As I continue to study through the book of Ezekiel with the rest of my Sunday School class, the Lord continues to open my eyes to this man and the book he wrote. I think I’m pretty similar to most Christians in recognizing prophets as special men who called Israel back to God’s righteous standard and were also righteous men themselves. In modern vernacular, they were hard-core. Or as I would say of late, they “kept it real”. They were true to their word.
Prophets hold an special honor in Scripture. In Hebrews, we read,
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated men of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Heb. 11:37-38)
Though I wholeheartedly admire these men, my ignorance of them has made it difficult for me to see them three-dimensionally. That is, I don’t think of them as flesh and blood. I can’t tell you much of how they developed as people throughout their years of prophecy. I can’t tell you much of their failures or insecurities, other than vague generalizations. But today, I became more sympathetic with the prophet Ezekiel than I expected. In chapter three, we see a striking description of him which reveals to me both the depth of his character as well as the reality of his frailty.
A lot of us are familiar with the famous “wheel within a wheel” vision of God Ezekiel has in the first chapter. We gather it was some sort of brilliant, overwhelming, machine-like appearance of God similar to Isaiah’s vision in the sixth chapter of his book.
In the second chapter, we read of his calling, summed up verse 8, “But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then God continues,
But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are…Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says,” whether they listen or fail to listen.
The first action we see from Ezekiel after his vision of God is far different from what we see from Isaiah. After Isaiah sees God in all his glory, he goes boldly to Ahaz, saying, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of God also?” (7:13)
But we see Ezekiel virtually incapacitated after his own vision.
The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where the were living, I sat among them for seven days – overwhelmed. (Ezekiel 3:14-15)
One of my passions is to find the dirty details in Scripture. Oh, I love the fiery rebukes from the prophets, but it doesn’t seem like we spend enough time examining the less “preachy-sounding” details of the word of God.
Consider Psalm 22. While it is certainly best understood in terms of its prophetic value, do we ever read it as David’s personal plea to a God whom he feels has abandoned him? Or do we only care about it inasmuch as we can see its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s death? I’m not suggesting we should neglect an ultimate focus on Christ as we study God’s word, but we get more spiritual food when we are willing to see the immediate meaning of the text as well as its ultimate significance.
I had a double-take when I read through all of this. Going through this section a second time, words like “bitterness”, “anger of my spirit”, and “overwhelmed” stuck out to me. Though my life on this earth is nothing compared with Ezekiel’s (at least in the last 24 years of my life), I realized I was reading about someone a lot like me.
Now think about Ezekiel’s condition at this point in his life:
In the first chapter we read that he had just turned 30. While I don’t know really anything about his hopes and ambitions at this point, I think its safe to assume that Ezekiel had different plans than becoming a marked man of God to a rebellious people. Not only was he bitter, he was overwhelmed. I imagine he must’ve felt something like post-traumatic stress syndrome, having seen a powerful vision of a wrathful, holy God who was prepared to exact judgment on backsliding Israel. If you can fully understand his vision, you’ve done more than any other reader of the Bible. Over and over, Ezekiel must resort to similes as normal human experiences are quite inadequate to convey the full magnificence and terror he observed.
So Ezekiel, the mighty prophet, had a very understandable response: he was shocked and upset.
Despite this, he did not lash out at God.
All we know he did was sit “among his people”, waiting for God to reveal whatever happened next.
Are you willing to wait in times of hardship? Do you understand God has a plan, even if you do not know it?
Consider the words of Jeremiah:
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he should bear The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and be silent Since He has laid it on him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust,
Perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
Let him be filled with reproach.
For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.
To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the land,
To deprive a man of justice In the presence of the Most High,
To defraud a man in his lawsuit–
Of these things the Lord does not approve.