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In our last lesson, we learned about King Nebuchadnezzar’s second attack on Judah. More exiles were hauled away, and now a priest named Ezekiel has joined Daniel in Babylon, the capital city of the Babylonian Empire. But while Daniel is helping to run the government, Ezekiel is living in a colony of captives that is located near a canal. The years are ticking by, and according to messages that the prophet Jeremiah has sent from Judah, there’s no point in dreaming about returning home again. Yahweh says that no one’s going anywhere for seventy long years.
JEREMIAH’S MESSAGE TO BABYLON
Meanwhile, in the royal courts of Babylon, King Zedekiah of Judah has arrived with his escorts per Nebuchadnezzar’s command. Rumors that Zedekiah is trying to plan a revolt against the new empire have reached Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar has ordered this irritating Jewish king to come and explain himself.
So what do you do when an emperor catches wind of your plans to try and betray him? You lie your face off, and this is exactly what Zedekiah is planning to do as he appears for his grilling session. Accompanying him is one of his top officers, Seraiah (sare-I-uh). Seraiah is the brother of Baruch (bah-ROOK)—the scribe of that troublesome prophet Jeremiah. In fact, Seraiah is quite fond of Jeremiah—a fact which Zedekiah doesn’t find very endearing. But with all the other problems that the king has on his plate, he doesn’t have time to monitor every move his officers make. That’s why he is completely caught off guard when Seraiah whips out a scroll and announces he’s brought along a message from Jeremiah to Babylon. Oh, terrific. Zedekiah’s gut tells him that this message isn’t going to do much to help him convince Nebuchadnezzar that the nation of Judah is loyal to Babylon.
“Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk (mar-DUKE) filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror. A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away.” (Jer. 50:2-3)
This is terrible! Right away Jeremiah insults the Babylonian’s most powerful god: Bel, who was also known as Marduk. The only good part is that he says a nation from the north will destroy Babylon and Judah isn’t to the north. Zedekiah likes the idea of someone destroying his oppressor. Now if Seraiah will just hush up, maybe Zedekiah can act like the whole thing was just a joke. But wait–oh, no–there’s more…
“For I will stir up and bring against Babylon an alliance of great nations from the land of the north. They will take up their positions against her, and from the north she will be captured. Their arrows will be like skilled warriors who do not return empty-handed. So Babylonia will be plundered; all who plunder her will have their fill,” declares Yahweh.
“Because you rejoice and are glad, you who pillage My inheritance, because you frolic like a heifer threshing grain and neigh like stallions, your motherland will be greatly ashamed; she who gave you birth will be disgraced. She will be the least of the nations— a wilderness, a dry land, a desert. Because of Yahweh’s anger she will not be inhabited but will be completely desolate. All who pass Babylon will be appalled; they will scoff because of all her wounds.
Take up your positions around Babylon, all you who draw the bow. Shoot at her! Spare no arrows, for she has sinned against Yahweh. Shout against her on every side! She surrenders, her towers fall, her walls are torn down. Since this is the vengeance of Yahweh, take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done to others.” (Jer. 50:9-15)
Remember that in Bible times, gods were seen as residing in specific areas of land. At this point, we know that the Jews are treating Yahweh terribly. We also know that Yahweh has intentionally brought the Babylonians in to stomp on her, so why is He complaining about Babylon pillaging His “inheritance”? Well, we have to consider the Babylonian perspective in all of this. In Bible times, every war was a god war. While the Babylonians physically attack Judah with swords and soldiers, they believe that their great god Marduk is simultaneously attacking Judah’s God Yahweh. When the Babylonians win an attack, they interpret that as clear evidence that their god Marduk is superior to Yahweh, and then of course they gloat. It is the spiritual mindset of these people that Yahweh is really angry about. He knows that when the Babylonians celebrate their victory over Judah, they’re really celebrating their victory over Judah’s pathetic God Yahweh. When Babylon captured Judah and added her to the Babylonian Empire, it was like they’d taken Yahweh’s possessions away from Him. Well, of course they did, because it’s obvious to them that their great god Marduk is superior to all others. Marduk has to be superior–how else could anyone explain the rapid expansion of the Babylonian Empire? Well, Yahweh has an explanation: He is the One who is really controlling the affairs in Babylon. According to Yahweh, He is the only true God while Marduk is nothing more than a pathetic delusion. Yahweh demands that all the nations worship Him, and since Babylon is failing to do so, Yahweh is going to take her down.
