“Receive, Then Speak”
August 17, 2014
We are called to receive God’s Word, then say what God has said.
I. He who would speak must first receive (Ezekiel 2:1 – 3:3)
II. Sent as watchmen to our own people (Ezekiel 3:4-21)
III. Don’t speak except what He speaks. (Ezekiel 3:22-27)
You may not have noticed, but last week’s text was a cliff-hanger. The glory of God appeared to Ezekiel in indescribable splendor, and like all those confronted by God Ezekiel fell to his knees, and God spoke. But chapter 1 ended before we knew what God said. Well, I had planned to pick up in chapter 3 this week, but that didn’t seem quite fair: I wanted you to hear what God said. And that desire fits with the passage perfectly, for having laid the foundation by the revelation of his glory, God now says something that he might very well say to you and me: hear my word; receive my word; speak my word. Like Ezekiel, we are called to receive God’s Word, then say again what God has said.
So it’s a long passage again today, and we won’t be able to look at every verse, but God communicates this ‘receive then speak’ message throughout. Let’s begin with chapter 2 verse 1 through chapter 3, verse 3:
Ezekiel 2:1-10 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.
8“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” 9And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
And continuing into chapter 3: And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
The first thing to notice is that God’s word comes to Ezekiel in the Holy Spirit’s power. Ezekiel is on his knees, on his face before God and God commands him ‘stand on your feet.’ But then he sends his Spirit, and the Spirit enters him and sets him on his feet. It’s the same way with us. We can only receive God’s Word and say it again to those around us through the power of the Holy Spirit, through dependence on Jesus. The implied truth of this whole passage is that it is God who strengthens Ezekiel for this calling, as he will strengthen us.
And so Ezekiel is sent to the people of Israel. Only the nation of Judah is left in the promised land, and it is in its last years, but God still call his people Israel. He says they are nations of rebels who have rebelled against me. In one sense this is universal; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Every person has rebelled. But we also have to recognize that Ezekiel was sent to a very specific historical circumstance. He and many others had already been taken to exile, but the nation still existed as a vassal kingdom under a regent named Hezekiah, and the exiled people watched, as it were, from a balcony as their puppet king and Hezekiah led their nation down the path to final destruction.
God emphasizes the informed and hard-hearted rebelliousness of his people at that moment. The first 24 chapters of Ezekiel are directed at that rebellion.. But we need to apply the principles of those warnings to our own situations. We may encounter soft hearted people as well as hard hearted, ignorant people as well as informed. We are called to direct God’s word to each person in their own circumstance. Ezekiel is being sent to a rebellious house, and even though he will say ‘Thus says the Lord,’ the people of Israel will for the most part remain rebellious. God says that being a prophet to them is like being among briers and thorns, sitting on scorpions. But Ezekiel is not to fear their words or their looks. He is to speak to them whether they hear or refuse to hear.
And some people in our world, our culture are often a lot like this. No matter how gently or how firmly we speak God’s word to them, they are rebellious. They refuse to hear. American culture, with its slide into intolerance of Biblical truth is rebellious. But we have to keep speaking God’s word whether they hear or refuse to hear, even if we are mocked as politically incorrect or jailed.
But – and this is the main point of both these chapters - we need to hear and receive God’s word before we speak. Verse 8, “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” If we are to have any platform to speak God’s word in our culture, or in our churches, or in our church, or in our family, or to our peers we must first be willing to hear God’s word ourselves, to take it seriously, to not be rebellious against its truths or feeble in applying them.
This is so simple and obviously true that I’m going to have to say it again. I need to hear it again. Take God’s word seriously. Take the reading and studying of it seriously. And take its precepts, principles and life lessons seriously. That is, through the power of the Holy Spirit, apply it to your life. Until God’s Word has made a difference in you, it may not make any difference though you.
This is so obvious that God himself feels the need to reinforce it with an object lesson. God says ‘eat what I give to you,’ and when Ezekiel looks he sees a hand extended toward him with a scroll on it. On the scroll are written words of lamentation and mourning and woe. Ezekiel is to eat this scroll, to fill himself with those words, and only then, to go and speak to the house of Israel.
