention to it. They who act thus are without excuse. It will be "more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon" in the day of judgment than for such.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The privileged and the unprivileged.
It is impossible to read this language without being reminded of the parallel language recorded to have been uttered by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Prophet Ezekiel was assured that, whilst his message would be rejected by his fellow countrymen, it would have been received with gratitude and faith had it been addressed to a Gentile nation. And our Lord, in upbraiding the unbelief of Capernaum, declared that the tidings he proclaimed would have been received with joy and would have induced repentance had they been addressed to Tyre and Sidon—nay, to Sodom and Gomorrah! It must indeed have rendered the mission of Ezekiel doubly difficult to be assured beforehand of the hardness of heart and the incredulity of the house of Israel. Yet it was a divinely appointed discipline to which he was subjected; and it was a wholesome, albeit a painful, preparation for the discharge of a distressing service, to be told that his words should be rejected, and yet to be bidden to utter them in the name and by the authority of his God.
I. THE LESS FAVOURED WOULD WELCOME THE DIVINE MESSENGER AND THE DIVINE MESSAGE. People of a strange speech, the prophet was assured, would, had he been sent to them, certainly have hearkened unto him. How is this to be accounted for? Such people would have been favourably inclined to the herald of God's justice and mercy:
1. By their surprise at an unwonted instance of God's condescension and gracious interest.
2. By their gratitude for words of warning and of promise.
3. By their responsiveness to the interposition on their behalf of a new power brought to bear upon their moral nature.
4. By the hope of Divine acceptance and of a new and better life awakened by the summons in their nature.
II. THE HIGHLY FAVOURED WILL MEET THE DIVINE MESSENGER AND THE DIVINE MESSAGE WITH INDIFFERENCE, UNBELIEF, AND IRRESPONSIVENESS.
1. Privilege is often associated with moral obduracy. The expression used is very severe: "Of a hard forehead, and of a stiff heart." It is observable, and very significant, that the historians and prophets of the Hebrews, so far from flattering their countrymen, used with regard to them language of stern upbraiding and denunciation, reproached them with their unbelief, rebelliousness, hardness of heart, and stiff-necked attitude towards Divine authority. And such reproach was abundantly justified by the facts of their history. They were chosen to privilege, not in virtue of any excellence of their own, but in the sovereign wisdom and mercy of the Lord. The more God did for them, the less they heeded his commandments. Not that this condemnation applied to all; there were those "faithful among the faithless;" but generally speaking, the Jews were a disobedient and rebellious race.
2. This moral obduracy leads to the rejection of God's messengers. "The house of Israel" so the Lord forewarned Ezekiel—" will not hearken unto thee." The same truth was expressed by our Lord himself centuries afterwards, when he reproachfully reminded his kindred according to the flesh that through long centuries messengers from God had been sent to their forefathers, only to be ill treated, wounded, and slain. Ezekiel was only to be treated as similarly authorized messengers of God both before and afterwards.
3. God's messengers are rejected by those who have rejected God himself. Most terrible are the words of the Lord to Ezekiel: "They will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto ME." God had spoken unto Israel in the events of past history, and in the directions and reproaches of conscience. Ezekiel might well believe that there was no special reason why they should listen to him; but he was well aware that there is no sin more awful than the refusal to listen to the Eternal himself, all whose words are true and just, wise and good. It was not a case for personal feeling, a case of offence given and taken. Such feeling would have been out of place. The serious aspect of Israel's unbelief was just this—it was unbelief of God; they turned away from the voice that spake from heaven.
APPLICATION. The privileges of those who, in this Christian dispensation, hear the gospel of salvation preached to them, far exceed the privileges of the ancient Hebrews. To reject the testimony of Christ's ministers is to reject Christ himself, as our Lord has explicitly declared. The condemnation and guilt are tenfold when men harden their hearts, not only against the authority of the Divine Law, but against the pleadings of Divine love.—T.
Ezekiel 3:8, Ezekiel 3:9
The fearlessness of the Lord's messenger.
After hearing that Israel would give no heed to his prophetic messages, the Prophet Ezekiel must have needed strong encouraging. It is always depressing to engage in a hopeless undertaking. Yet there was a moral necessity for the mission to be fulfilled. And the Lord strengthened and fortified his servant for his painful duty by breathing into him a Divine courage, and by bidding him dismiss all fear. Although Ezekiel's position was very special, every servant and herald commissioned by the Most High to witness on his behalf to his fellow men has frequent need of such encouragement as that imparted to the prophet of the Captivity.
I. THE OUTWARD OCCASIONS OF FEAR. There are many circumstances which are likely to arouse the apprehensions, and so to depress the energies, of God's messengers to Their fellow men.
1. Want of sympathy with his message on the part of those to whom he is sent.
2. An attitude of deliberate indifference and unbelief.
3. Determined resistance and resentment.
4. Threats of personal violence.
The former occasions of fear are such as every minister of religion must expect to encounter. But the Hebrew prophets sometimes met with actual ill treatment—blows, bonds, and death. So it was with the apostles of our Lord, and so it has been with missionaries of the cross, who have fulfilled their ministry among the unenlightened, prejudiced, and hostile heathen. Many have "resisted unto blood, striving against sin."
II. THE INWARD INCLINATION TO FEAR. There is great difference in the matter of constitutional temperament; some men are naturally timid, and prone to be overawed by opposition and intimidation, whilst others have a certain delight in antagonism, and care not what odds are against them in the conflict.
1. Sometimes the messenger of God is too prone to regard his own peace and comfort, and is averse to any step which may bring him into collision with others.
2. The feeling on the part of God's servant, that he is but one against many, inclines him to retirement and reticence.
3. And this is increased when there is no countenance or support from colleagues in labour and warfare. The consciousness of personal feebleness and insufficiency, combined with the feeling of isolation, may naturally account for the prevalence of fear in the presence of difficulty, opposition, and hostility. He who made man, and who is perfectly acquainted with human nature, is aware that his servants are subject to such infirmities, and that they need accordingly a special provision of Divine grace to fortify them against the spiritual danger to which they are exposed.
