Like Jeremiah (1:2), Zechariah (1:1), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5ff), Ezekiel ("God strengthens") was called by God from being a priest to serving as a prophet. As God's spokesman to the Jewish exiles in the land of Babylon, he would rebuke them for their sins and expose their idolatry, but he would also reveal the glorious future the Lord had prepared for them. He was thirty years old at the time of his call (Ezek. 1:1), the normal age for a priest to begin his ministry (Num. 4:1-3, 23). It would have been much easier for Ezekiel to remain a priest, for priests were highly esteemed by the Jews, and a priest could read the Law and learn everything he needed to know to do his work. Prophets were usually despised and persecuted. They received their messages and orders from the Lord as the occasion demanded and could never be sure what would happen next. It was dangerous to be a prophet. Most people resent being told about their sins and prefer to hear messages of cheer, not declarations of judgment.
Jeremiah had been ministering in Jerusalem for four years when Ezekiel was born in 622 B.c, but surely as he grew up, he paid attention to what Jeremiah was saying. It's likely that Daniel and Ezekiel knew each other before the Captivity, though there's no evidence they saw each other in Babylon. Ezekiel's prophetic ministry was greatly needed in Babylon because false prophets abounded and were giving the Jewish people false hopes of a quick deliverance (usually by Egypt) and a triumphant return to their land (Jer. 5:30-31; 27:1-11; 28:1-17). It's possible that King Zedekiah's visit to Babylon (51:59-61) and the arrival of Jeremiah's letter to the exiles (Jer. 29) both occurred the year Ezekiel received his call. Jeremiah's letter told the Jews that they would be in Babylon for seventy years and therefore should settle down, raise families, and pray for their captors. But Jeremiah also announced the ultimate fall of Babylon, a message the exiles were only too eager to hear.
The most difficult task of a prophet is to change people's minds. This means pulling up the weeds of false theology and planting the good seed of the Word of God. It also means tearing down the flimsy thought structures that false prophets build and constructing in their place lasting buildings on solid foundations of truth (Ezek. 1:10; 2 Cor. 10:3-6). To prepare him for his difficult ministry, the Lord caused Ezekiel to participate in three dramatic experiences.
The kingdom of Judah had suffered greatly at the hands of victorious Babylon, and many Jewish people wondered if Jehovah was still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Ps. 74). Were the Jews not God's chosen people? Had not Jehovah defeated their enemies and given them the Promised Land? Was not Jerusalem His holy city and did He not dwell in their holy temple? Yet now His chosen people were exiles in a pagan land, their Promised Land was devastated, Jerusalem was in enemy hands, and the temple had been robbed of its precious treasures. It was a dark day for Israel, and the first thing Ezekiel needed to understand was that, no matter how discouraging the circumstances, God was still on the throne accomplishing His divine purposes in the world. There are many unexplained mysteries in the vision Ezekiel had, but one message comes through with clarity and power: Jehovah is the sovereign Lord of Israel and of all the nations of the earth.
The storm (Ezek. 1:3-4). The Chebar River (Kebar, niv) or canal flowed from the Euphrates River, south of the city of Babylon, where the Jewish exiles gathered for prayer (see Acts 16:13). Ezekiel mentions it in Ezekiel 1:1; 3:23; 10:15, 20, 22; and 43:3. Apparently Ezekiel was there interceding with the other captives when the Lord called him to his new ministry. Isaiah was worshiping in the temple when God called him (Isa. 6) and Paul and Barnabas were engaged in worship at Antioch when they received their call (Acts 13:1-3). When Ezekiel went to the prayer meeting, it was just like any other day; but the Lord made it a turning point in his life. We never know what a difference a day will make when we're in the path of duty.
