ETB Ezekiel 3:8-21

ETB Winter 2021-22  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Understand the Context

The Bible Knowledge Commentary Authorship and Date

All Ezekiel’s prophecies are arranged chronologically (starting with “the 5th year of the exile,” 1:2, and ending with “the 25th year of our exile,” 40:1, except the prophecies introduced in 29:1, 17). These two variations may be explained by the fact that they are grouped topically as part of the prophecies against Egypt in chapters 29–32.

Ezekiel is unique among the prophets in that his entire ministry was conducted outside of Palestine. Every date in Ezekiel, outside of the problematical “thirtieth year” of 1:1, is dated from the year in which Judah’s king Jehoiachin was carried into Babylonian captivity. The earliest date we find in Ezekiel is 593 B.C. (1:2). The latest date in the prophecy is 571 B.C. (29:17). Thus, Ezekiel’s ministry spans approximately twenty-two years.

God called Ezekiel to prophesy. In a vision, Ezekiel saw four living creatures that resembled earthly realities, yet were quite different (Ezek. 1:4-14). Dazzling wheels covered with eyes whirred through the air together with the living creatures (Ezk 1:15-21). Most significantly, he saw God’s throne and His glorious splendor (Ezk 1:26-28).
The Lord commissioned His new prophet (Ezk 2:1-10) then gave him a scroll to eat, symbolizing Ezekiel’s receiving God’s words (Ezk 2:8–3:3). The prophet was commanded to communicate all God’s words to the people (Ezk 3:16-27). [LifeWay Adults (2021). Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide - ESV - Winter 2022. LifeWay Press.]
Our lesson passage comes at the end of these introductory visions and God’s final words to Ezekiel before beginning a series of prophecies to be acted out. (Ezk 4:1-5:17).

