Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE LESS FAVOURED WOULD WELCOME THE DIVINE MESSENGER AND THE DIVINE MESSAGE. People of a strange speech, the prophet was assured, would, had he been sent to them, certainly have hearkened unto him. How is this to be accounted for? Such people would have been favourably inclined to the herald of God's justice and mercy:
1. By their surprise at an unwonted instance of God's condescension and gracious interest.
2. By their gratitude for words of warning and of promise.
3. By their responsiveness to the interposition on their behalf of a new power brought to bear upon their moral nature.
4. By the hope of Divine acceptance and of a new and better life awakened by the summons in their nature.
II. THE HIGHLY FAVOURED WILL MEET THE DIVINE MESSENGER AND THE DIVINE MESSAGE WITH INDIFFERENCE, UNBELIEF, AND IRRESPONSIVENESS.
1. Privilege is often associated with moral obduracy. The expression used is very severe: "Of a hard forehead, and of a stiff heart." It is observable, and very significant, that the historians and prophets of the Hebrews, so far from flattering their countrymen, used with regard to them language of stern upbraiding and denunciation, reproached them with their unbelief, rebelliousness, hardness of heart, and stiff-necked attitude towards Divine authority. And such reproach was abundantly justified by the facts of their history. They were chosen to privilege, not in virtue of any excellence of their own, but in the sovereign wisdom and mercy of the Lord. The more God did for them, the less they heeded his commandments. Not that this condemnation applied to all; there were those "faithful among the faithless;" but generally speaking, the Jews were a disobedient and rebellious race.
2. This moral obduracy leads to the rejection of God's messengers. "The house of Israel" so the Lord forewarned Ezekiel - " will not hearken unto thee." The same truth was expressed by our Lord himself centuries afterwards, when he reproachfully reminded his kindred according to the flesh that through long centuries messengers from God had been sent to their forefathers, only to be ill treated, wounded, and slain. Ezekiel was only to be treated as similarly authorized messengers of God both before and afterwards.
3. God's messengers are rejected by those who have rejected God himself. Most terrible are the words of the Lord to Ezekiel: "They will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto ME." God had spoken unto Israel in the events of past history, and in the directions and reproaches of conscience. Ezekiel might well believe that there was no special reason why they should listen to him; but he was well aware that there is no sin more awful than the refusal to listen to the Eternal himself, all whose words are true and just, wise and good. It was not a case for personal feeling, a case of offence given and taken. Such feeling would have been out of place. The serious aspect of Israel's unbelief was just this - it was unbelief of God; they turned away from the voice that spake from heaven.
APPLICATION. The privileges of those who, in this Christian dispensation, hear the gospel of salvation preached to them, far exceed the privileges of the ancient Hebrews. To reject the testimony of Christ's ministers is to reject Christ himself, as our Lord has explicitly declared. The condemnation and guilt are tenfold when men harden their hearts, not only against the authority of the Divine Law, but against the pleadings of Divine love. - T.
I. THE SOURCE OF AUTHORITY. The splendid manifestation of God, recorded in the first chapter, was intended to prepare and loftily Ezekiel for this difficult undertaking. The God of heaven, who dwelt amid such splendours, and who had such a magnificent retinue, condescended to employ this timid "son of man" as his ambassador. Whenever an envoy has been sent by his monarch to a foreign court, on a momentous errand, he has been sustained by the consciousness that he represented, in his weak person, the honour of the monarch and the strength of the whole empire. So Ezekiel had been admitted to the court of the celestial King, and was honoured to bear the commands of the eternal God. No other authority could be compared with this. Having revealed to his ecstatic vision the glories of the heavenly King, the Sovereign's voice broke graciously on the servant's ear, "Go, get thee unto the house of Israel."
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MESSAGE. "Speak with my words." The first task the prophet had to perform was with himself. It was a necessity that he should repress and subject self. He must overbear his timidity. He must mortify his pride. He must forego personal tastes and predilections. This done, his task was simple. He was to be spokesman for God. He was released from the perplexity of inventing suasive arguments or selecting fitting words. All the material for reproof, expostulation, counsel, appeal, was furnished by God himself. On every occasion the prophet was required to speak in the name of the Sovereign, and to use this formula, "Thus saith Jehovah."
III. THE RESISTANCE ANTICIPATED. At first sight, it would seem as if the prophet's mission were an easy one. To convey a further disclosure of God's will to his own people would surely be a most welcome thing. If they had accorded to Moses almost reverential honor, will they not display a similar disposition to another prophet? Moreover, the people were now in the extremity of trouble - in the depths of affliction: would they not the more readily hear a message from their God? A singular doom was awaiting such bright hopes. Surface prospects were indeed favourable, but the most formidable opposition was thinly veiled. No foe on earth is so terrible to face as a depraved human will. As metals, that have been repeatedly heated and cooled, cannot easily be made ductile; so, under much gracious treatment, the heart of Israel had become hopelessly hardened. It is an unalterable law of Heaven, that kindness abused becomes the heaviest curse. Yet no measure of opposition was to deter the prophet in fulfilling his duty, or he, too, would experience the curse of disobedience. Though he was forewarned how resistant would be his auditors, his commission was unmodified, his task unchanged. If no advantage should accrue to the house of Israel, large advantage would accrue to the prophet, as the result of his fidelity - large advantage would result to later generations. Difficulty is not the measure of duty. Service for God bears fruit in unexpected directions.
