Remember how I told you that Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry is not going to be what we typically think of prophetic ministry? Instead of preaching to crowds of adoring people, Ezekiel will often perform dramas or sign acts, like skits. He is the Saturday Night Live of prophets. In our final post in this five-part series on Ezekiel 3:16-27, God gives Ezekiel his first skit assignment. Read Ezekiel chapter 3, verses 24-25.
Does something sound off to you? In the first description of the skit, Ezekiel is to shut himself inside his house. Ezekiel was supposed to prophesy to his community of 10,000 Jews that they are rebellious, so you’d think that God would tell him to go out to where the people are and start preaching to them. Maybe go door by door, making sure he visits every single person. Create a list of all 10,000 exiles, and start working your way down the list. But nope, God says, “Go home, Ezekiel and shut yourself in your house.” Why would God say that?
As we read in verses 24-25, there’s more to the skit. God says that once Ezekiel is in his house, people will come into the house and tie Ezekiel up so that he cannot go outside. Being shut up inside his house is the opposite of what a truth-telling prophet is supposed to do, the opposite of what God said he should do when he called Ezekiel to go out among the people and tell them the truth. What is going on here?
At this point, you might be thinking, “But what about yelling? That must be what God wants him to do!” If I were alone in my house, tied up and stuck there, but my job was to inform the people outside that they were in rebellion against God, I could easily just start yelling. Those ancient homes weren’t soundproof. It might be somewhat muffled, but Ezekiel could still get his message out, maybe even draw a crowd, by yelling. Except that’s not what happens next in the skit. Read Ezekiel 3, verse 26.
God shuts Ezekiel’s mouth! Ezekiel will be unable to rebuke the Israelites. The prophet is totally incapacitated and silenced. This skit is counter-intuitive, isn’t it? God gives Ezekiel a mission, and then makes Ezekiel physically incapable of completing the mission! What is the purpose of that? Why would God do this? And clearly it is God doing this. Couldn’t God just skip this skit and let Ezekiel go out there and speak his prophetic message?
What God says next gives us a clue to figure out why he would keep Ezekiel silent. Read Ezekiel 3, verse 27.
Now the skit makes sense! When God speaks to him, then God will give Ezekiel the ability to communicate to the people, no matter how they respond. That is key. God wants Ezekiel to communicate one thing, and one thing only: the words God gives him. God does not want Ezekiel to speak anything else. Ezekiel will be physically able to communicate only the message of the Lord.
To summarize, what we have learned in this section, Ezekiel 3:16-27, is God’s warning for Ezekiel, giving Ezekiel clear guidelines about his prophetic task. He is a watchman who must communicate only the word of the Lord. This is so important that God essentially binds him to that task.
The account stops there. Ezekiel doesn’t tell us how it all went down when he actually left the plain and returned to his house to perform the skit, but we can believe that it happened as God said it would. Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry has launched under some very unique circumstances, but for good reason. God wants Ezekiel to be successful. He wants to make sure that Ezekiel is a prophet of the Word of God. This prophetic ministry is not to be of Ezekiel’s making, but of God’s. So God actively restrains Ezekiel to that task. Rather than seeing God’s work in Ezekiel’s life as meddling or overpowering, we can see it as God’s grace in Ezekiel’s life. God graciously places Ezekiel on a trajectory of success.
That doesn’t mean “success” in the sense that the people who hear Ezekiel’s message will turn back to God. They very well might not. Instead, the success will come in the form of Ezekiel accomplishing the mission God had for him. I find that very instructive. We so often think of success as “bigger is better.” Success in American Christianity has long been described as growing the church, and people assume that growing the church means “more people showing up for worship, giving more money, so that they can big more and bigger buildings, to fit more people and have more programs that those people will attend.”
Let me say something very clearly: Bigger does not automatically equal better. Very big churches can actually be quite unhealthy. At the same time, very small churches can be sick too. A large church can be healthy, and a small church can be healthy. Same goes for churches of all shapes and sizes. Large churches have pros and cons. Small churches have pros and cons.
What is important in God’s eyes is that we follow the way of Jesus, not that we build bigger churches. In other words, what is important is that we are faithful to God. Ezekiel was to be faithful to the task of being a watchman prophet, speaking only the word of God.
Carry this over to our lives as followers of Jesus, and we find principles that we can apply to our lives. We, too, are called to be faithful, to be the watchmen and women not just of our own lives, but also of those around you in your church family. Husbands and wives, you are watchman for each other. Parents and Grandparents, you are watchman for your kids and grandkids. What will it look like for you to speak the truth in love to them? How can you rid yourselves of extra distractions so that you can spend more time sitting with Jesus, listening, and learning more of the heart of Jesus and asking for what ways you can follow those ways in your life?