Ezekiel 1:1 In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote to the exiled Jews in Babylon from around 593 to 571 BC. He wanted to assure them of God’s plan to bring them back to Jerusalem to restore the temple. Some of the Jews were still in Jerusalem, since it had not completely fallen yet, but Ezekiel predicted its doom as well. In the fifth year of his exile, Ezekiel received an elaborate vision from God.
Ezekiel 1:4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.
He also saw living creatures with wings and four faces: one of a human being, one of a lion, one of an ox, and one of an eagle. Beside each creature was a wheel full of eyes. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose (Ezekiel 1:19). Overhead was a throne, on which a man was seated, who had the radiance of a rainbow (Ezekiel 1:26-28).
This all appears to be a vision of God riding in a strange and glorious chariot. It would have been important to the exiled Jews in Babylon, because they were accustomed to worshipping God at the temple in Jerusalem. They may have felt cut off from God, since worshiping at the temple was no longer possible. So God revealed his mobility through this elaborate vision. He was not tied to a temple, but could go wherever his people were.
King David expressed a similar idea many years earlier. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8). No matter how far we may feel from God, he is always closer than we think.
Ezekiel 3:1 And he said to me, Son of man . . . eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.
In his vision, the prophet was given a scroll containing words of lament and mourning and woe (Ezekiel 2:10). These were the words he would bring to God’s people in Babylon. To eat the scroll meant that he should inwardly digest it. He was not permitted to deliver God’s words until they were inside him.
Like the prophet Ezekiel, Christian preachers are not free to say whatever they want, however they want to say it. They should immerse themselves in God’s word until it becomes part of their inner being. Then they should deliver God’s word with the earnestness of someone speaking for God. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11), wrote Peter. Speaking God’s words should never be done lightly.
Ezekiel 3:17 Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.
Watchmen were stationed on the city walls to warn the people of approaching danger. They were held accountable, and could be put to death, if they failed at their jobs. In this case, the approaching danger was God himself. If Ezekiel failed to warn the people, he would be held accountable, and possibly killed by God.
Ezekiel 3:18-19 When I say to a wicked person, You will surely die, and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
This command was specifically given to the prophet Ezekiel, but some application can be made to those who preach the gospel. In order to be more agreeable, and to reach more people, some preachers avoid the subject of sin, or speak of it only lightly. But apart from sin, there is no need for salvation. Without the bad news of future judgment, the good news of Jesus Christ becomes no news at all. Preachers must never stop warning sinners of their need to be saved (Acts 4:12).
Ezekiel 3:26-27 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 Lord says.
For several years, Ezekiel could not speak unless he had a message from God. He did not talk about sports, the weather, the economy, his health, or any other small talk. The only time he opened his mouth was to speak God’s word. As a result, his words had greater authority because they were not diluted by chatter.
Likewise, Paul instructed Timothy to Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly (2 Timothy 2:16). And again, many words mark the speech of a fool (Ecclesiastes 5:3), wrote Solomon.
For several years I served on the board of a church, along with a gentleman who said very little. But because he said so little, whenever he opened his mouth, everyone else shut theirs. Whoever wants to be taken seriously can learn from the prophet Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 4:1 Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it.
God commanded the prophet to make a model of Jerusalem under siege, with battering rams around it. This symbolized the Babylonians cutting off their food supply.
Ezekiel 4:3 Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it.
This symbolized God hiding his face. I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed . . . . I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness (Deuteronomy 31:17-18), said God.
Ezekiel 4:4 Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself.
God told the prophet to lie on his left side for three hundred ninety days, and on his right side for forty days, each day representing a year. The meaning is not clear, but it may represent the number of years of punishment for Israel and Judah respectively.
Ezekiel 4:10 Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times.
This symbolized the scarcity of food while Jerusalem was under siege. We prefer to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, as much as we want. But when food is scarce, it must be measured, and eaten at set times to make it last.
Even more dramatically, God told the prophet to cook his food using human excrement to show the scarcity of wood. When the prophet objected, God allowed him to use cow dung instead (Ezekiel 4:15).
Ezekiel 5:1 Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard.
The prophet was commanded to shave his head and beard even though this was normally forbidden. Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard (Leviticus 19:27), said God. The baldness of the prophet would show that his message was out of the ordinary.
The prophet was then told to divide his hair into three equal parts, representing the people in Jerusalem. The first was to be burned, the second was to be chopped, and the third was to be scattered (Ezekiel 5:2).
All these prophetic actions were symbolic ways of showing how God would punish his people. Ezekiel’s ministry was unique, and shows how far God will go to communicate his message.
Reflection and Review
Why did the Jews in Babylon need to know that God was still with them?
Why did God tell Ezekiel to eat a scroll?
Why did God make Ezekiel’s tongue stick to the roof of his mouth?