IV. SPECIAL EQUIPMENT IS PROVIDED BY GOD. In our warfare for God we may find encouragement in the superior resources of our Master against all assailants. Truth is mightier than error all the world over. Righteousness is mightier than wickedness. We have an ally in the conscience of our foe, if all his passions be against us. Best encouragement of all, God's strength is mightier, more durable, than the might of allied humanity. The conflict may be long, but final conquest is sure. Special equipment, too, is provided for special difficulties. "To the froward God will shrew himself froward." If his enemies show a brazen face, God will give his servants a forehead of steel. If they mail themselves with flints, God will provide his defenders with breastplates of adamant. "My grace is sufficient for thee;" "As thy day thy strength."
V. THE TRUE PROPHET IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL ARMY. He does not labour alone, nor contend alone. The Spirit of God is upon him - fortifies him on every side. Angels rejoice in the appointment of human ambassadors. The great forces of the universe work along with the servant of God. The living creatures cooperate with God's soldiery. As we go forth to the battle with sin, we may hear behind us the rustling of the heavenly wings, and the music of the heavenly wheals, and the chorus of sympathizing saints, "Be ye faithful unto death." The battle is not ours, but God's. The cause with which we are identified is most honorable. Our Master is the King of heaven. We act in alliance with the noblest spirits in the universe. Complete triumph is predestined. - D.
1. Both these spheres of service would have presented difficulties in the way of the fulfilment of the prophet's mission. In the case of the heathen nation or nations there would have been the linguistical difficulty. Ezekiel would not have understood their speech; they would not have understood his. European missionaries find this, and have to spend no inconsiderable time in acquiring the language of those to whom they are sent. before they can begin their great work. In the case of the house of Israel the difficulty was in their moral condition. It was not that the prophet's speech was unintelligible unto them, but that their hearts were hardened against the Word of the Lord.
2. The liaguistical hindrance to the success of the prophet's mission was far less serious than the moral. Time and patient application would enable him to surmount the former; but what human skill or assiduity can overcome the strong prejudice or moral obstinacy of the heart?
3. The mortal hindrance to the success of the prophet's mission is sometimes humanly insuperable. (Ver. 7.) What is the reason of this, that the untaught heathen would have attended unto the prophet, while the privileged Israelites would not hearken unto him?
I. THE FAMILIARITY OF THE ISRAELITES WITH THE TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD DEPRIVED THOSE TRUTHS OF THE INTEREST WHICH ARISES FROM NOVELTY. The unfamiliar and the new have great attractions for many minds (cf. Acts 17:19-21). Ezekiel had no new fundamental truths to make known unto the house of Israel. What Moses and other prophets had taught he had to enforce and apply to their present circumstances. With the general principles of his teaching they were well acquainted. His message had no interest to them. But to the heathen his message would have been fresh and charged with interest. It would have awakened inquiry, etc. And alas! how many in Christian congregations today are so familiar with the gospel of Jesus Christ that they heed it not! Things which, compared with it, are the trifles of an hour, secure their eager attention, while it is treated as an unimportant and unprofitable thing.
II. THE LONG INDIFFERENCE OF THE ISRAELITES TO THE TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD RENDERED THEM INSENSIBLE TO THE POWER OF THOSE TRUTHS. They had heard them without heeding them, until heedlessness had become habitual in relation to them. They had refused to recognize their importance so long that now they seemed to them to have no importance. But the heathen would not have been thus indifferent to these truths. For them they would have had, not only the interest of novelty, but the influence arising from their practical relation to their hearts and lives. Is it not to be feared that in Christian countries at present there are many who, like the house of Israel, how so long been indifferent to "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" that now it is natural to them not to feel any personal concern in it? The offer which is repeatedly disregarded is ere long unnoticed. Warnings which are frequently unheeded at length cease to be heard.
III. THE PRACTICAL OPPOSITION OF THE ISRAELITES TO THE TRUTHS PUBLISHED BY THE PROPHET HAD HARDENED THEIR HEARTS AGAINST THOSE TRUTHS. They had so long refused to do the will of God that they had become insensible to the lower of his Word. They were "impudent and hard-hearted" - " stiff of forehead and hard of heart." They would not hear the Word of the Lord. But the heathen would have beard it if that Word had been sent unto them; for they had not hardened themselves against it. They were accessible to its influence, etc. This solemn truth receives confirmation from other portions of Scripture. While the house of Israel rejected their prophets, the heathen of Nineveh retorted at the preaching of Jonah. Our Lord also confirms this truth in solemn words (Matthew 8:10-12; Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:38-42). The history of modern missions supplies illustrations of the power of the gospel of Christ to interest and astonish, to attract and fascinate, to convince and convert, heathen peoples. Yet in this highly favoured land there are millions who are unmoved by that gospel. And of these many, many, we fear, have hardened themselves against the will and Word of God. They who persist in so doing become "past feeling." Moral power fails to impress them. They are "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." When holy authority has no force for men, and Divine threatenings no awakening power, and truth and righteousness no sacred majesty, and death 'rod eternity no solemnity, and the deepest, tenderest love no spell upon the heart, - when men are indifferent to these, harden themselves against these, what moral influences of a saving character can be brought to bear upon them?