Explore the Text

Ezekiel 3:8–9 ESV
Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”
After telling Ezekiel that He is sending him to a people, the house of Israel, that will not listen, God starts His declaration to Ezekiel himself. Ezekiel name means “God will strengthen or “God will harden” [Bible Knowledge Commentary] and sounds similar to the word “hard” repeated in the verse. There may have been a bit of word play but not for humor. God is using the same words here in verse 8 to describe Ezekiel that He used to describe the “obstinate and rebellious” people he was being sent to in verse 7. If God was going to change the path of these people’s lives, He was going to need something, or someone, harder than their determination to sin.
I do not think any geologists were consulted in translating these stone descriptions. Emery, diamond, adamant, flint, and granite are all quite different and vary in hardness, composition, and use. Flint is microcrystalline quartz and has a Mohs hardness of 7. Diamond is a mineral with a hardness of 10 but is so rare that it is more often associated with being priceless than hard. Corundum which some of our modern day “emery” boards are coated with and synthesized on many sandpapers is much more common had been mined since ancient times. It is only one step down from diamond with a hardness of 9.
Flint can be chipped by harder stones to create tools with fine, sharp edges. The Hebrew word for flint is often translated as “sharp stone”. But a flint knife cannot scratch a harder stone or mineral, like a gem of corundum. God is going to make Ezekiel’s “stubbornness” stronger than the people of the House of Israel so that when they do not listen and according to God’s warning in Ezk 2:6 possibly torture him, it will not chip away his will to obey God.
The word translated as fear could is also used for revere or respect. We are told at the end of Ecclesiastes to “Fear God and keep his commandments (Ecc 12:13). This reverential fear is reserved for God. Ezekiel may have been told to not be “afraid” of the Israeli people he was sent to but is definitely not to revere or respect them above God. “Dismayed” speaks to the feeling of being broken, afraid, or shattered. This was in part how God’s “hardening” was going help Ezekiel obey and deliver the message faithfully. The Hebrew word translated here as “looks” was translated as “face” in verse 8. The looks that should not affect Ezekiel’s resolve is not their general appearance but literally the “faces they make” when they hear God’s truths being spoken to them.
Although Ezekiel forehead and will may have been as hard as diamonds against the pressures and sins of the people, his heart was to remain malleable to God’s word.
Ezekiel 3:10–11 ESV
Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”
God uses the title “Son of man” when speaking to Ezekiel through the book and does not use his personal name. One commentary I read suggested this was to remind Ezekiel that he was a part of the same sinful line as Adam since that is the Hebrew word used for “man”. After telling the prophet that his audience would not listen, God emphasizes that His relationship with him should be different. What I speak to “you”, “you receive”, in “your” heart. Even though the House of Israel will not be willing to listen (Eze 3:7) Ezekiel was to listen to what God was speaking and “take it to heart”. God was not going to use a separate messenger to direct Ezekiel but was going to personally guide him. We too as believers in Christ of the New Testament covenant can hear directly through His Word and allow it to penetrate our hearts with His message. We realize that the word heart does not mean the literal organ but speaks to the inner man. It also translated as “understanding” three times in Job in reference to men of “understanding”. Taking God’s word “to heart” is therefore not some done causally but takes time to fully “understand” and let it become a part of your “inner being” where it can transform the “heart” more into the likeness of the Redeemer. More than just perceiving audible sounds, “hear” is an active listening and implies obedience. Adding “with your ears” is not suggesting that another part of the anatomy can perceive sound but emphasizing the need for obedience as the Hebrew word “is often used metaphorically as an instrument of obedience (Prov. 25:12) and intellect (Job 12:11; 13:1; Prov. 18:15; Eccl. 1:8).” [Baker, Warren, and Eugene E. Carpenter. The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament 2003 : 31. Print.]
Ezekiel was to hear, receive, and let God’s words to him transform his heart and evolve into the “sharp stone” that God need to speak to the people. Even though the people may “hear or refuse to hear”, Ezekiel’s responsibility and ours when we read God’s Word today was to be obedient to His revelation, how other people react to the message is between them and God.
Scripture affirms that God equips believers to do what He calls us to do. Sometimes, people will receive our message with joy; other times they will reject it and even shun us. Regardless, God’s followers can rest in the assurance that God will equip us for the task, and will accomplish His purpose as we are faithful. [LifeWay Adults (2021). Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide - ESV - Winter 2022. LifeWay Press.]
Similar to the “spiritual state” from his first visions in Chapters 1 and 2, Ezekiel is shown once again things that human eyes and ears cannot fully grasp but evoke great and deep emotions.
Ezekiel 3:12–13 ESV
Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake.