Well, so much for trying to convince Nebuchadnezzar that Israel was pro-Babylon. Thanks to Jeremiah and his stupid scroll, Israel’s hatred of Babylon has been made abundantly clear—it even sounds like she’s planning to sick her God on it. Wonderful.
“Israel is a scattered flock that lions have chased away. The first to devour them was the king of Assyria; the last to crush their bones was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” (Jer. 50:17)
Hm. Back home, Jeremiah keeps preaching that Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple will be utterly destroyed by Babylon. So far all that’s happened is some serious ravaging. Are there really more horrors to come?
“I set a trap for you, Babylon, and you were caught before you knew it; you were found and captured because you opposed Yahweh. Yahweh has opened His arsenal and brought out the weapons of His wrath, for the Sovereign Yahweh Almighty has work to do in the land of the Babylonians. Come against her from afar. Break open her granaries; pile her up like heaps of grain. Completely destroy her and leave her no remnant. Kill all her young bulls; let them go down to the slaughter! Woe to them! For their day has come, the time for them to be punished. Listen to the fugitives and refugees from Babylon declaring in Zion how Yahweh our God has taken vengeance, vengeance for His Temple.
Summon archers against Babylon, all those who draw the bow. Encamp all around her; let no one escape. Repay her for her deeds; do to her as she has done. For she has defied Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel. Therefore, her young men will fall in the streets; all her soldiers will be silenced in that day,” declares Yahweh. “See, I am against you, you arrogant one,” declares the Lord, Yahweh Almighty, “for your day has come, the time for you to be punished. The arrogant one will stumble and fall and no one will help her up; I will kindle a fire in her towns that will consume all who are around her.” (Jer. 50:24-32)
To read a scroll like this in the royal court of Babylon not only takes a lot of courage, it also takes enormous faith. The Jews were caught up in the same mentality of gods duking it out with each other on earth. Whenever Israel was in trouble, it was hard not to believe that Yahweh was being triumphed over by other gods. So far in our study of the Old Testament, we’ve found a consistent theme of Jews worshiping idol gods. Clearly you don’t worship a god unless you think he’s real. In their hearts, most Jews totally reject Yahweh’s claims to be the only real God. They figure that if He was as powerful as He claims to be, Israel would never have any problems. Since Israel does have problems, clearly the gods of other nations are not only real, but many of them are stronger than Yahweh, so it makes sense for the Jews to suck up to these other gods and try to earn their favor.
But then there are guys like Jeremiah and Seraiah. When they are confronted with clear evidence that Yahweh has been defeated by the Babylonian gods, these men have the faith to say, “No, He hasn’t.” Here Seraiah is standing in the court of the king who has conquered his homeland, and Seraiah is boldly declaring that his God Yahweh is still the supreme God. In fact, Seraiah is saying that everything that has happened so far has all been part of Yahweh’s plan. Really? So Israel’s national God–the One who dwells in the land of Judah–has intentionally handed His territory over to Babylon? This theory sounds pretty absurd, and yet Jeremiah and Seraiah are boldly standing by it. This is a very impressive display of faith.
So what is King Zedekiah thinking while Seraiah reads this crazy message? Zedekiah’s thinking, “Good grief, how long is this scroll?!” Seraiah keeps reading and reading, and Jeremiah’s message is filled with vicious threats against Babylon. That rat Jeremiah is obviously trying to get them all killed!
“A sword against the Babylonians!” declares Yahweh— “against those who live in Babylon and against her officials and wise men! A sword against her false prophets! They will become fools. A sword against her warriors! They will be filled with terror. A sword against her horses and chariots and all the foreigners in her ranks! They will become weaklings. A sword against her treasures! They will be plundered. A drought on her waters! They will dry up. For it is a land of idols, idols that will go mad with terror.” (Jer. 50:35-38)
Yikes! All the scary looking Babylonian warriors are glaring at Seraiah, just waiting for orders to attack. Zedekiah wishes he could disappear.
