For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

3:1.  “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.”


This repetition of the command to eat emphasizes the importance of hearing and obeying God’s words; and the words “that thou findest” implies a diligent search of what God has written, reminding us that we too are not to be mere casual readers of Scripture, but rather earnest students, searching it carefully to find all that God has to say to us, so that we may render a more complete obedience, and be preserved from committing sins of ignorance.


John also was commanded to figuratively “eat” God’s Word, Re 10:9-10.


Ezekiel’s being told to speak, not just to Judah, but to “the house of Israel” may mean that he was to speak also to Israel, those of them who had chosen not to return from Assyria, and those whom Nebuchadnezzar had allowed to remain in Jerusalem in 586 BC.


The fact that the eating was to be followed by the prophet’s speaking, reminds us that one of the purposes of Bible study is to equip us to be more effective witnesses for God.


3:2.  “And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me.”


The spirit here is the Holy Spirit, and his entering into the prophet on this second occasion, continues to emphasize that in the OT age He did not indwell believers permanently as He does during this present Church age.


Ezekiel’s being set upon his feet has the same meaning here as in 2:1.


3:3.  “And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee.  Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.”


Another translation renders “cause thy belly to eat, etc.,” as, “let your stomach make a meal of it and let your inside be full of this roll,” thus indicating that the prophet was to eat until he was completely filled and desired nothing more, the spiritual lesson being that we are to be so filled with the Word of God that there will be no room in our lives for anything else except what is of God.  The world’s wealth, pleasure, fame, etc., will hold no attraction for the man who feeds his soul on the written Word.


Its being as sweet as honey is the symbolic announcement of the  truth that he who habitually walks in obedience to God’s Word finds that God’s will is, “good, and acceptable, and perfect,” Ro 12:2, experience having taught him that, “All things work together for good to those who love God,” Ro 8:28, the Lord Himself having told His disciples that love for Him is synonymous with obedience to His Word, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jn 14:15, that truth being emphasized in His further statement in verse 21, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”


Relative to the Lord’s manifesting or revealing Himself, it is to be remembered that He does it by enabling the obedient believer to see Him in the Scriptures.  For example, when He walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection, we read,  “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself,” Lk 24:27.  Christians rob themselves of much of the Lord’s revelation of Himself, by failing to see Him in the typological language of the OT.


3:4.  “And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them.”


The prophet, having been carefully prepared by God, was then sent as His messenger to deliver His word to rebel Israel as represented by Judah.  It is painfully apparent that many today who undertake to speak to God’s people have neither been prepared nor sent by Him: they have neither the necessary spiritual gift nor the unction of the Holy Spirit, so that the saints are wearied rather than edified. 


Ezekiel’s being sent to the house of Israel indicates that his message wasn’t only for that generation of that nation: it is as applicable today as then, not only to Israel, but to the Gentiles also.


3:5.  “For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel;”


Ezekiel wasn’t being sent to a foreign people whose language was unintelligible to him: he was to speak to his own people, Israel; and one lesson at least being taught here is that our testimony is to be first to our own families, that same lesson being reiterated in the NT in Christ’s words to the healed demoniac of Luke 8 who wanted to go with the Lord, but was told instead, “Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee,” Lk 8:39.  It is far easier to present the Gospel to strangers than to family or acquaintances, but God says that the latter are to be the first to hear the good news.


3:6.  “Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand.  Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.”


God continues to emphasize that Israel must hear the warning, even though He knew that it would have been given a better reception by the heathen, raising the question, Why should He have insisted that His own people hear it first?  The answer seems to be that it was to provide a final opportunity for the few who would repent, to save their souls, while sealing the doom of those who would refuse to repent. 


This foreshadows what is true in these closing days of the age.  The vast majority of Christendom are indifferent to the Gospel, but its proclamation offers salvation to the few here and there who will receive it and thus save their souls, while the unbelieving majority are preparing themselves for destruction in the impending Great Tribulation.


3:7.  “But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.”


God’s willingness to present the Gospel to those, who He foreknew, would reject it, rebuts Calvanism’s false doctrine that some are predestinated to salvation, and the others to damnation; direct rebuttal being in what is written in 2 Pe 3:9, “The Lord ... is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” and in the Lord’s lament, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” Jn 5:40.


Its being said, “Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me,” points up the close identification of the servant with the Master, an assurance that ought to encourage us to greater faithfulness in the service we seek to render Him.


