Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar. Born into a priestly family, Ezekiel was called into the prophetic ministry at around age 30.
For some 22 years he carried out his ministry as an exile, but God’s warnings from Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s from Babylon did not turn the hearts of God’s people back to Him. Jerusalem fell and was destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC.
Ezekiel, whose name means “God strengthens,” is commissioned by God as His prophet. God wants Ezekiel to be prepared for a rebellious people to reject His message and be hardened against God’s will and word. Ezekiel also should expect them to respond negatively to the message-bearer.
However, the prophet is not to fret. Like his name, God will strengthen him! In fact, God promises that Ezekiel’s forehead will be like the “hardest stone” (v. 9). In essence, Ezekiel is promised divine protection and strength for his calling. He is commanded to receive and hear (v. 10) — a special calling involving an intimate relationship with God.
Throughout his ministry, Ezekiel will continually hear God’s word and faithfully share it with his fellow exiles (v. 11).
Although separated by thousands of years, Ezekiel’s calling is our calling. Christians are set apart to an intimate relationship with Christ, which comes with the privilege of hearing from Him as the Word of God is regularly ingested. Likewise, Christians must not hold this truth within their hearts but share it with others, “whether they hear or refuse to hear” (v. 11). Remember, God’s vision is always accompanied by the provision to accomplish the assigned task.
Ezekiel was lifted by the Spirit and taken to an overwhelming sight (v. 12). The word for Spirit in the Hebrew language can also mean “wind.” Like a wind, the Spirit blew on Ezekiel and carried him to another place, one of several instances where he is transported in a vision. As he was lifted, he heard the sound of winged creatures, the movement of wheels and a great rumbling (v. 13) — perhaps reminders of the presence and power of God.
The Spirit took Ezekiel to the exiles at Tel-abib (“mound of the flood”) and he “sat” (v. 15). Because sat is used twice in one verse, Ezekiel wants the reader to know this was not a casual “sitting.” Instead, he seemingly fell down, overwhelmed, as shown by his staying for seven days. The reason for his strong reaction is absent from the biblical text, but I believe Ezekiel is burdened by the sinfulness of the exiles and the realization that judgment is coming. What is known is it took seven days for Ezekiel to move beyond the shock and despair of the judgment.
Christians should not be surprised at Ezekiel’s response. Christ-followers often experience great distress over the sins of others. Even today, the weight of carrying God’s message of judgment of sin can be overwhelming, but it must be carried!
Ezekiel then says “the word of the LORD came to me” (v. 16) — repeated 41 times in the book — characterizing his prophecy.
God assigned Ezekiel to be a “watchman” to Israel (v. 17) — a lookout from a tower or the city wall to alert the town of an impending attack. If the watchman fell asleep or was distracted so the city wasn’t warned in advance, he was held responsible for any loss. Similarly, God assigned Ezekiel to be a watchman for Judah and Jerusalem. His responsibility was to warn the people of their sin and soon-coming judgment (v. 18). Ezekiel would not be held responsible for the way the message was received, but he would be culpable if he failed to bring it. In this case, the wicked would be judged, and the prophet likewise held responsible for failing his assignment (vv. 19–20).
Today, Christians are called to be watchmen and believers have a responsibility to share the Good News of Christ. Like Ezekiel, God does not hold His children responsible when the message is rejected. However, if Christ-followers refuse to share, the people will die in their sin and the Christian (watchperson) will be held responsible!