Ezekiel 3 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Ezekiel 3
Pulpit Commentary
Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.
Verse 1. - 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, 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.
So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.
And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.
Verse 3. - It was in my mouth as honey, etc. The words remind us of Psalm 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 ver. 14. The first ecstatic joy passed away, and the former sense of the awfulness of the work returned.
And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them.
For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel;
Verse 5. - 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 ver. 6 the thought is enlarged by the use of "many peoples."
Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.
Verse 6. - Surely, if I sent thee to them, etc. The "surely" represents the Hebrew "if not" taken as a strong affirmation, just as "if" in Psalm 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.
But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.
Verse 7. - 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, 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.
Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads.
Verse 8. - 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.
As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
Verse 9. - 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.
Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.
Verse 10. - 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.
And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
Verse 11. - Get thee to them of the Captivity, etc. In Ezekiel 2:3 and Ezekiel 3:1, 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, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the LORD from his place.
Verse 12. - 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 ch. 1.), 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.
I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing.
Verse 13. - And I heard, etc. There is no verb in the Hebrew, but it may be supplied from ver. 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.
So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.
Verse 14. - The Spirit lifted me up (see note on ver. 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 ver. 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."
Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
Verse 15. - 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 Psalm 126:5, 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, 20), he may have been influenced by it. Like actions meet us in Ezra 9:3-5; Daniel 4:19.
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: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
Verse 17. - 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, 12; Isaiah 62:6; Psalm 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 ver. 22, not by harangues or sermons addressed to the whole body of the exiles, but by direct warning to individuals.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Verse 18. - Thou givest him not warning, etc. The word, as in the parallels already referral to, is characteristic of Ezekiel, almost indeed, peculiar to him. Psalm 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, 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, 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.
Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Verse 19. - 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.
Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Verse 20. - 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, 4). It occurs in Jeremiah 6:21, and Ezekiel may have learnt the use of the word from him. It is found also in Leviticus 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, 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?
Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.
And the hand of the LORD was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee.
Verse 22. - 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.
Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river of Chebar: and I fell on my face.
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.
Verse 24. - 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.
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:
Verse 25. - 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.
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.
But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.
Verse 27. - 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 ver. 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),
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