By Dr. Mark Scott
The librarian says, “You are what you read.” The designer says, “You are what you wear.” The athlete says, “You are what you train.” Hollywood says, “You are what you watch.” But the dietician says, “You are what you eat.” Ezekiel’s call to prophetic service embraced eating something.
The call of Ezekiel was involved, took the bulk of three chapters to recount, and encompassed most of his physical senses. In Ezekiel 1 his call involved seeing the glory of the Lord evident in the four living creatures and the famous wheel within a wheel. In chapter 2 his call involved standing and hearing the voice of the Lord. In chapter 3 his call involved eating a scroll and speaking out of that meal.
Ezekiel rightly follows Jeremiah’s writings in the biblical canon. Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian exile, and Ezekiel was part of it. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel was a priest who would also function as a prophet. Jeremiah’s call came in his mother’s womb while Ezekiel’s call came by the Kebar River in Babylon. Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles (Jeremiah 29) while Ezekiel lived among them.
Eugene Peterson wrote a book entitled Eat This Book. It is a call for preachers and believers to consume the Word of God. Maybe we have nothing to say if we have not first listened, received, and consumed the Word of God. Ezekiel was told by God to eat this scroll. The word eat means to devour or consume, while the word scroll means a book or roll. The scroll obviously contained the message of God for his people. The phrase eat this scroll occurs twice in these three verses and is similar to what John experienced (Revelation 10:9-11).
The scroll tasted good—sweet as honey. God’s words are likened to honey (Psalm 19:10) and always bless (Revelation 1:3). But because they deal with truth, there can be a sour taste as well (10:10). There is a tradition that describes what rabbis do in teaching their students. As the lesson begins the rabbis put a drop of honey on the students’ tongues—to remind them of the sweetness of studying the Word of God.
Once Ezekiel internalized the message of God, he was told to go and speak to Israel. One would think that since it is God’s Word and these are God’s people then there would be a guaranteed positive response. Actually, it was just the opposite. God even warned Ezekiel ahead of time that his message would be met with tremendous resistance. In fact, Ezekiel would get a better response by total foreigners (those of obscure speech and strange language) than with Israel. Ezekiel did not have a speaking problem since he had internalized the Word of God. But Israel did have a listening problem. The word for listen appears throughout this text and is the famous Hebrew word, shema. This was the word used to call Israel to worship (Deuteronomy 6:4). It meant to hear, heed, and obey.
God reminded Ezekiel that Israel’s listening problem was not with him as their prophet but with God himself. To counter their resistance to the message, God would toughen Ezekiel. God promised to make Ezekiel as unyielding and hardened as they are. God used a metaphor that underlined stubbornness (I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint). The phrase hardest stone comes from a word that means adamant, emery, like a sharp stone much like that of a diamond.
Ezekiel was told not to fear the people nor be terrified by them. This word means to be discouraged, dismayed, or “to break in pieces.” Even though Israel was rebellious, Ezekiel had to be ready to speak out. Prophets did not speak because people listened. Prophets spoke because it glorified God.
Ezekiel 3:10, 11
Now the word that was used earlier to Israel is used for the prophet himself—listen. Ezekiel was to take to heart (receive or welcome into his heart) God’s Word. A prophet is not worth his salt if he (or she) is not tuned in to God.
For the second time God said to Ezekiel, Go now. This prophetic call came in waves or layers in these opening chapters. Ezekiel was to speak to the exiles and remind them of what the Sovereign Lord says. Listening was the people’s job. Speaking was the prophet’s job. Glorifying his own name through the message is God’s job.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.