This great earthquake is the same as the “sound of tumult” that Ezekiel heard, saw, and felt in Ezk 1:24. The next phrase in the ESV is apparently what was being said, however it is unclear if this is the prophet’s interjection or from the living creatures in verse 13. This phrase seems to have the most significant variations of translations and commentary. The Hebrew scholars seem to have the widest variety. Some English translations use “rose” instead of “blessed” yet from the Hebrew tools I have available they appear to be 2 different words but only by a variation in accent marks. I chose therefore to let another portion of Scripture tell me this verse’s meaning and from apostle who was also given nearly identical visions of Heaven over 600 years later.
Revelation 4:6–8 ESV
and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
This series of visions now comes to an end for the prophet, and he must try to reconcile his glorious visions with what he sees in the physical world.
Ezekiel 3:14–15 ESV
The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.
Here is another one that has multiple variations of comments. If the “lifted me up” is literal than the “took me away” has to be as well. But the past visions have all been “in the Spirit” and not physical transports. The prophet’s emotions are real and invoked by what is happening, but they can happen whether his “lifting” is physical or spiritual. Finally, “the hand of the Lord” cannot be a physical one as God is spirit. This means all the other part are spirit in nature as well. Some of the debate comes from the phrases “I went” and “I came” and wanting to make both either spiritual or physical but it does not have to be that way. For me, the Spirit did the transporting and moving of Ezekiel in verse 14 and Ezekiel himself did the “coming” and “sitting” in verse 15.
The question I had in these verses when I first started reading for this time together was, “What is Ezekiel mad and bitter about?” After reading through all Chapter 3 several times I realized that up until this moment in verse 14, the prophet had been enjoying the presence of God and the heavenly realm and now he is being “taken away” from it. I think I would get mad and a little bitter too about having to come back and live in this sin tainted world. I may even resist quite hardily from leaving so much so that it would take a “strong hand upon me” to get me to leave.
Here is what a couple of the other commentaries I trust said and would also fit without contradicting what we have established for the verses.
Ezekiel’s bitterness and anger are either reflections of God’s attitude toward his people, or more likely a reflection of the prophet’s realization that he has to pronounce doom on those he loves. [Hamilton, Victor P. “Ezekiel.” Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995. 564. Print. Baker Reference Library.]
As Ezekiel understood God by consuming His words (cf. 2:8–3:4) and seeing the vision of His presence (1:22–28; 3:12–13) he felt, as God did toward Israel’s sin, embittered in … rage. [Dyer, Charles H., and Eva Rydelnik. “Ezekiel.” The Moody Bible Commentary. Ed. Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014. 1211. Print.]
Seeing God’s glory and the heavenly beings worshipping Him, being spoken to directly by God and then being told to leave and go give His message to a people who will not listen, knowing they will be doomed if they do not and seeing how rebellious and sinful this world is compared to heaven. Ezekiel is a better man than me as I would have been “very bitter”.
Now that the prophet is back in his own body and no longer being shown visions of glory, he immediately begins his task and goes to the people he has been commissioned to speak to. “I came” is about as generic as you can get and may speak to the mental state of this man of God. According to Chapter 1 he was already physically in the area. He may have been being moved “in the Spirit” to multiple places through the first 3 Chapters but remain physically within the region. Now he is back “in the real world” and appears to be in a bit of a daze.
Once the bitterness and rage subsided the magnitude of what he had seen and heard began to weigh on the man and he was appropriately “overwhelmed.” This Hebrew word is more often translated as “devastated” or “desolate” but twice as “amazed”. This seems to be an image of stimulus overload. The combination of the Lord’s glory, His words of direction, the “strengthening” and feeling the Lord’s hand upon him all appear to have “dumbfounded” Ezekiel and that it took him a week to process.
Ezekiel 3:16–17 ESV
And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.
Seven days is a common element in Scripture. Jobs friends did a similar “sitting in silence” with Job after his tragic losses of family, property, and health (Job 2:13). The Psalmist also record his shock when realizing what he had been in Zion was now not available to him (Ps 137:1). Leviticus specifies seven days as the period for ritual purity. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it reflects time allotted for mourning (Gen 50:10; 1 Sam 31:13) [Barry, John D., Douglas Mangum, et al. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016. Print.] And I think that is what I would do as well once the bitterness had worn off. I would mourn not only for my personal loss of being in glory but for those people whom I was about to pronounce doom and devastation over, knowing they would not listen, and dying in rebellion to God. After this time, the prophet is ready from one more message from God to him.
God tells Ezekiel that, “I have made you a watchman” here and again in Chapter 33. The repetition may be a part of the strengthening and “hardening” for the prophet for the responsibilities that God has placed upon him. This message was for Ezekiel and not to be declared directly to the “rebellious house.”
Watchmen were responsible for guarding a city. They kept watch day and night for any signs of external or internal trouble. Watchmen at key positions might spot an enemy advance while the enemy was still far away. The more quickly the watchmen could identify a potential threat, the more quickly the citizens of the region could respond. If a watchman fell asleep on his post, great harm could befall a city and its inhabitants.