“Look! An army is coming from the north; a great nation and many kings are being stirred up from the ends of the earth. They are armed with bows and spears; they are cruel and without mercy. They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, Daughter Babylon. The king of Babylon has heard reports about them, and his hands hang limp. Anguish has gripped him, pain like that of a woman in labor. Like a lion coming up from Jordan’s thickets to a rich pastureland, I will chase Babylon from its land in an instant. Who is the chosen one I will appoint for this? Who is like Me and who can challenge Me? And what shepherd can stand against Me?” (Jer. 50:41-44)
Oh great, now Jeremiah is insulting the king directly—likening him to a woman giving birth. This is it. Zedekiah is certain that his life is over.
“Prepare the nations for battle against her— the kings of the Medes, their governors and all their officials, and all the countries they rule. The land trembles and writhes, for Yahweh’s purposes against Babylon stand— to lay waste the land of Babylon so that no one will live there. Babylon’s warriors have stopped fighting; they remain in their strongholds. Their strength is exhausted; they have become weaklings. Her dwellings are set on fire; the bars of her gates are broken. One courier follows another and messenger follows messenger to announce to the king of Babylon that his entire city is captured, the river crossings seized, the marshes set on fire, and the soldiers terrified.” (Jer. 51:28-32)
Oh, so it’s the Medes who will take Babylon down? Interesting. But calling these buff warriors a bunch of terrified weaklings right to their faces? Oh, if only Zedekiah could get his hands around that prophet’s neck!
“I will punish Bel in Babylon and make him vomit up all that he has eaten. The nations will no longer stream to him. And the wall of Babylon will fall.” (Jer. 51:44)
Once again Yahweh insults the famous god Bel, who is the greatest god in the entire pantheon of Babylonian idols. He has a grand temple right here in Babylon. Why did Yahweh have to choose this exact moment to say all of this?
This is what Yahweh Almighty says: “Babylon’s thick wall will be leveled and her high gates set on fire; the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing, the nations’ labor is only fuel for the flames.” (Jer. 51:58)
What is this? Is Seraiah finally done? Yes! He’s rolling up the scroll! He’s tying a rock around it—what in the world? He’s throwing it into the Euphrates River! Now it’s sunk out of sight because of the rock and Seraiah is saying:
“So will Babylon sink to rise no more because of the disaster I will bring on her. And her people will fall.” (Jer. 51:64)
So, what can we learn from all of this? The next time someone tells you that God wants us to always “speak the truth in love,” you can say, “Really? Can you show me a passage in the Bible where He models this for us?” And then when they can’t find one, you can show them Jeremiah 50-51 where God gives us lovely images of an idol throwing up and of warriors screaming like women in labor. When it comes to calling out souls on their willful defiance, Yahweh is an endless supply of derogatory cracks, graphic metaphors, and offensive imagery. And since real prophets are usually sent to address rebels, you should expect a lot of awkward moments if you choose to tagalong. We really have to admire Seraiah’s pluck to be able to deliver such a dicey message on enemy turf. The few excerpts we’ve looked at here don’t come close to covering the entire two chapters that Seraiah read. And without God’s supernatural intervention, Seraiah would have been killed long before he had the chance to finish his message and chuck his scroll into the river as a dramatic symbol of what was coming in Babylon’s future. Clearly Yahweh is a very theatrical Fellow.
We aren’t told exactly how Zedekiah returns to Judah in one piece, but he does, for he is alive and well to harass Jeremiah later on. But before we learn more about how those two men sparred with each other, there’s a certain priest living by a canal who needs our attention.
Are you eager to do big things for God? Are you feeling overlooked and frustrated with no ministry opportunities on the horizon? Take heart. God has a long track record of suddenly dropping huge assignments into our laps without any warning. This is exactly what He does to Ezekiel. One day our thirty-year-old priest is going along doing business as usual. The next second, his eyes are as wide as saucers as he sees a terrifying fire storm heading his way.
