By Shelley Neese

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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 2:1–3:11, God’s commissioning speeches to Ezekiel to minister to the rebellious house of Israel. As a symbolic act and part of his conscription, Ezekiel ate a scroll inscribed with the harsh message God entrusted him to deliver. Today we are studying the rest of Chapter 3.

The section opens with the spirt of God once again lifting Ezekiel up to his feet after he had fallen prostrate at the sight of Yahweh’s glory (3:11). As the Spirit transported him to the colony of exiles in Tel Abib, Ezekiel heard the commotion of the living creatures’ wings and the rumbling of the chariot wheels (3:11-12). When Ezekiel had faced the throne chariot head-on, the visuals overwhelmed him. When the throne chariot was behind him, he realized the high decibels.

In a rare moment of personal expression, Ezekiel confessed the anger he felt about his burdensome assignment. He said, “I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit” (3:14). Rarely in the book does Ezekiel give insight into his interior state, but this confession shows why the prophet required a long prompting from God. During his commissioning, the prophet listened to Yahweh’s presentations and speeches without pushing back. How could he argue with a gleaming figure sitting atop a supernatural throne surrounded by four-faced beasts? Only when he returned to the colony of exiles did the reality of his depressing message hit him.

The text does not specify if he was bitter towards God or if the sins of his fellow exiles frustrated him. Either way, the Lord’s hand was powerful upon him (3:14). In his commissioning, God assured him that the people’s response to his message would not determine his success. However, as God’s mouthpiece, he was accountable for delivering every divine message. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his book The Prophets, empathized with Ezekiel’s difficult position: “Yoked in the knowledge he is compelled to receive, he is also under stress of the necessity to declare it” (Heshel, 596).

The Spirit returned him to the exiles’ encampment, Ezekiel’s home-base since the deportation from Jerusalem. When the prophet Jonah received a divinely given transport, the fish deposited him in an unfamiliar land to minister to a foreign enemy people. Ezekiel’s divine transport returned him to his own people, which should have made his commission easier than Jonah. Instead, he imposed on himself a period of silence. He wrote, “I sat there among them, stunned, for seven days” (3:15).

The prophetic life was a lonely commission, a setup for earthly rejection. While he sat among his fellow exiles, he surely knew that once he regained his voice and wherewithal, every relationship in his life was about to be altered. During the weeklong waiting period, he processed the shocking vision, the divine speech, and the intense call on his life. Because Ezekiel had already swallowed the scroll titled lament, mourn, and wail, he knew his prophecies were bleak (2:10).

God conscripted Ezekiel into his service as Israel’s watchman, an analogy for the prophet’s task also used in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea (Isa. 56:10; Jer. 6:17; Hos. 9:8). God told Ezekiel: “Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (3:17). In antiquity, sentries stood on towers or the high places of a city wall, scanning the horizon for any sign of approaching danger. If they spotted a potential threat, they had the chance to sound the alarm and save the city. The prophet’s job was like the watchmen. If they missed the chance to put the people on notice, they put the entire city in jeopardy.

The shocking part of Ezekiel’s post as watchman was that Yahweh, not Nebuchadnezzar, had Jerusalem in his crosshairs. Yahweh told Ezekiel, “Give them warning from me” (3:17). Yahweh was the force ready to attack and punish Jerusalem. However, he also employed a sentry to raise the warning cry before his advance. In his mercy, the goal of his wrath was to see its cancelation. However, in his holiness, if the people continued in sin and rebellion, he had no choice but to deliver the punishment.

Although God allowed Ezekiel his weeklong period of adjustment, he eventually got tough on the prophet. God presented Ezekiel with four hypothetical case studies that represented the fates of the wicked and righteous. In each case study, both the prophet and his audience were held accountable for their response to God’s call. The case studies laid out the legal parameters of the prophet’s duty title as he interacted with people in various stages of rebellion or repentance. The language in this section of Ezekiel is more formal and direct than anything that preceded it (3:18-21).

