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The Prophet Ordered to Eat the Roll; Instructions Given to the Prophet; The Prophet's Instructions; Ezekiel's Reluctance to Be a Reprover. (b. c. 595.)
1 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll. 3 And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness. 4 And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. 5 For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; 6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. 7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. 8 Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. 9 As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. 10 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. 11 And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. 12 Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place. 13 I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. 14 So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me. 15 Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
These verses are fitly joined by some translators to the foregoing chapter, as being of a piece with it and a continuation of the same vision. The prophets received the word from God that they might deliver it to the people of God, furnished themselves that they might furnish them with the knowledge of the mind and will of God. Now here the prophet is taught,
I. How he must receive divine revelation himself, v. 1. Christ (whom he saw upon the throne, ch. i. 26) said to him, "Son of man, eat this roll, admit this revelation into thy understanding, take it, take the meaning of it, understand it aright, admit it into thy heart, apply it, and be affected with it; imprint it in thy mind, ruminate and chew the cud upon it; take it as it is entire, and make no difficulty of it, nay, take a pleasure in it as thou dost in thy meat, and let thy soul be nourished and strengthened by it; let it be meat and drink to thee, and as thy necessary food; be full of it, as thou art of the meat thou hast eaten." Thus ministers should in their studies and meditations take in that word of God which they are to preach to others. Thy words were found, and I did eat them, Jer. xv. 16. They must be both well acquainted and much affected with the things of God, that they may speak of them both clearly and warmly, with a great deal of divine light and heat. Now observe, 1. How this command is inculcated upon the prophet. In the foregoing chapter, Eat what I give thee; and here (v. 1), "Eat that thou findest, that which is presented to thee by the hand of Christ." Note, Whatever we find to be the word of God, whatever is brought to us by him who is the Word of God, we must receive it without disputing. What we find set before us in the scripture, that we must eat. And again (v. 3), "Cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll; do not eat it and bring it up again, as that which is nauseous, but eat it and retain it, as that which is nourishing and grateful to the stomach. Feast upon this vision till thou be full of matter, as Elihu was, Job xxxii. 18. Let the word have a place in thee, the innermost place." We must take pains with our own hearts, that we may cause them duly to receive and entertain the word of God, that every faculty may do its office, in order to the due digesting of the word of God, that it may be turned in succum et sanguinem—into blood and spirits. We must empty ourselves of worldly things, that we may fill our bowels with this roll. 2. How this command is explained (v. 10): "All my words that I shall speak unto thee, to be spoken unto the people, thou must receive in thy heart, as well as hear with thy ears, receive them in the love of them." Let these sayings sink down into your ears, Luke ix. 44. Christ demands the prophet's attention not only to what he now says, but to all that he shall at any time hereafter speak: Receive it all in thy heart; meditate on these things and give thyself wholly to them, 1 Tim. iv. 15. 3. How this command was obeyed in vision. He opened his mouth and Christ caused him to eat the roll, v. 2. If we be truly willing to receive the word into our hearts, Christ will by his Spirit bring it into them and cause it to dwell in us richly. If he that opens the roll, and by his Spirit, as a Spirit of revelation, spreads it before us, did not also open our understanding, and by his Spirit, as a Spirit of wisdom, give us the knowledge of it and cause us to eat it, we should be for ever strangers to it. The prophet had reason to fear that the roll would be an unpleasant morsel and a sorry dish to make a meal of, but it proved to be in his mouth as honey for sweetness. Note, if we readily obey even the most difficult commands, we shall find that comfort in the reflection which will make us abundant amends for all the hardships we meet with in the way of our duty. Though the roll was filled with lamentations, and mourning, and woe, yet it was to the prophet as honey for sweetness. Note, Gracious souls can receive those truths of God with great delight which speak most terror to wicked people. We find St. John let into some part of the revelation by such a sign as this, Rev. x. 9, 10. He took the book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up, and it was, as this, in his mouth sweet as honey; but it was bitter in the belly; and we shall find that this was so too, for (v. 14) the prophet went in bitterness.
II. How he must deliver that divine revelation to others which he himself had received (v. 1): Eat this roll, and then go, speak to the house of Israel. He must not undertake to preach the things of God to others till he did himself fully understand them; let him not go without his errand, nor take it by the halves. But when he does himself fully understand them he must be both busy and bold to preach them for the good of others. We must not conceal the words of the Holy One (Job vi. 10), for that is burying a talent which was given us to trade with. He must go and speak to the house of Israel; for it is their privilege to have God's statutes and judgments made known to them; as the giving of the law (the lively oracles), so prophecy (the living oracles) pertains to them. He is not sent to the Chaldeans to reprove them for their sins, but to the house of Israel to reprove them for theirs; for the father corrects his own child if he do amiss, not the child of a stranger.
1. The instructions given him in speaking to them are much the same with those in the foregoing chapter.
(1.) He must speak to them all that, and that only, which God spoke to him. He had said before (ch. ii. 7): Thou shalt speak my words to them; here he says (v. 4), Thou shalt speak with my words unto them, or in my words. He must not only say that which for substance is the same that God had said to him, but as near as may be in the same language and expressions. Blessed Paul, though a man of a very happy invention, yet speaks of the things of God in the words which the Holy Ghost teaches, 1 Cor. ii. 13. Scripture truths look best in scripture language, their native dress; and how can we better speak God's mind than with his words?
