Ezekiel’s mission (Ezk 2:1-3:15)

On Wednesday this week the world watched in horror as protesters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC. Many of us watched on TV as fanatical supporters of Donald Trump forced their way into the home of American democracy. Their violent incursion caused the closure of Congress and the suspension of business in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the ensuing chaos, security was breached, damage was done and, tragically, lives were lost.

The emotions aroused by this event give us a taste of the feelings of the people of Judah, when the Babylonian army invaded their land at the start of the sixth century BC. In the ensuing chaos, the Babylonians oppressed, killed or exiled the population. They destroyed the walls of the Jerusalem and reduced much of the city to ruins. Most shocking of all, the Temple (God’s Temple) at the heart of the city was stormed, desecrated and destroyed by the troops of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

The Jews must have wondered what was going on – where was God in this apparent chaos? What was he teaching them through this experience? Was their any hope for the future? They are questions we too may be asking in the midst of lockdown and confronted by the COVID crisis.

Well, God provided answers to all these questions through the work of the prophet Ezekiel, a Jewish exile who lived beside the River Kebar in Babylon. And today’s passage introduces us to Ezekiel’s ministry, his message and his methods. So let’s begin then by looking at his ministry…

1. Ezekiel’s ministry – a prophetic calling not a priestly career

If you were with us just before Christmas, you will remember that we looked at Ezekiel chapter 1, and his remarkable vision of God on the banks of the River Kebar in Babylon. Ezekiel was granted sight of God’s glory, as he saw a remarkable throne chariot appear before his eyes. Surrounded by clouds and flame, Ezekiel had a vision God’s throne, carried on the backs of four-headed angels and transported by wheels within wheels. It was a vision that sought to reassure Ezekiel (and us) of God’s almighty power, his constant presence and his all-encompassing sight.

As we join chapter 2 today, God speaks to Ezekiel from his throne and gives him a new mission in life, a new ministry to perform. Ezekiel came from a priestly family, and must have expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, officiating in the Jerusalem Temple. But that was not to be. Rather, as we read in verses 3 to 5 of chapter 2 today, God called Ezekiel to be a prophet, not a priest. Ezekiel’s God-given ministry was to proclaim God’s words to God’s people in exile in Babylon. He was to be the Lord’s mouthpiece, the Lord’s spokesperson – the Lord’s ‘ambassador’ in Babylon, you might say.

But Ezekiel would face a hostile audience. He is warned by God that the Israelites in exile are a hostile crowd, a rebellious nation. So God strengthens Ezekiel by his Holy Spirit and promises him in verses 8 and 9 of chapter 3 that he will help him to persevere and give him the stamina he needs for his ministry. In fact, the name Ezekiel literally means, “God will strengthen”.

As we all face a challenging time at the moment, can I encourage us all to look to the Lord for the strength we need. Turn to him in prayer and seek the power of his Holy Spirit to cope with all the demands we face during this latest lockdown. And pray for Christians working in the NHS and other key roles, that God will give them the inner resources and resilience they need at this time. And pray for Christian parents trying to homeschool their kids, that God will give them all the inspiration and stamina that is required. As Ezekiel’s name testifies – God will strengthen.

2. Ezekiel’s message – judgement and hope

Returning to our reading today, God gave Ezekiel a scroll to read and consume. A scroll that set out the message he was to proclaim to God’s people. A message that Ezekiel was told to take to heart and ‘inwardly digest’ – so much so that he literally ate it and it tasted sweet!

Lockdown is the perfect time for many of us to feast on God’s word. If you are stuck at home and short of things to do, why not get stuck into some serious Bible study? Consume a portion each day, mull it over in your mind, and pray that God will speak to you through it. You will find it a source of spiritual nourishment – just as Ezekiel did.

As we shall see over the coming weeks, the message that God gave Ezekiel was one of judgement and hope. A message of retribution followed by redemption. In other words, Ezekiel had to explain to the people of Judah that God was punishing them for years of idolatry, sin and disobedience. The devastation of their land, the destruction of their capital city and the humiliation of exile were all ways in which God was punishing them for decades of rebellion against his good and holy ways.

But this season of judgement would not last forever – thankfully this distressing news was not the entirety of God’s message through Ezekiel. Because a time would come when God would bring the exiles home, a time when they would reconstruct their city, a time when a glorious new Temple would be built. Even in the midst of darkness, there is always hope.

As we go through dark days now. What hope can you see on the horizon? What good things might God be doing in your life during this season? Perhaps this time of lockdown is a chance for us all to repent of those sinful habits that come between us and God. A chance to invest in our relationships with our ‘nearest and dearest’ . And a chance to cultivate in our hearts the hope of Heaven we have through Jesus Christ – a hope we can share with all those we know.

3. Ezekiel’s methods – a scale model, a lie down, a meagre diet and a close shave!

Today’s Bible reading ended in Ezekiel chapter 3. But if we were to read on for another couple of chapters we would have seen some of the rather unconventional ways that Ezekiel communicated his message to his compatriots. Ezekiel employed some rather unusual methods to communicate God’s message! For example:

  • In chapter 4, God tells Ezekiel to make a model of Jerusalem out of clay, and to build siege works all around it. A scale replica of what the Babylonians would do to Judah’s capital city.
  • In the same chapter God also commands Ezekiel to lie on his side for over 400 days, with each day representing a year of disobedience that had contributed to the judgement now falling on Israel and Judea.
  • And whilst lying on his side, Ezekiel was to survive on a meagre diet of bread and water. A diet that would symbolise the rationing that would be required while Jerusalem lay under siege.
  • And finally, in chapter 5 Ezekiel is told by the Lord to have a close shave! He must cut off all his hair divide it into three piles. One pile of shavings is to be burnt inside his model city – symbolising the population succumbing to starvation and plague. A second pile is to be repeatedly struck by a sword – symbolising what the Babylonians would do when they ransacked the city. And a third pile of hair was to be scattered into the wind, symbolising the dispersal of Jewish refugees under Babylonian rule. A dispersal that only God could reverse, when the time was right.

Whilst Ezekiel’s methods of communication might sound a little extreme, they do challenge us to be innovative and experimental as we seek to share our Christian hope with friends and neighbours today. One of the few positives to come out of coronavirus crisis is that it has forced many churches to be innovative in how they communicate with their congregations and communities. Live-streaming has become the norm, and blogs, emails, facebook feeds and tweets have been employed to point people to Jesus like never before!

As I finish, one repeated refrain throughout the book of Ezekiel is the sentence: “Then they will know that I am the Lord”. It appears over 70 times. You see, the heart of Ezekiel’s mission was to point people towards the Lord. A Lord who is glorious, gracious and good. A Lord who is our one true hope in dark times. Let’s make sure we point people to the Lord during this lockdown – using every method at our disposal!

Phil Weston