III. THE DIVINE PRESERVATIVE FROM FEAR.
1. The consciousness of a message from God to be delivered, whether man will hear or forbear, is fitted to take away all dread of men's displeasure, as well as all undue desire for men's favour.
2. The assurance that Divine authority accompanies the Lord's servant is in itself sufficient to make his face and his forehead hard as adamant in the presence of opponents whose only authority lies in force or in the conventional greatness attaching to earthly rank or station.
3. To this is added the express promise of God's aid. The opponents may be mighty; but the soldier of truth and of righteousness has the assurance that he who is with him is mightier still. "Fear not," says the Almighty, "for I am with you."—T.
The inpouring of Divine fulness.
A great and strong nature is sometimes observed to obtain a vast ascendancy over others, to communicate opinion, to exercise influence, to control, to impel, to restrain, to inspire. Now, the prophet is the man to whom the Lord, who is the eternal Truth and Wisdom and Authority, stands in such a relation. As is strikingly described in the text, God pours into the ears and the heart of the prophet the words which are the expression of his infinite mind and will, and thus fits him to stand as his own representative before his fellow men. There was no doubt a special immediateness in this relation between God and the ancient prophets such as Ezekiel; yet the remarkable language of this passage may justly be taken as describing the intercourse which exists between the Father of spirits and those whom he has made partakers of his nature and of his truth and life and love.
I. THE ABUNDANCE OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. There is grandeur in the language here attributed to the Eternal: "All my words that I shall speak unto thee." How can we gather up into one apprehension all the communications, the words, addressed by God to man?
1. All nature may fairly be regarded as the speech of him who, being at once the Father of spirits and the Author of the universe, makes use of the works of his hands as the medium by which to communicate with the beings whom he has endowed with capacities for knowing himself and for sharing in his character.
2. Man's moral nature is in an especial manner the organ by which the Creator reveals his most venerable and admirable attributes; unless man had a heart to feel, he would remain forever a stranger to the glorious character of his God.
3. The text refers undoubtedly to a special revelation accorded to selected individuals for definite purposes. And although there are those who would admit the manifestations of God previously described, and yet would question the reality of a supernatural revelation, there are good reasons for believing that we are indebted to such special provision for not a little of our most precious knowledge of our God.
II. THE OBSTACLES TO HUMAN RECEPTIVENESS, These are not so much intellectual as moral. It is the worldly nature, engrossed with the pursuits of earth and the pleasures of sense, that repels Divine communications. The atmosphere is too dense and foggy for the rays of Divine righteousness and purity to pierce. It is sin which makes the ear deaf and the heart impenetrable so that the words of wisdom and of love die away unheeded and upheard.
III. THE PENETRATION AND OCCUPATION OF HUMAN NATURE BY THE IMPARTING OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS: The purpose of the Eternal was that the whole being of the "son of man" should be taken up and occupied by the words to be uttered. And surely this is the intention of God regarding, not Ezekiel alone, but every child of man. There is no obstacle upon the Divine side. On the contrary, the purpose of infinite benevolence is that our humanity may be receptive of Divine blessing.
1. Divine truth is intended to fill the intelligence. In God's light it is for us re see light. Truth regarding God and man, and regarding God's relation to man, is communicated in wonderful and abundant measure to the truth-seeking soul, and especially by him who is "the Truth."
2. Divine love is intended to fill the heart.
3. Divine authority is intended to control the will—the active nature of man.
4. And Divine service is intended to fill man's life, so that the words of God may produce their perfect fruit in the actions and the habits of man.—T.
Ezekiel 3:12, Ezekiel 3:13
As a true prophet, Ezekiel was specially susceptible to spiritual influences. Again and again he speaks of the Spirit as taking possession of him, pleasing him in new circumstances, enlarging his experiences, qualifying him for special ministries. Divesting ourselves of the notion that such interpositions are to be interpreted as mechanical and local, we must seek to enter into their spiritual significance. The interest of this passage largely lies in its bearing upon the prophet's own personal history and ministerial service.
I. CELESTIAL VOICES CAME TO ONE WHO HAD JUST PASSED THROUGH VERY DISHEARTENING EXPERIENCES.
1. Ezekiel had been reminded of the unbelief and rebelliousness of his countrymen, to whom it was his vocation to minister. Their character had been described to him in language of the truth of which he was too well aware. To preach to the hardened and unsympathetic is no pleasant task. Yet it is a task to which every retreater of religion is often called. His is frequently the voice of one crying in the wilderness. And again and again has he been cast down and distressed in spirit when thus encountered by prejudice, worldliness, and unbelief.
2. Ezekiel had been made to feel the difficulties arising from the feebleness and insufficiency of the spiritual labourer. It is hard to face a powerful foe; but to do so becomes harder when the warrior is conscious of his own weakness. And this has been the experience of every faithful servant of God. Often has the minister of Christ, overpowered by a sense of his impotence, cried aloud, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
II. CELESTIAL VOICES COME TO REANIMATE, TO COMFORT, AND TO STRENGTHEN THE SERVANT OF GOD. When the prophet was depressed by his experiences and apprehensions, the Spirit lifted him up, and he heard voices from above. Whilst we listen only to the voices of earth, we shall endure distress and discouragement. But if filled with the Spirit, we may hear voices which shall ravish our hearts with joy and inspire them with courage.
1. Celestial voices summon our attention away from man to God. There is a Divine side to our humanity, to our life, our work, and even our sorrows. The spirit of man is capable of apprehending the Divine, and, indeed, only in doing so does it realize the purpose of its existence. God is not far from every one of us; and he is near to all who call upon him in truth.