The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel in the form of a vision, and the hand of the Lord laid hold of him and claimed him for special service. The phrase "the word of the Lord came" is used fifty times in his prophecy and speaks of the authority of his message; and "the hand of the Lord" is found also in Ezekiel 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; and 40:1. The word of the Lord brings enlightenment and the hand of the Lord enablement (see Eph. 1:15-23). In Scripture, a storm is often an image of divine judgment (Prov. 1:27; Isa. 66:15; Jer. 4:13; 23:19; Nahum 1:3). Since the immense whirlwind cloud Ezekiel beheld was coming from the north, it indicated the invasion of Judah by the Babylonian army and the destruction of the land, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple (Jer. 4:6; 6:1). For forty years, God had graciously led Israel by a fiery cloud; but now a fiery cloud was bringing chastening to His disobedient people. The Prophet Jeremiah saw a similar vision at the beginning of his ministry (Jer. 1:13-16).
Ezekiel saw bright light around the cloud and an enfolding fire, like molten metal, within the cloud. Both are reminders of the holiness of God, for "our God is a consuming fire" (Ex. 19:16, 18; Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). As he describes this vision, Ezekiel uses the words "like" and "likeness" at least twenty-five times, indicating that what he saw was symbolic of realities God wanted to reveal to him. Throughout the Bible, the Lord uses familiar things to illustrate spiritual truths that are beyond human vocabulary and description.
The cherubim (Ezek. 1:5-14). In 10:15 and 20, Ezekiel identified the living creatures as the cherubim, heavenly creatures first mentioned in Genesis 3:24. The tabernacle curtains were embroidered with images of the cherubim (Ex. 26:1), and two cherubim were on the golden covering of the ark, the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18-22). Cherubim were very much in evidence in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:23-29; 2 Chron. 3:10-13) and in John's visions in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 4:6-9; 5:6-14; 6:1-11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). The creatures had the body of a human, straight feet like that of a calf, four faces and four wings, with human hands under the wings. Their wings were so arranged that the creatures did not have to turn; they could fly straight forward and change directions quickly. Their wings touched so that each creature was at the corner of a square that would be outlined by their wings.
Of special interest are their four faces: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezek. 1:10). Man is the highest of God's creatures, being made in the image of God. The lion is the greatest of the untamed beasts of the forest, while the ox is the strongest of the domesticated beasts of the field. The eagle is the greatest of the birds and is even a picture of God (Deut. 32:11-12). But there is also a connection here with the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood (Gen. 9:8-17). God promised not to destroy the world again with a flood, and He gave this promise to Noah (a man) and his descendants, the birds (the eagle), the livestock (the ox), and the wild animals (the lion). The presence of the cherubim before the throne of God is assurance that God remembers His promise and cares for His creatures. But it also reminds us that all of creation is used by the Lord to bless or to chasten His people. In this vision, they are a part of God's judgment on His sinful people.
The life of these creatures came from the "spirit" (or Spirit) within the cloud (Ezek. 1:12, 20), and this life enabled them to move like lightning; in fact, in their movements, they even looked like flashes of lightning. When Ezekiel first saw these creatures, he compared them to fiery amber or molten metal (v. 4); but as he watched them closely, he compared them to sparkling bronze (v. 7), burning coals of fire, lamps, and lightning (vv. 13-14). Like the Apostle John describing the beauty of the holy city (Rev. 21-22), the prophet ran out of words and had to draw pictures!
The wheels (Ezek. 1:15-21). There were four wheels (v. 16), each with an intersecting wheel and each associated with one of the cherubim. The intersecting wheels enabled the creatures and the cloud to move in any direction instantly without having to turn, moving like a flash of lightning. These wheels looked like chrysolite, a yellow or greenish-yellow precious stone; they were very high, as though reaching from earth to heaven, and their rims were awesome and full of eyes. The spirit (Spirit) of the living creatures was in the wheels, so that the living creatures moved in whatever direction the wheels moved. It was indeed an awesome sight, the huge wheels, the living creatures, the enfolding fire, and the eyes in the rims of the wheels. What an arresting picture of the providence of God, always at work, intricately designed, never wrong, and never late!
