A Pepper Grinder Post

Tongue-tied Prophet

The story of Ezekiel is an amazing one. He was a priest who had been taken into exile to Babylonia in the first wave of exiles along with king Jehoiachin, about eleven years before Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Ezekiel had been living in exile among other Jews for about four years when he received the call to start his prophetic ministry. Ezekiel's call was not of the "still small voice" variety that I have so often heard implied to be the characteristic way God speaks. Not at all.

Ezekiel saw a vision that goes beyond anything I have seen done with CGI in a movie. The vision started with a windstorm with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. In the center of everything, glowing like hot metal, were four creatures. Each was shaped like a man, but had four wings. Each being had four faces--one of a man, one of a lion, one of an ox, and one of an eagle. Lightning flashed back and forth between the creatures. When the creatures moved, their wings made a roaring sound like a raging river or a huge army. There's a lot more to tell--I'm completely skipping the interlocking wheels filled with eyes, for example. Let's just say that it's no surprise that Ezekiel ends up flat on his face and is only able to stand up with the help of God's spirit,

Ezekiel's visionAnd what is the message presented to Ezekiel in this awesome way? He is to be a prophet to the rebellious people of Israel. He is given a scroll to eat with the words of God written on it. He is told that God will make him harder and more stubborn than the stiff-necked Israelites.

Seven days after this dramatic call, God appears to Ezekiel and declares that he has made him a watchman for the house of Israel. He clarifies the implications of this with the following words:

"When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.

Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself." (Ezekiel 3:18-21, NIV)

I don't know about you, but I find this a terrifying passage. Speaking as someone who is not naturally gifted at telling people things I think they might not want to hear, these verses fill me with fear that I will be blamed for the eternal loss of many to whom I did not speak. I feel certain that sermons have been preached from this passage aimed at getting people to evangelize out of a sense of fear.

To some extent, I think the fear I feel is legitimate. We should be ready to be open with people about Jesus and ready to explain our faith to them. If we are deliberately not doing that, we ought to be scared. I would point out, though, that because of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven for our evangelistic or prophetic failings, if we are willing to admit we are wrong and allow ourselves to be changed.

However, when I read this part of Ezekiel recently, there was something else that jumped out at me. It was what happened to Ezekiel after God spoke those words to him. Here is the rest of the third chapter of Ezekiel:

The hand of the LORD was upon me there, and he said to me, "Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you."

So I got up and went out to the plain. And the glory of the LORD was standing there, like the glory I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: "Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.' Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house." (Ezekiel 3:22-27 NIV)

Wait. Ezekiel has just been told that he is a watchman who must warn the Israelites to turn away from their sins, and now he's being told to shut himself inside his house? He's being told that he'll be tied up with ropes, so he can't go out among the people, and that he won't even be able to talk? What is going on here?

rhododendronThe key to me is the last verse of the chapter, where God says, "But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth…" This is the point I think modern Christians often miss. God's desire was not that Ezekiel run out and start speaking God's words to everyone with Ezekiel's own power and insight. What the Lord wanted was for Ezekiel to be ready to be used as a mouthpiece for God. On one day that might mean rebuking a group of idolatrous Israelites. On another day, that might mean being tied up in his house, unable to speak.

The crucial question is not, "What are we doing to further God's kingdom?" Putting it that way places the burden on us. It implies that we need to be going out and doing God's work. The crucial question is, "Are we available for God to do whatever he wants through us?" Are we willing for God to use us to speak boldly? Are we willing for God to place us in a position where we are invisible and appear to be doing nothing?

The goal is not to do great things for God. The goal is to be ready and willing for him to do anything he wants through us.


*Photo Credits: Artists representation of Ezekiel's vision from .