The prophecy of Ezekiel opens with a priest named Ezekiel living near the Chebar River in Babylon. He is there because God has used the Babylonian Empire to invade Judah twice up this point. The Babylonians have captured the nobles and the workers of the land in these two invasions. Even though Ezekiel and the exiles live in Babylon because of their sins, God is not done with his people and has important messages for them. These messages are going to show how God is going to transform his people and give them new hearts so that they can belong to him again.
The first chapter of Ezekiel opens with Ezekiel seeing an amazing vision of God. The appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord in this vision has brought Ezekiel to his knees. The glory of the Lord is to lead people to worship, to submission, and to humility. In short, beholding the glory of the Lord is to lead to the radical transformation God desires (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18). In Ezekiel 2-3 God is going to call Ezekiel to be his prophet and explains the task that he has. This commissioning of Ezekiel will have much to teach us about our calling and how to fulfill our mission. Throughout these two chapters the Lord is going to tell Ezekiel four reasons to not be afraid of proclaiming God’s messages to his people. This will help us to be God’s ambassadors as we carry out the mission of sharing Jesus to the world.
Do Not Be Afraid… Because They Are Rebellious (2:1-8)
First, you will notice a stark contrast. Ezekiel has witnessed the awe-inspiring glory of the Lord. But the Lord calls Ezekiel, “son of man.” Now do not let your knowledge of Jesus calling himself “the Son of Man” cause you to miss what the Lord is calling Ezekiel. Calling Ezekiel the son of man is to emphasize the mortality and frailness of Ezekiel in contrast to immense glory and power of the Lord. The NRSV translates the term “mortal” as this carries the meaning of what the Lord is communicating. So throughout our study of the book of Ezekiel, please hear the Lord observing Ezekiel’s frailness, weakness, and mortality when he addresses him.
Second, you will notice that the Lord empowers Ezekiel for the task. Ezekiel is on the ground because he has seen in a vision the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. The Lord tells Ezekiel to stand up and then lifts him to his feet for this commission. You are mortal, Ezekiel. But in all your human weakness and frailty you are being empowered for the work that you are being given. You can carry out God’s work because God is with you.
I want us to think about this commission for a moment. God never calls people to do a work that they are unable to do. God never asks for 10 talents from a 2 talent person. God never calls us to do something that we cannot do. The problem is that we think God asks us to do things we cannot do. Think about people like Moses who are commissioned by the Lord to do a work but then do not believe they can do what God has asked. God had to send that message to Zerubbabel regarding his ability to rebuild God’s temple. God had to tell him, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). You are mortal but that does not mean you cannot do this work. You are frail and held back by human weaknesses. But that does not mean you cannot do this work because God is with you and his lifted you on your feet.
Now this is important because of what God tells Ezekiel God tells Ezekiel in verse 3 that he is sending Ezekiel to preach to a rebellious nation. They are obstinate and stubborn (2:4). But God is sending Ezekiel to them so that he will proclaim the message of the Lord to them. But listen to what God says in verse 6 because it does not sound quite right. God tells Ezekiel to not be afraid of them or their words even though doing this work is going to be like sitting on briers and thorns. Do not be afraid even though you will be living among scorpions. Now this sounds backward. Do not be afraid because they are like living among scorpions? Do not be afraid because doing this work is going to be like sitting on thorns and briers? How am I supposed to not be afraid when you are telling me that this is going to be hard and painful?
God’s answer is that they are rebellious people. Do not be afraid of their words and do not be dismayed by their looks because they are a rebellious house (2:6). How is that supposed to address our fear? Their rejection is not about you. They are rejecting God. Since they are rejecting God, then they are going to reject you. So it is not that they are rejecting you, but they are rejecting God. You might remember that God had to tell Samuel the same thing when the people rejected the Lord as their king (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7). In other words, do not take it personally. We cannot take the work personally. But this is hard to do. It feels like a rejection of us because our lives are completely for Jesus. But God tells us to not look at this way. They are rebellious so they are going to reject the message. So you do not have to be afraid because this has nothing to do with you.