The firmament (Ezek. 1:22-25). This awesome expanse looked like sparkling ice (crystal) and stood over the heads of the cherubim. Now we get the total picture: a heavenly chariot with four wheels, moving quickly from place to place at the direction of the Lord. As it moved, the noise of the wings of the cherubim sounded like the noise of great waters coming together, "like the voice of the Almighty," and like the sound of a mighty army (3:13; 10:5; Ps. 46:3; Rev. 1:15; 14:2; 19:6). The wheels symbolize the omnipresence of God, while the eyes on their rims suggest the omniscience of God, seeing and knowing everything. Ezekiel was beholding a representation of the providence of God as He worked in His world. But one more item remained.
The throne (Ezek. 1:26-28). The wheels depicted God's omnipresence and omniscience, and the throne speaks of God's omnipotent authority. The throne was azure blue, with flashes of fire within it (holiness; see Rev. 15:2) and a rainbow around it (covenant grace). Noah saw the rainbow after the storm (Gen. 9:13-16), the Apostle John saw it before the storm (Rev. 4:3), but Ezekiel saw it over the storm and in control of the storm. In His wrath, God remembers mercy (Hab. 3:2). Ezekiel realized that he was beholding the glory of the Lord (Ezek. 1:28), and he fell on his face in awesome fear (3:23; Dan. 8:17; 10:9, 15, 17; Rev. 1:17). The "man" he saw upon the throne was probably a preincarnate appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. (See Ezek. 8:2 and 40:3.)
The glory of the Lord is one of the key themes in Ezekiel (3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23; 39:21; 43:2, 4-5; 44:4). The prophet will watch God's glory leave the temple and go over the Mount of Olives, and he will also see it return to the kingdom temple. Because of Israel's sins, the glory left the temple; but God's promise is that one day the city of Jerusalem and the temple will be blessed by the glorious presence of the Lord. The city will be called "Jehovah Shammah—the Lord is there" (48:35).
Now we can begin to grasp the message that God was giving His prophet. Though His people were in exile and their nation was about to be destroyed, God was still on the throne and able to handle every situation. In His marvelous providence, He moves in the affairs of nations and works out His hidden plan. Israel wasn't the victim of Babylonian aggression. It was God who enabled the Babylonians to conquer His people and chasten them for their rebellion, but God would also bring the Medes and the Persians to conquer Babylon, and Cyrus, king of Persia, would permit the Jews to return to their land. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33, nkjv)
No matter what message God gave him to preach, or what opposition arose from the people, Ezekiel would be encouraged and strengthened because he had seen the mighty throne of God in the midst of the fiery trial. He had seen the glory of God.
Ezekiel was now to receive his official commission as a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord told him he was facing a very difficult task. Whether it's raising a family, teaching a Sunday School class, shepherding a church, or evangelizing in a distant nation, we have to accept people as they are before we can lead them to what God wants them to be. God gave Ezekiel four important commandments to obey.
Stand and listen (Ezek. 2:1-2). As a result of beholding the vision, Ezekiel fell to the ground, completely overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord and the wonder of His providential working in the world. Who but the sovereign Lord could have a throne like a chariot and move as quickly as He pleased? Who but the Lord could travel in the midst of a fiery whirlwind to accomplish His great purposes?
Ezekiel is called "son of man" ninety-three times in his book, a title that the Lord also gave to Daniel (Dan. 8:17). "Son of man" is also a messianic title (Ezek. 7:13) which the Lord Jesus applied to Himself at least eighty-two times when He was ministering on earth. But in the case of Daniel and Ezekiel, the title "son of man" emphasized their humanity and mortality. Ezekiel was facedown in the dust when God spoke to him, reminding him and us of mankind's humble beginning in the dust (Gen. 1:26; 3:19). "For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14, nkjv). God remembers, but sometimes we forget.
There is a time to fall down in humble adoration, and there is a time to stand up and take orders (Josh. 7:6f£). The command of the Word and the power of the Spirit enabled Ezekiel to stand to his feet, and the Spirit entered him and strengthened him. On many occasions, the Spirit would lift him up (Ezek. 2:2, 3:14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5) and give him special power for his tasks (3:24; 11:5). The important thing was that Ezekiel stand obediently before the Lord and listen to His Word.
