Filled with and Captured by the Truth

Ezekiel was a priest who was called to be a prophet. He was in exile but prophesied about what was going to happen to those yet remaining in Israel. For around twenty years he issued these prophecies that contained a mixture of divine wrath and redemptive purpose. He was given by God deep experiences of his holiness and felt keenly the power and inviolability of the revealed truth of God. It is quite possible that until this time, the exiles had been without any prophetic word and his words ended a drought of prophetic utterance. He was among the exiles that had come first, prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 24. He was among the good figs of this vision, about whom God said, “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” Ezekiel himself prophesied concerning this in 36:22-38. As he observed the unrepentant lives of his fellow exiles, God gave him a messge.


I. 3:1-3 – In 1:3, the text informs us, “The word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel.” in 2:7, Ezekiel had received the command, “Speak my words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.” Ezekiel was warned that he not share in their rebellion. Then the Lord of glory showed him a scroll with the message on it, front and back (no room for any alteration) of “lamentation, mourning, and woe” (2:10). In 3:1-3, Ezekiel learns that this message must be his sole sustenance. “Feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you” (3:3). Although its contents were “lamentation, mourning, and woe,” it was “sweet as honey” in Ezekiel’s mouth. God’s truth seen in the light of God’s holiness and its intent to demonstrate his purity, justice, and infinite glory always must be sweet to believers. Also, for those who are called particularly to proclaim the revealed truth of God, no part of divine revelation should make them hesitate in proclaiming it with full persuasion that it is good. The message has been given. It comes from the fullness of divine wisdom so that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10, 11).


II. 3:4-7 – Now that Ezekiel has swallowed the words of revelation and they have become his very life, he is commanded to speak these words to the Israelite captives in Babylon.

A. He is being sent to people among whom he was born and with whom he has lived for all his days. He speaks their language and has been heir to the commands and covenants given by God throughout their history. He is not called to people who would have a virtually impenetrable language barrier or historical culture, but to those who share his language, his culture, and his ethnicity. They are the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and were rescued from Egyptian captivity and given commandments and warnings through Moses. That this exile has come because of rebellious hearts had been prophesied and they are living in the midst of this fulfilled prophecy (Jeremiah 16:10-13; 17; 22:1- 12). Neither the words nor the warnings should sound strange or incredible to them. But, as in all cases of speaking truth to fallen sons of Adam, the problem finally is not in the comprehensibility of language but in the hardness of the heart, the inveterate alienation of affection from the Lord of heaven and earth. “Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate” (7).

B. For the continuation of this melancholy phenomenon, see Jesus’ pronouncement of seven woes in Matthew 23. Verse 27 should be read as referring to the calls that the Lord had given through the prophets (including Ezekiel) through the centuries while only a remnant, by sovereign effectual grace, responded (1 Kings 19:15-18; Micah 2:12, 13; 5:7-9; 7:18-20; Malachi 3:16-18).


III. 3:8-11 – In the presence of those who seem to hate the word of God and scoff at reproof, God’s messengers sometimes find themselves in a fog of fear.

A. God gives a needed encouragement to Ezekiel in light of that tendency—“I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads” (8). Truth proclaimers should be just as insistent and unbending in their proclamation of their message as are truth-deniers in their rejection of it. God indicates that he is granting to Ezekiel both determination and courage. His forehead will be like emery harder than flint. He gives specific instruction not to be afraid or dismayed (9).

B. Paul needed to instruct Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” and for that reason he was not “to be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” but to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:7, 8). Both in Ephesians and Colossians, Paul asked that his brothers pray for him that “words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, …, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19, 20); cf Colossians 4:3, 4).

C. Ezekiel is reminded that his message consists of the word already given him (4), the scroll that he has eaten, plus others “which I will speak to you” (10). This is not a message from his own brain or imagination, but a message given verbally and by revelation. Ezekiel is to “take into your heart” these words and to “listen closely” (10). Both love and accurate mental apprehension are necessary for this assigned mission. He will tend toward unfaithfulness if he does not take them into his heart and see their beauty and love them, for they are God’s words that reflect his glory. As he loves with his heart so close listening is done with the ears—“listen with your ears”—so that a clear understanding of the message is gained and results in a fervent proclamation of truth.

D. The legitimacy and success of Ezekiel’s mission does not depend on whether they listen or not. He is to proclaim irrespective of their response. We do not measure our discipleship in terms of the response of others, but in terms of courageous faithfulness to the clear call of God. God will give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).