2. Celestial voices summon us to contemplate the majesty of the Eternal. This is their burden: "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place." How poor do earth's pleasures, and how paltry do earth's interests seem, when brought into comparison with the heavenly and eternal! The Hebrew prophets certainly enjoyed a wonderful insight into the majestic attributes of Jehovah. If we will be led by them, they will lead us into the presence, and reveal to us something of the glory, of the Lord of all. Thus may we be freed from bondage to earth's littleness; thus may we learn the true, full lessons of being.
3. Thus earthly trouble may be lost and absorbed in heavenly grandeur. The voice of the rushing, the noise of the wheels, the rustling of the wings,—these appealed to the imagination and touched the spirit of the prophet; and his trials and difficulties shrank into their proper insignificance, when he was conscious of the nearness and of the infinite superiority of the Divine. We may not always be able to reason down our difficulties, to repress our anxieties, to vanquish our temptations. But we may bring all into the presence of Divine visions and Divine voices; and they will assume their just proportions, and God will he the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, of all.—T.
Human bitterness and Divine strength.
The Prophet Ezekiel would have been more or less than human had he not felt poignantly the painful commission with which he was entrusted. He was a patriot as well as a prophet; and his distress and trouble arose not merely from the discouragement natural to his position and service, but from his sympathy with his fellow countrymen, his censure of their sin, his sorrow for their fate. Yet it was not the will of God that his grief should interfere with the efficiency of his ministry. And the Lord who called him to his special work chose the occasion of the prophet's depression as the occasion of his intervention upon his behalf and for his strengthening. It was when Ezekiel was in bitterness and the heat of his spirit that the hand of the Lord was strong upon him. Nor was this experience peculiar to this prophet; many have, in God's service, known Ezekiel's bitterness, and have, in the time of their bitterness, felt God's hand upon them, a hand of encouragement, of guidance, and of blessing.
I. THE NATURAL DEPRESSION OF THE DISAPPOINTED WORKER FOR GOD. The circumstances described in the context are abundantly sufficient to account for the bitterness and heat of the prophet's spirit. Every faithful servant and minister of God can enter, more or less completely, into his feelings. The conditions of labour are often discouraging and distressing.
II. THERE IS DANGER LEST THE EFFECT OF MENTAL BITTERNESS SHOULD BE THE CRIPPLING OF THE HANDS FOR EFFICIENT LABOUR. A cheerful mind contributes to efficient toil. Even if the task be difficult and painful, it will not be well performed if bitterness and heat of spirit prevail. "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
III. DIVINE INTERPOSITION CAN IMPART STRENGTH, CAN ALLAY VEXATION, CAN FIT FOR SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. "The hand of the Lord," says the prophet, "was strong upon me." This metaphorical expression is full of significance.
1. Strong to uphold, as a father's hand sustains his child in a difficult and dangerous road.
2. Strong to defend, as the hand of an escort may ward off from his charge the attack of a foe.
3. Strong to direct, as the hand of the helmsman may steer the ship upon her course.
4. Strong to cheer and encourage, as the hand of the husband may grasp that of the wife, to comfort and to animate with courage, in times of common difficulty, sorrow, and distress.
5. Strong to save, as the hand of a deliverer may rescue a drowning form from raging waterhoods.—T.
The watchman's office.
Every servant of God conceives his service in his own manner, under the special light of his own experience and character. Ezekiel evidently felt the peculiar solemnity of his position among the children of the Captivity, and evidently was consumed by a desire to discharge his difficult and painful duty with fidelity and efficiency. Hence his habit of regarding himself, as indeed the Divine Spirit prompted him to do, as a watchman set to admonish and protect the Hebrew exiles in the East. In many respects this figure sets forth the vocation of every true minister of Christ called upon to watch fur souls as one who must give account unto God.
I. THE WATCHMAN'S COMMISSION. The spiritual guardian and keeper does not undertake this duty at the suggestion of his own thoughts and inclinations; he is called to it by the voice of God himself. The word of the Lord comes unto him. He is stationed where he stands by Divine authority. He has to listen for the Divine voice, to give heed to every direction, to be ready to utter such messages as he may receive from Heaven.
II. THE WATCHMAN'S DUTY. This is, generally, to testify to man according to the instructions he receives. He has to hear in order that he may speak, to take in the truth in order that he may give it forth. It is, therefore, not enough that he be attentive and intelligent; he must impart the tidings, the message, which he receives. He has a ministry, a trust, to fulfil for the benefit of his fellow men—he has to seek to bring them into conscious relations with the Father of spirits.
III. THE WATCHMAN'S SPECIAL OFFICE FOR THE REBELLIOUS. Watching for men, the spiritual guardian is bound to remember the special character of those over whom he is placed. He is not simply an instructor entrusted with the duty of declaring truth, of inculcating lessons and precepts. He has to deal with "a rebellious house." Hence one great function of the watchman is to warn. Throughout this book the greatest stress is laid upon this duty. "Warn them from me!" is the admonition of God to the faithful watchman. The people are in danger from manifold temptations; and they have to be put upon their guard against the spiritual perils by which they are threatened. The wicked are to be warned, that they may repent; the righteous have to be warned, lest they fall from their righteousness.
IV. THE WATCHMAN'S RESPONSIBILITY. The office thus described is indeed an honourable one; but it is difficult and responsible. Much depends upon the way in which the duty is discharged; the safety of the people and the acceptance of the guardian are both alike at stake.
1. The watchman's fidelity will be rewarded. If he fulfil his duty, he will deliver his soul, he will be approved and recompensed, promoted and honored.
2. The watchman's unfaithfulness will be punished. If he do not his duty, others will suffer, hut he himself will not escape just retribution. The blood of the lost will be required at his hand.
1. Here is a lesson for those who are appointed to watch for souls. Their ears must be open to receive the Word of the Lord; their lips must be open to speak that Word.
2. Here is a lesson for those who enjoy the benefit of spiritual ministrations. It is not only an awful and responsible duty to watch; it is an awful and responsible privilege to listen to the watchman's warning. If the preacher is accountable for his utterances, the hearer is accountable for the spirit in which he receives those utterances. Take heed what, and how, you hear!—T.