(2.) He must remember that they are the house of Israel whom he is sent to speak to, God's house and his own; and therefore such as he ought to have a particular concern for and to deal faithfully and tenderly with. They were such as he had an intimate acquaintance with, being not only their countryman, but their companion in tribulation; they and he were fellow-sufferers, and had lately been fellow-travellers, in very melancholy circumstances, from Judea to Babylon, and had often mingled their tears, which could not but knit their affections to each other. It was well for the people that they had a prophet who knew experimentally how to sympathize with them, and could not but be touched with the feeling of their infirmities. It was well for the prophet that he had to do with those of his own nation, not with a people of strange speech and a hard language, deep of lip, so that thou canst not fathom their meaning, and heavy of tongue, whom it is intolerable and impossible to converse with. Every strange language seems to us to be deep and heavy. "Thou art not sent to many such people, whom thou couldst neither speak to nor hear from, neither understand nor be understood among but by an interpreter." The apostles indeed were sent to many people of a strange speech, but they could not have done any good among them if they had not had the gift of tongues; but Ezekiel was sent only to one people, those but a few, and his own, whom having acquaintance with he might hope to find acceptance with.
(3.) He must remember what God had already told him of the bad character of those to whom he was sent, that, if he met with discouragement and disappointment in them, he might not be offended. They are impudent and hard-hearted (v. 7), no convictions of sin would make them blush, no denunciations of wrath would make them tremble. Two things aggravated their obstinacy:— [1.] That they were more obstinate than their neighbours would have been if the prophet had been sent to them. Had God sent him to any other people, though of a strange speech, surely they would have hearkened to him; they would at least have given him a patient hearing and shown him that respect which he could not obtain of his own countrymen. The Ninevites were wrought upon by Jonah's preaching when the house of Israel, that was compassed about with so great a cloud of prophets, was unhumbled and unreformed. But what shall we say to these things? The means of grace are given to those that will not improve them and withheld from those that would have improved them. We must resolve this into the divine sovereignty, and say, Lord, thy judgments are a great deep. [2.] That they were obstinate against God himself: "They will not hearken unto thee, and no marvel, for they will not hearken unto me;" they will not regard the word of the prophet, for they will not regard the rod of God, by which the Lord's voice cries in the city. If they believe not God speaking to them by a minister, neither would they believe though he should speak to them by a voice from heaven; nay, therefore they reject what the prophet says, because it comes from God, whom the carnal mind is enmity to. They are prejudiced against the law of God, and for that reason turn a deaf ear to his prophets, whose business it is to enforce his law.
(4.) He must resolve to put on courage, and Christ promises to steel him with it, v. 8, 9. He is sent to such as are impudent and hard-hearted, who will receive no impressions nor be wrought upon either by fair means or foul, who will take a pride in affronting God's messenger and confronting the message. It will be a hard task to know how to deal with them; but, [1.] God will enable him to put a good face on it: "I have made thy face strong against their faces, endued thee with all the firmness and boldness that the case calls for." Perhaps Ezekiel was naturally bashful and timorous, but, if God did not find him fit, yet by his grace he made him fit, to encounter the greatest difficulties. Note, The more impudent wicked people are in their opposition to religion the more openly and resolutely should God's people appear in the practice and defence of it. Let the innocent stir up himself against the hypocrite, Job xvii. 8. When vice is daring let not virtue be sneaking. And, when God has work to do, he will animate men for it and give them strength according to the day. If there be occasion, God can and will by his grace make the foreheads of faithful ministers as an adamant, so that the most threatening powers shall not dash them out of countenance. The Lord God will help men, therefore have I set my face like a flint, Isa. l. 7. [2.] He is therefore commanded to have a good heart on it, and to go on in his work with a holy security, not valuing either the censures or the threats of his enemies: "Fear not, neither be dismayed at their looks; let not the menaces of their impotent malice cast either a damp upon thee or a stumbling-block before thee." Bold sinners must have bold reprovers; evil beasts must be rebuked cuttingly (Tit. i. 12, 13), must be saved with fear, Jude 23. Those that keep closely to the service of God may be sure of the favour of God, and then they need not be dismayed at the proud looks of men. Let not the angry countenance that drives away a back-biting tongue give any check to a reproving tongue.
(5.) He must continue instant with them in his preaching, whatever the success was, v. 11. He must go to those of the captivity, who, being in affliction, it was to be hoped would receive instruction; he must look upon them as the children of his people, to whom he was nearly allied, and for whom he therefore ought to have a very tender concern, as Paul for his kinsmen, Rom. ix. 3. And he must tell them not only what the Lord said, but that the Lord said it; let him speak in God's name, and back what he said with his authority: Thus saith the Lord God; tell them so, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear. Not that it may be indifferent to us what success our ministry has, but, whatever it be, we must go on with our work and leave the issue to God. We must not say "Here are some so good that we do not need to speak to them," or, "Here are others so bad that it is to no purpose to speak to them;" but, however it be, deliver thy message faithfully, tell them, The Lord God saith so and so, let them reject it at their peril.
