Whether They Hear or Refuse [Ezk. 1:28-2:7]
This is the fourth article in a series of articles seeking to help believers better understand a difficult prophet. If this is the first article in the series that you have read, please take the opportunity to go back and consider the previous articles on Ezekiel as well.
Ezekiel’s Call Ezk. 1:28 – 2:7
Ezekiel 1:28…Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. 2 And he said to me, “Son of man,[a] stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.[b]Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.
Once again, we return to our forlorned prophet. If you will remember, Ezekiel was at the river Chebar, likely the Chebar canal in the city Nippur. It was his thirtieth birthday, and it seems that the prophet had gone down to the river in his sadness to mourn the fact that he had been forsaken by God. He had been denied the opportunity to stand before the presence of Yahveh in the temple. Yet, what he found at the river was not the quiet solitude he likely sought in order to mourn and meditate on his loss. Rather, the impossible happened. Yahveh came to Ezekiel on His chariot throne. His presence was with the exiles, and Ezekiel, in today’s text, will be commissioned to a job much more difficult than that of a priest, but also a job that is far more intimate and honorable.
The narrative that we are considering in this article falls within the biblical literary category of a call narrative. Call narratives are exactly what their label says. They are places in scripture where a prophet is called into the service of Yahweh. Yet, one interesting thing about call narratives, in our modern context, tends to be the way that evangelicals use them. How many youth or missions conferences have had the burning bush laid before them, or the magnificent vision of Isaiah with his response “here I am Lord. Send me.”? This common use ignores the fact that out of all of the millions of people who lived within the Mosaic covenant those two were uniquely called. These call narratives are not common. Though it is likely that many of my readers can call to remembrance sermons on Isaiah, Moses, Gideon, and even Saul of Tarsis, it is uncommon to hear sermons on Ezekiel’s call. The reason for this is likely because the call itself is strange. As we move through the various grammatical portions the narratives oddity will become obvious.
However, in the midst of strange visions and Ezekiel eating a scroll, this narrative is also rather abrasive in regards to Yahveh’s view of His own covenant people. It strikes against the romantic view of God and His people. It is common to imagine that God’s people were obedient. Even in this era, those who remained in Jerusalem felt that they had earned, in some sense, the right to stay in the capital city. Yet, God’s indictments against both those in exile and those who were in Jerusalem are startling. Yahveh sweeps nothing under the rug. They have transgressed the covenant, in fact, this book tends to represent them as a people who have never been faithful to the covenant. It is here, that we catch a glimpse of the question of the mystery of the Gospel, if God’s people are so unfaithful, how can Yahveh overlook such sin? This tension will develop as we consider the calling of Ezekiel, but first we must consider the nature of Yahveh’s provision for the one He calls.
The Spirit’s Provision
“…such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. 2 And he said to me, “Son of man,[a] stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me..”
— Ezekiel 1:28-2:7 (ESV)
At the end of chapter one we finally get a grasp on the prophet’s response to the vision of Yahveh’s glory and the fact that His glorious throne is among the refugees. Yet, there are a few glorious truths in this narrative and others like it, particularly those of the apostle John in Revelation. The glory of Yahveh is nothing to be trifled with. It is not to be contrived or commanded in order to brag about the experience of a gathering.
The glory of Yahveh is completely overwhelming. All over the country, there are worship services where people call down the glory of God and plead for Him to come to them in a tangible way. Yet, sadly the expectation and experience is that the glory of God is found in ecstatic utterance, laughter, excitement, and pleasure. There is the expectation that the presence of Yahveh and the moving of His Spirit is a comfortable delight of sorts, yet what we find in the experience of the prophets and apostles, is a unanimous reaction of fear and dread. The glory of God is so overwhelming that Ezekiel falls on his face, and he cannot rise of his own volition. This is not a God who can be controlled by man, and called down as one might call a trained animal. Rather, this is the God who comes unexpectedly and is quite dangerous.
The second thing we must recognize is that when God commands Ezekiel to rise it is His Holy Spirit that grants Ezekiel the ability to obey. It appears that such functions of the Spirit are common to our interpretation of the New Testament, but tend to be lacking in Old Testament interpretation. We are told in 1 John that the Spirit comes along with us as a Parakletos or advocate. This presumes that the Holy Spirit comes alongside us in order to aid us in obedience to the Father’s command. However, among the exiles who are under the Mosaic covenant, we begin to see that this relationship and function of the Holy Spirit has always been in effect. No man has obeyed the command of Yahveh apart from the provision of the Holy Spirit, and here Ezekiel’s calling provides us with an example of this truth. The tragedy is that such obedience is lacking in the greater body of Yahveh’s covenant people.
An Unfaithful People
“3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.[b]Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.“
— Ezekiel 2:3-7 (ESV)
If our prophet was excited about the unexpected honor that he has been given in this call, it seems reasonable that his excitement is tempered by what follows. Notice that the people described here are not a distant people or a foreign nation, rather Yahveh is sending Ezekiel to His covenant people. These call texts, often used in order to call people to mission work among the unbelieving, are texts in which Yahveh calls the prophet to His own covenant people. In other words, a fitting appropriation of this text would be in encouraging young men to go to the church and preach to them whether they will hear or not. In this, we catch a small glimpse of the eisegetical pull that comes with approaching the text with an idea already in mind. Instead of seeing these call narratives as opportunities to guilt the young into going abroad (not a bad thing just not in this text), it would be more biblical to see these texts as a reminder that God calls men to remind His people of the covenant and to call them to obedience. We must allow the textual context to set in order the context for our application.
One thing that must be noticed at this point is that God is not asking our young prophet if he is willing to go. There is fundamental irony in the writings of those scholars who hold the text of scripture lightly and speak of the prophet forming this text thoughtfully; as if, Ezekiel would decide of his own volition to appear as if he had no ability to decide things of his own volition. The fact of the matter is that God is sovereign over His word and over His people. Ezekiel was not given a choice over whom he will preach to or what the content of his teaching will be. Rather, God commands it and we know that, just as the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up in the face of this glory so that he might receive the command, the Spirit will give Ezekiel the burden and the utterance to fulfill God’s command.
Finally, we can draw this commentary to a conclusion. Whether the people listen or not, either for their justification or judgment, Ezekiel is commanded to do his part. The prophet is called to Yahveh’s covenant people to remind them of how they have transgressed the covenant. He is not told to poll the exiles and find the most like minded congregation for his ministrations. Rather, Yahveh has sent him to a rebellious house. Ezekiel has no power to choose his audience or his message.
Dear reader, the same is true for you and for me. He will send us to places we do not expect and often may not naturally want, and He will call us to say things that are hard. Yet, in His grace and for His glory, His Holy Spirit will strengthen us and to ensure that even in our feebleness He will be obeyed and His will accomplished regardless of the response. The beauty of this for the Christian minister is the fact that his weakness and disobedient nature has already been factored into the equation. God’s provision will either make use of the preacher’s weakness or will surpass it. Thankfully, the will of God depends not on the strength of the speaker or the response of the congregation, but on His Spirit’s infallible work. Let us then find comfort in this strange call narrative and look forward to eating the scroll with Ezekiel as we continue in this text next time.