Everyone needs warnings from time to time. Sometimes God tells us, “Go and tell them.” Before we do, we need to listen to God ourselves! They may not listen, but at least they’ll have had the opportunity to respond.
Ezekiel, chapters 1-3; Revelation, chapter 2
Ezekiel 3:1-11 (NLT):
The voice said to me, “Son of man, eat what I am giving you – eat this scroll! Then go and give its message to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. “Fill your stomach with this,” he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
Then he said, “Son of man, go to the people of Israel and give them my messages. I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! But the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn. But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”
Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.”
A Vision of God
Over the next few weeks, we will read from both Ezekiel and Revelation. As we do, you will notice parallels between them – particularly, the images they use to describe encounters with God. Ezekiel chapter 1 talks about four “living beings”; we see that sort of imagery in Revelation 4. Ezekiel also describes the appearance of the Lord as being glowing like a burning coal, or like fire. John uses similar language to describe his vision of Jesus in Revelation 1. The glowing of burning coals, or metal, and the brilliance of gemstones are metaphors we will see over and over in both Ezekiel and Revelation.
This should not surprise us – but neither should we focus too much on it. Ezekiel and John used language that was familiar to them, and to their readers, to describe the visions they saw. Probably all of us have had occasions when we just did not have words to adequately describe what we were seeing or experiencing. We’ve heard the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That tells us that our ability to describe things is limited. Ezekiel and John had no way to take pictures of the visions they saw, so we shouldn’t expect that their descriptions adequately depict what God’s glory is really like.
“Go and Tell Them”
What’s really important is the effect that this vision had on Ezekiel. God called him to go and tell them – to give his messages to the people of Israel. Probably everyone who has ever sensed a call to speak for God expects that their messages will be well-received, at least at first. But God tells Ezekiel very clearly that his messages will not be welcomed:
- “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation” (2:3)
- “They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people” (2:4)
- “You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” (2:7)
- “The people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” (3:7)
But God did not send Ezekiel out unprepared. “But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.” God gave Ezekiel the strength to stand firm even when the people rejected his messages. And that’s what Ezekiel did.
“Let My Words Sink Into Your Own Heart First”
Probably the most important thing that God told Ezekiel is in verses 10-11: Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says!” Do this whether they listen to you or not. It is easy for us to read Scripture and think, “So-and-so really needs to hear this!” But unless we take God’s word to heart for ourselves first, we are unqualified to speak it to others.
We’ve all experienced what it’s like to have someone give us advice that they are clearly not following. The familiar phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do” is familiar because we’ve all had that happen to us. As ineffective as it is to give advice that we’re not following, it’s even worse in the context of the gospel. If we claim to speak on God’s behalf – and that’s what we’re doing when we apply Scripture to others – we need to make sure we’ve applied that Scripture to ourselves.
That doesn’t mean that we have to have “perfect performance” to be able to preach or teach Scripture. Otherwise, no one would be qualified! But it does mean that we have to “take the plank out of our own eye” first. If we’re going to go and tell them on God’s behalf, we’d better be sure we’re really listening ourselves!
Father, thank you for reminding us that we need to take to heart what you tell us before we can share it with others. Thankfully, your Spirit leads us in the truth each day. If we’re willing to listen, you will always lead us in the right way!
Give us the courage to “go and tell them” what you have said, and to not be afraid of their reaction. As you told Ezekiel, “Whether they listen or refuse to listen – for remember, they are rebels – at least they will know that they have had a prophet among them.” Help us to stand firm for the truth, even when others are covering their ears. Give