In the first hypothetical, Ezekiel needed to warn a wicked person of their impending death if they did not reform. Ezekiel must deliver the message and try to “dissuade them from their evil ways,” or the prophet will be “accountable for their blood” and his own blood (3:18). Ezekiel was not responsible for the wicked person’s response, only the delivery of the message (3:19). In the next scenario, if Ezekiel refused to warn a backslidden righteous person of their impending death, God would punish both Ezekiel and the righteous person.

But if Ezekiel obeyed and delivered the warning, he would save himself, no matter how the righteous person reacted (3:21). The people’s response never reflected on the messenger. They had not listened to God over the centuries, so why would they start paying attention to a prophet now? But Ezekiel’s job was critically important and if he neglected his work, both he and the recipient would be guilty and deserving of death. The last example was the best-case scenario where a righteous person hears the prophetic warning, repents, and stops sinning (3:21). Both the fate of the prophet and the recipient would be secure, and both would survive the coming onslaught.

After a week of sitting in silence amidst the exiles, the hand of the Lord once again picked Ezekiel up and carried him along. Throughout the book, Ezekiel often used the phrase, “the hand of the Lord was upon me.” Ezekiel often felt God’s power physically upon him as the force propelling his movement and animating his speech. God commanded him, “Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you” (3:22). Alone on the desert plain, Ezekiel encountered the divine throne chariot again. Perhaps God allowed Ezekiel another glimpse of his full glory to reinforce his calling. It would be easy to rationalize a onetime vision experience, but it was harder to explain the same vision occurring twice. Overwhelmed with awe, Ezekiel fell prostrate on the ground.

For the third time, the Spirit entered Ezekiel and raised him to his feet. Puzzlingly, in the next scene, God put Ezekiel under house arrest and forced him to endure a strange initiation process. God commanded: “Go, shut yourself inside your house. As for you, mortal, cords shall be placed on you, and you shall be bound with them so that you cannot go out among the people, and I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth” (3:24-26). Fellow exiles were told to tie him up with ropes. And rather than empowering Ezekiel’s oratory abilities, God made his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth, rendering him mute. Literally bound and gagged in confinement, Ezekiel hardly made for an alert watchman. He had no way of raising the alarm or rebuking the people on his own. For seven years, Ezekiel was at least partially muted. Only once the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem did his normal speech return (24:25-27; 33:21-22).

Only if God had an official divine message did he loosen the prophet’s tongue and reenable his speech. God commanded, “when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says” (3:27). When delivering God’s message of impending judgment, the prophet spoke without hindrance, even though God suspended his ability to engage in small talk or express his own opinions. Perhaps Yahweh’s intention was to stop Ezekiel from trying to mediate on the people’s behalf. Earlier prophets spoke freely with God and tried to intercede before God delivered punishments.

Moses, for example, served as an intermediary when the Israelites angered God by building the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai. Before God could destroy them and start over with a new nation, Moses pleaded for mercy and reminded God of his covenant with Abraham (Ex. 32). God relented and held back the full force of his punishment. But after eight centuries of continued covenant unfaithfulness, Yahweh’s wrath climaxed, and he was no longer willing for the prophet to mediate.

The prophet’s job came with significant responsibility, nothing less than the choice of life and death for all involved. God constantly assured Ezekiel that he would judge him by his faithfulness and obedience to his commission. For a Christian reading the passage, that refrain recalls our Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18–20).

I see stressed single moms in the checkout lane at Walmart wondering how they will provide for their children. I see the homeless paraplegic begging at the street corner, not only for change, but also eye contact with another human. And I see the special needs high-schooler unsure of how to dream for their future as they watch the unfolding plans of their peers.

And I know that my commission, all of our commission, is to remind our neighbors that they are God’s image bearers. They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are chosen, loved, and worthy. The gospel message, like Ezekiel’s message, has two faces. A call to repent and return to God and a call to embrace his outstretched arm and take the path to reconciliation he has provided. And I must wonder, has God also laid out hypothetical scenarios for us? Like Ezekiel, are we held accountable for our faithfulness in sharing the Great Commission? Ezekiel was not responsible for the actions that his message produced, but he was responsible for at least delivering the message that God asked.

Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. Next week we are reading Ezekiel 4 when the prophet performs a one-man interpretative theater production of the siege of Jerusalem.

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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