Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Listening to God isn’t as easy as it should be. My wife Lindsay and I have been blessed with four amazing children who are currently under 11 years old. Often (every day?) I will say something, give some instruction that is probably carefully worded and full of compassion and grace, and… nothing happens. I get blank stares if anything. They heard me, but they didn’t hear me. In this case listening isn’t just about physically hearing words, or even intellectually comprehending them. Listening is about acting in light of what was said. It’s not a stretch to say the same applies to us spiritually.
Ezekiel is a prophet who ministered to Israel while they were in exile in Babylon. Today we’re continuing our journey through Ezekiel’s first vision. Remember that God gave him this vision after the first five years of exile. God had something to say to Israel through Ezekiel, but the question was would they listen. In preparing him to hear this instruction, God revealed his divine throne room and glory to Ezekiel. The prophet fell down in worship, ready to hear from the Lord.
This moment of worship was the foundation for the entire prophetic message that God would give Ezekiel. Worship is a prerequisite for life change. We cannot obey God in faith if we do not value him above all else. As we consider what the Lord said to Ezekiel, today we will be challenged to consider how we listen to God. Let those who have ears to hear, hear…
Ezek. 2:1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you.” 2 As he spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and I listened to the one who was speaking to me. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebellious pagans who have rebelled against me. The Israelites and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this day. 4 The descendants are obstinate and hardhearted. I am sending you to them, and you must say to them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says.’ 5 Whether they listen or refuse to listen for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.
We realize quickly that in this vision Ezekiel is not only seeing the throne room of God, he is standing in the throne room of God. The Spirit of God enabled Ezekiel to stand and hear the word of God. He calls Ezekiel “Son of man,” which is a Hebrew way of referring to a human being. This makes good sense when we remember the cherubim are the only other beings in the vision.
God tells Ezekiel he is sending him to speak to Israel, by which he means Israelites in exile in Babylon. He describes them with unfortunate accuracy as “the rebellious pagans who have rebelled against me.” God clarifies that this refers to sins both past and present. He furthermore clarifies that this rebellion in action is due to the fact that they are “obstinate and hardhearted.”
We need to see here the connection between Israel’s sinful choices and their heart attitude. We know from other prophets that their sinful actions were marked by not loving God (by worshipping false gods) and not loving people (by taking advantage of others). Those words and deeds were driven by a stubborn heart that persistently refused to submit to God.
Ezek. 2:3 He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebellious pagans who have rebelled against me. The Israelites and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this day. 4 The descendants are obstinate and hardhearted. I am sending you to them, and you must say to them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says.’ 5 Whether they listen or refuse to listen for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.
God explains Israel’s rebellious hearts to Ezekiel because he is sending Ezekiel to preach to them. His job as a prophet is to proclaim God’s word to Israel, whether they listen or not. One way or another, they will know that Ezekiel was a legitimate prophet.
Ezek. 2:6 “But you, son of man, do not be afraid of them and do not be afraid of their words, even though briers and thorns are beside you and you live among scorpions. Don’t be afraid of their words or discouraged by the look on their faces, for they are a rebellious house. 7 Speak my words to them whether they listen or refuse to listen, for they are rebellious.
Under these circumstances, Ezekiel would be right to be afraid. God comforts him even though he is threatened by thorns and scorpions—metaphors for hard hearted listeners. They will attack with words and angry looks, but that’s because they are rebellious at heart. Again, his job is to preach, whether they listen or not.
Ezek. 2:8 “And you, son of man, listen to what I tell you: Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” 9 So I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me, and there was a written scroll in it. 10 When he unrolled it before me, it was written on the front and back; words of lamentation, mourning, and woe were written on it.
As for Ezekiel, God commands him to be the opposite of Israel- he is to open his mouth and eat what is given to him. At this point, we see a hand and a scroll. The scroll is written on both sides, which was unusual. This meant it was entirely filled. Furthermore, the words on it would produce sadness and morning. These are words of confrontation, and Ezekiel is called to chew, swallow, and digest this message so that he can give it to Israel.
Ezek. 3:1 He said to me: “Son of man, eat what you find here. Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. 3 “Son of man,” he said to me, “feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving you.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.
So Ezekiel took the scroll and ate it. As he did so, the scroll was sweet as honey. This means that the message, although a message of judgment, was pleasing. This is significant, because rather than these words being bitter to Ezekiel, his humility and lack of obstinacy resulted in his positive reception of God’s word.
Here we start to see the point of this part of the vision—when Israel rejects God’s word (given through the prophets), they suffer. When they listen to God’s word and respond accordingly, it is sweet to them. Thus some people respond to the Bible with anger and rejection, while others respond with joy and acceptance. The difference is in the heart of the hearer.
Ezek. 3:4 Then he said to me: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. 5 For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or a difficult language but to the house of Israel— 6 not to the many peoples of unintelligible speech or a difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. No doubt, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you.
The Israelites in exile weren’t a foreign mission field for Ezekiel. He knew the language. But God tells him that his message would be better received if he went to a foreign people with a difficult language. This anticipates what we find in the New Testament when the gospel finds better soil in the Greek speaking population of the Roman Empire than in the people of Israel. The issue is always the heart of the listener.
Ezek. 3:7 But the house of Israel will not want to listen to you because they do not want to listen to me. For the whole house of Israel is hardheaded and hardhearted. 8 Look, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9 I have made your forehead like a diamond, harder than flint. Don’t be afraid of them or discouraged by the look on their faces, though they are a rebellious house.”
God describes Israel again as rebellious, literally “hardheaded and hardhearted.” Ezekiel will need to be equally persistent in his preaching of God’s word. He must not fear them or be discouraged by their lack of reception of his message of confrontation. He must insist on confronting their sin.
Ezek. 3:10 Next he said to me: “Son of man, listen carefully to all my words that I speak to you and take them to heart. 11 Go to your people, the exiles, and speak to them. Tell them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says,’ whether they listen or refuse to listen.”
For Ezekiel to effectively deliver the message, he must first listen to God’s words and “take them to heart.” This means that he must embrace the message before he proclaims it. Once again, God warns him that the people may or may not listen to his preaching. After all, the content of his message wasn’t his own clever construct, it was the very Word of the Lord.
As Ezekiel relates his prophetic commission and job description, he already begins the process of confronting Israel for their rebellious hearts and refusal to listen to God’s word. In effect, he wants his reader to say, “Not me! I will listen! I will obey! I will change!” What about you? What’s your normal response when God confronts your sin through a passage in the Bible? Will you eat the scroll?
The Big Picture
There are many places in the Bible where God describes the varying responses to his word. Perhaps the most striking is in John 1 where Jesus, the Word become flesh, is rejected by his own people. In John 1:11 the Apostle John says of Jesus, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” To many, Jesus will be bitter. To others, Jesus will be sweet.
Rebellion is not a new phenomenon. Adam and Eve’s choice to sin in the garden was rebellion- refusal to agree with God and submit to him. Instead they believed Satan’s lie and did what they wanted. They put themselves in the place of authority, rather than God.
If we are willing to consider our hearts before the Lord, we must ask, “How do I respond to Jesus and his message?” Just like Ezekiel’s time, today our mainstream culture refuses to submit to Jesus. It will take persistence and determination to embrace God’s message, acknowledge our sin, and walk in repentance and faith.
Taking It Home
Rebellion against God is always a problem. As we think about applying Ezekiel 2:1-3:11 we need to confront our own personal brand of rebellion. What does it look like for us to reject God’s authority?
At a bare minimum we know that rebellion is making sinful decisions, and persisting in idolatry. For many of us, we fight a constant battle against sinful habits that are deeply entrenched in our hearts. We must never settle for a hard heart, or a hard head.
Rebellion isn’t just about flagrantly sinful decisions. It also takes the form of a refusal to be held accountable by the church. When was the last time you allowed someone to speak into your life about sin? Are you teachable? Approachable? Often our reflexive response when we are confronted about sin is to defend ourselves. The person who is listening to God’s Word is ready to admit sin, and although it isn’t easy, they desire to root it out.
When was the last time you consciously repented in prayer to God? Many people who claim to be followers of Jesus persist in rebellion and repeatedly reject God’s Word. It’s important for us to articulate our repentance in genuine, contrite prayer. It might look something like this, “God, please forgive me. I spoke in a hateful way to my co-worker. I confess that was sinful. Help me to walk by your Spirit and speak in ways that honor you and uplift others. Jesus, thank you for paying for my sin on the cross and purchasing my redemption. Amen.”
God’s Word is a two edged sword here- it is bitter when it is rejected, but sweet when it is embraced. This means how we relate to God is determined by how we relate to his Word. Jesus said it this way in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So what about you? Is God’s Word sweet to you, even when it points out your sin? Do you really hear him?
- Praise him for graciously loving sinners and providing a way for us to be forgiven for our stubborn rebellion. Praise Jesus for dying for our hard-heartedness.
- Take time to confess any rebellious attitudes you have toward the Lord. Articulate your desire to change for God’s glory.
- Ask God to give you an appetite for his Word, and to protect you from a rebellious heart. Ask him to continue to expose your sin, and to lead you in righteousness by his Spirit.