1. If the heathen would have heard the Word of the Lord, how is it that the prophet was not sent unto them? Our answer mast be that of our Lord when considering a similar question: "l thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth," etc. (Matthew 11:25, 26). And it is important to remember that the heathen will be judged, not according to the light which they bad not, but according to that which they had.
3. But the chief voice of our subject is that of solemn admonition to all unto whom the gospel is preached. "Take heed how ye hear." "Despise not prophesyings." Beware of hearing the Word of the Lord with indifference; for indifference may grow into obduracy of heart such as no moral force can penetrate. - W.J.
I. THE OUTWARD OCCASIONS OF FEAR. There are many circumstances which are likely to arouse the apprehensions, and so to depress the energies, of God's messengers to Their fellow men.
1. Want of sympathy with his message on the part of those to whom he is sent.
2. An attitude of deliberate indifference and unbelief.
3. Determined resistance and resentment.
4. Threats of personal violence.
The former occasions of fear are such as every minister of religion must expect to encounter. But the Hebrew prophets sometimes met with actual ill treatment - blows, bonds, and death. So it was with the apostles of our Lord, and so it has been with missionaries of the cross, who have fulfilled their ministry among the unenlightened, prejudiced, and hostile heathen. Many have "resisted unto blood, striving against sin."
II. THE INWARD INCLINATION TO FEAR. There is great difference in the matter of constitutional temperament; some men are naturally timid, and prone to be overawed by opposition and intimidation, whilst others have a certain delight in antagonism, and care not what odds are against them in the conflict.
1. Sometimes the messenger of God is too prone to regard his own peace and comfort, and is averse to any step which may bring him into collision with others.
2. The feeling on the part of God's servant, that he is but one against many, inclines him to retirement and reticence.
3. And this is increased when there is no countenance or support from colleagues in labour and warfare. The consciousness of personal feebleness and insufficiency, combined with the feeling of isolation, may naturally account for the prevalence of fear in the presence of difficulty, opposition, and hostility. He who made man, and who is perfectly acquainted with human nature, is aware that his servants are subject to such infirmities, and that they need accordingly a special provision of Divine grace to fortify them against the spiritual danger to which they are exposed.
III. THE DIVINE PRESERVATIVE FROM FEAR.
1. The consciousness of a message from God to be delivered, whether man will hear or forbear, is fitted to take away all dread of men's displeasure, as well as all undue desire for men's favour.
2. The assurance that Divine authority accompanies the Lord's servant is in itself sufficient to make his face and his forehead hard as adamant in the presence of opponents whose only authority lies in force or in the conventional greatness attaching to earthly rank or station.
3. To this is added the express promise of God's aid. The opponents may be mighty; but the soldier of truth and of righteousness has the assurance that he who is with him is mightier still. "Fear not," says the Almighty, "for I am with you." - T.
I. THE ABUNDANCE OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. There is grandeur in the language here attributed to the Eternal: "All my words that I shall speak unto thee." How can we gather up into one apprehension all the communications, the words, addressed by God to man?
1. All nature may fairly be regarded as the speech of him who, being at once the Father of spirits and the Author of the universe, makes use of the works of his hands as the medium by which to communicate with the beings whom he has endowed with capacities for knowing himself and for sharing in his character.
2. Man's moral nature is in an especial manner the organ by which the Creator reveals his most venerable and admirable attributes; unless man had a heart to feel, he would remain forever a stranger to the glorious character of his God.
3. The text refers undoubtedly to a special revelation accorded to selected individuals for definite purposes. And although there are those who would admit the manifestations of God previously described, and yet would question the reality of a supernatural revelation, there are good reasons for believing that we are indebted to such special provision for not a little of our most precious knowledge of our God.
II. THE OBSTACLES TO HUMAN RECEPTIVENESS, These are not so much intellectual as moral. It is the worldly nature, engrossed with the pursuits of earth and the pleasures of sense, that repels Divine communications. The atmosphere is too dense and foggy for the rays of Divine righteousness and purity to pierce. It is sin which makes the ear deaf and the heart impenetrable so that the words of wisdom and of love die away unheeded and upheard.
III. THE PENETRATION AND OCCUPATION OF HUMAN NATURE BY THE IMPARTING OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS: The purpose of the Eternal was that the whole being of the "son of man" should be taken up and occupied by the words to be uttered. And surely this is the intention of God regarding, not Ezekiel alone, but every child of man. There is no obstacle upon the Divine side. On the contrary, the purpose of infinite benevolence is that our humanity may be receptive of Divine blessing.
1. Divine truth is intended to fill the intelligence. In God's light it is for us re see light. Truth regarding God and man, and regarding God's relation to man, is communicated in wonderful and abundant measure to the truth-seeking soul, and especially by him who is "the Truth."
2. Divine love is intended to fill the heart.
3. Divine authority is intended to control the will - the active nature of man.
4. And Divine service is intended to fill man's life, so that the words of God may produce their perfect fruit in the actions and the habits of man. - T.