Go and speak (Ezek. 2:3-5). Prophets weren't people who majored only in foretelling the future, although that was part of their ministry. They were primarily forth-tellers who declared God's Word to the people. Sometimes they gave a message of judgment, but it was usually followed by a message of hope and forgiveness. The Jews needed to hear Ezekiel's messages because they were rebellious, stiff-necked, and hardhearted. At least sixteen times in this book you find the Jews described as "rebellious." They had revolted against the Lord and were obstinate in their refusal to submit to His will. Their refusal to obey the terms of the covenant had led to their defeat and capture by the Babylonian army. Even in their captivity, they were nursing false hopes that Egypt would come to their rescue or the Lord would do a great miracle.
So rebellious were the Jewish people that God called them "a rebellious nation" and used the Hebrew word goy, which was usually reserved for the Gentiles! Israel was God's chosen people, a special nation, and yet they were acting like the Gentiles who didn't have all the blessings and privileges God had given the Jews. This wasn't a very encouraging word for the young prophet, but he needed to know in advance that his work would be difficult. God gave the same kind of message to Isaiah when He called him (Isa. 6:8-13). But whether the people listened and obeyed or turned a deaf ear, Ezekiel had to be faithful to his task (1 Cor. 4:2).
Don't be afraid (Ezek. 2:6-7). Three times in verse 6 the Lord admonished the prophet not to be afraid of the people, and He repeated it again (3:9). He had given a similar caution to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus gave the same warning to His disciples (Matt. 10:26, 28, 31). "Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass?" (Isa. 51:12, nkjv) Ezekiel was to declare God's Word boldly no matter how his listeners responded. His own people might act like briars and thorns, and even like painful scorpions, but that must not deter His servant.
Receive the Word within (Ezek. 2:8-3:3). Being a priest, Ezekiel knew that the Hebrew Scriptures pictured God's Word as food to be received within the heart and digested inwardly. Job valued God's Word more than his "necessary food" (Job 23:12), and Moses admonished the Jews to live on God's Word as well as on the bread (manna) that the Lord supplied daily (Deut. 8:3; see Matt. 4:4). The Prophet Jeremiah "ate" the Word of God (Jer. 15:16) and so did the Apostle John (Rev. 10:8-10). God's prophets must speak from within their hearts or their messages will not be authentic.
A hand stretched out and handed Ezekiel a scroll that didn't have any good news written on it, because it was filled on both sides with "words of lament and mourning and woe" (Ezek. 2:10, niv). Perhaps it contained the messages that are recorded in chapters 4 through 32, God's judgments on Jerusalem and the Gentile nations. (See the suggested outline of the book.) God commanded him to eat the scroll and it tasted sweet like honey (Pss. 19:10; 119:103), although later he tasted bitterness (Ezek. 3:14), not unlike the Apostle John (Rev. 10:8-11). It's a great honor to be a spokesperson for the Lord, but we must be able to handle both the bitter and the sweet.
Had Ezekiel heard the description of the hardness of his people before he saw the vision of God's glory, he might have had a difficult time accepting his call. But having seen the glorious throne of the sovereign Lord, Ezekiel knew that he had all the help he needed to obey the will of God. In his difficult ministry to the Israelites, Moses was encouraged by meeting God on the mountaintop and seeing the display of His glory, and the Prophet Isaiah saw the glory of Christ in the temple before he launched into his ministry (Isa. 6; John 12:37-41). The Prophet Habakkuk was lifted from the valley of despair to the mountain peak of victory by contemplating the glory of God in the history of Israel (Hab. 3). Before Stephen laid down his life for the sake of Jesus Christ, he saw the glory of the Son of God in heaven (Acts 7:55-60). The only motivation that never fails is doing all for the glory of God.