Ezekiel 3:26, Ezekiel 3:27
Dumbness sad speech.
The wise man has said, "There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak." There are those who speak when they would do well to hold their peace; there are those who are speechless when it becomes them to utter their mind with boldness. A prophet is emphatically one who speaks for God; a silent prophet is a paradox. Yet, as Ezekiel was, of all his order, the one whose ministry was especially a ministry of symbol, it is only in harmony with his peculiar vocation that, for a time and for a purpose, he should be as one dumb. On the other hand, the abundance of his utterances is apparent from the length to which the book of his prophecies extends. There were reasons fur both his dumbness and his speech.
I. THE TESTIMONY OF SILENCE. That God should enjoin one of his own prophets to silence is certainly a very remarkable fact, and one that needs explanation.
1. It is evidence of Israel's unbelief and inattention. When the people refused to hear, there was a solemn dignity in the refusal of the prophet any longer to speak.
2. It is in rebuke of Israel's attempt to silence the Lord's messenger. The people would have their monitor hold his peace; and God gave them their will. The oracle was dumb.
3. The silencing of the prophet was judicial. Punishment is a reality; and severe indeed is the penalty inflicted upon that nation in which the voice of God's prophets is silenced. The effects of such sin recoil upon the sinners' heads.
4. Such silencing was suggestive. It offered opportunity for reflection; it called for consideration regarding the future; it may well have appeared to the thoughtful premonitory of worse calamities to follow.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF SPEECH.
1. This is the result of Divine preparation: "When I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth." The same power which, at one time and for one purpose, closes the lips, at another time and lot another purpose, opens them. So long as God withholds the message, the prophet is silenced; no sooner is the message conveyed to the prophet than he is empowered to utter it.
2. This is in fulfilment of a Divine commission: "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God." A command like this may well unseal the lips. The man who is convinced that he is justified in thus prefacing his utterances may well speak, whether his message be palatable or unpalatable, whether it bring the messenger praise or blame from his fellow men. 3 This accompanied by Divine authority: "He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear." It is for the people's own advantage that the prophet witnesses; if he warns, it is that they may escape threatened danger; if he promises, it is that they may obtain blessings; if he commands, it is that they may obey, and secure the rewards of obedience. Accordingly, it is for the people to consult their own highest interests. But in any case they are subject to Divine authority; from that, and all that it involves, there is no escape.
1. God has different ways of dealing with men; sometimes not only different, but apparently opposite ways, as in the case before us. And indeed, one man may be reached and benefited by speech; another man, by silence.
2. In whatever way God deals with us, we are equally and inevitably responsible. It is indeed in our power to hear or to forbear, i.e. to obey or to disobey. But to every man faith and obedience bring blessing; and moreover (which is still more important), they are in themselves right and becoming. Ours is the privilege; ours is the accountability for its proper use.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
God makes unusual manifestations of his glory to men, to qualify them for extraordinary service. The opened heavens and the voice of Divine approbation, on the occasion of Jesus' baptism, were a preparation for the desert conflict. The transfiguration of our Lord on the mount was designed to qualify the disciples for arduous spiritual toil. Ezekiel found it right pleasant to receive higher revelations of God's Person and God's will, but irksome to the flesh to convey that will to his brethren.
I. THE SOURCE OF AUTHORITY. The splendid manifestation of God, recorded in the first chapter, was intended to prepare and loftily Ezekiel for this difficult undertaking. The God of heaven, who dwelt amid such splendours, and who had such a magnificent retinue, condescended to employ this timid "son of man" as his ambassador. Whenever an envoy has been sent by his monarch to a foreign court, on a momentous errand, he has been sustained by the consciousness that he represented, in his weak person, the honour of the monarch and the strength of the whole empire. So Ezekiel had been admitted to the court of the celestial King, and was honoured to bear the commands of the eternal God. No other authority could be compared with this. Having revealed to his ecstatic vision the glories of the heavenly King, the Sovereign's voice broke graciously on the servant's ear, "Go, get thee unto the house of Israel."
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MESSAGE. "Speak with my words." The first task the prophet had to perform was with himself. It was a necessity that he should repress and subject self. He must overbear his timidity. He must mortify his pride. He must forego personal tastes and predilections. This done, his task was simple. He was to be spokesman for God. He was released from the perplexity of inventing suasive arguments or selecting fitting words. All the material for reproof, expostulation, counsel, appeal, was furnished by God himself. On every occasion the prophet was required to speak in the name of the Sovereign, and to use this formula, "Thus saith Jehovah."
III. THE RESISTANCE ANTICIPATED. At first sight, it would seem as if the prophet's mission were an easy one. To convey a further disclosure of God's will to his own people would surely be a most welcome thing. If they had accorded to Moses almost reverential honor, will they not display a similar disposition to another prophet? Moreover, the people were now in the extremity of trouble—in the depths of affliction: would they not the more readily hear a message from their God? A singular doom was awaiting such bright hopes. Surface prospects were indeed favourable, but the most formidable opposition was thinly veiled. No foe on earth is so terrible to face as a depraved human will. As metals, that have been repeatedly heated and cooled, cannot easily be made ductile; so, under much gracious treatment, the heart of Israel had become hopelessly hardened. It is an unalterable law of Heaven, that kindness abused becomes the heaviest curse. Yet no measure of opposition was to deter the prophet in fulfilling his duty, or he, too, would experience the curse of disobedience. Though he was forewarned how resistant would be his auditors, his commission was unmodified, his task unchanged. If no advantage should accrue to the house of Israel, large advantage would accrue to the prophet, as the result of his fidelity—large advantage would result to later generations. Difficulty is not the measure of duty. Service for God bears fruit in unexpected directions.
