4 And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8 Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9 Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” 10 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. 11 And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”
12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” 13 It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. 14 The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. 15 And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. – Ezekiel 3:4-15 ESV
After consuming the scroll that God had given him, Ezekiel was commanded to regurgitate its content to his fellow captives living in the land of Babylon. While the message contained in the scroll was filled with words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10 ESV), Ezekiel found it to taste “as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:3 ESV). Ezekiel had discovered the truth behind the psalm.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! – Psalm 119:103 ESV).
And the prophet Jeremiah also learned to develop a hunger and delight for the word of the Lord.
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. – Jeremiah 15:16 ESV
God’s Word may be difficult to hear but, when obeyed, it always proves to be a delight to the soul because it is filled with wisdom and truth. Ezekiel had feasted on the Word of God and found it to be both pleasant and filling. But the difficulty would come when he tried to share that message with his fellow exiles. This young priest-turned-prophet was going to have to share what he had learned with the rest of the Jews living along the Kebar River in Babylon, and God warned him that they would not be a receptive audience.
“…the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” – Ezekiel 3:7 NLT
The Almighty God had chosen to reveal Himself to Ezekiel in the middle of a Judaen refuge camp in the land of Babylon, and He had delivered to Ezekiel a message that was intended solely for the people of God. The words contained on the scroll had been directed at His chosen people and not the Babylonians. God was not above delivering words of warning to foreign countries. He had used Isaiah to pronounce a powerful message of future destruction to the Babylonians.
Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms,
the flower of Chaldean pride,
will be devastated like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God destroyed them.
Babylon will never be inhabited again.
It will remain empty for generation after generation.
Nomads will refuse to camp there,
and shepherds will not bed down their sheep. – Isaiah 13:19-20 NLT
But the message God had given Ezekiel was for the people of Judah alone. And God seems to infer that Ezekiel’s task would have been much easier if his audience was made up of foreigners who spoke a completely different language.
I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. 6 No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! – Ezekiel 3:5 NLT
The problem Ezekiel was going to encounter would not be that of a language barrier. No, his audience would hear and understand every word he said, but their stubborn and sin-hardened hearts would prevent them from responding in repentance. The same words that Ezekiel found to be as sweet as honey would be bitter and distasteful to the rebellious people of God.
But Ezekiel was not to be afraid or disheartened. In fact, God declared that he would be divinely equipped for the task. The people of Israel would meet their match in Ezekiel.
“I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 3:8-9 NLT
God was going to equip Ezekiel with a supernatural source of stamina and determination that would allow him to stay strong even in the face of repeated rejection and the evident failure of his mission. God knew that there would be days when Ezekiel felt as if his task was ill-fated and his ministry was doomed to defeat. He would be tempted to throw in the towel and abandon his mission. That’s why God encouraged him to take time and meditate on the words he was about to deliver. He was to think long and hard about the content of God’s message long before he began to deliver it.
“Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” – Ezekiel 3:10-11 NLT
Ezekiel was to be more than just a conduit through which the words of God flowed. He had been commanded to ingest the words of God so that they might flow from his heart and not just his lips. It was essential that the messenger believe the words of the message and trust the One who had delivered it. God wanted Ezekiel to learn the truth found in Psalm 119.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word. – Psalm 119:15-16 ESV
The Lord knew that Ezekiel would need endurance in the days ahead. The ministry to which he was being called would prove difficult and disheartening. His message would fall on deaf ears. His calls to repentance would be rejected. And the psalmist seemed to have presaged Ezekiel’s pending predicament.
My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law.
All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. – Psalm 119:81-88 ESV
And, as if to provide Ezekiel with one more tangible form of encouragement, God allowed him to hear a thunderous proclamation from heaven.
“Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” – Ezekiel 3:12 ESV
The entire vision Ezekiel had been given the privilege of seeing had been a dramatic display of God’s glory, and now a voice from heaven confirmed it. And Ezekiel saw and heard the wings of the four living creatures flapping in unison and the wheels within wheels turning as the glory of God began to move. This was not a static scene in which Ezekiel could remain and worship the glory of God forever. He had a job to do. And the Spirit of God lifted Ezekiel up and took him away. The vision had ended but his mission had just begun, and Ezekiel expressed his dismay by stating, “I went in bitterness and turmoil” (Ezekiel 3:14a NLT). He was struggling with doubt and fear. The mission before him was overwhelming and he felt underqualified for the task. And yet, he declared, “the Lord’s hold on me was strong” (Ezekiel 3:14b NLT).
Ezekiel had received a commission from God Almighty, and while he wrestled with doubt and feelings of inadequacy, he could not resist the calling. He must obey. So, with the vision completed, Ezekiel returned to his mission field among the exiles from Judah. And for seven days, he continued to struggle with an overwhelming sense of fear and foreboding as he contemplated his new assignment. His life had been radically altered by God and he would no longer be able to enjoy the same relationship he had once had with his friends and neighbors. He had been set apart by God and his life would never be the same.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.