Ezekiel the Messenger
Dennis Pierce, Botesdale, England
There is no doubt about it Ezekiel is not the most favoured book of the Bible. It has a complex message and is full of symbols and parables along with prophetic utterances that are not easy to unravel. There are however simpler lessons that will challenge us!
Ezekiel the man
He is one of the four greater prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel being the other three. He was thirty years old when he commenced his ministry, see Ezek.1. 1 mrg, and his name means ‘God strengthens’. He certainly needed the strength of God to carry out his commission which lasted for over twenty years. He was contemporary with Jeremiah who ministered in Judah (neither mentions the other though) and with Daniel who was serving in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, 14. 14, 20; 28. 3. Ezekiel was honoured by the elders, 8. 1; 14. 1; 20. 1, but few, if any, of the populace appear to take him seriously . . . they ‘humoured’ him, though his faithfulness was rewarded in hindsight, see 33. 30-33. Chapter 1 verse 3 tells us that Ezekiel was the son of a priest, Buzi, who was exiled into Babylon, having been taken captive during the captivity of Jehoiachin, 2 Kgs. 24. 12-14; and this happened some eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. He began prophesying in Babylon around 592 BC and continued until 571 BC, see 29. 17- 20. He enables us to discover the historical background of his service by carefully dating all the sections of his prophecies.
His service was costly
Chapter 8 verse 1 would indicate that he had a house. He apparently had no children but he did have a wife, see 24. 15-18. It is here that we have a serious lesson in submission to the will of God! We need to stop and look at this for a moment. What a message to get from the Lord, ‘I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears’, then to read, ‘The next morning I did as I had been commanded’. This must challenge our thinking and our devotion to God? ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children . . . yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple’, Luke 14. 26. What challenging words from the Saviour! How do we measure up to this standard of commitment?
His lifestyle was transformed
Six times we read that ‘the hand of the Lord was upon him’, 1. 3; ‘with the strong hand of the Lord upon me’, 3. 14; ‘the hand of the Sovereign Lord came upon me’, 8. 1, and also 33. 22; 37. 1; 40. 1. This implies that he was filled with divine power and with the influence of the prophetic Spirit. This power opens his eyes to see the visions, his ears to hear the voice of God and his heart to receive both. To know His hand upon us should be our daily prayer. For when the hand of the Lord goes along with His word then the message becomes effectual. This we see in Acts 11 verse 21, ‘The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord’. It behoves all preachers to remember that apart from the presence of divine power their preaching is in vain! This also true for the personal witness of each believer.
His message was simple
In chapter 1 verse 3 we have a frequently repeated phrase that comes in over fifty times. It is, ‘the word of the Lord’, reminding us that this was the business of Ezekiel. He was to bring the word to the people from God. For a prophet there was no other business, nor was there any other appropriate message to bring to the people, even though it was often rejected. It is when we take God’s message and proclaim it in the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit that we will fulfil the divine commission to ‘go and make disciples’. This we see in the early days of the church’s witness to the world around them in their time, they 'went out, and preached everywhere, the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it', Mark 16. 20. ‘And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God boldly’, Acts 4. 31; see also 1 Cor. 2. 4. There are at least twenty-four references to ‘the word’ being declared in Acts. It was fundamental to the proclamation of the message. To us, to speak the word of God is to use ‘the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’, 2 Tim. 3. 15; see also 2 Tim. 4. 2. Through these repeated words in Ezekiel we discover the secret of his ministry, and so it will be for us. The hand of the Lord was upon him, and the word of the Lord came to him! He moved in the power of the Lord declaring the word of the Lord.
His calling and confidence
Consider his calling in chapter 2; twice the Lord says, ‘I am sending you’, vv. 3, 4; three times he says, ‘do not be afraid’, v. 6; then emphatically in verse 7, 'You must speak my words to them’; and in verse 4, ‘that is what the Sovereign Lord says'. Observe verse 9, ‘a hand stretched out to me’. Here is the confidence with which the servant of the Lord can go forward knowing that he is sent of God and accompanied by the same God who, as He later commissioned His disciples, said, ‘Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’, Matt. 28. 20. This commissioning and assurance holds good for today, for you and me, as we obey His call and go forth to tell! Cp. Acts 1. 8.
Chapter 3 verse 18 brings us to another phrase, this is repeated in verse 20 and in chapter 33 verses 6 and 8. It is, ‘I will hold you accountable for his blood’. In each case the subject is the responsibility of the watchman, ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman', see 3. 17 and 33. 7. The watchman’s task is to warn of the consequences of sin, to dissuade them from their evil ways, to bring the message of salvation, ‘Say to them . . . Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel’, 33. 11. We are the watchmen of today. Dare we ignore the desperate need in our world to hear the gospel? They may not want to hear it, they may reject our witness but that does not absolve us from the responsibility. Some will hear and believe. If we do not tell them who will? Family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues are our mission field. Let’s not fail to tell them of our Saviour. We have nothing to hide and everything to declare! So today ‘God commands all people everywhere to repent’, and so, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’, 1 Cor. 9. 16.
His final challenge
In chapter 34 verse 10 there is another occasion when the Lord says ‘I will hold them accountable', with the added words ‘for my flock’. These words come against a backdrop of failure. Those who should have been caring for the flock only cared for themselves. They had ‘not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured’ nor ‘brought back the strays or searched for the lost’. These are challenging words that should make every elder of today’s church think carefully about the way he fulfils his responsibility as a shepherd of the flock of God. Guard 'yourselves and all the flock . . . of God’, is a necessary call to all who care for God’s people, Acts 20. 28. All elders must ask themselves as to what is the limit of their commitment in serving the flock of God? We do well to note Peter’s comments about elders in 1 Peter chapter 5 verses 2-4. The call is clear and powerful.
I said at the beginning that there were simpler things in Ezekiel’s book, which would challenge us, may God by His Spirit take these thoughts and use them as appropriate.