IV. SPECIAL EQUIPMENT IS PROVIDED BY GOD. In our warfare for God we may find encouragement in the superior resources of our Master against all assailants. Truth is mightier than error all the world over. Righteousness is mightier than wickedness. We have an ally in the conscience of our foe, if all his passions be against us. Best encouragement of all, God's strength is mightier, more durable, than the might of allied humanity. The conflict may be long, but final conquest is sure. Special equipment, too, is provided for special difficulties. "To the froward God will shrew himself froward." If his enemies show a brazen face, God will give his servants a forehead of steel. If they mail themselves with flints, God will provide his defenders with breastplates of adamant. "My grace is sufficient for thee;" "As thy day thy strength."
V. THE TRUE PROPHET IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL ARMY. He does not labour alone, nor contend alone. The Spirit of God is upon him—fortifies him on every side. Angels rejoice in the appointment of human ambassadors. The great forces of the universe work along with the servant of God. The living creatures cooperate with God's soldiery. As we go forth to the battle with sin, we may hear behind us the rustling of the heavenly wings, and the music of the heavenly wheals, and the chorus of sympathizing saints, "Be ye faithful unto death." The battle is not ours, but God's. The cause with which we are identified is most honorable. Our Master is the King of heaven. We act in alliance with the noblest spirits in the universe. Complete triumph is predestined.—D.
It is a serious thing to be responsible for our own conduct; it is (if possible) yet more serious to have responsibility for others. The two things are inseparably intertwined.
I. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM NATURAL RELATIONSHIP. Relationships are of all kinds—near and remote. No man is completely detached from others. His life penetrates other lives. A father is responsible for his children. Brothers are responsible for sisters, and vice versa, it was not until the demon of murderous hate had strangled the natural instinct of brotherhood, that the sullen miscreant asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?
II. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM OFFICIAL POSITION. The eternal God had exalted Ezekiel to a position of honour in his kingdom; and high rank is another name for high responsibility. To make this clear to his servant, God employed comparison, analogy, forcible illustration. On the city watchman hung the fate of the city—the lives of fellow citizens. He was exempted from other duties that he might the better discharge this. For many reasons, some manifest, some hidden, God appoints men, not angels, to be the exponents of his will to men. Faithful service will be richly rewarded; the loss of such rewards is a heavy penalty. But responsibility, if abused, bears a prolific harvest of disasters.
III. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE. If knowledge is power, knowledge is responsibility also. The light of wisdom or of science is entrusted to us that it may be diffused. In proportion to the practical value of the knowledge is the responsible duty to propagate it. Hence the special insight into man's fallen state, the subtlety of temptation, and the overwhelming results of impenitence—in brief, the special knowledge of God's intention with respect to guilty men—this entails on every prophet and preacher an imponderable responsibility to be faithful. Men might have been saved had they known both the generous and the judicial purposes of God; we knew and might have instructed them.
IV. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM POSSIBLE INFLUENCE. To the utmost extent that we can touch the springs of motive and of action in our fellow men are we responsible for them. Our responsibility does not begin and end with the message we deliver. We are to warn men. This mystic influence we possess over others is reflected from every smile and tone and feature. Hence temper, motive, fervour, earnestness, are elements of our power. We warn others by our own abstinence from sin, by our self-denials, our heavenly-mindedness, our fruitful goodness, our pious walk and converse. Responsibility ends only when we have exhausted every method to draw men heavenward.
V. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM THE KNOWN RESULTS OF NEGLECTED TRUST. The God who has placed his servants in responsible positions has deigned to inform them what shall be the effects of neglect and cowardice. To the unwarned wicked the effect shall be destruction: "They shall surely die." To the unfaithful watchman the effect shall be dishonour and loss: "The blood of the unwarned shall be required at his hand." The wicked might have died, though warned; but he might have repented and lived. A diseased man may die, although the remedy be applied; but if the known remedy be withheld, the blame of that death will fall on the slothful attendant. God has not seen it to be wise or fitting to make provision against unfaithfulness in his prophets. If they fail in the discharge of their momentous functions, no other agency will supply the room. The impenitent (who have no claim on God for any remedial measures) will, in such a case, die in their iniquity. Forevery position of influence, or honour, or usefulness we hold, "we must give account of ourselves before God."—D.
The silenced prophet, a calamity.
The apparent success of wickedness is a seed of retribution. The people do not wish to hear, therefore their ears shall be hardened. They gnash their teeth on God's prophet, therefore God will remove him into a corner.
I. SECLUSION FROM MEN BRINGS NEARER ACCESS TO GOD. Such experience our Lord himself passed through. "I shall be left alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me." "Arise, and go forth into the plain," said God to Ezekiel, "and I will there talk with thee." It is painful to be hindered and repulsed on a mission of mercy; but the servant of God may remember that the opposition is not to him, but to his Master. We naturally love society; we love success; we love to feel that our influence is moving men in the right direction. Resolute and persistent opposition is painful; but the friendship of God compensates for a thousand disappointments. If he smiles, it matters little who may frown.
II. THE OPPOSITION OF MEN BRINGS ALL GOD'S HOST TO THE PROPHET'S SIDE. The glorious vision which Ezekiel had seen on the banks of the Chebar was repeated in the plain. Representatives of all the living forces of heaven appeared again as the prophet's allies. In such a cause, and with such allied powers, triumph must eventually ensue. Though repelled, the prophet is not defeated; "Though cast down, not destroyed." If he pleased, God could have secured outward and apparent success for his messenger. He could have smitten with sudden death the more rebellious, and made the calamity an instrument for impressing and silencing others. But his wisdom preferred another course. "His thoughts are not our thoughts." Ezekiel very likely required yet further training for his work. We see not the scope and grandeur of Jehovah's plans at present; but by and by we shall be able to say, "He hath done all things well."