And despite the fact that these are words of judgment and warning, when he eats he finds them sweet as honey. Jeremiah had a similar experience. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” The Psalmist says God’s words are more to be desired than gold, sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. We are not being asked to indulge in something bitter and hurtful to us, but to take in the very words of life.
Most of you are familiar with my favorite quote on this subject, but it still brings tears to my eyes, so I’m going to ask you to indulge me in it again. John White was a pastor, missionary, speaker, and author. He published about 25 books for Intervarsity Press, including the fictional ‘Archives of Anthropos,’ which I quote often. He wrote a book called ‘the Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living,’ in which he describes the impact of God’s word on his life.
“Bible study,” he says, “has torn apart my life and remade it. That is to say that God, through his Word, has done so. In the darkest periods of my life, when everything seemed hopeless, I would struggle in the grey dawns of many faraway countries to grasp the basic truths of Scripture. I looked for no immediate answers to my problems. Only did I sense intuitively that I was drinking drafts from a fountain that gave life to my soul. Slowly, as I grappled with textual and theological problems, a strength grew deep within me. Foundations cemented themselves to an other-worldly rock, beyond the reach of time and space, and I became strong and more alive.”
“If I could write poetry about it, I would. If I could sing through paper, I would flood your soul with the glorious melodies that express what I have found. I cannot exaggerate, for there are no expressions majestic enough to tell of the glory I have seen, or the wonder of finding that I, an, unstable, middle-aged man have my feet firmly planted in eternity, and breath the air of heaven. And all this has come to me through a careful study of Scripture.” We need to receive the nourishment of Scripture before we can speak it into the lives of others.
The rest of chapter 3 reinforces these truths to Ezekiel in his specific circumstances. Verse 4 to 21: And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” 10Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. 11And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”
12Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” 13It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. 14The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. 15And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. 16And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
You’ve probably noticed the repetitiveness of God’s communication to and through Ezekiel. I don’t believe this is an accident, or a flaw in God’s writing style.
No, the slow moving repetition of these passages is intended to build up at a heart level an understanding of the truths we are learning. Sometimes God presents truth in simple deep pithy statements, like the Beatitudes. But sometimes he presents truth ring upon ring, layer on layer, through slow moving and inescapable repetition, and we need to let this repetition work on our souls.
In verse 4 God tells Ezekiel that he is being sent to his own people, not to people who speak a difficult foreign language, but to his peers. Foreigners, God says, would listen to the message, but his peers don’t. They’ve hardened themselves against it. And God has made Ezekiel’s face as hard as their faces and his head as hard as their heads. But his heart was not to be hard like theirs. Verse 10: “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. 11And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”
Ezekiel, hear and receive, then go speak. Us too. If his Word is going to be effective in the world, it has to start with us. We need to hear it, and especially, to receive it in our hearts, let it take us apart and remake us. If God’s Word has no ministry in our lives, how can we be effective tools in his hands?
In verse 12 Ezekiel is reminded of the glory he’s been shown. He hears and sees the vision of God’s glory again, and cries ‘Blessed be the glory of God.” It is this vision which sustains him, this fire which heats his spirit as he is returned to his exiled peers. After he sits among them for seven days, God tells him he is a watchmen for these people. He is responsible for the care of their souls. If he doesn’t speak, their sins will still lead to judgment, but he will be guilty too, for he didn’t do what a watchman is supposed to do, to bring warning. And if he does speak and they repent, Ezekiel will have the joy of playing a part in their deliverance. In the same way we are called to receive God’s word and then to speak his words, whether of warning, salvation or comfort. Each person is responsible for what they do with that truth, but we are blessed when people respond to his word, and shamed if we have not told them the truth.