IV. 3:12-15 – Ezekiel has been given words, a commission, and instruction. Now he is given power and renewed motivation.

A. The Spirit lifted him and carried him to the place where he will begin his prophetic ministry among the exiles. In his vision in chapter one, he had seen the living beings move: “Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went” (1:12). Even so, the Spirit would move him when sent with the divinely given message.

B. As splendid as was the appearance of the creatures with wings, human hands, four-fold faces, wheels, flashing light, and sound, their impressive presence is overshadowed by the glory of the place of God’s dwelling above them (1:22-25). The sites and sounds of Ezekiel’s initial vision, now recurring, reminded him of divine glory and providential purpose. All of this commotion was set in the context of rumbling words, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord in his place” (12).

C. As the Spirit moved Ezekiel to the place of his initial prophetic activity, the text says, “I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord was strong on me” (14). He was deeply disturbed at the rebellion and complacence of his fellow Israelites even though they were in captivity in the grips of a judgmental exile because they were stubborn, obstinate, and were a “rebellious house.” Gentleness, kindness, patience, goodness, and self-control are fruits of the Spirit, but so is bitter outrage in the face of genuine evil and refusal to hear the truth of God (Psalm 2:12; 7:11; Mark 3:4-6; Galatians 4:16; 5:12; Ephesians 4:26). God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11).

D. Because God in his purity and holiness had lifted him up and shown the rebelliousness of the house of Israel, and Ezekiel had seen the resplendent glory of God, Ezekiel had a holy rage in his spirit in light of the strength of the Lord’s hand on him (14). When he came to the exiles beside the river Chebar, for a full week his message was “causing consternation among them” (15). They felt harassed by unrelenting words of judgment coming from the son of Aaron.


V. 3:16-21 – The consternation that the people expressed might have tempted Ezekiel to be less confrontive in his message, to issue fewer severe warnings, to focus more on the correct forms of their worship rather than their perversion of heart and obstinacy of mind. Perhaps he would skip those elements of the message that maintained the severity and unwavering fidelity of God’s justice and look non-contextually at the promises of divine mercy. Now, in addition to sending messages of warning to the people, God sends a message of warning to the messenger.

A. God reminded Ezekiel that he had been appointed as a watchman and he had no option but to issue warning when danger of death was imminent. Still, the text gives no option but to conclude that Ezekiel heard from God the words that he had no prerogative to alter them or soften them. Words of warning not only impinge on the will and conscience of those being warned, but also on the chosen messenger. If we have been blessed with a message of deliverance from the wrath to come, and we do not deliver it, wrath will come justly to those who pursue unrighteousness, but blame is incurred by those who did not warn about the wrath to come.

B. First God gave warnings to Ezekiel that he must warn the wicked. When God gives a message to a wicked person through a messenger, “You will surely die,” but the messenger does not deliver this sobering and frightening message, the wicked one will indeed surely die, but blood will be required at the hand of the messenger. If the message is delivered, and the wicked one does not listen, he will die in his iniquity, but the messenger will have escaped having blood on his hands (18, 19).

C. God also gave warnings through his messenger for a righteous person. The message brings with it a responsibility for those commissioned to deliver and a specific warning for failure. When a righteous person turns to wickedness, his righteousness will be forgotten and his wickedness will carry him to a just punishment. If, however, the watchman did not warn the righteous person that such would be his case, then, again, blood will be on the hands of the messenger.

D. Should the righteous person be warned not to forsake righteousness but to pursue it continually and he does so, he will live having conformed to the warning. Also, the watchman will have delivered himself through his obedience to the imperative of speaking the truth (20, 21).


VI. A call to proclaim the truth is a glorious and precarious calling.

A. When one preaches the revealed truth of God in the gospel, he preaches the “testimony of God” and avoids the weak and uncertain wisdom of men but relies on the “power of God,” as a manifestation of the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:1, 5).

B. When one is called to preach the gospel, he is called to preach that which “the Holy Spirit teaches,” and unfolds for the people “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:13, 16).

C. When one preaches a gospel other than that which has been revealed and preached by the apostles, he brings on himself the verdict of “anathema” (Galatians 1:9).

D. If a messenger who is a genuine believer teaches in such a way that does not build on the foundation of the person and work of Christ in a faithful manner, his work will not endure the final test of fire. He will suffer loss. Those who preach faithfully in love and with accurate knowledge, the absolute dependence that sinners have on Christ and him crucified will find their hearers saved and themselves approved (1 Corinthians 3:9-15; 1 Timothy 4:13-16; 6:12-16, 20, 21; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; 4:1-5)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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