I. CELESTIAL VOICES CAME TO ONE WHO HAD JUST PASSED THROUGH VERY DISHEARTENING EXPERIENCES.
1. Ezekiel had been reminded of the unbelief and rebelliousness of his countrymen, to whom it was his vocation to minister. Their character had been described to him in language of the truth of which he was too well aware. To preach to the hardened and unsympathetic is no pleasant task. Yet it is a task to which every retreater of religion is often called. His is frequently the voice of one crying in the wilderness. And again and again has he been cast down and distressed in spirit when thus encountered by prejudice, worldliness, and unbelief.
2. Ezekiel had been made to feel the difficulties arising from the feebleness and insufficiency of the spiritual labourer. It is hard to face a powerful foe; but to do so becomes harder when the warrior is conscious of his own weakness. And this has been the experience of every faithful servant of God. Often has the minister of Christ, overpowered by a sense of his impotence, cried aloud, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
II. CELESTIAL VOICES COME TO REANIMATE, TO COMFORT, AND TO STRENGTHEN THE SERVANT OF GOD. When the prophet was depressed by his experiences and apprehensions, the Spirit lifted him up, and he heard voices from above. Whilst we listen only to the voices of earth, we shall endure distress and discouragement. But if filled with the Spirit, we may hear voices which shall ravish our hearts with joy and inspire them with courage.
1. Celestial voices summon our attention away from man to God. There is a Divine side to our humanity, to our life, our work, and even our sorrows. The spirit of man is capable of apprehending the Divine, and, indeed, only in doing so does it realize the purpose of its existence. God is not far from every one of us; and he is near to all who call upon him in truth.
2. Celestial voices summon us to contemplate the majesty of the Eternal. This is their burden: "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place." How poor do earth's pleasures, and how paltry do earth's interests seem, when brought into comparison with the heavenly and eternal! The Hebrew prophets certainly enjoyed a wonderful insight into the majestic attributes of Jehovah. If we will be led by them, they will lead us into the presence, and reveal to us something of the glory, of the Lord of all. Thus may we be freed from bondage to earth's littleness; thus may we learn the true, full lessons of being.
3. Thus earthly trouble may be lost and absorbed in heavenly grandeur. The voice of the rushing, the noise of the wheels, the rustling of the wings, - these appealed to the imagination and touched the spirit of the prophet; and his trials and difficulties shrank into their proper insignificance, when he was conscious of the nearness and of the infinite superiority of the Divine. We may not always be able to reason down our difficulties, to repress our anxieties, to vanquish our temptations. But we may bring all into the presence of Divine visions and Divine voices; and they will assume their just proportions, and God will he the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, of all. - T.
I. THE NATURAL DEPRESSION OF THE DISAPPOINTED WORKER FOR GOD. The circumstances described in the context are abundantly sufficient to account for the bitterness and heat of the prophet's spirit. Every faithful servant and minister of God can enter, more or less completely, into his feelings. The conditions of labour are often discouraging and distressing.
II. THERE IS DANGER LEST THE EFFECT OF MENTAL BITTERNESS SHOULD BE THE CRIPPLING OF THE HANDS FOR EFFICIENT LABOUR. A cheerful mind contributes to efficient toil. Even if the task be difficult and painful, it will not be well performed if bitterness and heat of spirit prevail. "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
III. DIVINE INTERPOSITION CAN IMPART STRENGTH, CAN ALLAY VEXATION, CAN FIT FOR SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. "The hand of the Lord," says the prophet, "was strong upon me." This metaphorical expression is full of significance.
1. Strong to uphold, as a father's hand sustains his child in a difficult and dangerous road.
2. Strong to defend, as the hand of an escort may ward off from his charge the attack of a foe.
3. Strong to direct, as the hand of the helmsman may steer the ship upon her course.
4. Strong to cheer and encourage, as the hand of the husband may grasp that of the wife, to comfort and to animate with courage, in times of common difficulty, sorrow, and distress.
5. Strong to save, as the hand of a deliverer may rescue a drowning form from raging waterhoods. - T.
I. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM NATURAL RELATIONSHIP. Relationships are of all kinds - near and remote. No man is completely detached from others. His life penetrates other lives. A father is responsible for his children. Brothers are responsible for sisters, and vice versa, it was not until the demon of murderous hate had strangled the natural instinct of brotherhood, that the sullen miscreant asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?
II. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM OFFICIAL POSITION. The eternal God had exalted Ezekiel to a position of honour in his kingdom; and high rank is another name for high responsibility. To make this clear to his servant, God employed comparison, analogy, forcible illustration. On the city watchman hung the fate of the city - the lives of fellow citizens. He was exempted from other duties that he might the better discharge this. For many reasons, some manifest, some hidden, God appoints men, not angels, to be the exponents of his will to men. Faithful service will be richly rewarded; the loss of such rewards is a heavy penalty. But responsibility, if abused, bears a prolific harvest of disasters.
III. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE. If knowledge is power, knowledge is responsibility also. The light of wisdom or of science is entrusted to us that it may be diffused. In proportion to the practical value of the knowledge is the responsible duty to propagate it. Hence the special insight into man's fallen state, the subtlety of temptation, and the overwhelming results of impenitence - in brief, the special knowledge of God's intention with respect to guilty men - this entails on every prophet and preacher an imponderable responsibility to be faithful. Men might have been saved had they known both the generous and the judicial purposes of God; we knew and might have instructed them.
IV. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM POSSIBLE INFLUENCE. To the utmost extent that we can touch the springs of motive and of action in our fellow men are we responsible for them. Our responsibility does not begin and end with the message we deliver. We are to warn men. This mystic influence we possess over others is reflected from every smile and tone and feature. Hence temper, motive, fervour, earnestness, are elements of our power. We warn others by our own abstinence from sin, by our self-denials, our heavenly-mindedness, our fruitful goodness, our pious walk and converse. Responsibility ends only when we have exhausted every method to draw men heavenward.
V. RESPONSIBILITY SPRINGS FROM THE KNOWN RESULTS OF NEGLECTED TRUST. The God who has placed his servants in responsible positions has deigned to inform them what shall be the effects of neglect and cowardice. To the unwarned wicked the effect shall be destruction: "They shall surely die." To the unfaithful watchman the effect shall be dishonour and loss: "The blood of the unwarned shall be required at his hand." The wicked might have died, though warned; but he might have repented and lived. A diseased man may die, although the remedy be applied; but if the known remedy be withheld, the blame of that death will fall on the slothful attendant. God has not seen it to be wise or fitting to make provision against unfaithfulness in his prophets. If they fail in the discharge of their momentous functions, no other agency will supply the room. The impenitent (who have no claim on God for any remedial measures) will, in such a case, die in their iniquity. Forevery position of influence, or honour, or usefulness we hold, "we must give account of ourselves before God." - D.
I. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH THE PROPHET OF THE LORD IS HERE REPRESENTED. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel."
1. The appointment of a watchman implies the peril of the Church. Watchmen in ancient times were posted on the walls or in the towers of cities in order that they might watch for the appearance or approach of an enemy, and give instant warning of the same. The house of Israel was exposed to dangers and enemies, or it would not have needed a watchman. And the Church of Christ today is opposed by "the gates of hell" (Matthew 16:18), by evil powers in the world, and by evil persons and erroneous teachings within itself (Acts 20:29, 30).
2. The appointment of watchmen in the Church is the prerogative of God. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman," etc. No man may constitute himself a watchman, and no Church may appoint a man to this office apart from the call of the Lord thereto. Christian ministers are called of God (cf. Hebrews 5:4).
II. THE DUTY OF THE PROPHET AS A WATCHMAN. His business was "to take notice, and to give notice."
1. To watch. "Hear the word at my mouth." It is a peculiarity of these watchmen that they have not to look around to obtain intelligence, but to look up. Their eyes and ears must be directed towards the Lord. They must receive their message from him, and then proclaim it unto men. And the Christian prophet must speak the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must "hear him" (Matthew 17:5); we must preach him (2 Corinthians 4:5). This part of a watchman's duty demands vigilance. Slothfulness and inattention may prove disastrous both to his charge and to himself. His observant faculties must be in active exercise.
2. To warn. "And give them warning from me." Ezekiel was to publish to the house of Israel what he heard from the Lord, and to publish it in his Name. The Christian preacher must warn and encourage, exhort and rebuke, in the Name of his Master, the Christ. He must receive from him; he must testify for him (cf. Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16).
III. THE CHARACTERS UNTO WHOM THE WATCHMAN MUST ADDRESS HIMSELF. He must warn both the righteous and the wicked (vers. 18-21). But four types of character are adduced here.
1. The wicked man who has not been warned by the watchman, and dies because of his iniquity. (Ver. 18.) God declares that "the wages of sin is death;" that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." And though this wicked man was not warned by the watchman, yet he was warned by his own conscience, and by voices of Divine providence, and by the sacred Scriptures. "Where the public ministry does not do its duty, Holy Scripture is still at hand, and it is each one's fault if he be not called to repentance by the voice of this" (Hengstenberg).
2. The wicked man who has been warned by the watchman, but still persists in sin, and dies because of his iniquity. (Ver. 19.) His guilt is greater, and his punishment will be more severe, by reason of the warnings which he has despised.
3. The sometime outwardly righteous man, who has become a worker of iniquity, and has not been warned by the watchman, and dies because of his sin. (Ver. 20.) This verse calls for some remarks by way of exposition.
(1) That in the providence of God the characters of men are tested. The words, "I lay a stumbling block before him," point to this. The expression signifies to subject one to trial by exposing him to difficulties and dangers, as in Jeremiah 6:21. "God tempts no man in order to his destruction, but in the course of his providence he permits men to be tried in order that their faith may be approved, and in this trial some who seem to be righteous fall" (Dr. Currey).
(2) That some characters fail beneath this test. Where the righteousness is only external, it is unable to endure the trial. But "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" will not be injured by the trial.
(3) That when one who has done righteous acts fails under trial and becomes a worker of iniquity, he forfeits the reward of those righteous acts, and, if he persist in sin, he will die by reason thereof. "He shall die because of his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered." To obtain the reward of good works perseverance therein even to the end is necessary (cf. Hebrews 6:10-12 2John 8 Revelation 3:11).