“... impudent and hardhearted” is also rendered, “hard of forehead and of a stiff heart,” or, “stubborn of brow and obstinate in heart,” the reference to head and heart declaring that Israel’s rebellion was both intellectual and emotional.  They deliberately rejected the truth, and refused to respond to the appeals made to their emotions; and in this respect they are like our twenty-first century world.  It too is adamant in its rejection of God.


3:8.  “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads.”


Ezekiel would be made as defiant and fearless of them as they were of God and His servant; and as unyielding in declaring their guilt, as they were in claiming to be righteous.


That same courage is conspicuously lacking in many professed servants of God today, the cowardice exhibited having its root all too often in their lack of biblical knowledge, that lack being itself the result of failure to spend adequate time in the study of God’s Word, so that they lack the ability to refute the arguments of the unconverted.


3:9.  “As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.”


The forehead continues to speak of the intellect, and in the present context, of the prophet’s unyielding resolve.  It would be as hard as a diamond or a flint; his knowledge of God and His Word being the secret of His resolute courage.  He who knows God has no fear of man, for he knows what a puny thing man is.


“... neither be dismayed by their looks” translates into the command not to be intimidated by their scowling faces, and angry threatening looks.  How easily we are intimidated, dread of even a mere scornful look having the power to silence our presentation of the Gospel!


And God continues to emphasize that Israel was a rebellious nation.


3:10.  “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.”


The heart speaks of the emotions; and in the present context the ears speak of the understanding or intellect; and God’s linking them together here declares the truth that mere cold obedience divorced from a genuine love for Him and for men and women - saints and sinners alike - is of relatively little value in His sight.  In this connection it is suggested that the reader take a moment to refresh his mind relative to what is written concerning love in 1 Cor 13.


3:11.  “And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.”


The first part of this verse is not to be understood as meaning that Ezekiel was to go from Jerusalem to Babylon to speak to the Jews in captivity there.  He himself was already one of the captives, having been taken there in the second deportation in 597 BC.  The command here was for him to rise up in their midst and deliver the message God had given him.  And he was to do so no matter whether they accepted or rejected the message.


We are under the same constraint.  We live in the midst of those who are in bondage to sin and Satan, and we have an obligation to warn them of the need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, in order to be saved from hell and fitted for heaven.  And we are to continue faithfully preaching the Gospel no matter whether the hearers receive it or reject it.  God won’t hold us responsible for the results, but He will hold us accountable for our response to the Lord’s command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mk 16:15.


3:12.  “Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place.”


This verse is also translated, “... and I heard behind me a fierce rushing sound as the glory of the Lord rose from his place,” The New English Bible; “... as the glory of the Lord arose from its place, I heard behind me the sound of a great earthquake,” The Revised Standard Version; “... behind me I could hear a tumultuous shouting, ‘Blessed be the glory of Yahweh in his dwelling place,’” The Jerusalem Bible. 


The explanation of his hearing the voice behind him appears to be that since no man in his mortal body can see the Divine glory, and live, he was turned around so that the glory was behind him, his awareness of it being through the avenue of hearing rather than sight.


3:13.  “I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing.”


The noise was that of a mighty rushing wind which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, indicating that He was the power behind the movement of the living creatures and the wheels, and that He would be also the source of Ezekiel’s power.


3:14.  “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.”


In the present context “bitterness” is associated with the idea of anger, so that as the Holy Spirit led him away the prophet was filled with fervent anger, generated undoubtedly by his contemplation of the very great sinfulness of the people.


3:15.  “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.”


The location of Tel-abib is unknown.


“... astonished” means overwhelmed; dumbfounded; distraught; stunned; stupefied.  His agitated state was induced, not only by the sinfulness of the people, but also by their refusal to recognize their state, and repent.


3:16.  “And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,”


3:17.  “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.”


The work of a watchman is primarily to act as a guard by watching carefully for signs of approaching danger, and to warn those who have appointed him.  Ezekiel, by God’s appointment, was made such a guard, not just to Judah, but to all Israel, his work being to listen attentively to all that God had to say relative to the terrible judgment that must attend the very great sinfulness of the rebellious people, and to warn them against continuing in their wickedness.


3:18.  “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”


Failure on the prophet’s part to warn Judah and Israel that their sin would bring death, would be sin on his part, resulting in his also incurring God’s wrath; and the lesson for us is that failure on our part to warn men and women today that for them to continue in their sin will result in their being cast first into hell, and then into the eternal torment of the terrible lake of fire, will make us also the objects of His anger.