What the people needed more than anything else was to hear the Word of the Lord. Even before the nation fell, Jeremiah had warned them not to listen to the false prophets, but neither the leaders nor the common people would obey (Jer. 5:30-31; 6:14; 7:8; 8:10). God had spoken loudly in Israel's shameful defeat and captivity, but now the Jews were still clinging to empty hopes and listening to the lying words of false prophets in Babylon (Jer. 29:15-32). The human heart would rather hear lies that bring comfort than truths that bring conviction and cleansing. Ezekiel declared God's Word as a messenger (Ezek. 3:4-10), a sufferer (vv. 10-15), a watchman (vv. 16-21), and a sign (vv. 22-27).
The messenger (Ezek. 3:4-9). Three elements are involved here: speaking, receiving (understanding) the message, and obeying. "Go and speak my word!" (v. 4) was God's commission. Ezekiel was the messenger, the people of Israel were the audience, and the Word of God was the message to be delivered. The prophet wasn't allowed to send a substitute messenger, nor was he permitted to alter the message or go to a different audience. One of the New Testament words for preaching is kerusso, which means "to proclaim as a herald." In ancient days, rulers would send out royal heralds to convey their messages to the people, and the herald was obligated to deliver the message just as he received it. If Ezekiel wanted to be a faithful herald, every part of God's commission had to be obeyed to the last detail.
The second element is receiving (vv. 5-7). To receive the Word of God means to understand it and take it into the heart and mind (Matt. 13:19). Since Ezekiel was a chosen prophet of the Lord, what he said was important and the people were obligated to receive it. He was speaking their own language, so they couldn't make excuses and say, "We don't understand what you're saying." He understood their speech and they understood his. If God had sent Ezekiel to a nation where he had to use an interpreter, they would have understood his message and received it; but his own people turned a deaf ear to him. Jesus used a similar approach in 11:21-24 when He condemned the Jewish cities for rejecting Him. Had He done those same miracles in heathen cities, they would have repented and turned to the Lord.
The third element is obeying (Ezek. 3:7-9). God doesn't send us His messengers to His people to entertain them or give them good advice. He expects us to obey what He commands. Unfortunately, the nation of Israel had a tragic history of disobedience to the law of God and rebellion against the will of God. That was their record during 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 9:7) as well as during over 800 years in their own land (2 Chron. 36:11-21). No other nation has been blessed by God as Israel has been blessed, for the Jews had God's holy law, the covenants, a wealthy land, the temple, and the prophets to give them warnings and promises as they needed them (Rom. 9:1-5). Like the people of Israel, many people today hear God's Word but won't try to understand, or if they do understand, they refuse to obey.
God assured His prophet that He would give him all he needed to withstand their opposition and disobedience. In Ezekiel 3:8, there is a play on words involving Ezekiel's name which means "God is strong" or "God strengthens." It also means "God hardens." If the people harden their hearts and faces, God will harden His servant and keep him faithful to his mission. He gave a similar promise to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:17).
The sufferer (Ezek. 3:10-15). Ezekiel was by the river Chebar when he saw the vision and heard God's Word (1:3), but now he was commanded to join the other exiles at a place called Tel-Abib. This site hasn't been identified, but it was not at the same location as the modern Tel-Aviv. There were a number of villages along the river (Ezra 2:59; 8:17), and some of the Jewish captives had been settled there by the Babylonians. The Spirit of God lifted the prophet up (Ezek. 3:12, 14) and took him to the place where the captives were gathered together and probably praying. This remarkable experience would be repeated (8:3; 43:5), and Ezekiel would no doubt recall that the Prophet Elijah had been caught away by God (2 Kings 2:11, 16; see 1 Kings 18:12 and Acts 8:39). The prophet had received God's Word, and now he must take it to God's people.
As the Spirit began to work, Ezekiel heard behind him several sounds: the rustling of the cherubim's wings, the whirring of the wheels, and "a loud rumbling sound" (niv), like an earthquake. He knew that God's glorious throne was moving and that the Lord was working out His purposes. What was the origin of the praise statement, "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place"? (Ezek. 3:12) Both the kjv and the nasb translate it as coming from the cherubim, but the niv suggests that it was Ezekiel himself who spoke it. However, it could also be translated "as the glory of the Lord arose from its place," a description rather than a declaration. As we shall see in chapters 8-11, the movement of God's glory is a key theme in this book.
