Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. TRUE HUMANITY IN THE PROPHET ENABLED HIM TO HOLD COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER OF SPIRITS. Man is God's chosen vehicle for communicating with man. The ministry of angels is a reality, but such ministry is subordinate to that which is strictly human. Man is made in the likeness of God, and shares in the Divine reason. His highest thinking, it was grandly said by Kepler, is thinking over again the thoughts of God. It is in virtue of this prerogative that human beings are able to enter into the counsels of the Eternal Wisdom. The inferior inhabitants of this globe may indeed express in their structure the designs of the Creator. But man is more than the creature; he is the child of the heavenly Father, who calls his children to share in the revelation of his own character and will. And certain selected individuals, notably those designated "prophets," are admitted into special relations with the Infinite Spirit, that they may be made the medium of carrying out his purposes of wisdom and of love.
II. THE PROPHET'S TRUE HUMANITY ENABLED HIM TO ENTER INTO THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND NEEDS OF THOSE TO WHOM HE MINISTERED. The prophets sprang from the people, and knew them from familiar intercourse and intimacy; they knew their sins and weaknesses, their temptations and struggles. Some, like Elijah and John the Baptist, led a life secluded and ascetic - only now and again coming forth from their retirement and mingling with their countrymen for some special purpose. But others lived amongst those whom they had known in childhood and youth, and made themselves acquainted with their temporal condition and their spiritual wants. It seems to have been so with Ezekiel. And as participation in common sorrows and sufferings often draws men closer together, it is reasonable to believe that comrades in exile were upon terms of closest fellowship and correspondence. The prophet knew well, in virtue of a common nature and a common lot, the people amongst whom he dwelt, and to whom he was called to minister.
III. THE PROPHET'S TRUE HUMANITY RENDERED HIS MINISTRY SYMPATHETIC, AUTHORITATIVE, AND EFFECTIVE. Men may see much of one another, may be brought frequently into contact with one another, and yet may have little mutual knowledge, and even feel little interest in one another's experiences. But this was not the case with Ezekiel, who did not harden his heart against even the disobedient, rebellious, and unresponsive, but, on the contrary, cultivated, as a man, a spirit of true brotherhood with his fellow men. He was deeply pained when it was his duty to threaten or to denounce; he was sincerely glad when it was given him to speak words of kindness and encouragement. There was, in consequence of this human sympathy, an especial authoritativeness in his prophetic ministrations. What he said and did went home, in many cases, to the hearts of those whom he addressed; because they interpreted his words and deeds in the light of his spirit and character.
IV. THE PROPHET WAS THUS A TYPE OF CHRIST HIMSELF, WHO WAS WONT TO DESIGNATE HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN. Perfect Man as well as perfect God, the Lord Christ entered into the position of those whom he came to save. Like Ezekiel, the Lord Jesus came to a captive people; like Ezekiel, he addressed to them words of reproach, words of warning, words of consolation, words of hope. He did more than this: he bore their sins, and carried their sorrows. And thus he brought deliverance to the bondmen, opened the prison doors, and bade the oppressed go free. - T.
I. COMMAND. "Stand upon thy feet." The form of address, "son of man," was intended to encourage the prophet. The vision of God's kingdom, and of his royal state, bad oppressed the mind of Ezekiel, and he had prostrated himself before such majestic splendour. But now the voice of the supreme Monarch assures him that he may also find a place among the honoured servants of Jehovah. Though but a frail man, a descendant of erring progenitors, he was yet a man, and therefore capable of high attainment and noble service. There was no hardship implied in this command to stand upon his feet. It chimed in with his own predisposition. Duty taken step by step, in easy gradations, becomes a delight. The requirement was honourable. There had been occasion for prostrate humility in the presence of the holy God. But humility is the way to honour. Now he is required to lift himself up to the full stature of his manhood, and to be ready for active and willing service. Use thy feet! Look heavenward! Be a man! Equip thyself for service!
II. PROMISE. "I will speak unto thee." This is a stupendous act of Divine condescension to hold intercourse with fallen, fickle men. It is a mark of special favour if an earthly monarch calls a commoner into his presence, discloses to him royal counsels, and engages his services for the throne. Much greater token of good will is it, if that commoner had been heretofore a detected criminal, a dangerous rebel. But the similitude serves very poorly to illustrate the immeasurable grace of the heavenly King, who stoops to converse with the children of men. Human monarchs have set times, which they set apart to give audience to the noblest of their subjects. But God permits us to approach him at all times, and, if we will but speak to him, he will also speak unto us. "His delights are with the sons of men." He loves to employ men in his service. Yea! he has determined to employ none but men in proclaiming to their brethren the royal purposes of redemption.
III. INDWELLING POWER While Jehovah spake to his servant, "the Spirit entered into him." Finding in Ezekiel a readiness to obey, God immediately imparted to him the needed strength. If the will be present with us, the power to perform will not long be absent. When humility opens the door of the human heart, God will enter and abide there. It was not so much Ezekiel who put forth his strength and rose erect, as the indwelling Spirit, "who set him on his feet." Verily, "in God we live, and move, and exist." "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Ezekiel's name was no misnomer. In very deed, God was his Strength. And the result of the Spirit's entrance, further, was "that I heard him that spake unto me." The very power to hear, whether by the organ of sense, or by the finer aptitude of the spirit, comes alone from God. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." - D.
I. THE MISSIONARY CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET. He is one "sent." He goes not to this difficult and responsible work by the impulse of his own reason or will. He is in the employ and under the direction of another - of One whom he cannot disregard. He cannot go or stay, as he pleases, he is a servant. The Son of God himself has undertaken similar work. He was "sent" into our world on an errand of kindness. "As thou hast sent me, so have I sent them."
II. THE MISSIONARY'S UNPROMISING FIELD OF ACTION. "I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation." The possession of outward advantages, or of special Divine favours, does not ensure gratitude or obedience on the part of men. In Eden, man transgressed. In Canaan, the glory of all lands, the Hebrews rebelled. Righteousness is not conveyed by blood relationship. The piety of Abraham did not descend in the line of natural posterity. But rebellion is a weed that grows freely in the degenerate soil of the human heart. The people of Israel, in Ezekiel's time, were hardened in sin. The evil had become inveterate by long centuries of vicious habit, sad all the alternate measures of kindness and severity which God had employed had failed to reduce the people to submission. Though now in exile and disgrace, yet "to that very day" the rebellious spirit continued. Nor were they even ashamed of the past. No blush tinged their cheeks. All right feeling seemed petrified within!
III. THE MISSIONARY'S INSTRUMENT. He is armed simply with the authoritative Word of God. What he hears from God, that, and that alone, may he speak! He is not allowed to elaborate, from his own judgment, conditions of reconciliation. He is not to rely for success on the inventiveness of reason, nor on beguiling acts of sophistry, nor on the persuasiveness of subtle rhetoric. He is to proclaim everywhere, "Thus saith the Lord!" Authority is the weapon on which he is to rely - not human authority, but Divine. He is to be simply the mouthpiece of Deity. But, being this, he will become the power of God and the wisdom of God. His business is to speak Divine truth with all the pathos of Divine love.
IV. THE MISSIONARY'S ENCOURAGEMENT. Whether the people would hear, or whether they would forbear, was still an unsolved problem so far as the prophet was concerned. God had not given to him the promise of visible and direct success. But whether they accepted or rejected the Divine overtures, the end which God anticipated would be realized. The people should have this conviction inwrought in their minds, viz. that a messenger from God had been among them. This was all that Ezekiel might confidently expect. This was the goal at which he was to aim, viz. to convince them that he was God's prophet - to commend his mission to the consciences of the people. Hence, if no other end was gained, he was not to feel depression of soul. Whether the people relented or further rebelled, he was to continue his simple work; and rest assured that God would defend his own cause, and bring final good out of present evil. - D.
I. REBELLION IMPLIES ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO ARE GUILTY OF IT THE POSSESSION OF A VOLUNTARY NATURE. If there is no liberty, there can be no rebellion. Rebellion implies intelligent apprehension, and it implies deliberate purpose. The rebel knows what is the authority which he defies, and he defies that authority, not only intelligently, but of purpose. Brutes do not rebel; but men and angels may do, and have done Hence the serious responsibility attaching to rebellion against God on the part of wilful though misguided men.
II. REBELLION IMPLIES A JUST AUTHORITY AGAINST WHICH, CONTRARY TO EIGHT, THE REBEL SETS HIMSELF. There can be no rebellion where there is no government, no rebel where there is no governor. Neither can there be rebellion, properly speaking, against a usurper, who has no claim upon the loyalty and allegiance of those whom he may unjustly denominate his subjects. The moral government of the world is a fact, and its administration is characterized by equity. As the universal Legislator and Judge, God demands the subjection and obedience of mankind; all are his lawful subjects. There is no rebel against Divine authority who can bring against the rule and sway of the great Governor of the universe the charge of injustice and tyranny. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
III. REBELLION AGAINST GOD INVOLVES GREAT GUILT AND MISERY. This awful fact is not to be questioned by any reasonable student of the moral history of mankind. Nowhere more strikingly than in the history of Israel has it been shown that they who resist Divine authority and violate Divine Law incur the most awful guilt and entail upon themselves the most awful punishments. Sentimentalists may complain that such assertions are the expression of severity and fanaticism; but it remains forever true that "the way of transgressors is hard," and "the wages of sin is death."
IV. MAN'S GUILTY REBELLION PROMPTED INFINITE MERCY TO PROVIDE A VAST REDEMPTION AND DELIVERANCE. The history of the Hebrew people exhibits instances not only of human apostasy, but of Divine compassion and merciful interposition and deliverance. Thus the Captivity was itself a punishment for rebellion, for idolatry, and for all the evils idolatry brought upon the nation. Yet God did not forget to be gracious. He made the Captivity an occasion for displaying his grace; mercy triumphed over judgment. Repentance and submission took the place of resistance and defiance. Discipline, chastisement, answered its appointed purpose. God pitied the rebels even whilst he censured the rebellion. And very similar has been his treatment of mankind at large. The whole race has rebelled, and the whole race has been redeemed. There is spiritual amnesty provided through Christ Jesus, reconciliation through faith and repentance, restoration to affectionate loyalty and to happy subjection through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit.
V. WHEN REBELLION IS SUBDUED, AND THE REBEL HUMBLED, SUBJECTION IS FOLLOWED BY LOYALTY AND HAPPINESS. God does not leave his work half done. He pardons the penitent, but he blesses the loyal and the reconciled. Great is the change which takes place in the state of him who has laid down the weapons of rebellion and has cast himself in penitence and submission before the footstool of the throne. As rebellion is exchanged for loyalty, and defiance for submission and gratitude, so disgrace is exchanged for honour, and the just sentence of death for the merciful assurance of Divine favour and eternal life. - T.
I. A DISCOURAGING SPHERE OF PROPHETIC SERVICE. (Vers. 3, 4.) Ezekiel was sent to:
1. A people who had mournfully fallen. "I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me." By descent they were sons of Israel, who had engaged in mighty wrestling with God, and by faith had prevailed; and they ought to have been his sons in character. But instead of that they are here spoken of as "the rebellious nations." The word is plural, as in the margin; and it is that which is used to denote the heathen as distinguished from the people of God. They are designated "nations," as if they had something of the sins of all heathen peoples. They were sadly degenerate branches of a noble root. In former times the Israelites had been the Lord's "peculiar treasure... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, 6); now they were "the rebellious nations that have rebelled against" him.
2. A people persistently rebellious against God. Observe the repetition of this charge against them in vers. 3, 5, 6, 7, 8. Their rebelliousness had existed long. Generation after generation they had been revolters against Jehovah. "They and their fathers have transgressed against me unto this very day." The children trod in the sinful steps of their rebellious fathers. Unless restrained by the grace of God, children will imitate their parents, however wicked they may be. Let parents remember the power of their example over their children, and so live that their children may imitate them with advantage.
3. A people openly obdulate in wickedness. "They are impudent children, and stiff-hearted." They were hard of face; they had lost shame; they had ceased to blush by reason of their sins. "Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush" (Jeremiah 6:15). And they were "stiff-hearted" - an expression which denotes steadfastness and determination in their evil ways; they were hardened in wickedness.
4. A people resolutely hostile to the Lord's prophets. "Briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks." Three ideas are suggested concerning the people.
(1) Their barrenness. They were as destitute of the fruits of righteousness as dry thorns.
(2) Their injuriousness. They would prick and sting as briers and thorns.
(3) Their venomousness. Like scorpions, they would seek to poison the heart and life of the prophet. They would assail him with envenomed words, and scowling, threatening looks. The life of a prophet of Jehovah was generally one of trial and persecution. Ezekiel is here forewarned of the pains and penalties awaiting him in his future course. In like manner our Lord made known to the twelve apostles the persecutions they would have to encounter in the fulfilment of their mission (Matthew 10:16-22). What an evidence it is of the mercy of God that he should send his prophet to so rebellious a people (cf. Hosea 11:7-9)!
II. THE SUBLIME CHARACTER OF PROPHETIC SERVICE. It involves two main functions.
1. Reception of Divine communications. "Son of man, hear what I say unto thee." The prophet must be a devout listener in the glorious temple of God's great universe. His spiritual ear must be keenly sensitive even to the whispers of the Divine voice.
2. Publication of Divine communications. "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God" (ver. 4). "And thou shalt speak my words unto them." It is his business neither to expound the systems of other men, nor to propound his own opinions, but to declare the Word of the Lord. He must speak what he receives from God; and he must speak it in his Name and by his authority. The Christian minister is an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, offering his pardon, etc. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).
III. THE UNCERTAIN RECEPTION OF PROPHETIC SERVICE. "Thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether: they will hear, or whether they will forbear." It was not granted to Ezekiel to know how his message would be regarded by his fellow countrymen. He received no assurance that they would hear and. heed it. Rather it was suggested to him that they might refuse to hear his testimony. Nevertheless, he must deliver to them the words which he received from God. He must
"Learn a prophet's duty:
IV. THE DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT IN PROPHETIC SERVICE.
1. Obedience to the Divine call demands this service. "I send thee to the children of Israel" (ver. 3); "I do send thee unto them" (ver. 4); "Be not thou rebellious" (ver. 8). The true prophet, whether Hebrew or Christian, is called of God. He cannot decline the service without grievous unfaithfulness and disobedience. He is encouraged to fulfil it by the fact of the Divine commission; for he who calls strengthens and sustains his servants.
2. Attention to the Divine exhortations strengthens for this service. "Be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words," etc. (ver. 6). This exhortation implies that he who gives it will defend his servant. "Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 1:8; and see Matthew 10:26-31).
3. The assurance of its vindication encourages in this service. "They, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them." Because of his covenant relation to the children of Israel, the Lord will send his prophet unto them. "His testimony, the tidings from him, must be heard in the midst of Israel." The declaration of that testimony was a proof of the fidelity of the Lord to his covenant engagements. And the people should know the genuineness of that testimony. Those who truly heard it would know, by blessed experience of the results of obedience, that a prophet had been among them. And those who rejected it would know by bitter experience, know to their confusion, that a prophet had been among them, and that his words were true. So also shall the mission of every true Christian minister be vindicated, as we see from 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.
1. Let those who have received a mission from the Lord be encouraged to fulfil it. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:1.)
2. Let those to whom the Word of the Lord is preached "take heed how they hear. - W.J.
I. THE COMMISSION. "I do send thee unto them." There is great simplicity and great dignity in this language of authorization; he who heard it could never forget it. When disappointed in the result of his ministry, or alarmed at the threats of those whom he sought to benefit, these words must often have recurred to the mind of the prophet, inspiring him with fresh zeal and courage. If the ambassador of a powerful king is strengthened in the fulfilment of his trust by the recollection that he received his authority from a court honoured by friends and feared by foes, how much more must the ambassador from God derive courage and confidence from the knowledge that he is sent by the Supreme, who will never desert those who engage in his service and do his will!
II. THE MESSAGE. At first the prophet received no other message than this: "Thus saith the Lord God." But this was the earnest of much to follow. And, indeed, the whole of the prophecies were amplifications of this. Ezekiel was to go among the children of the Captivity with words from Jehovah. A prophet is one who speaks for, on behalf of, the Divine Being by whom he is commissioned. If the speaker had his own special reasons for believing that the words he uttered were not his own, but God's, those who listened to his declarations of warning and of promise had a witness within, in the testimony of their own conscience, assuring them that the prophet spoke with Divine authority. And this is so still with all who will listen reverently and obediently to the heavenly voice. It is thus that the Scriptures possess over our minds a preeminent power; their writers preface every authoritative utterance with the statement, "Thus saith the Lord."
III. THE VARIOUS RECEPTION OF THE MESSAGE. It is in accordance with the reasonableness of the inspired writers that. they cherished such moderate expectations regarding the effect to be produced by their ministry. Fanatics would have felt assured that, in such circumstances, they must meet with ready credence and immediate obedience. Ezekiel certainly had no such delusive anticipations, and was indeed expressly warned that his message would meet with varying reception. Some would hear, some would forbear. It was with Ezekiel as in the Christian dispensation it was with Paul; we are told that the result of his ministry at Rome was that "some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved."
IV. THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED BY GOD'S MESSENGER UPON THOSE TO WHOM HE WAS SENT. "They shall know that there hath been a prophet among them." Even those who were so much under the influence of ignorance, prejudice, evil example, and sin, that they did not and would not turn unto God, nevertheless were well aware that their obstinate impiety was unjustifiable. They might ridicule the prophet in their language, but they reverenced him in their hearts. Beneath the laugh of incredulity was a deep-seated fear, springing from an inward conviction that the voice they rejected was indeed the voice of God. Had one come among them flattering their vanity and pride, and ministering to their sinful tastes, they would in their heart of hearts have despised him. But when one came fearlessly upbraiding them with their unfaithfulness, and denouncing their guilty defection, they could not but know that a prophet had been among them.
APPLICATION. This passage has an especial significance for ministers of God's Word, and for all religious teachers. It shows them where their strength lies; warns them against enunciating their own speculations or inculcating precepts founded upon their own experience; and directs them to go among their fellow men with this dignified and effective message, "Thus saith the Lord." They may be tempted to court men's favour and good will by uttering words of flattery. But it is well that, when so tempted, they should remember that there is in men a conscience, which may be repressed, but which cannot be crushed, which renders a homage, though silent, to the just authority of truth and righteousness, and which recognizes, even though it does not lead to practical obedience, the precepts and the warnings which are from God. - T.
I. OPPOSITION FORESEEN. Men who have long time departed from God are not easily induced to return. The tree that has grown wildly crooked, cannot readily be restored to straightness and shape. Those who have abandoned the paths of truth and righteousness, sadly degrade their original nature. The cedars are reduced to thorns and briers. Sinners are unprofitable and injurious in the world - a curse to society. They bear no fruit, or only sour and poisonous fruit. They choke the promise of better things. Or they are like scorpions, bent only on mischief. Originally lords of nature, they have sunk to the level of the meanest insects. There is poison in their crafty words. There is a danger in their very looks.
II. COURAGE DEMANDED. "Be not afraid of them." Why should God's servants fear? Our adversaries' words are mere breath. Not a particle of power have they but such as is permitted them by our Master. While they open their mouths in loud boasting, the finger of death is loosening the silver cord within. As the mighty God hath said to the angry waves, so hath he said to these, "Thus far shall ye go, and no further." They may loudly bark, but it is seldom they have power to bite. The fierce opposition of the ungodly may turn to our good; it may and ought to develop our courage. The severer the conflict, the more strength we may gather, and the greater will be our triumph. As they are so zealous in a bad cause, how much more zealous should we be in the very best of enterprises?
III. THE ONLY WEAPON PERMITTED. In this conflict with human folly and rebellion, our only weapon is to be "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." "Thou shalt speak ray words unto them." If they meet us with contempt and malice, we have but to repeat in calmer tones, and with undisturbed patience, the same facts - the message from the lips of God. Any addition of ours, however suitable it may seem, only weakens the force of the message. We must see to it that the edge of the weapon is not blunted by our own carelessness. Our only concern should be that we do speak all the counsel of God - that it is the Word of God, both in substance and form, which we utter.