4. The righteous man who has been warned by the watchman, and, persevering in his righteousness, lives. (Ver. 21.) The sincerely righteous need warning, exhortation, and counsel, and are likely to profit by them.
IV. THE DIFFERENT RESULTS OF THE WATCHMAN'S MINISTRY.
1. As regards his hearers.
(1) Some would not heed his warnings. In the examples given in the text there is a majority of this class. The result to them would be greater guilt and severer condemnation. How many, alas! treat the warnings of the Christian watchman in a similar manner! They hear them, but practically despise them.
(2) Some would heed his warnings, and their salvation would be furthered by so doing. An example of this is given in ver. 21. And others, through him, might be led to turn from their iniquity, and live. Unspeakably blessed are such results.
2. As regards himself.
(1) If the watchman should be unfaithful his guilt would be terrible. "His blood will I require at thine hand" (vers. 18, 20; cf. Genesis 9:5; Genesis 42:22). "It is the life," says Schroder, "which is in the blood, of those in Israel which is entrusted to the prophet as a watchman. For this Jehovah, the Supreme Proprietor, demands a reckoning. The prophet who forgets his duty, which he owes to the unrighteous in God's stead, becomes a manslaughterer, a murderer of that man, and is regarded as such by God;" and as a murderer, not of the body, but of the inestimably precious soul. The thought of such guilt is overwhelmingly dreadful How awful is the responsibility of the Lord's watchmen! "Who is sufficient for these things?"
(3) If the watchman is faithful and successful, great would be his joy and great his reward, as in the case stated in ver. 21. And in the case which is not mentioned here, but is yet among the possible results of his work, viz. that the wicked should believe his message, and turn unto the Lord. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him," etc. (James 5:19, 20). Who can estimate the blessedness of a result like this?
CONCLUSION. Our subject presents:
1. The strongest reasons for fidelity on the part of the ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. The strongest reasons why the Church of Jesus Christ should constantly aid his ministers by earnest prayers on their behalf. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2.) - W.J.
I. THE WATCHMAN'S COMMISSION. The spiritual guardian and keeper does not undertake this duty at the suggestion of his own thoughts and inclinations; he is called to it by the voice of God himself. The word of the Lord comes unto him. He is stationed where he stands by Divine authority. He has to listen for the Divine voice, to give heed to every direction, to be ready to utter such messages as he may receive from Heaven.
II. THE WATCHMAN'S DUTY. This is, generally, to testify to man according to the instructions he receives. He has to hear in order that he may speak, to take in the truth in order that he may give it forth. It is, therefore, not enough that he be attentive and intelligent; he must impart the tidings, the message, which he receives. He has a ministry, a trust, to fulfil for the benefit of his fellow men - he has to seek to bring them into conscious relations with the Father of spirits.
III. THE WATCHMAN'S SPECIAL OFFICE FOR THE REBELLIOUS. Watching for men, the spiritual guardian is bound to remember the special character of those over whom he is placed. He is not simply an instructor entrusted with the duty of declaring truth, of inculcating lessons and precepts. He has to deal with "a rebellious house." Hence one great function of the watchman is to warn. Throughout this book the greatest stress is laid upon this duty. "Warn them from me!" is the admonition of God to the faithful watchman. The people are in danger from manifold temptations; and they have to be put upon their guard against the spiritual perils by which they are threatened. The wicked are to be warned, that they may repent; the righteous have to be warned, lest they fall from their righteousness.
IV. THE WATCHMAN'S RESPONSIBILITY. The office thus described is indeed an honourable one; but it is difficult and responsible. Much depends upon the way in which the duty is discharged; the safety of the people and the acceptance of the guardian are both alike at stake.
1. The watchman's fidelity will be rewarded. If he fulfil his duty, he will deliver his soul, he will be approved and recompensed, promoted and honored.
2. The watchman's unfaithfulness will be punished. If he do not his duty, others will suffer, but he himself will not escape just retribution. The blood of the lost will be required at his hand.
1. Here is a lesson for those who are appointed to watch for souls. Their ears must be open to receive the Word of the Lord; their lips must be open to speak that Word.
2. Here is a lesson for those who enjoy the benefit of spiritual ministrations. It is not only an awful and responsible duty to watch; it is an awful and responsible privilege to listen to the watchman's warning. If the preacher is accountable for his utterances, the hearer is accountable for the spirit in which he receives those utterances. Take heed what, and how, you hear! - T.
I. SECLUSION FROM MEN BRINGS NEARER ACCESS TO GOD. Such experience our Lord himself passed through. "I shall be left alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me." "Arise, and go forth into the plain," said God to Ezekiel, "and I will there talk with thee." It is painful to be hindered and repulsed on a mission of mercy; but the servant of God may remember that the opposition is not to him, but to his Master. We naturally love society; we love success; we love to feel that our influence is moving men in the right direction. Resolute and persistent opposition is painful; but the friendship of God compensates for a thousand disappointments. If he smiles, it matters little who may frown.
