The Scroll and the Watchman

So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (vv. 2–3).

- Ezekiel 3

Visions were often granted to the old covenant prophets to convince them that the call they received was from God. Having looked at the Lord’s appearance to Ezekiel to commission him as a prophet (Ezek. 1:4–28), we are now prepared to examine what God actually said to Him when He called Ezekiel to ministry.

We read in today’s passage that Ezekiel was given a scroll to eat (3:1). This scroll from God had “words of lamentation and mourning and woe,” which describes the message the prophet was to preach with his mouth—a message of covenant curses for Israel and Judah’s disobedience (2:8–10). Ezekiel ate the scroll and it tasted sweet to him (3:2–3), indicating that the Word of God would nourish the prophet. Also, the sweetness of the scroll is striking because curses are normally bitter fare. However, hearing the Lord’s curse on sin is ultimately a sweet thing for those of faith. Only after we hear the curse are we ready for the sweet and satisfying gospel of salvation. Man does not live by bread alone but is sustained by the discipline of God’s Word (Matt. 4:4; Heb. 12:3–11).

In putting His message in Ezekiel’s mouth, the Lord assured the prophet that he was not being sent to foreigners who spoke a different language—the Babylonians—but to his people who would understand his words. Ironically, God said Ezekiel would find a greater reception if he were to go to the Babylonians than he would by going to the covenant community who spoke his native Hebrew (Ezek. 3:4–11). The Jews’ essential problem was not that they lacked the intellectual capacity to understand Ezekiel’s preaching but that their hard hearts would not believe him. Unsurprisingly, then, a key theme for Ezekiel is that God must give new hearts to His people (11:14–21; 36:22–27).

God also called Ezekiel to be a watchman for His people when He gave the prophet His Word (3:16–21). Like the ancient watchmen who stood on the city walls to warn people of the enemy’s approach, Ezekiel was to warn the people of the Lord’s judgment for their sin. Note that the prophet was not responsible for the people’s response but only for his faithfulness to the divine call. If Ezekiel preached God’s message and the people did not heed it, only the disobedient would be guilty. Ezekiel would incur some responsibility for their sins, however, were he to fail to preach against their evil. Preachers who knowingly refuse to preach against the sins of their congregations will not get off scot-free.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments: “What Ezekiel heard belongs to all teachers of the Church, namely, that they are Divinely appointed and placed as on watch-towers, that they may keep watch for the common safety of all. It was the duty of those who have been appointed from the beginning ministers of the heavenly doctrine to be watchmen.” Preachers must always preach the truth, even when it is hard for their congregations to bear. Let us pray that our preachers would be faithful to this calling.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 21:1–10
Hosea 9:8
Matthew 3:1–12
James 4:17

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