IV. AN INSIDIOUS DANGER EXPOSED. "Be not thou rebellious like that rebellions house." One foe within the camp is more injurious than a thousand outside. If a germ of disease be in the medicine, it will invalidate all its efficacy. Rebellion assumes a myriad forms. It is a hydra with more than a hundred heads. Listlessness in hearing the heavenly commission - a tampering with its fixed terms, a rash attempt to improve the Divine original - these and such-like acts are seed germs of rebellion in the soul. "If the salt be deprived of its savour," wherewith shall the corruptions of the world be purged out? An unfaithful ambassador adds fresh aggravation to the revolt of a province. Sin is a contagious evil. - D.
eat that which was given him, and are then informed that a written scroll was that which was to be eaten, we are at first surprised. But then we recollect that eating has been in many religions regarded as a sacred and symbolical act. The Mosaic dispensation had its Paschal meal, and the Christian religion has its sacrament of the Lord's Supper. So that the symbol of the text is quite in accordance with the practices which, upon Divine authority, have prevailed in the Church throughout the ages.
I. IN ORDER THAT THE TEACHER MAY IMPART TO HIS FELLOW MEN, HE MUST FIRST RECEIVE FROM GOD. That this is the meaning of the symbol of this passage is evident from the context. It was in connection with the prophet's commission that he was bidden to eat the scroll. It was thus that he was to fit and qualify himself for his special ministry; he was to take from God, that he might have wherewith to supply the needs of the people.
II. THE REVELATION OF GOD MUST BE GRADUALLY AND COMPLETELY APPROPRIATED AND ASSIMILATED BY THE MINISTER OF DIVINE TRUTH, Eating is a process by which suitable nutriment is introduced into the bodily system, and assimilated by the organs of digestion, so that it both builds up the bodily structure and supplies the organism with renewed power for life work. Such is the function fulfilled by God's truth in connection with the spiritual being and life. The teacher of the revealed mind and will of the Supreme cannot be fitted for his service by a superficial and slight acquaintance with his message. That message must sink into the depths of his nature, must penetrate his being, must enter into all the functions of the spiritual life.
III. THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER MAY HAVE TO CONTEND WITH AND OVERCOME NATURAL DISINCLINATIONS TOWARDS SOME PARTS OF THE MINISTRY ENTRUSTED TO HIM. The requirement of God could not but awaken in the prophet's mind something of repugnance, The scroll he was bidden to eat was filled with lamentations, mourning, and woe; the message he was commissioned to deliver was a message of reproach, of expostulation, of warning, of threatening. Such a ministry could not be agreeable to his natural inclinations; he must have shrunk from it as uncongenial and distasteful. It must often happen that the fulfilment of duty is distressing to the faithful and yet sensitive preacher of righteousness; it is a bitter thing to deliver a message of condemnation to one's fellow men.
IV. YET IT IS SWEET TO OBEY AND TO FULFIL THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD. When the disinclination to undertake the painful commission had been overcome, a profound satisfaction followed. The prophet found that in keeping God's commandments there is great reward. The distress is temporary and brief the satisfaction is lasting. The surgeon may often inflict pain upon his patient; the physician may see it right to order a course of treatment which is repulsive. To act wisely and conscientiously may, in such cases, be painful. But let the duty be discharged, and there follows a true satisfaction. It was so with Ezekiel; it is so with every true and faithful servant of God. The office may he one arduous and difficult, painful and repugnant; yet, if it is the office to which God calls a man, obedience and fidelity, the unshrinking fulfilment of the service, will bring a rich reward. Sweet are the delights of those who conquer self, who yield themselves up to the service of that Saviour who himself carried the cross. They shall enter into the joy of the Lord. - T.
I. THE FORM OF THE WRITTEN REVELATION. The fact is that we have the scroll, the volume, i.e. the mind of the holy and inspired men of old perpetuated in the written form. Certain advantages are by this means secured, which more than compensate for any disadvantages which may possibly be connected with the literary form which revelation assumes.
1. A written revelation, as compared with one merely oral, is deliberate. What men say in conversation, or under the stress of popular oratory, is not to be compared in this respect with what is carefully committed to a literary form. Speech is often intended merely to produce an immediate impression; what is written is probably intended to bear examination, to stand the test of reflection and of time.