II. THE OPPOSITION OF MEN BRINGS ALL GOD'S HOST TO THE PROPHET'S SIDE. The glorious vision which Ezekiel had seen on the banks of the Chebar was repeated in the plain. Representatives of all the living forces of heaven appeared again as the prophet's allies. In such a cause, and with such allied powers, triumph must eventually ensue. Though repelled, the prophet is not defeated; "Though cast down, not destroyed." If he pleased, God could have secured outward and apparent success for his messenger. He could have smitten with sudden death the more rebellious, and made the calamity an instrument for impressing and silencing others. But his wisdom preferred another course. "His thoughts are not our thoughts." Ezekiel very likely required yet further training for his work. We see not the scope and grandeur of Jehovah's plans at present; but by and by we shall be able to say, "He hath done all things well."
III. THE DEAFNESS OF MEN CURTAILS THE REVELATION FROM GOD. Men's pride usually becomes their punishment. They scourge themselves with their own sins. If they make themselves dear, God will make his servant dumb. The time will come when they shall earnestly desire to hear some message from the Lord, but they shall desire in vain. They may attempt to force the prophet into speech, but they will attempt in vain. Saul, the first King of Israel, was disobedient to the heavenly voice; yet when he was entangled in thick dangers, he cried to God, but God answered not, neither by prophet, nor by vision, nor by Urim or Thummim. "Because I called, and ye refused... I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh." Reproof was the kindest message the people could have from God, yet they understood it not. The hardened soil must be broken up by the plough before it is of any use to cast in the seed. The diseased man needs medicine, not sweetmeats. And when, at times, God does give his prophets a word to utter, it is only the word of reproof again. He will bring their self-will and pride again to remembrance. The pearls of his gospel he casts not before swine. - D.
I. THE GRACIOUS PREPARATION OF MAN FOR THE RECEPTION OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "And the hand of the Lord was there upon me." (We have already briefly noticed the significance of this expression in dealing with Ezekiel 1:3.) Ezekiel seems to have been grieved and saddened in spirit (vers. 14, 15). Such depression unfitted him for receiving communications from God. Therefore "the hand of the Lord," the power of the Lord, came upon him to quicken him for the reception of the revelation of his will. God prepares his servants for his service. He qualifies and enables them to sustain exalted privileges, to perform arduous duties, to bear severe trials.
II. AN IMPORTANT CONDITION, FOR MAN, OF THE RECEPTION OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee." Ezekiel is thus commanded to depart from Tel-Abib and his fellow captives, and to go, not to the "plain extending to the river, but to a certain valley between the mountain walls there" - for such is the signification of the word which is translated "plain" in the Authorized Version. Retirement was a condition of communion and communication with God. If the prophet would hear his voice and behold his glory, he must go into the lonely valley. "God makes himself known to the mind only when it has been entirely withdrawn from worldly influences. We must be in the valley; but we may be in the bustling town, and yet in the valley" (Hengstenberg). (We have spoken of solitude and quiet as favouring Divine communications in our remarks on Ezekiel 1:1: "By the river of Chebar.")
III. THE CONDESCENSION OF GOD IN THE BESTOWMENT UPON MAN OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. With Ezekiel the Lord communicated in two ways.
1. By speech. "I will there talk with thee." God made known his will to his servant. Spiritually, he thus communicates with his people still. In infinite condescension, "the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, and who dwells in the high and holy place," also makes his abode in the hearts of his people (Isaiah 42:15; John 14:23). They have intimate fellowship with him (1 John 1:3). He will even visit them as their Guest, and sup with them (Revelation 3:20). They are blessedly conscious of his presence with them. By his Spirit he speaks unto them.
2. By vision. "Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of the Lord stood there," etc. The glory of tire Lord which the prophet beheld was like that which he saw before, and which he mentions in Ezekiel 1:28. (We have already remarked on the granting of Divine visions to man, on Ezekiel 1:1: "I saw visions of God.") And in our own times God opens the spiritual eyes of man, and grants unto him spiritual visions. Visions of truth and purity and beauty he exhibits to his people. He even reveals himself unto them. Our Lord promised to manifest himself unto his loving and obedient disciples (John 14:21). "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
IV. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT UPON MAN OF DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "And I fell on my face."
1. The sight of such glory humbles man with the sense of his own immeasurable inferiority.
2. The sight of such glory overwhelms man by quickening his consciousness of sin into greater activity.
3. Such humiliation is a condition of hearing the voice of God. - W.J.
I. WAS COMMANDED BY THE LORD. "Then the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine house" (cf. Ezekiel 2:2). One would have been inclined to conclude that, when he was revived by the Spirit, the prophet would have been ordered to enter upon active service. But he was commanded to seclude himself within his house. This seclusion was probably intended as:
1. A season of meditation for the prophet. Such seasons are requisite for those whose work for God is public and arduous; and in his providence God so orders their lives that such seasons are attainable by them; e.g.. Moses in the desert of Mitian (Exodus 3:1); St. Paul in Arabia (Galatians 1:17); Martin Luther in the monastery of Erfurt, and in the castle of Wartburg.