Do Not Be Afraid… Because You Have God’s Words (2:9-3:3)
The second reason Ezekiel was not to be afraid was because he was going to speak God’s word. This is done in an amazing picture. In this vision, a scroll is given to Ezekiel that has writing on both sides containing words of lamentation, mourning, and woe. In essence, the scroll is completely full of bad news. Ezekiel is instructed to eat the scroll and speak to the house of Israel. Even though the scroll is full of words of judgment and doom, it is still the word of God and the word of God is always pictured as being sweet like honey (cf. Psalm 19). So it also is to Ezekiel (3:3). In fact, the end of chapter 3 indicates that the only words Ezekiel was going to speak while doing this work were God’s words (3:26-27). Ezekiel would not have normal, daily conversations. He would remain mute until God had words come on his lips and those who would be the only words he would speak. All he would speak are the truths from God’s mouth.
This is so important for us to remember. God’s words are truth. No one else has truth. Truth is not found anywhere else. You do not need to be afraid because you have the truth because you have God’s words. We do not have to be afraid because we have what God said. We are not saying our words. These are not our ideas or thoughts. This is what the word says. This is what Peter was instructing us to do as God’s people.
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God. (1 Peter 4:11 NRSV)
There is nothing to fear when we are depending on the word of God. We are to be the people who say what God says. Our mission is not to give people what they want to hear. This can be hard and certainly is a great temptation. But we need to consume God’s word so that it changes us and so his words are on our mouths.
Do Not Be Afraid… Because God Will Make You Strong (3:4-15)
The third reason we do not need to be afraid is because God will give the strength we need. We see this in Ezekiel 3:4-11. In verses 4-7 the Lord returns to describing the stubbornness of the people. God says that if Ezekiel were sent to a people who spoke anything language that they would listen. But these people, even though they speak the same language as Ezekiel, are not going to listen because of their stubbornness. They have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart (3:7).
So what is God going to do for Ezekiel? In verses 8-9 God says that he is going to make Ezekiel’s head hard also. God is going to give Ezekiel the strength to be resilient in the face of their opposition. Think about how many times God calls for his people to be strong because God would be with them and give them the strength they need. You probably can think of Moses and Joshua who were told that they could be strong and courageous for the work God was giving them. We need to pray for the Lord to give us this kind of strength and resilience. We must learn, if we are not doing so, to pray for God to give the strength we need to say what we need to say and do what we need to do. God can make you strong. He actually told us to be strong in him.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10 ESV)
Do Not Be Afraid… Because You Are Delivering Your Soul (3:16-27)
The Lord gives Ezekiel another important reason to carry out the mission that he has been given. We see at the end of Ezekiel 3:15 that the vision of the glory of the Lord ends. Ezekiel is returned to the exiles at the Chebar River and is overwhelmed by what he has seen for seven days (3:15). But the Lord has another message for Ezekiel. At the end of the seven days, the Lord sends another message to Ezekiel. The Lord tells Ezekiel that he is responsible to give the people the warning. If Ezekiel does not give the warning, the Lord says that the wicked will die for their sins, but Ezekiel will be held responsible for not giving the warning. However, if Ezekiel does give the warning, but they do not listen, Ezekiel will not be responsible because he has carried out his task. Ezekiel will have delivered his soul from that accountability (3:19-21). Friends, we will not be afraid to carry out the work God has given to us because we know that we will have a degree of accountability. The New Testament tells us the same message. Listen to what the apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders.
And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see me again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, because I did not avoid declaring to you the whole plan of God. (Acts 20:25–27 CSB)
Notice that Paul said that he is innocent from being accountable for the Ephesians because he did not avoid proclaiming the whole plan of God to them. We cannot shrink back from telling people about God’s purpose of salvation. James said something similar at the end of his book.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20 ESV)
We cannot be afraid of doing God’s work because in doing so we are delivering our own souls from being held accountable. There is an old song in our songbooks that are words that ring in a terrifying way in my head. The chorus speaks of people you know saying on the day of judgment, “You never mentioned him to me.” We do not want that accountability left upon us.
Friends, what is holding you back from being God’s ambassador to the world? What fear do you have that keeps you from taking advantage of opportunities as God opens them to you? If they reject, they are not rejecting you but God. You do not need to fear if you are speaking God’s word to people. You have truth and only the truth can set people free. God can make you strong in your fear. In fact, the apostle Paul proclaimed that when he was weak, then he was strong because he was depending on God in his weakness. Pray to God for strength. Be strong because you know you are doing the work God has given to you and in doing so are delivering your souls.