III. THE DEAFNESS OF MEN CURTAILS THE REVELATION FROM GOD. Men's pride usually becomes their punishment. They scourge themselves with their own sins. If they make themselves dear, God will make his servant dumb. The time will come when they shall earnestly desire to hear some message from the Lord, but they shall desire in vain. They may attempt to force the prophet into speech, but they will attempt in vain. Saul, the first King of Israel, was disobedient to the heavenly voice; yet when he was entangled in thick dangers, he cried to God, but God answered not, neither by prophet, nor by vision, nor by Urim or Thummim. "Because I called, and ye refused … I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh." Reproof was the kindest message the people could have from God, yet they understood it not. The hardened soil must be broken up by the plough before it is of any use to cast in the seed. The diseased man needs medicine, not sweetmeats. And when, at times, God does give his prophets a word to utter, it is only the word of reproof again. He will bring their self-will and pride again to remembrance. The pearls of his gospel he casts not before swine.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The awful consequences of neglecting the Word of the Lord.
"And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel," etc. Here is a comparison between two possible spheres of prophetic service—between the Israelites and the heathen (Ezekiel 3:5); between the one house of Israel and many heathen peoples (Ezekiel 3:6).
1. Both these spheres of service would have presented difficulties in the way of the fulfilment of the prophet's mission. In the case of the heathen nation or nations there would have been the linguistical difficulty. Ezekiel would not have understood their speech; they would not have understood his. European missionaries find this, and have to spend no inconsiderable time in acquiring the language of those to whom they are sent. before they can begin their great work. In the case of the house of Israel the difficulty was in their moral condition. It was not that the prophet's speech was unintelligible unto them, but that their hearts were hardened against the Word of the Lord.
2. The liaguistical hindrance to the success of the prophet's mission was far less serious than the moral. Time and patient application would enable him to surmount the former; but what human skill or assiduity can overcome the strong prejudice or moral obstinacy of the heart?
3. The mortal hindrance to the success of the prophet's mission is sometimes humanly insuperable. (Verse 7.) What is the reason of this, that the untaught heathen would have attended unto the prophet, while the privileged Israelites would not hearken unto him?
I. THE FAMILIARITY OF THE ISRAELITES WITH THE TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD DEPRIVED THOSE TRUTHS OF THE INTEREST WHICH ARISES FROM NOVELTY. The unfamiliar and the new have great attractions for many minds (cf. Acts 17:19-21). Ezekiel had no new fundamental truths to make known unto the house of Israel. What Moses and other prophets had taught he had to enforce and apply to their present circumstances. With the general principles of his teaching they were well acquainted. His message had no interest to them. But to the heathen his message would have been fresh and charged with interest. It would have awakened inquiry, etc. And alas! how many in Christian congregations today are so familiar with the gospel of Jesus Christ that they heed it not! Things which, compared with it, are the trifles of an hour, secure their eager attention, while it is treated as an unimportant and unprofitable thing.
II. THE LONG INDIFFERENCE OF THE ISRAELITES TO THE TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD RENDERED THEM INSENSIBLE TO THE POWER OF THOSE TRUTHS. They had heard them without heeding them, until heedlessness had become habitual in relation to them. They had refused to recognize their importance so long that now they seemed to them to have no importance. But the heathen would not have been thus indifferent to these truths. For them they would have had, not only the interest of novelty, but the influence arising from their practical relation to their hearts and lives. Is it not to be feared that in Christian countries at present there are many who, like the house of Israel, how so long been indifferent to "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" that now it is natural to them not to feel any personal concern in it? The offer which is repeatedly disregarded is ere long unnoticed. Warnings which are frequently unheeded at length cease to be heard.
III. THE PRACTICAL OPPOSITION OF THE ISRAELITES TO THE TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD HARDENED THEIR HEARTS AGAINST THOSE TRUTHS. They had so long refused to do the will of God that they had become insensible to the lower of his Word. They were "impudent and hard-hearted"—" stiff of forehead and hard of heart." They would not hear the Word of the Lord. But the heathen would have beard it if that Word had been sent unto them; for they had not hardened themselves against it. They were accessible to its influence, etc. This solemn truth receives confirmation from other portions of Scripture. While the house of Israel rejected their prophets, the heathen of Nineveh retorted at the preaching of Jonah. Our Lord also confirms this truth in solemn words (Matthew 8:10-12; Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:38-42). The history of modern missions supplies illustrations of the power of the gospel of Christ to interest and astonish, to attract and fascinate, to convince and convert, heathen peoples. Yet in this highly favoured land there are millions who are unmoved by that gospel. And of these many, many, we fear, have hardened themselves against the will and Word of God. They who persist in so doing become "past feeling." Moral power fails to impress them. They are "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." When holy authority has no force for men, and Divine threatenings no awakening power, and truth and righteousness no sacred majesty, and death 'rod eternity no solemnity, and the deepest, tenderest love no spell upon the heart,—when men are indifferent to these, harden themselves against these, what moral influences of a saving character can be brought to bear upon them?
1. If the heathen would have heard the Word of the Lord, how is it that the prophet was not sent unto them? Our answer mast be that of our Lord when considering a similar question: "l thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth," etc. (Matthew 11:25, Matthew 11:26). And it is important to remember that the heathen will be judged, not according to the light which they bad not, but according to that which they had.
2. If the heathen are thus disposed to hear the Word of the Lord, the gospel will most surely be published unto them. (Mark 16:15; Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:7.)
3. But the chief voice of our subject is that of solemn admonition to all unto whom the gospel is preached. "Take heed how ye hear." "Despise not prophesyings." Beware of hearing the Word of the Lord with indifference; for indifference may grow into obduracy of heart such as no moral force can penetrate.—W.J.
The prophet a watchman.
"And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the Word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel," etc. Let us notice—
I. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH THE PROPHET OF THE LORD IS HERE REPRESENTED. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel."
1. The appointment of a watchman implies the peril of the Church. Watchmen in ancient times were posted on the walls or in the towers of cities in order that they might watch for the appearance or approach of an enemy, and give instant warning of the same. The house of Israel was exposed to dangers and enemies, or it would not have needed a watchman. And the Church of Christ today is opposed by "the gates of hell" (Matthew 16:18), by evil powers in the world, and by evil persons and erroneous teachings within itself (Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30).
