Have you ever felt like God is asking you to do something, but it is too hard? With Ezekiel on his feet, God talks to him, giving him a new job. What kind of job? Will it be fun? Or will it be difficult? Read Ezekiel 2, verses 3-8.
God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet, and specifically to prophesy against his own people! Remember that Ezekiel is living in Babylon, far, far away from Israel. So God does not mean that Ezekiel will be traveling back to the land of Israel, to Palestine. Instead Ezekiel will prophesy to the 10,000 Israelite exiles he lives with in Babylon.
What is Ezekiel to say? It’s not a fun message. Have you ever had to deliver bad news? Maybe you’ve had to tell someone they were not hired for a position. Maybe you’ve had to confront someone about their mess-up. Even if you had to do it many times, telling people bad news is still difficult. Confronting people about their sin or their error is particularly difficult. It could be that you are holding a friend or a family member accountable. When they cross a line they weren’t supposed to cross, often we feel like it is just easier to let it go. But God says to Ezekiel, “You are going to tell Israel the truth.”
That’s what a prophet is, a truth teller. Sometimes prophets tell the future, but in the Bible, prophets rarely forecast the future. The vast majority of prophetic messages are truth-telling, with the distinct purpose of bringing hope and restoration in our relationship with God and a return to living in the ways of His Kingdom. Often the prophecy has a future condition: if you continue down this road, you will face major trouble. But if you return to God, you will receive his blessing.
Do prophets still exist in our world today? Certainly there are people who call themselves prophets. There are people who predict the end of the world, or people who have a variety of other predictions. Some might be well-meaning, and they might believe that they hear messages from God, but it’s hard to know.
Instead in Ephesians 4:11-12 we read that God gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds/pastors and teachers for the building up of the church. Did you hear that second role in the list? Prophets. Paul wrote that God still gives the prophetic gift as a means of building up the church. It seems to me, therefore, that there is a strong biblical case to be made that people can have a prophetic gift, and the use of that gift is vital for the strengthening and the building up of the church.
So what is the prophetic gift? In the Bible, as we see not only here in Ezekiel, but also through the New Testament, the prophetic gift is primarily a truth-telling gift, calling people to return to God and living according to his ways. It is the gift of looking at the situation around them, or examining the lives of the people around them, then responding to that situation or people based on the truth of the word of God. Is there sin? A prophet says, “That is sin.” Is there disunity? The prophet says, “That is disunity.” Is there injustice? The prophet says, “That’s injustice.” Prophets tell the truth.
In this, prophets are a gift to those they are interacting with. Although, rarely are they received that way. But, looking back, people will see and know that a prophet was with them – a gift – a truth teller who was perceptive and was used of God for the purpose of directing people towards hope and restoration to God and His ways.
That is what God commissions Ezekiel to do. Notice the words God uses to describe Ezekiel’s message: Israel is rebellious. Count how many times God says they are rebellious. Five times!
Specifically they are rebellious against God. Their fathers (leaders) have been in revolt against him, and still were in rebellion up to the very day that God shows up to Ezekiel beside the river in Babylon.
God has a lot more to say, and none of it is good. Israel is obstinate and stubborn. They are like briars and thorns and scorpions.
God is pretty clear about the message that Ezekiel will share! In verse 4 he is to say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.” Do you think Ezekiel is cheering at this point? “Yeah, Lord! This is what you have for me say! Let’s get started!!!”
I’m not so sure, especially when we consider the relational dynamic of Ezekiel’s life. He was part of a group of 10,000 Jews living in faraway Babylon, part of a subculture within a foreign culture, part of a network, a support system of people that were trying to make ends meet, trying to preserve their Jewish way of life among the Babylonians. These were his people. His lifeline. His family and friends. For five years they had been in exile, forging bonds of friendship and family in the land of the enemy. Unless you’ve ever been uprooted and had to move to another place or culture, you might not understand what this situation feels is like. My family and I had one year’s experience of it when we were missionaries in Jamaica. It is a lonely, strange spot to be in. You search for those with a bit of similarity to you and try to form new norms. It is highly likely that is what Ezekiel knew. Though the exiles longed for a return to Palestine and Jerusalem and all that was familiar in their lives, they established a new normal in Babylon. You know how we have China Towns in our big cities, or Little Italys? They were establishing a new Israel within Babylon, and they had to form tight bonds in order to preserve that new Israel.