Now way back in Lesson 5, we learned about Yahweh’s famous appearance on Mt. Sinai. It’s probably not all that famous to you, but it was quite famous to the Jews who lived in Bible times. It’s not every day that your God shows up in some visible way, so this is a story that gets told over and over again. Every good Jew knows about how way back in the wilderness period, Yahweh gathered all of Israel together at the base of Mt. Sinai, then lit the whole thing up in some fearsome, fiery storm. We don’t know exactly what it looked like, but we do know there was smoke, thunder, lightning and fire. It might of looked something like this:
The point of this little exercise was to scare the pants off of everyone and drill home the point that Yahweh was God Almighty, not some stupid idol that could be pushed around. And ever since this theatrical performance on Mt. Sinai, whenever God feels like making a grand entrance, we find Him bringing back all those familiar Sinai elements: fire, lightning, clouds, and lots of noise. We’ll find these elements when He shows up to John in Revelation and we’re seeing it right now with Ezekiel.
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. (Eze. 1:4)
During Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, Yahweh used a supernatural pillar of clouds to guide her about. The cloud pillar represented His Divine Presence with her. So it’s only right that He now comes towards Ezekiel as a great cloud with lightning and fire in it. Such an image is ringing very familiar bells in Ezekiel’s mind, just as a tall white man sporting a beard, white tunic, and sandals would make many Americans think of Jesus today. God knows all about how you personally picture Him in your mind. If He wants to show up to you in some visible form, He will often use those familiar images to help you be more comfortable. This is how nice He is, and this is also why we hear so many people reporting having visions in which Jesus looks just like the friendly image we were all introduced to in Sunday School. If we didn’t go to Sunday School, then we picked up a similar image through art on the internet. At least in America we’re all thinking the same thing because every movie we make about Jesus dresses up the star to match that familiar image we all have in our minds. Of course how we picture Jesus has nothing to do with how He actually looks, but it’s a blessing to realize that our God is purposely presenting Himself in a form that we can handle. To a boy in China, Jesus might show up looking very Chinese. To a girl in Africa, He might appear with dark chocolate skin and a wild afro. But to Jewish men in the Bible, Yahweh is going to be cloudy and stormy, because those are the things that He’s taught them to associate with Him.
Now suppose you go and visit a distant planet where everything is made out of rock. The aliens who live there have never seen or heard of dirt, water, trees, or birds. How would you describe such things to them? Whatever you try and say, you have to put it in terms of rocks or the aliens won’t be able to make any sense out of what you’re saying.
This is the kind of predicament men like Ezekiel and John find themselves in when they’re trying to describe fantastic visions of the supernatural realm that Yahweh is giving them. They see things that are totally out of this world, yet somehow they have to try and describe them using a vocabulary that simply isn’t broad enough. It’s like trying to describe dirt, water, trees and birds to a people who only know about rocks. It’s impossible to make logical sense and yet you feel compelled to try and write something down so you can explain it to people later on.
As the huge fiery storm cloud approaches, Ezekiel is shocked to see that there are four freaky looking creatures inside of it. They look very strange and they move about in very bizarre ways. He does his best to try and describe them to us:
In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. (Eze. 1:5-24)
The longer Ezekiel talks, the weirder the images in our minds become until we realize that he’s trying to describe something that is simply indescribable. And if he can’t describe it, how can we draw it? Well, we’ve tried, and no doubt our images are vastly different from what Ezekiel actually saw. But still, it’s fun to make a stab at it. Here are two different attempts to try and illustrate this passage:
When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the Voice of the Almighty, like the loud noise of an army. (Eze. 1:24)
Notice how the moment Ezekiel hears a deafening noise—“the roar of rushing waters” and “the loud noise of an army”—he immediately thinks of God’s Voice. This is another association that he’s picked up from hearing about the Mt. Sinai appearance which Moses recorded in Exodus 19. On that day the people were deafened by a supernaturally loud blast of noise which was likened to the sound of trumpets blaring. In Period 8, when we get to the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we’ll read that “there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind” (Acts 2:2). Imagine yourself listening to the roar of a tornado barreling through a field. On the Day of Pentecost the mighty Holy Spirit didn’t drift in on some wussy little breeze. He roared in.
In Revelation 1:10, John is startled out of his wits when a Voice like a loud trumpet suddenly blasts behind him—it’s Jesus, instructing John to get ready to do some transcribing while Jesus dictates letters to seven churches in Asia. When Jesus speaks some more, John says His Voice was like “the sound of many waters” (Rev. 1:15). Imagine yourself standing by a huge waterfall that is crashing down on itself—that’s the kind of loud noise John’s talking about. Our Gods love to make a grand entrance. And of course when we find such consistent themes in the Bible, we get all excited and say, “See?! This is what God is actually like!” But no, it isn’t. The reason we see such consistency is because God is always appearing to the same kind of audience: Jews who are well acquainted with the Mt. Sinai story.