2. The appointment of watchmen in the Church is the prerogative of God. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman," etc. No man may constitute himself a watchman, and no Church may appoint a man to this office apart from the call of the Lord thereto. Christian ministers are called of God (cf. Hebrews 5:4).
II. THE DUTY OF THE PROPHET AS A WATCHMAN. His business was "to take notice, and to give notice."
1. To watch. "Hear the word at my mouth." It is a peculiarity of these watchmen that they have not to look around to obtain intelligence, but to look up. Their eyes and ears must be directed towards the Lord. They must receive their message from him, and then proclaim it unto men. And the Christian prophet must speak the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must "hear him" (Matthew 17:5); we must preach him (2 Corinthians 4:5). This part of a watchman's duty demands vigilance. Slothfulness and inattention may prove disastrous both to his charge and to himself. His observant faculties must be in active exercise.
2. To warn. "And give them warning from me." Ezekiel was to publish to the house of Israel what he heard from the Lord, and to publish it in his Name. The Christian preacher must warn and encourage, exhort and rebuke, in the Name of his Master, the Christ. He must receive from him; he must testify for him (cf. Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16).
III. THE CHARACTERS UNTO WHOM THE WATCHMAN MUST ADDRESS HIMSELF. He must warn both the righteous and the wicked (verses 18-21). But four types of character are adduced here.
1. The wicked man who has not been warned by the watchman, and dies because of his iniquity. (Verse 18.) God declares that "the wages of sin is death;" that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." And though this wicked man was not warned by the watchman, yet he was warned by his own conscience, and by voices of Divine providence, and by the sacred Scriptures. "Where the public ministry does not do its duty, Holy Scripture is still at hand, and it is each one's fault if he be not called to repentance by the voice of this" (Hengstenberg).
2. The wicked man who has been warned by the watchman, but still persists in sin, and dies because of his iniquity. (Verse 19.) His guilt is greater, and his punishment will be more severe, by reason of the warnings which he has despised.
3. The sometime outwardly righteous man, who has become a worker of iniquity, and has not been warned by the watchman, and dies because of his sin. (Verse 20.) This verse calls for some remarks by way of exposition.
(1) That in the providence of God the characters of men are tested. The words, "I lay a stumbling block before him," point to this. The expression signifies to subject one to trial by exposing him to difficulties and dangers, as in Jeremiah 6:21. "God tempts no man in order to his destruction, but in the course of his providence he permits men to be tried in order that their faith may be approved, and in this trial some who seem to be righteous fall" (Dr. Currey).
(2) That some characters fail beneath this test. Where the righteousness is only external, it is unable to endure the trial. But "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" will not be injured by the trial.
(3) That when one who has done righteous acts fails under trial and becomes a worker of iniquity, he forfeits the reward of those righteous acts, and, if he persist in sin, he will die by reason thereof. "He shall die because of his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered." To obtain the reward of good works perseverance therein even to the end is necessary (cf. Hebrew Jeremiah 6:10-12; 2 John 1:8; Revelation 3:11).
4. The righteous man who has been warned by the watchman, and, persevering in his righteousness, lives. (Jeremiah 6:21.) The sincerely righteous need warning, exhortation, and counsel, and are likely to profit by them.
IV. THE DIFFERENT RESULTS OF THE WATCHMAN'S MINISTRY.
1. As regards his hearers.
(1) Some would not heed his warnings. In the examples given in the text there is a majority of this class. The result to them would be greater guilt and severer condemnation. How many, alas! treat the warnings of the Christian watchman in a similar manner! They hear them, but practically despise them.
(2) Some would heed his warnings, and their salvation would be furthered by so doing. An example of this is given in Jeremiah 6:21. And others, through him, might be led to turn from their iniquity, and live. Unspeakably blessed are such results.
2. As regards himself.
(1) If the watchman should be unfaithful his guilt would be terrible. "His blood will I require at thine hand" (Jeremiah 6:18, Jeremiah 6:20; cf. Genesis 9:5; Genesis 42:22). "It is the life," says Schroder, "which is in the blood, of those in Israel which is entrusted to the prophet as a watchman. For this Jehovah, the Supreme Proprietor, demands a reckoning. The prophet who forgets his duty, which he owes to the unrighteous in God's stead, becomes a manslaughterer, a murderer of that man, and is regarded as such by God;" and as a murderer, not of the body, but of the inestimably precious soul. The thought of such guilt is overwhelmingly dreadful How awful is the responsibility of the Lord's watchmen! "Who is sufficient for these things?"
(2) If the watchman is faithful, though unsuccessful, he would be clear from guilt, and be saved himself (cf. Acts 18:6; Acts 20:26, Acts 20:27).
(3) If the watchman is faithful and successful, great would be his joy and great his reward, as in the case stated in Jeremiah 6:21. And in the case which is not mentioned here, but is yet among the possible results of his work, viz. that the wicked should believe his message, and turn unto the Lord. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him," etc. (James 5:19, James 5:20). Who can estimate the blessedness of a result like this?
CONCLUSION. Our subject presents:
1. The strongest reasons for fidelity on the part of the ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. The strongest reasons why the Church of Jesus Christ should constantly aid his ministers by earnest prayers on their behalf. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:3, Colossians 4:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:2.)—W.J.
Ezekiel 3:22, Ezekiel 3:23
God communicating with man.
"And the band of the Lord was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise," etc. The text presents for our notice—
I. THE GRACIOUS PREPARATION OF MAN FOR THE RECEPTION OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "And the hand of the Lord was there upon me." (We have already briefly noticed the significance of this expression in dealing with Ezekiel 1:3.) Ezekiel seems to have been grieved and saddened in spirit (verses 14, 15). Such depression unfitted him for receiving communications from God. Therefore "the hand of the Lord," the power of the Lord, came upon him to quicken him for the reception of the revelation of his will. God prepares his servants for his service. He qualifies and enables them to sustain exalted privileges, to perform arduous duties, to bear severe trials.