2. As a silent admonition to the people. God would instruct them by symbol, that from a rebellious people the prophetic presence and voice may be withdrawn. If men will not heed the reproofs of his servants, the reprover shall be silent towards them (ver. 26).
II. WAS OCCASIONED BY THE OBSTINACY OF THE PEOPLE IN WICKEDNESS. "But thou, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them." This verse is a difficult one, and we cannot assert dogmatically what it means; but it seems to us that it should be taken metaphorically, and that it symbolizes the truth that the persistent sins of the people occasioned the seclusion and silence of the prophet. Dr. Fairbairn thus paraphrases the verse under consideration: "Their obstinate and wayward disposition shall be felt upon thy spirit like restraining fetters, repressing the energies of thy soul in its spiritual labours, so that thou shalt need to look for thy encouragement elsewhere than in fellowship with them. The imposition of bands must be understood spiritually, of the damping effect to be produced upon his soul by the conduct of the people. It is a marked specimen of the strong idealism of our prophet, which clothes everything it handles with the distinctness of flesh and blood." The persistent rebelliousness of the people occasioned the temporary suspension of the active work of the prophet. The unbelief of our Lord's own countrymen was as bands upon him, restraining the exercise of his benevolent power. "And he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." Obstinacy in wickedness deprives man of the most precious spiritual possessions.
III. WAS TO BE RIGIDLY ENFORCED. "And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house." This is to be taken metaphorically. "Because the people would silence the prophet, God, to punish them, will close his mouth." During the time of the suspension of his prophetic activity he would be as silent to them as a dumb man. When the Lord determines to deprive a people of any blessing which they have despised or persistently disregarded, his determination will certainly be enforced.
IV. WAS TO BE ONLY TEMPORARY. "But when I speak with thee, I will open thy month, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God," etc. The withdrawal of the messenger of the Lord was not to be permanent. The prophet would speak again when God willed him to do so. When his seclusion and silence had produced their effect, he must go forth and proclaim the word of the Lord. The following observations are suggested by this verse:
1. The prophet is empowered for his work by the Lord. "When I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth." Ezekiel received his message from the Lord, and was emboldened by him to deliver it.
2. The prophet is authorized in his work by the Lord. "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God." Both the silence and the speech of Ezekiel were expressly ordered by God. In both he was under the control of his Divine Master, remaining silent when so directed by him, and proclaiming his word whet, commanded and enabled by him to do so. "This represents forcibly the authoritative character and Divine origin of the utterances of the Hebrew prophets."
3. The prophet's great concern in his work should be to be faithful to the Lord. "Thus saith the Lord God; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house." Ezekiel was not responsible for the success of his work with the people. But fidelity in executing the commissions which he received from his great Master was required of him. For this he was responsible. And still "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2).
CONCLUSION. Our subject addresses to us solemn admonition as to our treatment of the Word of the Lord. If we persistently despise or disregard that Word, he may withdraw it from us, or place us beyond the sphere of the ministry thereof. Neglected privileges may justly and reasonably be taken away from those who have neglected them (cf. Amos 1:4-12). - W.J.
I. THE TESTIMONY OF SILENCE. That God should enjoin one of his own prophets to silence is certainly a very remarkable fact, and one that needs explanation.
1. It is evidence of Israel's unbelief and inattention. When the people refused to hear, there was a solemn dignity in the refusal of the prophet any longer to speak.
2. It is in rebuke of Israel's attempt to silence the Lord's messenger. The people would have their monitor hold his peace; and God gave them their will. The oracle was dumb.
3. The silencing of the prophet was judicial. Punishment is a reality; and severe indeed is the penalty inflicted upon that nation in which the voice of God's prophets is silenced. The effects of such sin recoil upon the sinners' heads.
4. Such silencing was suggestive. It offered opportunity for reflection; it called for consideration regarding the future; it may well have appeared to the thoughtful premonitory of worse calamities to follow.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF SPEECH.
1. This is the result of Divine preparation: "When I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth." The same power which, at one time and for one purpose, closes the lips, at another time and lot another purpose, opens them. So long as God withholds the message, the prophet is silenced; no sooner is the message conveyed to the prophet than he is empowered to utter it.
2. This is in fulfilment of a Divine commission: "Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God." A command like this may well unseal the lips. The man who is convinced that he is justified in thus prefacing his utterances may well speak, whether his message be palatable or unpalatable, whether it bring the messenger praise or blame from his fellow men. 3 This accompanied by Divine authority: "He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear." It is for the people's own advantage that the prophet witnesses; if he warns, it is that they may escape threatened danger; if he promises, it is that they may obtain blessings; if he commands, it is that they may obey, and secure the rewards of obedience. Accordingly, it is for the people to consult their own highest interests. But in any case they are subject to Divine authority; from that, and all that it involves, there is no escape.
1. God has different ways of dealing with men; sometimes not only different, but apparently opposite ways, as in the case before us. And indeed, one man may be reached and benefited by speech; another man, by silence.
2. In whatever way God deals with us, we are equally and inevitably responsible. It is indeed in our power to hear or to forbear, i.e. to obey or to disobey. But to every man faith and obedience bring blessing; and moreover (which is still more important), they are in themselves right and becoming. Ours is the privilege; ours is the accountability for its proper use. - T.