Ezekiel’s role was to be a spiritual watchman: whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. The people should heed the prophet’s warning, for the warning actually came from the Lord.
God’s words also can warn us today when we stray from God’s standard. The psalmist affirmed the blessing of God’s Word, including the blessing it brought when it provided spiritual warning (Ps. 19:7-11). It reveals the correct path for life while warning its readers against taking the wrong ones. [LifeWay Adults (2021). Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide - ESV - Winter 2022. LifeWay Press.]
Today our pastors and other church leaders are our watchmen, and the writer of Hebrews warns us to listen to them as well.
Hebrews 13:17 ESV
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
God now tells Ezekiel how He expects the prophet what he is to watch for from the Lord and the consequences for failure to respond and give the appropriate signals of impending danger.
Ezekiel 3:18 ESV
If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
God’s words to the “moral corrupt” person have the same phrasing that was used in the garden of Eden when He was placing boundaries for the first man before sin came into the world (Gen 2:17). God’s warning must be delivered regardless of the person’s response. The first Adam did not heed the warning and all mankind has suffered now Ezekiel must deliver the message again to an equally fallen people.
This disobedience to God through his prophet is described as “iniquity”.
This is one of the four main words indicating sin in the Old Testament. This word indicates sin that is particularly evil, since it strongly conveys the idea of twisting or perverting deliberately. The noun carries along with it the idea of guilt from conscious wrongdoing (Gen. 44:16; Jer. 2:22). [Baker, Warren, and Eugene E. Carpenter. The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament 2003 : 814. Print.]
If Ezekiel did not give God’s warning though the penalty for sin was for both the wicked person and the prophet since now both had rebelled again God.
Based on similar phrasing in 2 Sam 4:11 and Gen 9:5–6, it appears Ezekiel’s punishment will also be death. If his failure to warn is equated to murder, then biblical law would require the death penalty (see Exod 21:12; Lev 24:17; Num 35:31–33).[Barry, John D., Douglas Mangum, et al. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016. Print.]
But God provides a way of escape for the prophet.
Ezekiel 3:19–21 ESV
But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
Ezekiel through obedience could “deliver” his soul. This is not a premise for the losing of one’s salvation as that is not the kind of word being used. This word is translated as “soul” or “life” is psyche in the Septuagint and speaks of more than just a person’s life but their whole being as it relates to and with God. Ezekiel’s fellowship with God would be removed just as Adam’s initial “death” was a separation from God’s presence, the prophet’s faithfulness in delivering God’s message would continue his usefulness and remain in fellowship with the Lord.
The first example God gave was for a morally corrupt person who was not already communing with God, the second example is for that person who believes and is actively pursuing a right relationship with the Lord. “Laying a stumbling block before him” has similar language to Jeremiah speaking to the people of Jerusalem (Jer 6:21). Today we may say that a “warning sign” was put in the road to let us know we need to stop and turn around. The sequence of events is the focus here. Yahweh lays the stumbling block only after the righteous person has already turned to injustice. [Barry, John D., Douglas Mangum, et al. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016. Print.] The price for sin is the same for both the “wicked” and the “righteous” because they are both still sinners (Rom 6:23).
If the faithful follower does turn from their sin, then both the prophet and the follower have their relationship with God restored. Remember how God had told Ezekiel to take into his own heart God’s message before delivering it. Ezekiel is supposed to be one of the “righteous” ones. The apostle Paul wrote a similar warning to his fellow servant Timothy.
1 Timothy 4:16 ESV
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The Lord commissioned Ezekiel to be his watchman over the exiles in Babylon, and He has commissioned us to testify to a world that desperately needs to hear His salvation message. God’s plan to reach the world includes you and me—ordinary people whom God can use in extraordinary ways as we proclaim His truth. Some will receive it, and some will not. Wicked people may persist in their ways, or they may turn to the Lord. God also may use us to challenge wayward Christians to turn back to productive, faithful lives. Whether people listen or not, God is pleased with our service. What a great privilege we have to share the gospel but also what an awesome responsibility! [LifeWay Adults (2021). Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide - ESV - Winter 2022. LifeWay Press.]

Apply the Text

God provides what believers need to deliver His message
God expects believers to share the gospel with all those they encounter.
The Applied Old Testament Commentary Warning to Israel (3:16–27)

These words concerning the “watchman” are very important for Christians today. All Christians are called to be “watchmen” in the most basic sense. If we see a loved one or a colleague who does not know the way of SALVATION, we are obliged to “warn” that person—to show that person the way to ETERNAL LIFE. If we do not, then we are in some measure responsible for that person’s fate. We ourselves will not lose our salvation (assuming our faith is genuine), but we will lose some of the reward that is being stored up for us in heaven. God expects all Christians to be “evangelists”—“witnesses”—to those whom He places in our path.

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