II. AN IMPORTANT CONDITION, FOR MAN, OF THE RECEPTION OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee." Ezekiel is thus commanded to depart from Tel-Abib and his fellow captives, and to go, not to the "plain extending to the river, but to a certain valley between the mountain walls there"—for such is the signification of the word which is translated "plain" in the Authorized Version. Retirement was a condition of communion and communication with God. If the prophet would hear his voice and behold his glory, he must go into the lonely valley. "God makes himself known to the mind only when it has been entirely withdrawn from worldly influences. We must be in the valley; but we may be in the bustling town, and yet in the valley" (Hengstenberg). (We have spoken of solitude and quiet as favouring Divine communications in our remarks on Ezekiel 1:1 : "By the river of Chebar.")
III. THE CONDESCENSION OF GOD IN THE BESTOWMENT UPON MAN OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. With Ezekiel the Lord communicated in two ways.
1. By speech. "I will there talk with thee." God made known his will to his servant. Spiritually, he thus communicates with his people still. In infinite condescension, "the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, and who dwells in the high and holy place," also makes his abode in the hearts of his people (Isaiah 42:15; John 14:23). They have intimate fellowship with him (1 John 1:3). He will even visit them as their Guest, and sup with them (Revelation 3:20). They are blessedly conscious of his presence with them. By his Spirit he speaks unto them.
2. By vision. "Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of the Lord stood there," etc. The glory of tire Lord which the prophet beheld was like that which he saw before, and which he mentions in Ezekiel 1:28. (We have already remarked on the granting of Divine visions to man, on Ezekiel 1:1 : "I saw visions of God.") And in our own times God opens the spiritual eyes of man, and grants unto him spiritual visions. Visions of truth and purity and beauty he exhibits to his people. He even reveals himself unto them. Our Lord promised to manifest himself unto his loving and obedient disciples (John 14:21). "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
IV. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT UPON MAN OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "And I fell on my face."
1. The sight of such glory humbles man with the sense of his own immeasurable inferiority.
2. The sight of such glory overwhelms man by quickening his consciousness of sin into greater activity.
3. Such humiliation is a condition of hearing the voice of God. ‹eze-1›—W.J.
The temporary suspension of the active ministry of the prophet.
"Then the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet," etc. Seclusion and silence were enjoined upon Ezekiel for a time. Our text teaches that the temporary suspension of his active ministry—
I. WAS COMMANDED BY THE LORD. "Then the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine house" (cf. Ezekiel 2:2). One would have been inclined to conclude that, when he was revived by the Spirit, the prophet would have been ordered to enter upon active service. But he was commanded to seclude himself within his house. This seclusion was probably intended as:
1. A season of meditation for the prophet. Such seasons are requisite for those whose work for God is public and arduous; and in his providence God so orders their lives that such seasons are attainable by them; e.g.. Moses in the desert of Mitian (Exodus 3:1); St. Paul in Arabia (Galatians 1:17); Martin Luther in the monastery of Erfurt, and in the castle of Wartburg.
2. As a silent admonition to the people. God would instruct them by symbol, that from a rebellious people the prophetic presence and voice may be withdrawn. If men will not heed the reproofs of his servants, the reprover shall be silent towards them (verse 26).
II. WAS OCCASIONED BY THE OBSTINACY OF THE PEOPLE IN WICKEDNESS. "But thou, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them." This verse is a difficult one, and we cannot assert dogmatically what it means; but it seems to us that it should be taken metaphorically, and that it symbolizes the truth that the persistent sins of the people occasioned the seclusion and silence of the prophet. Dr. Fairbairn thus paraphrases the verse under consideration: "Their obstinate and wayward disposition shall be felt upon thy spirit like restraining fetters, repressing the energies of thy soul in its spiritual labours, so that thou shalt need to look for thy encouragement elsewhere than in fellowship with them. The imposition of bands must be understood spiritually, of the damping effect to be produced upon his soul by the conduct of the people. It is a marked specimen of the strong idealism of our prophet, which clothes everything it handles with the distinctness of flesh and blood." The persistent rebelliousness of the people occasioned the temporary suspension of the active work of the prophet. The unbelief of our Lord's own countrymen was as bands upon him, restraining the exercise of his benevolent power. "And he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." Obstinacy in wickedness deprives man of the most precious spiritual possessions.
III. WAS TO BE RIGIDLY ENFORCED. "And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house." This is to be taken metaphorically. "Because the people would silence the prophet, God, to punish them, will close his mouth." During the time of the suspension of his prophetic activity he would be as silent to them as a dumb man. When the Lord determines to deprive a people of any blessing which they have despised or persistently disregarded, his determination will certainly be enforced.
IV. WAS TO BE ONLY TEMPORARY. "But when I speak with thee, I will open thy month, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God," etc. The withdrawal of the messenger of the Lord was not to be permanent. The prophet would speak again when God willed him to do so. When his seclusion and silence had produced their effect, he must go forth and proclaim the word of the Lord. The following observations are suggested by this verse:
1. The prophet is empowered for his work by the Lord. "When I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth." Ezekiel received his message from the Lord, and was emboldened by him to deliver it.
2. The prophet is authorized in his work by the Lord. "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God." Both the silence and the speech of Ezekiel were expressly ordered by God. In both he was under the control of his Divine Master, remaining silent when so directed by him, and proclaiming his word whet, commanded and enabled by him to do so. "This represents forcibly the authoritative character and Divine origin of the utterances of the Hebrew prophets."
3. The prophet's great concern in his work should be to be faithful to the Lord. "Thus saith the Lord God; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house." Ezekiel was not responsible for the success of his work with the people. But fidelity in executing the commissions which he received from his great Master was required of him. For this he was responsible. And still "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2).
CONCLUSION. Our subject addresses to us solemn admonition as to our treatment of the Word of the Lord. If we persistently despise or disregard that Word, he may withdraw it from us, or place us beyond the sphere of the ministry thereof. Neglected privileges may justly and reasonably be taken away from those who have neglected them (cf. Amos 1:4-12).—W.J.