2. Full instructions being thus given to the prophet, pursuant to his commission, we are here told,
(1.) With what satisfaction this mission of his was applauded by the holy angels, who were very well pleased to see one of a nature inferior to their own thus honourable employed and entrusted. He heard a voice of a great rushing (v. 12), as if the angels thronged and crowded to see the inauguration of a prophet; for to them is known by the church (that is, by reflection from the church) the manifold wisdom of God, Eph. iii. 10. They seemed to strive who should get nearest to this great sight. He heard the noise of their wings that touched, or (as the word is) kissed one another, denoting the mutual affections and assistances of the angels. He heard also the noise of the wheels of Providence moving over-against the angels and in concert with them. All this was to engage his attention and to convince him that the God who sent him, having such a glorious train of attendants, no doubt had power sufficient to bear him out in his work. But all this noise ended in the voice of praise. He heard them saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place. [1.] From heaven, his place above, whence his glory was now in vision descending, or whither perhaps it was now returning. Let the innumerable company of angels above join with those employed in this vision in saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord. Praise you the Lord from the heavens. Praise him, all his angels, Ps. cxlviii. 1, 2. [2.] From the temple, his place on earth, whence his glory was now departing. They lament the departure of the glory, but adore the righteousness of God in it: however it be, yet God is blessed and glorious, and ever will be so. The prophet Isaiah heard God thus praised when he received his commission (Isa. vi. 3); and a comfort it is to all the faithful servants of God, when they see how much God is dishonoured in this lower world, to think how much he is admired and glorified in the upper world. The glory of the Lord has many slights from our place, but many praises from his place.
(2.) With what reluctance of his own spirit, and yet with what a mighty efficacy of the Spirit of God, the prophet was himself brought to the execution of his office. The grace given to him was not in vain; for, [1.] The Spirit led him with a strong hand. God bade him go, but he stirred not till the Spirit took him up. The Spirit of the living creatures that was in the wheels now was in the prophet too, and took him up, first to hear more distinctly the acclamations of the angels (v. 12), but afterwards (v. 14) lifted him up, and took him away to his work, which he was backward to, being very loth either to bring trouble upon himself or foretel it to his people. He would gladly have been excused, but must own, as another prophet does (Jer. xx. 7), Thou was stronger than I, and hast prevailed. Ezekiel would willingly have kept all he heard and saw to himself, that it might go no further, but the hand of the Lord was strong upon him and overpowered him; he was carried on contrary to his own inclinations by the prophetical impulse, so that he could not but speak the things which he had heard and seen, as the apostles, Acts iv. 20. Note, Those whom God calls to the ministry, as he furnishes their heads for it, so he bows their hearts to it. [2.] He followed with a sad heart: The Spirit took me away, says he, and then I went, but it was in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit. He had perhaps seen what a hard task Jeremiah had at Jerusalem when he appeared as a prophet, what pains he took, what opposition he met with, how he was abused by hand and tongue, and what ill treatment he met with, and all to no purpose. "And" (thinks Ezekiel) "must I be set up for a mark like him?" The life of a captive was bad enough; but what would the life of a prophet in captivity be? Therefore he went in this fret and under this discomposure. Note, There may in some cases be a great reluctance of corruption even where there is a manifest predominance of grace. "I went, not disobedient to the heavenly vision, or shrinking from the work, as Jonah, but I went in bitterness, not at all pleased with it." When he received the divine revelation himself, it was to him sweet as honey (v. 3); he could with abundance of pleasure have spent all his days in meditating upon it; but when he is to preach it to others, who, he foresees, will be hardened and exasperated by it, and have their condemnation aggravated, then he goes in bitterness. Note, It is a great grief to faithful ministers, and makes them go on in their work with a heavy heart, when they find people untractable and hating to be reformed. He went in the heat of his spirit, because of the discouragements he foresaw he should meet with; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon him, not only to compel him to his work, but to fit him for it, to carry him through it, and animate him against the difficulties he would meet with (so we may understand it); and, when he found it so, he was better reconciled to his business and applied himself to it: Then he came to those of the captivity (v. 15), to some place where there were many of them together, and sat where they sat, working, or reading, or talking, and continued among them seven days to hear what they said and observe what they did; and all that time he was waiting for the word of the Lord to come to him. Note, Those that would speak suitably and profitably to people about their souls must acquaint themselves with them and with their case, must do as Ezekiel did here, must sit where they sit, and speak familiarly to them of the things of God, and put themselves into their condition, yea, though they sit by the rivers of Babylon. But observe, He was there astonished, overwhelmed with grief for the sins and miseries of his people and overpowered by the pomp of the vision he had seen. He was there desolate (so some read it); God showed him no visions, men made him no visit. Thus was he left to digest his grief, and come to a better temper, before the word of the Lord should come to him. Note, Those whom God designs to exalt and enlarge he first humbles and straitens for a time.