The Lord brought His servant to Tel-Abib so he could sit with the captives and feel their burden of disappointment and grief. Psalm 137 reveals both their misery and their hatred for the Babylonians. When they should have been repenting and seeking God's face, the Jews were regretting what had happened and praying that one day they might be able to retaliate and defeat their Babylonian captors who taunted them. As Ezekiel sat there with the people, overwhelmed by what the Lord had said to him and done for him, he realized the seriousness of his calling and how great was the responsibility God had placed on his shoulders. It's a good thing for the servant of God to be among his people, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, for he can better minister to them when he knows their hearts and feels their pain. It isn't enough simply to proclaim the message of God; we must also seek to have the caring heart of God.
The watchman (Ezek. 3:16-21). The watchmen on the walls were important to the safety of the city and the image shows up frequently in the Scriptures (Isa. 21:11-12; 56:10; 62:6; Jer. 6:17; Pss. 127:1; 130:6; Heb. 13:17). The emphasis here is on judgment, while in Ezekiel 33 it is on hope, but the message is the same: the prophet must be faithful to warn the people of judgment, and the people must heed the warning and turn from their sin. Spiritually speaking, the "wall" that protected Israel was their covenant relationship with the Lord. If they obeyed the terms of the covenant declared by Moses, God would care for His people, protect them, and bless them; but if they disobeyed, God would chasten them. But whether He was chastening or blessing, God would always be faithful to His covenant. (See Lev. 26 and Deut. 28.)
Ezekiel is the prophet of human responsibility. Some of the captives were blaming God for their sad plight, while others blamed their ancestors. Ezekiel made it clear that each individual is held responsible and accountable before God (see Ezek. 18). He presented four scenarios. The first is that of the people dying because the watchman was unfaithful and didn't warn them (3:18). Their blood would be on the watchman's hands and he would be held accountable (see v. 20; 18:13; 33:4-8). The image of blood on the hands (or the head) goes back to Genesis 9:5 and appears in the Law of Moses (Lev. 20). See also Joshua 2:19; 2 Samuel 1:16 and 3:29; and Isaiah 1:15 and 59:3. Jesus used this image in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:50-51; and see Acts 5:28; 18:6; and 20:26. The second scenario is obvious.
A second scenario pictures the watchman being faithful to warn the wicked but they refuse to listen (Ezek. 3:19). That was the problem Ezekiel faced as he preached to the hardhearted Jewish captives in Babylon. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people would not come to Him (Matt. 23:37-39). The third scenario describes the righteous dying because they turned from their covenant obedience and the watchman did not warn them (Ezek. 3:20). The watchman-prophet should not only warn sinners to turn from their sin, but he must also warn those who are obeying the covenant ("the righteous") not to turn from it and disobey God. No matter how much obedience they had practiced, it would mean nothing if they deliberately rebelled against God. However, their blood would be on the watchman's hands if he didn't warn them. By putting a barrier in the way, God seeks to prevent the righteous person from sinning; but that doesn't excuse the watchman from being alert and giving warning.
The final scenario is that of the righteous heeding the watchman's warning and not being judged (v. 21). It was a serious thing for the Jewish people to treat lightly the covenant that had been accepted and sealed at Sinai (Ex. 19-20). If the watchman-prophet saw faithful people about to break the covenant, he had to warn them that they would be judged. Sometimes godly people get the idea that their obedience has "earned" them the right to do as they please, but that idea is a great lie. God gives His people many privileges, but He never gives the privilege to sin.
