Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-7 (NRSV) – 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. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.
Observations: Our Bible study group members were talking a couple of days ago about the visions that John begins to see in Revelation chapter 6, and one of the common themes of the discussion was, “I don’t understand this.” It’s easy to see why; the visions are hard to understand, and I’m not at all convinced that we’re supposed to fully understand them. I felt the same way as I read the first chapter of Ezekiel this morning. Creatures with four faces, wings, and wheels that seemed to move them wherever they went – it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, or fantasy. Maybe I’m not supposed to understand anything more than this: my limited understanding cannot possibly comprehend everything there is to know about God. Maybe God just uses these passages to remind us that we don’t know everything about him. Maybe he doesn’t want us getting so full of ourselves that we think we have the answers to everything. If that’s his purpose, then it’s working with me – because I definitely know that I don’t have the answers to everything.
But here’s what I do know: God calls people to certain tasks, and he expects them to obey. He called Ezekiel to go and speak to the exiles, and told him to say whatever God told him to say. Like so many of the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel didn’t get any promises of success: “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear, keep being obedient. Whether they accept you or reject you, honor you or persecute you, keep being obedient. This is another reminder that God does not hold us responsible for the response to our obedience. If he calls us to speak, we speak. If people don’t listen, that’s on them; but if we’re not obedient and we don’t speak, that’s on us.
One other thing that stands out to me is that God shoots down the idea that when God calls us to go and speak to people who are “like us,” we’re guaranteed success. Even Jesus faced resistance in his hometown. As God tells Ezekiel in chapter 3, “you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel – not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me…” (3:5-7a) We’d all love to have success – to have people flocking to hear us, and see great responses to our messages – but God doesn’t promise us that. He simply calls us to obedience: “Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’; whether they hear or refuse to hear.” (3:10-11)
Applications: God is reminding me that there are times when we’re called to proclaim a message that people don’t want to hear. That’s not an easy thing to accept, because we all want to be liked; we all want to have people listen to us. There is often an expectation that if people aren’t listening, then we’re not really doing what God wants – but that’s not Biblical. In fact, the Bible tells us that in these last days, people will reject sound teaching, and will gather around them teachers who tell them “what their itching ears want to hear.” But when God puts his words into our hearts and into our mouths, we need to speak what God tells us to – even if people don’t receive it. God is reminding me to keep my eyes focused on him, and to keep doing what he tells me to do, and to trust that he will use my obedience for his Kingdom purposes.
Prayer:Father, I confess that it is a struggle sometimes to understand how things are working in your plan. I’m sure that Ezekiel struggled at times, wondering why his fellow Israelites wouldn’t listen to your message. Thank you for the reminder that you have ‘made my forehead harder than flint,’ so I can keep pressing ahead. Thank you for those around me who are listening to you, and for the ways that you are working in their lives. Help us all to do your will, on earth as in heaven, so that your Kingdom may come in greater measure today. Amen.