For the Love of God, Volume 2/August 31
From Gospel Translations
1 Samuel 24; 1 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 3; Psalm 39
TWO OF THE THEMES OF Ezekiel 3, intrinsic to the call of Ezekiel, may usefully be elucidated:
First, the opening part shows how important it is for the prophet to empathize with God and his perspective. Trailing on from the closing lines of chapter 2 and into the beginning of chapter 3, Ezekiel in his vision is commanded to eat a scroll with “words of lament and mourning and woe” (2:10) written on both sides. Ezekiel eats it and reports that “it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (3:3). Why would a scroll full of “words of lament and mourning and woe” taste sweet? The point of the vision is that God’s words become sweet to Ezekiel simply because they are God’s words. God really does know best; he knows what is right. Therefore even when his words pronounce judgment and calamity, there is a sense in which the prophet must be empathetic to God’s perspective.
Similarly in the next verses (3:4-9): Ezekiel is not being sent to some foreign culture where the first step is to learn the local language. He is being called to speak to the people of his own heritage. Nevertheless he will find them unwilling to listen to him, precisely because they are unwilling to listen to God (3:7). So God promises: “But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house” (3:8-9). So in this head-butting contest Ezekiel is being enabled to side with God unreservedly. God sometimes raises up strong and obstinate leaders who, regardless of personal popularity, hunger to side with God. None of this means that Ezekiel has no fellow- feeling for the exiles; both the next verses and the rest of the book contradict any such notion. Nevertheless his commission is a call to empathize with God’s perspective and to be unyielding.
Second, this chapter contains a call to utter warnings and to be careful (3:16- 27). The theme of the watchman (3:16-21) recurs in the book (chap. 33), and can be explored later. But in the closing verses Ezekiel is forbidden to say anything— courtesies, greetings, political speeches, whatever—except for what God gives him to say. This state of affairs endures until the fall of Jerusalem, about six years away (Ezek. 33:21-22), when his tongue is loosed. This restriction adds weight to the times he does speak. It is also a challenge to everyone who speaks for God. All of our talk and our silences should be so calibrated that when we convey God’s words our credibility is enhanced and not diminished.