Today God doesn’t go blasting at every person He speaks to. Today there are souls who have legitimate visions of God in glory, yet they aren’t all getting blinded by flashes of lightning, nor are they all seeing a bunch of multi-headed angels darting about. God appears to us in any form He wants, and He doesn’t appear to us all in the same way. So let’s not go around trying to tell everyone else that our vision was more accurate than theirs or that we’ve seen the “real” Heaven. Such talk is utterly idiotic. If someone has actually seen God (and remember that most people who make such claims are liars), all you’ll learn by listening to them is how God chose to appear to them. He might appear to you in an entirely different form, so keep an open mind. God loves variety.
As we read through Ezekiel 1, we get the general idea that there are a bunch of weird looking angels darting about in this stormy scene, and then there’s Yahweh sitting in the middle of it all looking awesome, majestic, and blindingly bright. Ezekiel immediately falls on his face in reverence. This is a common response to experiencing the glory of God close up. In fact, we humans can’t begin to handle God in the raw so He is always toning Himself down for us. We never experience His full radiance—just tiny little glimpses. And those glimpses are enough to completely overwhelm us, for we are very fragile beings.
Isaiah panicked when he saw Yahweh for the first time (Isaiah 6). John falls over like a dead man in Revelation 1, and here Ezekiel is also frozen in shock. Now if Yahweh were as mean as some like to pretend, He would enjoy knocking us all to the ground and grinding our faces into the dirt while He terrifies us with His awesomeness. But instead, He’s so wonderfully kind and gracious that He tells Ezekiel to stand up. God wants to have a face-to-face conversation, not talk to the back of Ezekiel’s head. What an incredible God!
Today we Christians like to quote Hebrews 14:6:
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The whole idea that God invites us to come boldly before His throne is quite thrilling indeed, but let’s not miss the fact that we Christians aren’t the only ones He’s ever drawn near to. God loved the souls who lived under the Old Covenant just as much as He loves us today, and Ezekiel was just one of several souls that we know about who were invited to look at Yahweh with their physical eyes and not be instantly struck down. Isaiah also got to see Yahweh. Daniel will see Him as well, and Moses spoke to Yahweh face to face on a regular basis. So when John says, “No one has seen God at any time” in 1 John 4:12, well, he’s wrong. Plenty of people have seen God, so read the whole Book for yourself and don’t just accept John’s quick summary of things.
Now when you’re lying in shock on the ground and God tells you to stand up, it’s a little hard to move your frozen legs. Once again, God shows how well He understands us as the Holy Spirit enters into Ezekiel’s body and sets him upright. How nice, and this raises another fascinating point. Today you’ll find many theologians adamantly arguing that the Holy Spirit never dwelt within people before the New Covenant. “He only came on them, but not in them,” is the classic line that you’ll find in many Bible commentaries and Bible study books. Well, nice try, but no. Ezekiel says that the Holy Spirit entered him, and that’s what happened (see Eze. 2:2). Why are we so threatened by this? Well, we’ve decided that God can’t be where sin is and none of those souls who lived before Christ had all of their sins atoned for, therefore God would have never dwelt inside of them. Well, yes He would. God does whatever He wants whenever He wants, and the more we try to hold Him to particular rules, the less we’ll understand Him. Usually these ridiculous debates about what God can’t do stem from some prideful need to feel superior to the people who lived before Christ, or to give ourselves the illusion that we are somehow in control down here. But wise Christians will stop trying to put limits and conditions on God and recognize that He is a totally wild and free agent who doesn’t have to answer or explain Himself to anyone—least of all us. The more we try to tell God what He can and can’t do, the less He will share with us. The more we approach Him with a reverent attitude of, “God, I know You are way too complex for my tiny mind to fathom, but I long to know You better,” the more He will reveal to us. Choose the reverent path. It’s the only one that makes sense for flecks of dust like us.
Now as the Holy Spirit keeps Ezekiel propped up in a standing position, Yahweh starts to speak to His dazed little man.
“Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. I am sending you to stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh.’ Then, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words. Though thistles and thorns are all around you and though you sit on scorpions; do not fear their words or be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious people. You must speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.” (Eze. 2:3-7)
Wow. Ezekiel has just been called to be a prophet for Yahweh. This is huge. This is terrifying. If the Holy Spirit wasn’t keeping him upright, he’d no doubt melt into a puddle of angst. Only a fool takes the prophetic calling casually and our priest Ezekiel is no fool.
Notice how Yahweh mentions thistles, thorns, and scorpions. These metaphorical images are references to the fact that being a prophet is no picnic. Oh sure, the fakers live the sweet life with plenty of money, tons of fans, and expensive suits and cars. But the real guys always get kicked in the head.
God wants Ezekiel to preach to the Israelites who have been exiled to Babylon. There’s quite a few of them, for by now Nebuchadnezzar has brought in two large batches of prisoners. Of course most of the exiles are snarky little twerps who are a hundred miles from repentance. When Ezekiel starts to speak, the people are going to give him plenty of smack. Yahweh acknowledges this up front and promises to give Ezekiel supernatural protection.
“The house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, because they are not willing to listen to Me. Truly all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or dismayed by them, though they are a rebellious people.” And He said to me, “Son of man, listen closely and take to heart all of the words that I speak to you. Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Whether they listen or not, say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Yahweh says.” (Eze. 3:7-11)
Now comes a little supernatural transportation. The Holy Spirit whisks Ezekiel up into the air and carries him back to the colony of exiles where he’s been living. He is filled with God’s wrath in his soul—a common experience for prophets who are called to preach out against rebellion—and he’s totally overwhelmed by the whole experience. So he sits among his people for seven days in a very irritable state and causes quite a ruckus as everyone wonders what the heck happened to him.
At this point, Ezekiel’s looking pretty tough on the outside, but underneath his volatile exterior, he’s really filled with angst over the whole idea of being God’s prophet. What if he loses his nerve? What if the people attack him? Ezekiel is freaking out inside. He is totally underestimating his own dedication to God. We’ll soon discover that this young priest of ours is loyalty personified. He is going to do things for Yahweh that the rest of us couldn’t even imagine doing. God knows that He’s picked the right man for the task, and He knows that He is going to give Ezekiel the resources he needs to do a stellar job. But Ezekiel doesn’t know any of this yet. He’s too humble to think he’s all that, and he’s deeply distressed.
So what’s a good way to help a loyal man connect with his own courage? Sometimes the best approach is to make a few threats. A man who is desperate to please God is utterly abhorred by the idea of God being displeased. All that Yahweh has to do is dangle the concept of His displeasure before Ezekiel and He knows the priest will throw himself heart and soul into any assignment that God gives him regardless of the risk involved. So this is what He does. After letting a week pass and giving the whole colony time to notice that Ezekiel isn’t acting like himself, Yahweh comes to His little man and says:
“Son of man, I have appointed you to be a watchman to the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, then he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved yourself.
Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die. If you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but I will hold you responsible for his blood. However, if you did warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, then he shall surely live because he took warning; and you will have saved yourself.” (Eze. 3:17-21)
Does this language sound harsh to you? If God were to threaten you like this would you feel motivated or intimidated? If you’d feel intimidated, you probably won’t hear Him talking to you like this in your whole life. We need to remember that God has created a wide range of human temperaments. Some of us wither at a hard look, while others of us need a hard spanking before we’ll feel motivated to obey. God isn’t scolding Ezekiel here, He’s talking to him in a way that He knows will help Ezekiel overcome his fears. God handles each of us differently. If He made you a very sensitive soul, He is going to speak to you gently. If He’s made you the militant type, He will drive you on with harsher language, but in both cases, He’ll be acting out of a loving desire to help you succeed.
One of the games Satan loves to play with us is to point out some passage where God is really railing at someone, then freak us out with predictions that God will be yelling at us the same way the moment we make one mistake. This is a complete lie, of course, and one that Satan uses to try to make you feel insecure and anxious in God’s Presence. Whenever you come across some example of God’s communication style that makes you want to go cower in a corner, realize that you’re internalizing lies from demons. God loves us all and He encourages us all—but that encouragement will come in many different forms depending on our temperaments.
