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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 3

 

 

Verses 1-3

1-3. Ezekiel’s preparation for future speech, by making the truth which he was to utter a part of himself, required the co-operation of the human and the divine. God furnished the truth (Ezekiel 2:9) and caused him to eat it (Ezekiel 3:2); but it was also needed that Ezekiel should accept it of his own will and use all his energies in the attempt to assimilate it (Ezekiel 3:3). Notwithstanding the bitterness of the message it became sweet to the taste when obediently accepted. To the true prophet even “God’s bitter word is sweet.” (Compare Jeremiah 15:16; Psalms 19:10; Revelation 10:8-11.)


Verses 4-7

4-7. The prophet having learned the character of the message he is expected to deliver, Jehovah urges him to immediate action. Although no word is recorded one can be sure that there has come into the prophet’s mind, and perhaps been uttered by his lips, the self-depreciative argument against his acceptance of the commission which Moses had uttered many centuries before: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent,… but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Jehovah replies: Thou art not sent, as Moses was, to a foreign people, “of dark speech and heavy tongue,” but to your own countrymen. Thou art not sent to the Babylonian capital, amidst the strange multitude of many peoples “whose words thou canst not understand,” but to those who speak your own language. There is no need of any gift of tongues. But do not be deceived, it is not eloquence that you need any more than Moses did. Even the Assyrians would listen to your broken and stammering message with more respect than will these men, so “stiff of forehead and hard-hearted,” even though your words be like music (Ezekiel 33:32). It is not the manner, but the message to which they object. “They will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me.”


Verse 8-9

8, 9. Jehovah declares that though the people to whom he will speak “are stiff-faced” and “hard of heart,” he himself will make the prophet as strong and persistent as they, with a forehead hard as adamant, or “diamond” (Kautzsch; see also Jeremiah 17:1). He need not fear them nor their looks, “for they are a rebellious house.” Loyalty is stronger than rebellion, and righteousness may well be braver than sin. (Compare Isaiah 50:7.)


Verse 10-11

10, 11. The repetition of the commands Receive… hear… go shows the hesitancy of the prophet. The repetition of the statement Thus saith the Lord is both a warning and an encouragement. It warns the prophet of the awful sin of disobedience; it encourages him: because any message that comes directly from the Lord Jehovah a man ought to be willing to deliver to the people, whether they will listen to it or not.


Verse 12

12. The spirit took me up — Literally, a spirit, or wind. (Compare Ezekiel 1:4.) Perhaps the meaning is that the whirlwind lifted him when the glory departed, and notwithstanding his rebellion of spirit took him to his disagreeable lifework; perhaps it refers only to inner compulsion (Ezekiel 3:14).

I heard behind me… a great rushing — The chariot of Jehovah leaves at the same time as the prophet, and in the distance he hears the wings of the cherubim “kiss” each other, and the noise of the wheels “beside them,” as they rush forward (Ezekiel 3:13; compare Ezekiel 1:9; Ezekiel 1:11; Ezekiel 1:23).

Saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place — The text here is almost untranslatable, but by the change of one letter we get a reading corresponding to the parallel passages when the glory of the Lord was lifted up (Ezekiel 1:19-24; Ezekiel 10:5; Ezekiel 10:19; Ezekiel 11:22-23).


Verses 12-15

THE PREACHER’S BITTERNESS OF SPIRIT, AND HIS UTTER DISCOMFITURE IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS FIRST CONGREGATION, Ezekiel 3:12-15.

Here the turbulent, passionate nature of the prophet displays itself. This is not at all inconsistent with sensitiveness and tenderness. St. John was by nature a “son of thunder.” Both of these great spirits needed to feel the controlling “hand of the Lord” upon them. Ezekiel, as he heard Jehovah’s plan for him grew hot, and angry, and bitter(Ezekiel 3:14). “A” spirit controlled him then (Hebrews). It was only after a second visit from Jehovah that “the” spirit came to him (Ezekiel 3:24), and he needed no compulsion henceforth to drive him to his work.


