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Welcome to Bible Fiber, where we are encountering the textures and shades of the biblical tapestry through twelve Minor Prophets, two reformers, and one exile. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel, both ancient and modern.

Last week, we studied Ezekiel 1, the prophet’s first inaugural vision, which provided an intense peak at God’s heavenly throne chariot. The experience overwhelmed Ezekiel so much that he collapsed prostrate on the ground, which is where we find him in today’s episode when God verbally commissioned Ezekiel (2:1–3:11).

Although Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all included the narratives of their divine call, Ezekiel’s story is by far the longest account. Incidentally, it is the only call narrative where God did all the talking. Moses and Jeremiah pushed back on God’s request with their own counter-speech. Moses felt inadequate for the task because he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex. 4:10). Jeremiah was insecure about his youth (Ex. 4:10; Jer. 4:6).

Isaiah and Ezekiel both experienced such powerful theophanies that they were quick to comply with no reservation (Isa. 6:1-13). The major difference between Isaiah and Ezekiel’s inaugural visions is that God transported Isaiah to the heavenly throne, but for Ezekiel, he brought the divine throne to him in exile.

From atop the crystal-like dome, God commanded Ezekiel to stand for his commissioning: “O mortal, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you” (2:1). When the thunderous voice of Yahweh drummed forth from his throne, the noise of the creatures’ wings quieted. The prophet could not even muster the strength to stand on his own. God had to empower him through an infusion of his Spirit and propped him on his feet.

Yahweh called Ezekiel to minister to the exiles of Israel. In the commissioning speech, God used every synonym for rebellious that he could pack into one command. Israel was impudent, obstinate, and stubborn. Both the current generation and their ancestors persisted in their revolt against his sovereignty, dismissing the Lord’s will in favor of their own (2:3). Sarcastically, Yahweh replaced his normal terms of endearment for Israel with cutting monikers. Instead of “house of Israel,” he called them “house of rebellion” (2:6). Instead of “my people,” he ordered Ezekiel to go to “your people” (3:11). He referred to Israel as a “nation,” using the same Hebrew word “goyim” that often had a negative connotation for all peoples outside the covenant. All the Israelites, both the deportees and those still in Judah, were “a nation of rebels” (2:3).

Throughout the book, exactly ninety times, Yahweh addresses the prophet as “son of man.” The term is used so frequently it often serves as a preamble introducing a new prophecy. Never once did he call Ezekiel by his name. In Hebrew, the word is ben adam and can simply mean human, mortal, or son of man. Every time God calls for Ezekiel’s attention, or begins a new oracle, he said, “as for you, mortal” or “O mortal” or “mortal, hear what I say to you.” Addressing Ezekiel as “mortal,” instead of his name, underscored the great distance between the sovereign God of the universe and the nature of the human prophet.

In the call narratives of Ezekiel’s predecessors, God offered words of comfort and assurance. He told Moses, Joshua, and Jeremiah not to worry because he would be with them, protecting and strengthening them (Ex. 3:12; Josh. 1:9; Jer. 1:8). Before Ezekiel undertook his mission, God told him not to be afraid, but he described Ezekiel’s audience as an entanglement of briars, thorns, and scorpions surrounding the prophet (2:6).

Yahweh acknowledged Ezekiel was imparting on a grim mission. Yahweh commanded, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” (2:7). All God asked of Ezekiel was obedience, but the responsiveness of his audience would not determine his success as a prophet. Isaiah also struggled with the impression that everything he did was in vain because his message fell on deaf ears (Isa. 49:4). In both cases, God assured the prophets that all he required of them was obedience to their commission, regardless of the people’s reception of the divine message.

One would assume that the trauma of deportation would have provoked self-reflection and repentance. Just as the earlier prophets predicted, and the covenant forewarned, their unyielding infidelity brought on their expulsion from the land. Surely, after Nebuchadnezzar pillaged Jerusalem and carted away the city’s upper class, their hearts were ready to turn back to God and hear the prophetic message. But Ezekiel was doomed. The only encouragement Yahweh offered was that after his predictions materialized, the people would recognize that a prophet had lived among them (2:5). Only with the benefit of hindsight would they interpret his message as authentic. Indeed, very few of the biblical prophets were declared as God’s mouthpieces during their lifetime. Because of the unwelcoming nature of their message, they faced resistance and skepticism from the people, religious authorities, and political leaders. Divine rebuke is always challenging. Even today in Christian circles, churches prioritize being “seeker-friendly” over preaching about the problem of sin.