In that community, Ezekiel was all ready to start his life as a priest. Then God suddenly breaks into Ezekiel’s life and says, “I have a job for you. You know that tight-knit group of people you have made a new family with here in Babylon? Those friends you love? You know that support group who you have locked arms with as you try to make it here in enemy territory?” Ezekiel knows them well. “Yeah, Lord…”
God says, “I am sending you to tell them that they are rebellious, obstinate, and stubborn.”
How would you feel if you were Ezekiel in that moment?
On the one hand, you’re dealing with the emotion of this surprising vision of God showing up. That alone is a lot for a person. You’re probably scared, yet the vision is also amazing, and maybe you’re curious. You know God is a God of love, thus you might be partly delighted, wanting the vision never to end. You’ve just had the Holy Spirit fill you and physically lift you up, which must have been awesome, and a bit freaky. Your body just stood up without you controlling it. Then God speaks to you! Who knows what it was like to hear his voice. Awe-inspiring? You likely feel fear, excitement, and joy. All of the above. You know what you are experiencing is super rare. Hardly anyone in history has been privileged to experience the presence of God like this, and even more rare is to hear God talking.
But when God talks, he tells you to prophesy against your own people, your own network, your own friends, your family. Are you so in awe that you are thinking, “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll do anything you ask, Lord?” Or does the reality of having to confront your people have you thinking, “No, no, no, why can’t I just be a priest like my father before me? Isn’t that also a great way to serve you, Lord?”
I bet Ezekiel is feeling all of it, and more. His emotions are probably all over the place. God knows exactly what he is asking of Ezekiel, and more than that, he knows how Ezekiel is feeling. Look at what God says repeatedly starting in verse 6, “Do not be afraid…do not be afraid…do not be afraid.”
It doesn’t matter if the people listen to Ezekiel or not. Do not be afraid. It seems to me that Ezekiel needed that reminder. So do we. Do not be afraid. It is easy to let fear get the best of us when we know we should speak the truth to people. Of course there are probably some of you who are super quick to speak what you believe to be truth to people, and perhaps you should maybe be a bit more afraid! Some people have no problem speaking whatever comes to their mind. That doesn’t mean you’re a prophet. You might just be bold.
But what if Ezekiel didn’t feel bold? He still had to preach his message of “Israel, you are rebellious, obstinate and stubborn.” Maybe he was naturally bold. We don’t know. What I do know is this: If I had to preach that message to our church family every week, and in every email, I think I would start to feel nervous, afraid. How would you feel if all I did was tell you over and over again how wrong you are? If all I did was accuse you of being rebellious and stubborn? Would you keep reading the blog? I wouldn’t.
Yet it seems that’s what Ezekiel is to do, whether the people listen or not. At this point, if I’m Ezekiel, I’m thinking that I don’t know if I would want God to break into my life in a glorious vision. It would be one thing if God broke into my life and said, “I am going to bless you! I am going to rescue you. I am going to make you wealthy and healthy and wise. I am going to make life easy for you.” Nope, he is basically saying to Ezekiel, “You are going to be my prophet, and that means life will be hard for you.” I would be thinking, “Lord, why can’t I just be a priest? This prophet business doesn’t sound fun.”
No doubt about it, following the way of God is always the best way. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the easy way. God is calling Ezekiel to a life of prophetic hardship. So he says to Ezekiel in verse 8, “Listen to what I say to you. Don’t rebel like your rebellious people.” It is likely that Ezekiel already had a heart to love and serve the Lord. If you are standing there, like Ezekiel was, with the powerful glory of God in front of you, I think Ezekiel would say, “Oh I promise, God. I absolutely will not rebel.” The much more difficult reality for Ezekiel will be when he actually has to live the life of a prophet to his family and friends, telling them they are sinful. Maybe then Ezekiel will start having second thoughts about this prophetic business. If he ever has those concerns, God’s words, “Do not rebel,” will hopefully serve as a motivation for Ezekiel to stick with what could likely be a hard life.
Then God says something that is…well…strange. Check back to the next post to find out.