Ezekiel’s call to bring a message from God to a stubborn people who would likely ignore his effort raises questions for us and our sense of purpose and mission. Do we share God because of the results we expect to see, or simply because we are called to do so?
Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-3:11
He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.
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The Bible is a collection of different texts and contains several forms of writing. There is narrative, poetry, law, letters, sermons and speeches, and several other forms of writing. It helps us to understand these different forms so that we can better understand what we are reading. Today’s passage is a call narrative. This form shows up for several of the most well known biblical character’s and they all follow a similar pattern. Some examples are Abraham (Genesis 12), Moses (Exodus 3), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10), and Isaiah (Isaiah 6). For the most part, these narratives begin with God calling the individual to go and do something; then the individual will name in some way why they are not fit to do the job God has called them to do, and then God will find a way to encourage them or bless them so they feel capable of the work. Abraham’s call is unique, because he does not protest. Abraham is unique in the biblical narrative for always trusting what God called him to do. He always moved forward fully trusting God’s call. This is what he is remembered for in the New Testament book of Hebrews 11.
In the company of prophets, Ezekiel’s call is unique because he is the first to receive his call outside of the promised land and away from the temple. When the Israelites were taken into exile in Babylon, they had to begin to understand their relationship with God in a different light. Before this event, They saw their relationship with God directly connected to the land in which they lives, the temple in which they worshiped, and the monarch that governed them and had been ordained by God. Now, all three of those things had been destroyed. Ezekiel’s call outside of the land is the first clue that their relationship with God was going to take a new shape. All of a sudden, God could be heard outside of the land and the temple. God continued to relate to them, now in new ways. If I were teaching this text, I might encourage my group to look at the different call stories and talk about they ways they are different and ways they are the same.
Finally, whenever I look at call narratives and the prophets, I like to encourage discussion about what an awesome and humble responsibility it is to be called by God and to speak for God. When people feel called to this kind of thing, it must be done with great care and with a willingness to admit that they do not know it all. Also, as people who listen to those who speak about God, we must be willing to balance our own humility and our responsibility to challenge when we disagree with what is being said. No one person has a direct phone line to God. It takes all of our unique voices to form a more complete picture of who God is to us and for us.
(Editor’s note: check out the podcast for this session to hear the team discuss this issue).
Nikki’s Video Script
This week we are going back to the book of Ezekiel and looking at chapter 2:1-3:11. Ezekiel is certainly one of the more interesting prophets in the Old Testament and this passage shows us one of his strange actions.
There are several things to consider in today’s passage – so we will take them one at a time.
First, today’s passage is Ezekiel’s call experience. When we discussed Isaiah’s call experience a few weeks ago we noted that most of these passages have several things in common. Things like God speaking the person’s name, the person being called showing hesitancy about his or her call, and some action happening around the mouth or voice of the one called. In Ezekiel’s case, God tells him to eat the scroll with scripture on it.
Now this brings us to the second thing we can discuss about this passage and the prophets in general. Throughout scripture, we see the prophets communicate their message in a variety of ways — they used both speech and dramatic action to get their point across. The actions were always interesting — Hosea married a prostitute; Isaiah refused to mourn his wife; Jeremiah bought a piece of worthless land, and Ezekiel ate a scroll. Ezekiel ate the scroll as an act of showing that he literally ingested the God’s words so that when he speaks, he is speaking God’s actual words.
The final thing we need to think about in this passage is the timeline that surrounds the passage. We have talked a great deal at FaithElement about the incredible experience the Exile was for the Israelites. When Babylon destroyed Judah in 587 BC, they lost everything that gave them their identity as the people of God. They lost the temple that housed the very presence of God; they lost their land which had been a gift from God; and they lost their monarch which had been established by God and gave them validity among other nations.
Just ten years prior to this divesting event, in 597, the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem and nearly defeated them. In this event, part of Jerusalem was burned and a great portion of the elite class was taken in to exile in Babylon. Ezekiel was a part of this group. The scripture passage we are looking at today takes place in 593, after the first attack, but before the final defeat in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel is the first prophet to receive a call outside the land of Israel and when he does, God tells him that he will be speaking to a stubborn people. He is told that they will likely not hear what he has to tell them, but God is sending him anyway. You see, before the final exile in 587, Ezekiel’s message to the Israelites in exile was that they needed to change their ways, they needed to repent. However, after the Exile, Ezekiel is compelled to be a prophet that holds up hope for the people of Israel.
When listen to God’s call on Ezekiel’s life in today’s passage, I imagine that we can be tempted in one of two ways. One way we may be tempted to respond to the passage is to believe that preaching the words of God to people is pointless because so many people refuse to listen. Likewise, when we believe that people are stubborn and will not listen, we may be tempted to be less careful with the ways we speak about God — not checking out if what we say comes from us or from God. It can tempt us to be arrogant when we try to speak for God.
Here is the deal — God is not calling Ezekiel to be successful; at least not in the way that we often measure success. One might think that success might be having all of Israel repent and change their ways. However, God is calling Ezekiel to faithfulness for the sake of being faithful.
We are not called to change the minds of other people – we are simply called to testify to the presence and love and grace of God in our lives. Additionally, in order to avoid the arrogance that can come when we feel called by God, we must see ways that God’s words and teachings are changing our lives. If God seems to hate all the people we hate, we are probably doing something wrong. God’s word should challenge us and change us; not shore up our own beliefs about how things should be.