Verse 14

14. I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit — The taste that was at first sweet (Ezekiel 3:3) is now bitter. (Compare Revelation 10:9-10; Matthew 26:41.) The bitterness is an angry bitterness (Judges 18:25; 2 Samuel 17:8), and the heat of spirit is the hotness of wrath. (See notes Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:10-11.) Almost all expositors believe this to have been fury against the sins which he was about to condemn (compare Jeremiah 6:11); but his spirit toward his countrymen in other passages, taken in connection with all the circumstances of his call and his refusal to speak until again and again God had appeared to him and warned him not to rebel, declaring that if he did not warn the people their blood would be upon his own head (Ezekiel 3:20), added to the repeated statement that he only succeeded finally in doing as he was commanded because the hand of the Lord was heavy upon him, leads us to the conclusion that this bitterness and heat of spirit was caused by the prophet’s unwillingness to enter upon the work to which God called him. (Compare Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:1.) The utter inadequacy of the usual explanation is illustrated in the Expositor’s Bible, where this “bitterness” and “heat” is declared to be due to the “mental prostration” produced by the vision, or, as Bertholet more bluntly puts it, “it was a psychological reaction from his cataleptic state.”(!) Rather see our notes Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:10-11; Ezekiel 3:15-21; Ezekiel 16:44.


Verse 15

15. Tel-abib — This was the name of the village where most of the Hebrew community seems to have resided, on the river Chebar. (Compare Ezekiel 1:3.) The meaning of the term is given differently by different scholars; for example, Kuenen, following the Vulgate, “Cornear Hill;” Fred. Delitzsch, “Forest Hill;” more recently, “Mound of the Storm” (Pinches), or, “Hill of the Deluge” (Haupt). All over Mesopotamia are ancient mounds, or “tells.” This word may indicate that the Israelites resided on or near the ruins of an ancient city (Abib).

I sat where they sat — Literally, to where they lived. Toy translates the latter half of the verse, “and sat there among them seven days dismayed.”

Astonished… seven days — Kautzsch, “staring;” that is, dumb and motionless. This does not seem to have been a silence commanded of God, such as occurred later (Ezekiel 3:26). God had again and again commanded Ezekiel to “speak” (Ezekiel 2:4; Ezekiel 2:7; Ezekiel 3:4; Ezekiel 3:11); but through bitterness of spirit the prophet remained silent. The vision was over, and he found himself, as if carried by the wind, before the very people whom Jehovah had commanded him to rebuke. But they were his neighbors and countrymen, and companions in affliction, and for seven days the prophet remained silent. Perhaps he was physically overcome by the vision, perhaps humility and lack of self-confidence may partially explain this conduct, but more probably it was a deep repugnance to the task assigned him. He only remained on the spot because the hand of the Lord “was heavy upon him” (Ezekiel 3:14). His body was controlled by that Hand as if he, too, were a “wheel” or a “living creature;” yet his tongue was free, and his rebellious spirit refused to utter the awful message which he had seen written in the roll (Ezekiel 2:9; Job 2:13).


Verse 16

JEHOVAH AGAIN LAYS HIS HAND UPON THE PROPHET AND RECOMMISSIONS HIM WITH INCREASED SOLEMNITY, Ezekiel 3:16-21.

16. At the end of seven days — God was tender with the disobedient prophet; for the task was far harder than Jonah’s or Moses’, in that it was not the heathen, but his own friends whom he must condemn and from whom he must receive scorn. What he was to say would seem to them both treason and blasphemy; for he was commanded to utter words against Israel and the holy city and the holy temple as terrible as former prophets had been commanded to speak against Egypt or Philistia or Babylon. No wonder the tongue of the prophet was paralyzed even as he attempted to obey. For an entire week Jehovah watched the inward struggle, and then again spoke to him of the heinousness of his rebellion, explaining to him that silence on his part would not cause the escape of his guilty countrymen and would bring bloodguiltiness upon his own soul.


Verses 17-21

17-21. Jehovah uses a figure to describe the prophet’s duty with which doubtless Ezekiel was well acquainted (Jeremiah 6:17). A silent prophet is like the watchman who, sleeping at his post, fails to warn the city of danger. Such a sentinel is guilty of death. If he gives the warning, some may save themselves; but even if no one is saved, the sentinel is guiltless. Just so with the prophet. If he does not reprove the people for their sins, he is guilty of a capital crime. If he utters the word of warning, they may repent and escape punishment; but whether they repent or not, the watchman has delivered his soul. The principles of judgment are here emphasized with special reference to the prophet. In chaps. xviii and xxxiii they are more fully explained with reference to the disobedient people to whom he speaks.