As I said earlier we need to apply these principles in our own situations. One very specific way this is true is that often we share God’s word as comfort to the afflicted. Groum Pale grew up Addis Ababa, Eithiopia. He watched both his parents from AIDS. He was trying to care for his younger sisters. He was nine years old. They were living on the streets. Every day was a torment. One day they would be greedily grabbing scraps of food from rubbish bins. The next they would be writhing in pain and sickness, their stomachs infested with worms and their skin and hair riddled with lice. They were in a constant state of anxiety, not knowing what the next day would bring.
Then a lady named Hannah, who had founded a Christian home for street kids, met them, befriended them, invited them. For the first time in years Groum and his sisters encountered kindness. Their food was provided, on clean plates. At night they slept safely. Every day they heard the Good News of God’s love from the lips of caring people. Several times a day the orphans would gather to listen to the Bible in their own language, Amharic. The orphanage had digital players called Proclaimers, designed to speak God’s word to the illiterate. After a while Groum and his shy sisters began to respond. Within a year he was excelling at school and had developed a strong faith in Jesus.
Groum says “We loved listening to those wonderful Bible stories. We would listen hard and then, at night, as we fell asleep, we would try to repeat the stories to each other. I felt the voice that came out of that little black box was actually God’s voice, and so, when I meditated and prayed, I could hear his words in my head. Getting to know God’s Word changed my life. When my friends and I faced any difficulty we would recite out loud passages that we had heard and use them to encourage each other.”
Today, while continuing to study, Groum spends his free time helping street kids and the younger children at the orphanage. He used to play Bible stories for them on one of the orphanage’s Proclaimers, but they were all recently damaged or stolen when the orphanage had to move premises after the authorities took their land. So now he just reads out loud to them from the Bible. “One passage that really spoke to me when I was 16 and listening to the Bible on the Proclaimer was where Paul talks about spreading the Word of God by ‘any means possible’. That has become my mission.”
That was Ezekiel’s mission, given by God. Verses 22 to 27: And the hand of the Lord was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” 23So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face. 24But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house. 25And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. 26And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house.
This is, a bit, more of the same – but we’ve said that repetition in this book is good, positive, reinforcing. Notice that he sees the glory of the Lord again. And this won’t be for the last time. This vision of God’s glory sustains him when times get rough. Notice that the Spirit enters him again and lifts him on his feet. It’s not by might, it’s not by power that he shares God’s word, it’s by the Spirit who enters him for ministry. The same Spirit dwells within us. Finally notice that in this text, God not only tells Ezekiel what to say, but shuts him up when it’s not time to speak. I love this. The people are doing wrong, but much of the time, God says, you will be unable to reprove them. Your tongue will cling to the roof of your mouth. There are times when God doesn’t want us to speak, when he uses other means to address issues, or intends to address them later.
For years I’ve tried to discern these moments using what I call ‘the tongues’ prayer.’ Before your tongue moves, it prays. Imagine your little tongue folding its hands and beseeching God. It prays three things: should I say anything? Is this the time to be silent and let God work his own way? Or is this the time to speak. Second, what should I say? Even if our goal is to say again what God has said, we need wisdom to know whether this situation is one where we speak God’s words of reproof or of comfort, God’s words of challenge or of encouragement, God’s words of love or his message of hope or of help. What Scriptural principle do you want heard in this situation? What questions can you ask through me that will help this person’s thoughts and heart? And third, how should I say it? Lord Jesus give me the words, even the tone of voice that you want used. How would you speak to this person in this circumstance? This is a true prayer for supernatural intervention. God answers this prayer.
So we’ve seen that we need to hear and receive the Word. This means time on task. Time actually spent hearing the word, studying the word. You won’t respond to it if you never open it. You won’t say again what God has said if you don’t know what God has said and have never responded to it yourself. It doesn’t take the intelligence of a rock to realize this, and yet so many of us try to skip this step, where we invest time in allowing God to speak into our lives.
And then we need to say again what God has said. Whether we are proclaiming to the culture, preaching and practicing with our family, or in the church, parenting our children, or participating with our peers, we strive to say what God has said. Not more, not less, not other. This is God’s lesson to Ezekiel, and it is God’s lesson to us. We have been given two great gifts. The written word, and the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we too can hear and receive the Word, and we can say again what God has said.