Ezekiel 3 – “Ezekiel Learns About His Mission”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Ezekiel eats the scroll of lamentations, is warned about Israel’s obstinacy, and is charged with rebuking them. A spirit whirls him to the community of exiles and he sees God in a nearby valley.

II. Photo
Ezekiel ingests God’s message: “[God] said to me, ‘Mortal, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll that I give you.’ I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey to me.” (v. 3)

III. Important Verses
1-3: He said to me, “Mortal, eat what is offered you; eat this scroll, and go speak to the House of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He gave me this scroll to eat, as He said to me, “Mortal, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll that I give you.” I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey to me.
7-8: But the House of Israel will refuse to listen to you, for they refuse to listen to Me; for the whole House of Israel are brazen of forehead and stubborn of heart. But I will make your face as hard as theirs, and your forehead as brazen as theirs.
14-15: A spirit seized me and carried me away. I went in bitterness, in the fury of my spirit, while the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.  And I came to the exile community that dwelt in Tel Abib by the Chebar Canal, and I remained where they dwelt. And for seven days I sat there stunned among them.
23-25: I arose and went out to the valley, and there stood the Presence of the LORD, like the Presence that I had seen at the Chebar Canal; and I flung myself down on my face.  And a spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet. And He spoke to me, and said to me: “Go, shut yourself up in your house. As for you, O mortal, cords have been placed upon you, and you have been bound with them, and you shall not go out among them.

IV. Outline
1-3. Ezekiel eats the scroll of lamentations
4-9. God describes Israel’s obstinance
10-11. God gives Ezekiel his mission
12-15. A wind carries Ezekiel to the exiles
16-21. God stipulates the conditions of Ezekiel’s future actions
22-27. God appears to Ezekiel and warns him about Israel’s obstinacy
V. Comment
In his commentary to this chapter, Collins makes two insightful points regarding Ezekiel’s prophecy and character. First, as vv. 16-21 illustrate, Ezekiel’s mission is compared to a city watchman:

  • After those seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: “O mortal, I appoint you watchman for the House of Israel; and when you hear a word from My mouth, you must warn them for Me. If I say to a wicked man, ‘You shall die,’ and you do not warn him — you do not speak to warn the wicked man of his wicked course in order to save his life — he, the wicked man, shall die for his iniquity, but I will require a reckoning for his blood from you. But if you do warn the wicked man, and he does not turn back from his wickedness and his wicked course, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your own life.
  • Again, if a righteous man abandons his righteousness and does wrong, when I put a stumbling block before him, he shall die. He shall die for his sins; the righteous deeds that he did shall not be remembered; but because you did not warn him, I will require a reckoning for his blood from you. If, however, you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he, the righteous, does not sin, he shall live because he took warning, and you will have saved your own life.”

Collins writes: “The nature of the prophet’s task is spelled out clearly in Ezek 3:16-21, by analogy with the role of a watchman. The watchman is bound to give warning of an impending danger. Whether anyone heeds that warning is not his responsibility. This view of the prophet’s mission is closely bound up with Ezekiel’s emphasis on individual responsibility, which we shall find more fully expounded in chapter 18.” (356)
In regards to Ezekiel’s character, many descriptions might strike the modern reader as strange. For example, Ezekiel eats an actual scroll in vv. 1-3, will eat cow excrement in the next chapter, and our chapter’s vv. 24-25 relate how he locks himself in a house (and might have tied himself up too). Collins writes, “More than any other prophet, Ezekiel exhibits phenomena that are associated with unusual psychological conditions, and that seem to call for psychological analysis. There have been many attempts to diagnose his condition. One famous philosopher, Karl Jaspers, suggested that Ezekiel was schizophrenic. Any such attempt to diagnose an ancient figure, about whom we have very limited evidence, is problematic, but there is no doubt that Ezekiel’s personal life, and his psychological condition, were deeply affected by his prophetic calling.” (357)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Allen, Leslie C. “Ezekiel 1-19” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 28 (Waco, Texas: Wordbook, 1994).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Hals, Ronald M. “Ezekiel” The forms of the Old Testament Literature vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989)
Photo taken from http://www.facsimile-editions.com/shared/images/ds/discipline-scroll-1.l.jpg