Verse 18

18. In his iniquity — Perhaps, through his iniquity. “It is of the nature of sin that it is made the instrument of its own punishment (Job 8:4).” — Davidson.


Verse 20

20. I lay a stumbling-block — For an explanation of God’s agency in temptation see chap. xviii and Plumptre, Pulpit Commentary, p. 49. Every man in the last hour of his life trips over a stumbling-block — which God sees, and permits to remain — and falls into the grave. The point here is that if the prophet fails to warn a man who once was righteous but is now wicked, and he dies without repentance, he will be lost, and his blood will be upon the head of the silent watchman.


Verse 21

21. Warn the righteous man — The word of the prophet is not for out-breaking sinners only. The good man needs to be warned against falling into temptation. Ezekiel need not go to his people at Tel-abib speaking to them as if they were incorrigibles. The best Israelite needs the word of exhortation and warning.


Verse 22

22. The hand of the Lord was there upon me — He was still under divine compulsion. He felt God’s presence even when his glory was absent. He knew the power of the omnipotent Hand.

Go forth into the plain — This is either a continuance of the vision (Smend), or else, as we think, it is a command to come out where he can be alone with God.


Verses 22-27

THE SECOND VISION OF THE “GLORY OF THE LORD,” Ezekiel 3:22-27.

The argument of Jehovah seems to have brought Ezekiel to a partial realization of his duty, but it needed another talk and another vision to empower him for the work. After this second vision (which may have occurred some time after the argument just given) there are no further signs of heat or bitterness, and the manner in which he is addressed proves that his spirit had undergone a change.


Verse 23

23. Once more the prophet falls upon his face amazed before the wondrous glory of Jehovah. (See chaps. 1 and 10.)


Verse 24

24. Then the spirit entered into me — “A” spirit (Ezekiel 2:2; Ezekiel 3:14) has become “the” spirit now. Ezekiel has become acquainted with the action of this inner spiritual power. It is Jehovah’s spirit, for it “speaks,” and prophesies, and commands, and makes dumb (24-26).

Go, shut thyself within thine house — The object sought by commanding him to come into the “valley” seems already to have been accomplished. The prophet is ready now to obey, implicitly, without protest, any word of the Lord; yet he must shut himself within the house and wait yet a little longer before he delivers his message.


Verse 25

25. They shall put bands upon thee — Or, bands shall be put upon thee, and thou shalt be bound with them. If this is to be taken literally, it is the first sermon which Ezekiel is to preach to his countrymen. It will contain the lesson of his own helplessness. It will be a public confession of his inability to move hand or foot except as Jehovah bids him. This same lesson, less easily understood, however, might have been learned if the “bands” were purely mental. His seclusion in his own house might have caused remark and been attributed to a divine command.


Verse 26

26. Thou shalt be dumb — He who had previously refused to speak now finds himself unable to speak (compare Luke 1:20), and this dumbness is also to teach both himself and the people the lesson that his tongue is now fully controlled by Jehovah. God can speak through obedient silence as truly as through the most eloquent tongue. It is only disobedient silence which is condemned (Ezekiel 3:15). When the preacher is so moved by “the spirit” that he cannot speak, the sermon becomes impressive. This verse explains why, unlike other prophets, almost all Ezekiel’s sermons are preached in sign language. Not until after the capture of Jerusalem did Ezekiel fully recover the use of the tongue which he had so despised (Ezekiel 24:27; Ezekiel 33:22). Was this dumbness produced by physical disease (Klostermann, Orelli), or was it merely the sealing of the prophet’s lips by the divine commandment? Probably the latter; as in that case the lesson to the people would have been more certainly recognized.


Verse 27

27. Ezekiel will some day be able to speak, but when he does he will not speak of his own power; he will not speak his own words. (Compare Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9.)

He that forbeareth, etc. — The Septuagint translates, He that is disobedient, let him be disobedient. (Compare Revelation 22:2.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ezekiel-3.html. 1874-1909.

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