Have you ever felt that God has given you a task that is too difficult? I think Ezekiel felt like that. As we have been learning in our study of the life of the prophet Ezekiel, God shows up in a shocking way with even more shocking news for Ezekiel. It was news that Ezekiel would be God’s prophet. Let’s continue studying Ezekiel 2:1-3:15 (which we previously started here) to see how this might apply to our lives when we feel God has given us a task that seems too difficult.
In Ezekiel 2:8, where we left off in the previous post, God says something strange to Ezekiel: “Open your mouth and eat what I give you.” God is going feed Ezekiel? Can you imagine how amazing food straight from God must be? It would have to be the best food ever, right? I love nearly every kind of food. Have you ever said that you love a certain kind of food so much that you could eat it every day? Pizza, Burgers, Steak, Mac & Cheese, Pasta, Mexican…Tiramisu. What is your favorite food that you could eat every day? Wouldn’t you think that food from God would have to be even better than that? Well, let’s find out. Read Ezekiel 2:9-3:1.
What? A scroll? God is giving Ezekiel a scroll to eat? Scrolls were often made of leather of some kind. It would bad enough if it was made of paper. At least you can eat paper. Do you remember in elementary school, when kids would eat a whole sheet of paper, scrap by scrap. It is bland, but you can do it. But leather? I mean, I guess it is theoretically possible, bit by bit. Have you heard of the guy who ate an entire car bit by bit? His name is Vinni Bucci from Atlanta, and there is a documentary about it on Amazon. Is that what God is doing with Ezekiel?
No, as we read in verses 2-3, the scroll tasted like honey. Remember that this is a prophetic vision, so we should look for symbolism, and thankfully, the symbolism in this part of the vision is clear. By giving Ezekiel a scroll to eat, God is symbolically putting his words in Ezekiel! Furthermore, in the Bible, honey sometimes symbolizes abundance or prosperity. The Promised Land of Palestine was said to be flowing with honey. This is first indication of God preparing Ezekiel for the prophetic task. God will give him the words to say.
What words of honey will God say through him? We read in 2:10 that on the scroll were written words of lament, mourning and woe. That’s not honey. That’s not the sweet words of good news. Instead God’s message will be a very unhappy one. We don’t yet hear any specifics of the message. That is to come. For now Ezekiel is receiving his prophetic commission to speak God’s word, and it will be a difficult word.
Next God describes to whom he is commissioning Ezekiel to prophesy. Look at Ezekiel 3, verses 4-11. You’d think God would commission Ezekiel to prophesy to the horrible enemy Babylonians, right? They need a dose of holy fire from God, so that God will set his people free!
Uh…no. As we have heard before, Ezekiel is to prophesy to his own people. He will not prophesy to people from a different culture, nation or language. Even though Ezekiel lives in enemy territory, Babylon, he is to preach to his countrymen, to the Jewish exiles living in Babylon. This got me thinking about the mission trips I’ve been on, and you know what I discovered? It is much, much easier for me to talk about Jesus to strangers far from home, than it is for me to talk about Jesus with my neighbors. That might be a personality thing, but I suspect it goes beyond that. I feel more free to talk with people in another country because I know that I am there for that purpose, and I am almost certainly never going to see that person again. I feel a lot more free and bold to launch into a conversation about faith in God. There is very little risk.
But at home, I actually have to live next to people. I have to see them every day. There is significant relational risk. To me, the prospect of having a conversation about faith with neighbors, coworkers, family or friends feels very intimidating. What if they look down on me? What if it gets awkward? By asking Ezekiel to prophesy to his own countrymen, I think God is giving Ezekiel the much more difficult job.
God says as much in verse 7. Israel is hardened and obstinate, and they will not listen to Ezekiel. Of course they won’t listen to Ezekiel, God knows, because they haven’t listened to God. If I’m Ezekiel, I’m growing less and less thrilled about this job by the minute.
Remember when God came to Moses in the burning bush and told Moses that he had a job for him? That task was leading the people to freedom from slavery. Moses got a commission to be a hero. Ezekiel? He is getting the job of being a confrontational prophet to his own people who will not listen to him. That’s three strikes right there. Confrontational prophet…very difficult job. Strike one. Prophet to your own people…very difficult job. Strike two. People who are guaranteed to not listen to you…very difficult job. Strike three.
To use baseball terms, Ezekiel is not just behind in the count as he steps up to the plate. He has already struck out. Surprisingly, that’s what God wants him to do. He is saying, Ezekiel, I want you to go up to bat and strike out. Or to use non-baseball terms, God is saying, “Ezekiel, I commission you to a very difficult job, and it won’t go well. You will not succeed. But I want you to do it anyway.”
How would you feel about that? Not good.
Except that God says something else. Look again at verses 8-10 where God says, “Ezekiel, I am going to make you ready for this. I am going to strengthen you for this task. Sure Israel is hardened, but I am going to make you hardened too.” In other words, God is saying, “Ezekiel, I am in this with you. I am for you. I am preparing you. This is not me sending you to be shredded apart. I am going to strengthen you to the task!” In the same way, God is with us! No matter if we have the gift of prophecy or of any of the other gifts, it is the same God, and He is always with us. God promises that he will strengthen us to the task. Even if we do not feel strengthened, even if we do not feel ready, excited or qualified. We can step forward in obedience, knowing that God is with us and strengthening us.
Because of this promise, Ezekiel was probably shocked by what happens next. Check back to the next post to find out. Does God say one thing, then do the opposite?