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ezekiel unfiltered: chapters 2-3

When we read about the glory of God in the Bible, we might imagine a motionless cloudy mist. But God’s glory actually has an active, dynamic quality that interacts with us in deep, personal, and often unexpected ways.

Notice how active God’s glory manifests to Ezekiel. “As he spoke to me,” Ezekiel says, “the Spirit entered into me … [his] hand was stretched out to me, and behold a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me” (Ezek 2:1-2, 10). God speaks, his Spirit moves, his hand stretches out to open a book. The Lord is fully engaged in reaching out to us—and sometimes what he wants to communicate can be hard for us to swallow (2:3-7).

We can do what Martin Luther did: he threw out the letter of James, calling it an “an epistle of straw,” because he didn’t think James lined up with Paul’s theology. Or we can do what Thomas Jefferson did: he simply removed parts of the Bible that rubbed him the wrong way. But God is not inviting us to create alternative drafts. There are blessings to be found when we digest the passages we don’t like.

God tells Ezekiel to open his mouth and eat the entire scroll. “‘Feed your belly with this scroll that I give you,’ says the Lord, ‘and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey … and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit” (Ezek 3:1-3, 14). The apostle John had a similar experience: “I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I’d eaten it, my stomach was made bitter” (Rev 10:10).

God’s words, particularly those that pertain to sin and judgment, are bittersweet. We receive his forgiveness and long for righteousness to prevail, for God to right all wrongs and bring an end to evil and suffering. Yet the more we let that word soak in, the more we realize how terrifying the final judgment will be for those who do not trust in Christ.

Ezekiel’s encounter with the glory of the Lord required total absorption of God’s book (Ezek 3:12). He did not take a bite to taste it to see if he liked it. No, Ezekiel filled his stomach and thoroughly digested it. God’s word became part of him. Once this happens, it’s impossible to be a detached bullhorn. The message is still God’s, but when it’s fully digested, it becomes authentically Ezekiel’s as well. God’s glory made it his own. Ezekiel found out that such a transformation will inevitably turn you into a “watchman” (3:16-21). What’s a “watchman”?

Picture your city about to be invaded by an enemy. You’d post “watchmen” day and night to alert everyone of any threat. Early warning could save lives. To remain silent for fear of upsetting people is not an option. Watchmen care enough to speak up and say something. Watchmen are courageous enough to act if necessary. Watchmen are humble enough to warn in ways that are sensitive and yet effective.

Being a watchman is not just an Old Testament phenomenon. “We all, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” to become “watchmen” (2 Cor 3:18). Paul confirms this: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole council of God … Therefore be alert, remembering that … I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:26-27, 31).

The only responsibility of being a watchman is to give people a chance to respond. God does not demand success in persuading people, he’s looking for faithfulness in the attempt.