3:19.  “Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.”


This declares the opposite of the preceding.  The unrepentant sinner will die, but by warning him of that fact, I will deliver myself from incurring God’s wrath, see Paul’s words recorded in  Ac 20:26-27, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” 


This doesn’t teach salvation by works; but rather the truth that only born again believers can warn sinners of the need to repent and be saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  Implicit in this, however, is the fact that he who professes to be a believer, but who never warns others of their need of salvation, lays open to question the reality of his own professed conversion. 


3:20.  “Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”


“... righteous” is used here forensically: this man is righteous by legal, not Divine, standards: he is not a born-again believer.


“... stumblingblock” in the present context is basically a test used by God to reveal the unreality of the man’s claim that he has spiritual life.  His failure in the test reveals him to be a mere false professor who will die and go down to hell as a result of not having been warned of his danger, all his legalistic morality having no value in God’s sight.  But Ezekiel would be held responsible for the man’s death if he failed to warn him of his danger.


We who are believers will similarly incur guilt if we fail to warn the unconverted of their danger, and of the need to confess themselves sinners, and to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


3:21.  “Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.”


If, however, Ezekiel warns the self-righteous man of the worthlessness of good works as a means of salvation, and teaches him the truth of salvation through faith apart from works, and the man believes the Gospel, that man, through faith alone, will have saved his soul.


Relative to the words, “that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin....” this is not to be construed as teaching either salvation by works, or that believers live sinless lives.  Neither is true.  Because believers still have within them their old sinful nature living side-by-side with their new nature received at conversion, they do sin when by their own freewill choice they obey the evil prompting of the old nature rather than the righteous impulses of the new Divine nature.  Such, however, is the efficacy of Christ’s one perfect sacrifice that it secures the forgiveness, not only of the believer’s past sins, but of his present and future sins also.  What is being declared in these words is that sin ought to be an accidental and regretted thing in the believer’s life, not something habitual and enjoyed.  The professed believer whose sin is habitual and enjoyed raises serious doubts as to the reality of his professed conversion.


“... also thou hast delivered thy soul” means, not that Ezekiel will have saved his soul from hell, but that he will have delivered himself from being chastised by God for disobedience.


3:22.  “And the hand of the Lord was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain (valley), and I will there talk with thee.”


“... the hand of the Lord” is here synonymous with the Holy Spirit.


Nothing is known of the location of the plain or valley into which Ezekiel was to go.


3:23.  “Then I arose, and went forth into the plain (valley): and, behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river of Chebar: and I fell on my face.”


The glory mentioned here is the same as that described in chapter one and which prostrated the prophet in reverential awe, see chapter two, verse one.


3:24.  “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.”


The spirit’s entering into him again continues to demonstrate that in the OT age the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers permanently; and what follows suggests that he was to shut himself up in his own house as a measure of protection from the anger of the people to whom God had sent him.  It seems that he was no longer to venture out in public, see verse 25.  It may, however, mean that he was to cease warning the people publicly, and was to make himself available only to those who might come to him to inquire further concerning the announced judgment.


3:25.  “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:”


It is generally believed that their imprisonment of the prophet wasn’t literal, but consisted rather of their refusal to listen to him, that rejection declaring their bitter hatred of God and His servant, and their adamant rejection of His word.


3:26.  “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.”


The rebels had exhausted God’s patience, with the result that He would give them no further rebuke.  His servant would be given no more words of warning to pass on to them.  They were being abandoned to judgment because they were incorrigible rebels, reminding us of the warning given all men of similar spirit in Ge 6:3, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” and again, in Pr 29:1, “He, who being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”


3:27.  “But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; He that heareth, let him hear (obey); and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.”


God’s final word to them would be, “Let him who hears my Word obey it, and thus save himself; and let him who refuses to listen to it continue in rebellion and thus seal his doom.”  God foreknew that only a very small minority would obey, and that the majority would disobey, and therefore perish.  The Lord, incidentally, used virtually the same language in Mt 11:15, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” and in Mt 13:9; Mk 4:9, and Lk 8:8.


The same principle continues to govern man’s response to the Gospel, as is declared in the Lord’s reply to the question, “Lord, are there few that be saved?  And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait (narrow) gate, for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able,” Lk 13:23-24.


Israel is the mirror in which God bids every man see his own reflection, for what is true of Israel is true of all men: the whole human race is also a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 4


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough