Friday, July 21, 2017

Speak the Truth Anyway

Print Passage: Ezekiel 3:1-11
Devotional Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

As we were growing up there was a cute cereal commercial. In the commercial the two older boys indicated they did not know what the cereal was, but they knew they could give it to their younger brother for a taste test. After all, Mikey loved everything. Sure enough Mikey liked it.1 https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mikey+commercial&&FORM=VDVVX I love cookbooks because I am like Mikey. I like the way the cooks put the meals together with the different spices, meats, vegetables, etc. You never know what to expect from some of the recipes; the variations are so different to create with so many tastes. Even though I find myself open to new ideas, I recognize there are those who may stumble because of my taste in foods. The purpose is not to eat what I want. The purpose is to make sure the work of God is not destroyed. (See Romans 14:14-23)

We are in Unit II “Calling of Prophets” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of a five-lesson study. Today we shall look at the prophet Ezekiel and how he received the call to preach the Word of God. As I read the first chapter I felt the book of Ezekiel would be a very hard read and a very hard book to interpret. I recognized from the beginning that he had a relationship with God. Chapter 1 was of his vision of the glory of God. Throughout the book Ezekiel was both a foreteller (able to accurately predict the future) and a forth-teller (able to declare God’s truth). Because of his relationship with God, Ezekiel was able to proclaim the Words of God as a prophet and a priest to the Israelites when he was exiled with them. He not only proclaimed God’s message orally and in writing, but he acted out the Word of God. Ezekiel’s name means God is strong, God strengthens, or God makes hard.2 http://www.allabouttruth.org/the-prophet-ezekiel-faq.htm

We know that God, as a loving parent, will chastise His children. Such is the case when He decided His children, the Israelites in the Southern Kingdom would be turned over in captivity. However, God always provides for His children. A prophet was at their disposal to relay His message wherever they were found. The prophet Daniel was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when the LORD allowed the first exilic deportation under Judah’s wicked King Jehoiakim. (Daniel 1:1-7) He was in the king’s palace speaking to both Babylonians and the Jews. The prophet Jeremiah witnessed the second exilic deportation (2 Kings 24:10-16) when the Israelites were taken captive under Judah’s wicked King Jehoiakin. King Nebuchadnezzar then appointed King Zedekiah to be king of Judah. Jeremiah remained in Judah as God’s prophet to those who remained behind under wicked King Zedekiah. The prophet Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, had been taken to Babylon during the second exilic deportation in 597 B.C., eleven years before Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel sat among the exiles and became their messenger from God. Each of the prophets lived prior, during and after the time of the fall of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel was from a priestly line, and much of his ministry centered on issues concerning the temple. He spent much of his time telling the exiles that Jerusalem would indeed fall (as it did in 586 BC), and so they should not expect a quick return to their land. Instead, they should focus their energies on living in their new exilic context in obedience to God. In the end, however, in a very memorable vision of dry bones coming to life, Ezekiel prophesied that the temple would be restored and the people would return to the land.3 http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/ezekiel/

In our lesson we see the most unusual way in which Ezekiel received his calling to speak for God. Upon seeing the glory of God in a whirlwind coming from the north accompanied by four living creatures (Ez 1), the LORD God began to give Ezekiel his calling in chapter 2. I imagine Ezekiel was so humbled to see this vision of the glory of God that he immediately fell to his knees in holy awe and fear. He was ordered to stand on his feet. Once he did, the Spirit of the LORD entered him and began to speak to him about the rebelliousness of the people and God’s plan. Ezekiel vividly explains in his vision at Ez 2:9-10, Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. Then He spread it before me; and there was writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe. (NKJV) God wanted Ezekiel to be bold and faithful in implementing His plan. The LORD does not want any cowardly soldiers. The scroll given him had writing on both sides. So the plan was extensive. Also, it would not be a happy errand. His listeners would either not receive God’s message through Ezekiel or they would be in a very sad state of passionate expressions of grief or sorrow. But the LORD had decided this would be Ezekiel’s commission.

To make sure Ezekiel understood he was the one chosen to implement the plan in all its details, God declared in Ez 3:1-2, Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. (NKJV) When God speaks to Ezekiel, He always calls him Son of man. It does not refer to the Son of God, Jesus, at all. Here God is commanding Ezekiel to eat the scroll which has writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe. Once he has received and internalized God’s Word, he is better qualified to deliver it because it is part of him. God wanted Ezekiel to take in the Word as a revelation for a better understanding to reveal the truth of the Word to the people.

It is stated in Jer 15:16, Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts. (NKJV) Whatever we find to be the Word of God, we must eat without disputing. Those who preach on the importance of obedience must be obedient. God continued to instructing Ezekiel regarding the scroll at Ez 3:3, And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. (NKJV) Ezekiel did not hesitate in obeying God’s instruction. He was to fill his stomach with this spiritual Word and not throw it up (allow his body to reject it). I am sure he expected it to have a bitter taste because the writings were filled with so many sad lamentations and woes. However, the scroll left a taste in his mouth as sweet as honey.

First, it is best to accept the calling God has for you and to preach His message faithfully than to try to fight against Him. Our arms are too short to fight against God. Secondly, although the scroll contained prophecies of captivity, judgments, and sadness, it also contained prophecies of hope for future restoration following the captivity and a bright future. Today we look at honey as just another sweetener. In Ezekiel’s times honey was a delicacy by which Ps. 19:19-11 compared to gold as follows: The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward. (NKJV) He would be greatly rewarded as an obedient prophet for the LORD.

Ezekiel was directed to speak only the Words given to him by God for he was going to speak to a very rebellious people. We see the LORD continuing to give him his call in verses 4-6, Then He said to me: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel, not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you. (NKJV) Now that Ezekiel has the message, he must approach his audience with the message. God is telling him what type audience he will be preaching to. It is an audience that Ezekiel is totally familiar with because they were fellow countrymen, fellow travelers, and fellow sufferers in captivity. It was not like the prophet Daniel who was taken captive in the first deportation to the king’s palace and not only had to learn another language, but had his name changed to that language. (Daniel 1:4, 7) It was not like the apostles who were given the gift of tongues to be able to minister to many people of strange speech. Ezekiel was among his own people. You would think that would be a plus, but the LORD tells him that people of other lands and strange languages would welcome the prophet’s message. In Ninevah, for example, Jonah’s message was accepted with national repentance to God. (Jonah 3:4-5)

The Israelites in Judah could accept what a stranger (or strange god) told them to be truth, but they could not accept the real truth. God described his children in very unflattering terms. Then He told Ezekiel He would toughen him to be able to handle His rebellious children. Ez 3:7-9 reads, But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” (NKJV)

A rebellious heart is hard to overcome. You would think the Israelites would be sorry they were in captivity and repent unto God. Just the opposite was true. They continued to reject God and worshiped idols, accepting the words of false prophets. Therefore, God made Ezekiel tough because He knew the message that would be given would be offensive to a hostile, rebellious people. Just like the Messiah many years later, Ezekiel would be firm and resolute amidst all contempt and scorn which he would meet. God helped him to make up his mind to endure it. He would not shrink from any kind or degree of suffering which would be necessary to accomplish the great work in which he was engaged. Ezekiel was not afraid or disheartened by the call from God.

The superior wisdom of the Almighty Father is seen when He concludes the call of Ezekiel at verses 10-11, Moreover He said to me: “Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD God,’ whether they hear, or whether they refuse.” (NKJV) God did not want Ezekiel to just hear the Word with his ears and allow the spoken Word to fall out of his ears into space. He wanted him to hear the Word, receive the Word, grasp the Word and place all the Word in his heart in true meditation. Only in this manner would Ezekiel feel determined to go to his fellow sufferers to speak to them from his heart all the Word of the LORD. It won’t matter whether they listen or not. Ezekiel must plant the seed of the Word in order to save his soul.

God did not allow Ezekiel to praise Him. Instead God would silence him as stated in Ez 3:26-27, I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and not be one to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house. (NKJV) An example of Ezekiel’s required silence can be seen at Ez 12:1-7 when God tells the prophet to take action to portray and illustrate the coming Babylonian captivity of Judah. Verses 8-16 are the verses where the LORD opens his mouth to say ‘Thus says the LORD’ to help the rebellious people understand the actions of illustration Ezekiel had taken that they had observed. They had received the LORD’s message by both sight and hearing. Now it was up to them to decide whether to obey. The messenger had done the job he was called to do.

1 https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mikey+commercial&&FORM=VDVVX
2 http://www.allabouttruth.org/the-prophet-ezekiel-faq.htm
3 http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/ezekiel/

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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