We don’t find Ezekiel crumbling to pieces after this lecture that God will hold him personally responsible if he wimps out about speaking God’s messages to the people. Instead, we find him morphing into an incredible tower of perseverance and dedication. God knows how to motivate His little man, and His threatening speech has made the road of obedience exceptionally clear for Ezekiel. Now he’s focused and ready to charge. When God tells him to get up and come meet with Him in a field, Ezekiel is instantly in motion. There’s no more lying around in shock for this prophet—well, almost. When Yahweh suddenly shows up in glory again, Ezekiel does fall back down on his face—how can he not? But happily the Holy Spirit slips inside of him and props him up once more (see Eze. 3:24). We love the Holy Spirit.
THE FIRST ASSIGNMENT: BOUND & MUTED
A prophet’s first assignment is always exciting. Ezekiel is probably expecting Yahweh to give him a sermon like the kind Jeremiah was always preaching back home in Judah. But for this new recruit, Yahweh has something very different in mind.
“Go, shut yourself inside your house. The people will tie you with ropes, son of man, so that you will be bound and unable to go out among them. Then I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Yahweh says.’ Whoever will listen, let them listen, and whoever will refuse, let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people.” (Eze. 3:24-27)
Now hold on a minute! Is Yahweh really serious? What kind of crazy assignment is this? Ezekiel is supposed to go home and let his hostile neighbors jump on him and tie him up like a crazy man? The fact that the people are planning to do such a thing gives us a hint that Ezekiel has already made some enemies just by acting so strange in the last week. The people can tell that a very disturbing change has come over the priest—he’s just not acting normal anymore. Perhaps when they saw him walking off to a field they all huddled together and decided that when the fruitcake returns this time, they’re going to do something to make sure he’s confined to his house. And thanks to Yahweh’s brilliant idea about sticking Ezekiel’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, any doubts the people have about the priest’s sanity are going to be massively confirmed when they hear him making a bunch of weird noises. Try it for yourself: press your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth and try to say, “This is really awkward.” Doesn’t work too well, does it? Your vocal chords are still functioning, but without the free movement of your tongue, you can’t enunciate. Imagine a thirty-year-old man walking around making noises like that. Does such a picture say “anointed prophet of God” to you? Not hardly. It says “total nutcase” or perhaps “demon possessed.” But certainly not “rational servant of God.”
So then…care to volunteer for the prophetic calling? Do you see how ludicrous it is that people flaunt this title about today like it’s some kind of cake job? Today the Church is bursting with huge egos who just can’t wait to tell you that they are God’s anointed prophet or prophetess. And the way they go about with broad smiles on their faces and act like they haven’t a care in the world—well, you just know they’re a bunch of fakers. When Yahweh really drops the prophetic calling on someone’s life, it’s like He’s just handed them a live grenade: it’s terrifying. No one in his right mind says, “Oh, goodie, this will be fun.” What’s fun about Yahweh standing back and letting your neighbors pounce on you with ropes while His promises to protect you are still ringing in your ears? What’s fun about being accused and insulted and not having the ability to say anything in your own defense because your tongue is melded to your upper palate? Now of course God is going to miraculously free Ezekiel’s tongue anytime He wants him to deliver a message. But the moment the prophetic word has been spoken and the local bullies have become riled up to anger again, Ezekiel’s tongue will be re-stuck. Oh joy. This is going to be a very bumpy ride.
God plays hardball with His prophets, and our new friend Ezekiel is going to get the gold medal for freak show assignments. This rope and tongue combination is only the beginning. In our next lesson, we’ll learn that Yahweh’s already got a nice role playing activity all worked out—one which involves Ezekiel getting to eat bread that tastes like poop and lie in the dirt for over a year. Yep, you read that right. And all the while his tongue will be stuck to the roof of his mouth. Oh, and there will also be more ropes involved only this time it will be Yahweh Himself who ties His little man up so that he is unable to move…while he’s lying in the dirt…eating foul smelling food. We really have to admire Ezekiel’s dedication. He is a stunning example of how Divine empowerment really does make the impossible possible. It’s just like Jesus says in Period 7: “With God all things are possible.” Funny how we never seem to apply that principle to frozen tongues…
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 32: Ezekiel in Action
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.