16 And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
22 And the hand of the Lord was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” 23 So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face. 24 But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house. 25 And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. 26 And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house. – Ezekiel 3:16-27 ESV
Ezekiel had been handpicked by God to serve as His spokesman or prophet to the people of Israel living in the land of Babylon. And after receiving the details of his commission from the Almighty, Ezekiel spent a solid week in a virtual state of shock as he considered the gravity of his divine assignment.
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 3:15 ESV
But God disrupted Ezekiel’s listless period of stupefaction with another important message concerning his new role.
“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately.” – Ezekiel 3:17 NLT
God declared Ezekiel to be His צָפָה (ṣāp̄â) or watchman. In Hebrew, the word refers to a lookout or spy. It was often used to describe the role of a guard or sentry who patrolled the walls of a city at night, looking for any threats to the community’s safety. If he saw enemy movements outside the wall, he was to sound the alarm, warning the inhabitants to take appropriate action.
And that was the point behind God’s message to Ezekiel. He was to wait, watch, and warn. Whenever God spoke, Ezekiel was to pass on His message to the people of Israel. The inference is that the message Ezekiel must share will be one of God’s pending judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel. Even though they were already living in captivity because of their sins, they were not free to continue their disobedient and disrespectful treatment of God. He was watching and He still expected them to repent from their sins and return to Him in faithful obedience to His will.
And God warned Ezekiel that his role as watchman would require obedience on his part. If he failed to do his job well, he would pay dearly for it.
“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:18-19 NLT
As God’s prophet, Ezekiel was the sole source of divine communication for the people of Israel. They had no way of hearing from God except through the mouth of God’s spokesman. So, if Ezekiel failed to deliver God’s warning of judgment and the people remained unrepentant, he would be held accountable for their deaths. They would die in their sins because God’s prophet had failed to warn them.
But if Ezekiel faithfully fulfilled his commission and passed on God’s warning to the people, he would be declared innocent of their deaths should they fail to repent. In other words, Ezekiel was only required to communicate the message, not convert the hearers. His only responsibility was to deliver the message accurately and leave the results up to God.
Ezekiel had two primary audiences: The wicked and the righteous. He was to warn the former to turn from their wicked ways so that they might escape the coming judgment of God. But he was also to warn the righteous to remain faithful to God and refrain from pursuing a life of wickedness. In both cases, Ezekiel’s responsibility was to clearly communicate the words given to him by God. Nothing more, nothing less.
It seems that God wanted His newly appointed prophet to understand the gravity of the situation. Ezekiel had spent the last seven days contemplating his new role and had likely come up with a list of objections and questions. So, God wanted Ezekiel to know that his commission was non-optional and came with a high price tag.
Immediately after delivering this call to faithfulness, God sent Ezekiel into the valley of the River Kebar, where He allowed the prophet to witness His glory once again.
“Get up and go out into the valley, and I will speak to you there.” So I got up and went, and there I saw the glory of the Lord, just as I had seen in my first vision by the Kebar River. And I fell face down on the ground.” – Ezekiel 3:22-23 NLT
What happens next is fascinating, considering what God just said to Ezekiel. He had commanded His servant to faithfully deliver His words regardless of the response of the people. Yet, the first thing God commanded Ezekiel to do was to return to his own home.
“Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 3:24-26 NLT
God put Ezekiel in solitary confinement. Not only that, He had the prophet constrained with ropes. It is unclear who did the restraining, but it would appear that this was a supernatural event that involved angelic beings and not men. However God did it, Ezekiel found himself bound within the walls of his home and unable to venture out. The prophet was a prisoner. And to make matters worse, God made Ezekiel mute.
At first glance, none of this makes much sense. Why would God restrict the actions of His newly appointed prophet and remove his capacity to speak? How was Ezekiel to warn the people? What good was a prophet who couldn’t talk? How was he to call the people to repentance if he was under house arrest?
But God was actually protecting Ezekiel – from himself. God knew Ezekiel well and understood that this young man would be quick to take up an offense for His glory. Once Ezekiel began his mission among the people, he would see the stubbornness and rebellion of the people firsthand and become angry at their refusal to heed his words.
For Ezekiel’s own protection, God secluded him away until the moment he was needed. Ezekiel was restricted from ministering or speaking until God had given him something to say. God had made it perfectly clear, the only time Ezekiel was to speak was when he could say, “Thus says the Lord God…” (Ezekiel 3:11 ESV).
God was not interested in Ezekiel’s opinion. He did not need His prophet to give his two cents worth. The only time he was to speak was when he was declaring the message given to him by God. That is why God said, “you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels” (Ezekiel 3:26 NLT). God knew that Ezekiel would become increasingly frustrated with the sinful dispositions of his fellow exiles. Their failure to listen to God’s warning would prompt him to lash out in anger and say things he would ultimately regret.
The longer Ezekiel did his job, the angrier he would become about the sins of the people. He would come to share God’s hatred for their rebellion and failure to repent. So, at the outset of his ministry, Ezekiel found himself bound and gagged by God, so that he might learn to speak only when spoken to.
If God had not prevented him from speaking, Ezekiel would probably have had plenty to say to and about his less-than-righteous neighbors. He would have been more than happy to give the people a piece of his mind, read them the riot act, and chew them out for their sinful lifestyles and rebellion against God. After all, he was God’s spokesman. But God was not going to allow Ezekiel to say anything at all until He had given him something to say. Ezekiel was going to have to shut up until God spoke up. Any words that came out of his mouth were going to have to be God’s and not his own.
What if we approached our relationships with others the same way? What if we decided to keep our mouths shut until we knew we had heard from God? Too often, we decide that we have something that others need to hear, yet the content of our message didn’t come from God. We boldly and confidently attribute it to Him, when all the while, we are the source. We give God credit for a message that we came up with. But God wants us to speak at His command, not on His behalf. As His messengers, we don’t get to make up the message, we simply get to communicate it. But too often, we end up sharing our opinion instead of declaring God’s Word. We give it our slant. We put our words in God’s mouth.
God knew Ezekiel was going to be prone to the same problem, so He did him a favor and made him mute – until it was time for him to speak. For some of us, that might be the best thing that ever happened to us. But in the meantime, let’s see if we can’t learn to speak less and listen more. So that when we do speak, we are confident that what we say is from God and not us.
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.