2. Continuous. Fragmentary and disjointed utterances are all that can be expected from an ordinary speaker; and even a thoughtful and powerful speaker must usually, by the very conditions of his work, come short in the point of orderliness and continuity. The preparation of a book, and especially of a volume containing in many books the revelation of the Divine mind, involves a design, a plan, a connection and correspondence among the several parts which go to make up the whole.
3. Incorruptible. The untrustworthiness of tradition is proverbial. Wisdom is apparent in the arrangement by which the communication of God's will to man has been placed beyond the corrupting influences to which every oral tradition is liable.
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE WRITTEN REVELATION. The "roll of a book" delivered to Ezekiel may be presumed to have been the emblem of the communications which were to form the matter of his prophetic ministry. And although the writing is described as consisting of mourning and woe, this is probably only because such was the prevailing tenor of the earlier portions of his prophecies. We may say generally that the written revelation through Ezekiel is a summary of that which occupies the entire Bible. The scroll, accordingly, may be considered as:
1. Displaying the Divine interest in mankind.
2. Revealing Divine acquaintance with men's sinful character their wanderings from God, and the various errors and follies into which sin has ever led its victims.
3. Declaring God's foresight of the miserable condition into which idolatry, apostasy, and every kind of moral evil and error must certainly plunge the rebellious. Nowhere is this more vividly displayed than in this book of prophecies.
4. Expressing the Divine solicitude for man's welfare, and the Divine provision for man's recovery and salvation. In all these several particulars the Book of Ezekiel is a miniature of the Bible. The theme of the prophet, and the theme of Holy Writ as a whole, is surely nothing else than this - the exhibition of man's heinous sin, and the offer of God's merciful salvation. - T.
I. THE HUNGER OF THE SOUL. As the emotional element in man cries out for friendship, as the intellectual asks for knowledge, so the spiritual element eagerly asks after God's will. "Lord, what writ thou have me to do?" To be out of harmony with God is misery to the soul. To be ignorant of God's purposes and intentions respecting us must bring perpetual disquietude. Hence the question in some form, either vague or clear, is ever rising to the surface, "What must I do to gain eternal life?"
II. DIVINE PROVISION. In order to qualify Ezekiel more fully for his undertaking, a fresh vision was vouchsafed to him. A hand was stretched out from heaven, containing a parchment roll. In form, it seemed like the "bread that perisheth;" but it was in truth the heavenly manna - the revelation of Jehovah's will. Man, at the best, is under the dominance of animal appetites; and consequently spiritual facts make most impression on him when presented under material images. But God never deceives. He unfolded the roll; showed him how full it was of instruction and meaning; explained to him its real contents, viz. "mourning, lamentations, and woe." Like unleavened bread and bitter herbs, this knowledge of God's will may be most healthful for men at certain seasons of their life. God's regard for us is too genuine and profound for him to indulge our appetites with dangerous delicacies. The bitter must come before the sweet, darkness before light, sorrow before joy.
III. PERSONAL DIGESTION REQUIRED. The command is heard, "Eat that I give thee." "Fill thy bowels with this roll." A superficial acquaintance with God's will is not enough for the prophet's equipment. He must observe, learn, masticate, digest, incorporate, the truth. Here is indeed precious counsel - a Physician's wise advice. Less food, probably, but more digestion. Heavenly counsel this, which every disciple should write in golden letters on his chamber walls. The truth which God gives to men does not become really theirs until it is assimilated into their own nature - becomes part and parcel of themselves. By examination and reflection and practical obedience, this truth passes into the very blood and nerve and fibre of our being. We become the truth - "living epistles, known and read of all men."
IV. THE TASTE PALATABLE AND PLEASANT: "It was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." The regenerate man will welcome all the truth of God. Whatever God's will be, he knows that God's will is right, and that righteousness must bring blessing and peace. He is not now so blind as to limit his vision to the narrow present; he compasses, in the sweep of his eye, the remote and the future. That the prophet learnt that lamentation and mourning were decreed, was an element of hope. Would the Divine Ruler take such pains with men if he did not intend to do them ultimate good? The very severity of the treatment implied that health would come at last. To do the will of God is always sweet to the renewed man. Unless our spiritual palate is in a diseased condition, every particle of heavenly truth will be "as honey for sweetness." "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and they were unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart." - D.
I. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE IS RECEIVED FROM THE LORD. "And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; and he spread it before me." The volume was unrolled before him that he might become acquainted with the Divine commission given to him; "undertake his mission with a clear consciousness of its difficulty;" and know the Word of the Lord which he was to proclaim. He was not to promulgate his own thoughts, opinions, or convictions however true or noble they might have been); but the things which were revealed to him by God. "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God.... And thou shall speak my words unto them" (vers. 4, 7). And the Christian minister is to "preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15), to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2), after the example of the apostles who, "when they had preached the Word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel," etc. (Acts 8:25). "They ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42; and cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 1:27, 28).
II. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE IS BOTH LONG AND MOURNFUL. The roll was "written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe." This roll is intended to represent the book of the prophet.
1. It was long. "Written within and without." Such was the extent and fulness of the revelation that the one side, which generally was alone used for writing on, was insufficient to contain it; both sides were required.
2. It was mournful. "There was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe." A correct description of many of the prophecies of this book. How mournful was the moral condition of the people as set forth by the prophet! How woeful the judgments which he proclaimed unto them! Very often the Word of the Lord by the prophets was in fact a heavy "burden" (cf. Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1). And the Word of the Lord to the rebellious and the hardened (such as the Israelites were) is still a stern word - a word of condemnation and woe. The true prophet cannot prophesy smooth things to stiff-necked sinners. To such characters he must proclaim "the severity of God."
III. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE MUST BE WELL DIGESTED BY THE PROPHET. "Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou fin, test; eat this roll," etc. (Ezekiel 3:1-3). The meaning of this is given in ch. 3:10, "Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears." He must receive it, meditate upon it, appropriate it, make it a part of his being. "Here we have the right expression," says Umbreit on eating the roll, "to enable us to form a judgment and estimate of true inspiration. The Divine does not remain as a strange element in the man; it becomes his own feeling thoroughly, penetrates him entirely, just as food becomes a part of his bodily frame." There is need of a similar appropriation of the Word of God by Christian preachers today. That Word should be in them not only by intellectual apprehension, but by spiritual assimilation also. It should be not merely on their lips, but in their hearts. This will give the accent and power of conviction to their words when they publish it.
IV. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE WAS DELIGHTFUL UNTO THE PROPHET. "Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." "Thy words were found, and I did eat them," etc. (Jeremiah 15:16). It seems strange that this roll of "lamentations, and mourning, and woe" should be sweet to Ezekiel. It was so probably:
2. Because of the honour conferred upon him in making him the agent of the Lord in hearing and speaking that Word. "It is infinitely sweet and lovely to be the organ and the spokesman of the Most High" (Hengstenberg).
3. Because even its severest portions were righteous. There was nothing that would clash with his sense of justice and truth. Says Calvin, "The sweet taste means Ezekiel's approbation of God's judgment and commands."
4. Because behind the severest judgments there was the grace of the Lord God. In the roll there were promises of mercy and restoration to the penitent. "Athwart the cloud," says Hengstenberg, "the rainbow gleams. Better to be condemned by God than comforted by the world. For he who smites can also heal, and will heal, if his proclamation of judgment, and the judgment itself, be met by penitence; while, on the other hand, the comfort of the world is vain." So the roll was in the prophet's "mouth as honey for sweetness." Yet there were times when his stern message and his arduous mission were not sweet to him, and he "went in bitterness, in the heat of his spirit" (Ezekiel 3:14; and cf. Revelation 10:9, 10). The work of the Christian preacher has its sweetness and bitterness; its high and holy joys, and its deep and heart-rending sorrows.
V. THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE MUST BE FAITHFULLY DELIVERED. "Son of man, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel." Even despite the determined opposition of those to whom he is sent, he must discharge his mission with fidelity (cf. Ezekiel 3:4-11, the meaning of which is very similar to that of the paragraph, Ezekiel 2:3-8, which has already engaged our attention). And it is required of the ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ that they be faithful to the great trust which is committed to them (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:2). Blessed are they who in the review of their life can humbly declare, with St. Paul, that they have kept the glorious deposit which was entrusted to them (cf. 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 4:7). - W.J.