These four examples were given to Jewish people under the Old Covenant and have to do with obedience to the law and the danger of physical death. The righteousness of the law was external, but the righteousness we have through faith in Jesus Christ is internal, and the two must not be confused (Rom. 9:30-10:13). Faith righteousness is God's gift to those who believe in Jesus Christ, and their righteous standing before God doesn't depend on their good works (Rom. 3-4). However, our fellowship with the Father depends on a heart of obedience (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), and He will discipline those of His children who deliberately oppose His will (Heb. 12:1-11). If they persist in resisting His will, He may take their lives (Heb. 12:9). "There is a sin unto death" (1 John 5:16-17). Personal responsibility is the key here, both of the watchman and of the people. If the Jews under the Old Covenant were held responsible for their actions, how much more responsible are believers today who have the complete Bible, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the revelation of God through Jesus Christ? See Hebrews 12:12-28.
The sign (Ezek. 3:22-27). Ezekiel not only spoke God's Word to the people, but he also lived before them in such a way that they saw God's message portrayed before their very eyes. God said to him, "I have made you a sign to the house of Israel" (12:6, niv; see 4:4; 14:8; 24:24, 27). You will find the prophet performing twelve "action sermons" to convey God's truth to people who were becoming more and more deaf to the voice of God. Pharaoh wouldn't listen to God's Word, so the Lord spoke to him through a series of miracles and plagues. The Prophet Jeremiah also tried to reach the people through "action sermons," such as burying a new belt (Jer. 13), refusing to take a wife (Jer. 16), and breaking clay jars (Jer. 19).
It's likely that there is a break between Ezekiel 3:21 and 22. Ezekiel did go to the people and give them God's warning, but they would not listen. God told him to leave the gathering by the river and go out into the plain for a new set of instructions. What do you do when the people close their ears to the Word of God? God certainly could have judged them for their wickedness, but in His grace He gave them further opportunities to hear His saving Word. Jesus took the same approach when He began to teach in parables. He clothed the truth in interesting images and in that way sought to reach the people (Matt. 13:10-17). The careless would hear and brush it aside, but the concerned would ponder the parable and learn God's truth.
The Word of God may not have penetrated the hearts of the people, but the glory of God and the Spirit of God were still with God's servant. If the people wouldn't respond to Ezekiel's public ministry, perhaps he could reach them in his own house. The elders of the people could come to hear his messages (Ezek. 8:1; 14:1; 20:1) and then share them with the people. The prophet shut himself up in his house, although at times he did leave for special reasons (5:2; 12:3), and he never spoke unless he had a message from the Lord. When the news came of the destruction of Jerusalem, this command of silence was removed and he was able to speak as other people (24:25-27; 33:21-22). From the time this command was given to the time it was removed, seven years elapsed (from 593 B.C. to 586 B.C.).
Ezekiel's silence was a sign to the Jews that God's Word is not to be taken for granted or treated lightly like trivial daily conversation. When God speaks, we had better listen and obey! "He that hears, let him hear" (3:27, niv) is a familiar and important phrase in Scripture because it indicates that we have the responsibility to pay attention to God's Word, cherish what He says, meditate on it, and obey it. At least five times in Deuteronomy Moses said, "Hear, O Israel!" as he repeated the law and reminded them of the great privilege Israel had to hear the very voice of God at Sinai (Deut. 4:1-13). At least eight times in the Gospels Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," (nasb) or similar words (Matt. 11:15, 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35).
What about the "binding" of the prophet? (Ezek. 3:25) This is probably a figurative statement, because there's no evidence that Ezekiel was literally bound and forced to remain in his house. As we have seen, he did leave the house (5:2; 12:3) and nobody prevented him. The Jewish people "bound" Ezekiel in the sense that their sins made it necessary for him to remain home in silence until God gave him a message. The attitude of the people wasn't that of militant opposition but rather passive indifference; hence, the necessity for Ezekiel to use "action sermons" to get their attention.
"I am the Lord!" is repeated fifty-nine times in this book, because it was Ezekiel's task to remind his people who was in charge. The name of God used almost exclusively in the book is "Jehovah Adonai—the Sovereign Lord." A.W. Tozer was right when he wrote, "God being who and what he is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full lordship on His part and complete submission on ours."
Are we a rebellious people, or, like Ezekiel, are we obedient servants?