Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
He then said to me: ‘Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel – not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.’
And he said to me, ‘Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.
Ezekiel 2:9 – 3:11
Over the previous two studies we have been looking at chapter 2 of the prophecies of Ezekiel. In this short chapter we have the commissioning of the prophet. We studied possible reasons why he was chosen, and then we took a look at the people he was being sent to.
I have heard it suggested that the scroll given to Ezekiel was the book of Lamentations, written by Jeremiah in Jerusalem after the defeat of Israel by the Babylonians. Some have even suggested that Jeremiah was the father of Ezekiel. So to find that his father’s last writing was acceptable to God would be an encouragement to him.
In truth, though, that is only speculation, even if an interesting one. But is there really anything for us to learn in the fact that this was a scroll written on both sides with words of lament, mourning and woe?
I think there is. First, our God has kept his promises made at the time of Moses – and those promises included a warning of judgement on the nation of Israel if they did not obey the Lord and follow His commandments. The judgements to be placed on the nation were to be increasingly dire, in the hope that the people would realise that they were under judgement and respond to the Lord and change their ways. But ultimately there was a judgement involving the destruction of the nation itself. So the Lord was fulfilling his words spoken from at least 800 years before the time of Ezekiel.
The Lord had left this in the books of the Law, and yet he also sent the prophets, through many generations, to try to guide Israel back to the correct path. As I said in a previous study, this is evidence that we do not have a God who is waiting to pounce on us and devour us for the least sin, but we have a Father who loves His children, and who always wants the best for them. A Father who talks with us and encourages us to the right path. He does not raise His hand against us for the least things we do wrong, but only when we are in open rebellion – refusing either to listen to Him or learn from Him, or even the bad consequences of our mistakes. But even then, like with any Father, the things He does are to help us to learn, to bring us into a good relationship with Him and the family. He wants us to grow strong and become a mighty man or woman of God – a child for a Father to be truly proud of.
And such was his attitude with Israel. He was as a Father to them, and he was slow to anger, being reluctant as a Father is reluctant to bring tears to the eyes of his child. Yet he had to do something… He sent the prophets to warn them. He introduced some hardships bit by bit, in the way that he had spoken of in the Law. He gave opportunities through many generations for the nation to turn back to Him, but finally he had to show His wrath and allow the nation to be destroyed.
For a truly good Father, one who loves His children, who would lay down his own life for his children, we know that it is only with the greatest reluctance that the hand is raised against the child. I am not here to comment on the laws that are being created in more and more nations that make the spanking of a child by its parent illegal. That is another discussion – and I would say that there are many misguided and untrained parents who actually need the controlling limits placed on them by this law. But I am only here thinking of a perfect Father, and how much it would hurt the Father’s heart to have to bring discipline against his own child. A true Father would have tears in his own eyes before ever applying the discipline that is necessary.
So it could well be that this scroll presented to Ezekiel is that which reveals the Father heart of God, and how He is broken-hearted because of the rebellion of Israel.
But, as we are told everywhere in scripture, there is always a ‘remnant’ of those who are truly of the Lord and wish to live according to His purposes. These people would also be truly saddened to see the events that had happened, to see the judgement of God against Israel. I am sure that it was not only Jeremiah that could have written a book of Lamentations, but any in the nation who still wished to be a man or woman of God, and to be living correctly. But instead they lived to see death and destruction, and the children and hardy-bodied men and women taken away into captivity to work in a foreign land – away from the beloved promised land.
I feel this is the lesson, learned by Ezekiel, when he tasted the scroll and found it to be sweet. Ezekiel had begun the book with the hint that he considered himself despised by God and from a people despised by God. He knew that the nation was under the judgement of God, and he was truly sad and lamenting in his own heart about the situation that the Israelites now found themselves in. He had great sadness, and in many ways he was of the same heart of God.
Could it be, that for a person to have the same heart as God is a sweetness to Him? Is this why the scroll of lamentations and woe was sweet to the taste? This is, in a sense, an example of oneness with God, and that this in itself is the sweetest thing?
I could have spoken about how, to take in the words of scriptures, inspired by God, will be sweetness for those who love the Lord and who wish to grow strong in Him. Such things are often said by those who wish to encourage others to more bible study for its obvious benefits, and for the fact that we learn more about God and His love for us. How He is also pure and full of holiness and justice.
But then, I remember that for most of history, the vast majority of the Lord’s people were not able to read, and that yet it was still possible to draw close to God and to be one with Him in so many ways. I am very grateful to have been born into a time and a country where the gift of reading is nearly universal. But I really do not think that it is the reading of scripture that is being encouraged in this passage of scripture. The Lord has always provided those who are literate and who can read the scriptures to the people. The Lord also has instituted the five-fold ministry and so sent us apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists and teachers. Too many, of course, look for all of these things in one man, and that also can bring many problems.
So I feel in my heart that we are seeing the first sign here that it is a sweet relationship with the Father when His people are of one mind and heart with Him. Ezekiel felt in a similar way to God himself about what had happened with the Israelites. He is saddened by the rebellion of the people, and by their stubbornness, their refusal to listen to the prophets and to change their ways. His own heart is full of lament and woe and mourning. Just like the Lord. And unlike his people, he was willing to listen (which as we learned before was probably the reason he was chosen).
So now he was filling his stomach with the sweet words of the lamentations that were felt by both himself and the Lord God, and from that time forwards, as we know from the rest of the book, he had the words of God within himself.
This is a beautiful foreshadowing of the future relationship that we, as Christians, have with our God. We enter our new life finding agreement with God about our need to repent and turn from our sin. We feel the sadness of the Lord over our own rebellion, and we see the love of our Lord in sending his only son to die for us in our place. We identify with that death, seeing that it is our own sin that drove the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. And so we place ourselves there with Christ. And as Jesus was raised into new life, so are we born into our new lives, now clothed in the righteousness of Christ and accepted as a child of the Father. And Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and anoint us, to give us the power to conquer sin and to walk in the ministry prepared for us.
So we may not have eaten a scroll, but we are similarly full of the words of God, because for sure the Holy Spirit does not want to keep silent. And if nothing else, he will fill you with words of gratitude that you may thank the Father for what He has done and all that He has prepared for you. And that you will praise the Lord, and know His presence with you and filling you – just as Ezekiel knew that he was being filled with the words of God, and they tasted sweet.
When hearts are united, there is no fear and love can do its work. When hearts are united with the heart of our Lord, then it is the sweetest thing of all.