Yahweh wanted to ensure that Ezekiel was nothing like the deaf Israelites who heard the word of the Lord but did nothing in response. To test his obedience, he commanded the prophet, “open your mouth and eat what I give you” (2:8). The apparition by the water’s edge advanced to a full sensory object lesson. When Ezekiel looked at what he was supposed to eat, he saw an unfurled scroll held by an outstretched arm (2:9). Shockingly, the arm belonged to Yahweh, or at least to the representation of his glory.

The throne chariot vision attests that Ezekiel saw a figure “like that of a man.” He continued to use anthropomorphic terms to describe his vision of the ineffable God. Moses had used similar language in his encounter with God. For example, the Torah described Moses speaking “face to face” with Yahweh and glimpsing his back (Ex. 33:11, 23).

Before eating the scroll, Ezekiel observed that writing covered both sides. The impression is that the divine word was unalterable even before Ezekiel delivered the oracle. Three ominous words stood out to him on the scroll: laments, mourning, and wailing (2:10). Indeed, the first five years of Ezekiel’s ministry would require him to pronounce judgment. If the apostate nation did not repent, they would lament, mourn, and wail for their losses.

Despite the bitterness of the message, the scroll tasted sweet, like honey. As he savored the taste of God’s nourishing word, perhaps Ezekiel was thinking of the Psalm: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103). Though the message was severe, the word of God was always nourishing. Did Ezekiel literally eat a mouthful of papyrus, or was the passage written as an allegory for his memorization of the divine message? No one knows. The prophet Jeremiah referred to his own eating of God’s word, but he meant it metaphorically (Jer. 15:16). As you will see throughout the book, Ezekiel had a propensity to take older prophetic sayings and actualize them.

The commissioning theme continues in the next passage. Yahweh told Ezekiel, “Go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them” (3:4). He wanted Ezekiel to give them the verbatim message that was written on the scroll. God’s message was only for the Israelite exiles. He said, “You are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language” (3:5). Yet, the Lord warned him that his own people would be more difficult to reach and less receptive to God’s word than the nations, even if the nations possessed an unfamiliar language and culture (3:6). The Israelites might have deaf ears, but it was not because of a language barrier! Recall the prophet Jonah, who delivered a quick reluctant message of warning to the Ninevites, and the entire nation humbly repented.

God told Ezekiel that when the house of Israel refused to listen to him and rejected his prophecies, they were not rejecting him as a prophet, but Yahweh himself. Ezekiel was one of the last prophets. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi came after him and then the prophetic office ended. Interestingly, God also told the last of the judges, Samuel, that when the people demanded a king that they were not rejecting Samuel as judge, but they were rejecting Yahweh as their king. I find it an interesting aside that God made sure that his servants did not take their earthly failures as personal.

During Ezekiel’s commissioning, God did not list the exiled priest’s qualifications or provide reassurance of his personal gifting. God did not choose Ezekiel, or any of the prophets, because of their power. Rather, God promised to do the empowering. God would supply Ezekiel with everything he needed to carry out the task. Apparently, what he needed most was a hardening, a buildup of his own resilience, because God was sending him to a people who possessed “a hard forehead and a stubborn heart” (3:7). To withstand the inevitable resistance, Yahweh turned the prophet’s forehead to flint, an even harder stone than the people possessed (3:9). In his final commissioning imperative, he encouraged Ezekiel to deliver the divine oracle despite the people’s reception (3:11).

Because Ezekiel rarely verbalized his thoughts in response to Yahweh’s call, we do not know what he was thinking. However, it becomes clear later in the book that Ezekiel required a hard face and heart to fulfill his mission. If Jeremiah is nicknamed the weeping prophet, Ezekiel should be called the dry-eyed prophet.

Perhaps because of the full show of Yahweh’s transcendence in the consecration vision, Ezekiel’s sense of reverence trumped any personal insecurity. With a belly full of digested scroll, he felt the weight of privilege in representing the fiery divine warrior king on earth.

Next week we are reading the rest of Chapter 3:12-27. We will see how being a messenger was only one of Ezekiel’s jobs. He also served as God’s watchman.

Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. And please keep the nation of Israel in your prayers. Ezekiel was also a hostage living in exile and what better prophet to read and study as we empathize with the Jews who are once again living their nightmare.

For all the Biblical references each week, please see the show transcript on our blog or by signing up for our emails at I do not say all the references in the podcast but they are all in the transcript.

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Shabbat Shalom