Ezekiel is a priest. His position among the captives by the river of Chebar prepared him for the grace of God. He says, " The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." The servant must needs be placed in circumstances here which will fit him the better for appreciating the favour of God, as entirely outside and apart from all here. He is shown the glory retiring from the earth, because of the wickedness of the professed people of God ; and yet, in the brightest spot of the retiring glory, there is the figure of a man, indicating that though the glory leaves the earth because of man's wickedness, yet that man will be in the brightest place of the glory.
Chapter 2 : Ezekiel, having seen the ways of God in the light of glory, is now directed-" Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee." He there receives his commission. The Lord acquaints him with the nature of the people, but warns him not to be like them: " Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house : open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee." Chapter 3: " So I opened my mouth, And he caused me to eat that roll. It was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." And then he is sent to speak unto the house of Israel. It is impressed on him that he is sent; he is not to fear, " I have made thy face strong against their faces but in addition he is warned to " receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears, all my words." It is of the last importance that the servant should be the practical exponent of the truth he presses on others ; and he must speak on, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear. It is very remarkable the way he is in his ministry, as set forth in the next three verses. " 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. 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 " (M. 12-14). Wondrous and gracious preparation for the line of service appointed to him! After he had reached Tel-abib, where were the captivity that dwelt by the river of Chebar, he tells us (v. 15), " I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days." The servant may go to the right place, and still have to wait for the word of the Lord. Verse 16: " It came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 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 prophet is appointed now to an important service, and in verse 22 we read, " And the hand of the Lord was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee." It is interesting to note the gradual way in which the servant is prepared ; and that it is not by any foreknown system, or by any way which man could devise or discover. Ezekiel goes forth into the plain : 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." This is the preparation for the wondrous and trying exercise of patient suffering which he must bear in his service. In chapter 4 Ezekiel is told, " Take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem, and lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it ; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about. Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city : and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel." The servant has to do with realities, though in a very limited measure to what it would be actually, yet it must in some degree be practically entered into by him. There is such a different tone and force about one who has learned in the circumstances from that of the one who has only heard of them, though in the fullest way. It is the difference between the witness and the historian.
Ezekiel has now to undergo and to be made acquainted with the sufferings of Israel and Judah in the siege; he must personally feel it. Even though it be but a day for a year, three hundred and ninety days he must be on his left side. " So shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year."
He must also eat bread by weight and drink water by measure, even with the sense of the greatest degradation to a man in nature. How differently would every servant enter and pursue his service had he beforehand entered into even partially, but truly, in his own soul the condition of things of which he speaks or seeks to correct. It is never, I suppose, possible to warn souls truly of evils which one has not through grace combated. Be it either like a bird on wing, that has not been caught by the net, or one who has been delivered out of the snare of the fowler, we learn like Peter: " When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
Chapter 5. Ezekiel is now to pass through a new experience. His personal appearance is to suffer. The partial cutting off of his hair and dividing it by weight is to express the measure and state of the remnant, a few in number. " Thou shalt also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts. Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire., and bum them in the fire; for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel." The servant is sensibly to enter into, in his own person, the scattered, ruined condition of the people of God. It is not the mourning dress after the sorrow, but the whole manner and appearance indicative of the affliction of which he in himself personally testifies. Paul exhibits in his manner of life the vicissitudes and sufferings which the heavenly walk here entails. He has nothing for the human eye to see, and yet he possesses everything for the comfort and cheer of heart of the spiritual.
In chapters 6 and 7 the prophet gets the word of the Lord respecting the judgment that will fall on the people. It is foretold to him how the Lord will deal with them, and how grievous is their course in His mind. It is thus the servant is rightly or duly impressed with man's evil. He only knows it rightly when the Lord has spoken to him His mind about it. Now in chapter 8 the prophet is made in visions to be an eye-witness of the varied abominations committed at Jerusalem. The Man in glory puts forth His hand, and " took me by a lock of mine head," and he was brought to Jerusalem, The discipline of a servant who is called upon to announce judgment is very peculiar and personally severe. He must not only know the mind of God respecting the evil, but he must be well and dearly instructed in the manner and way of the evil against which the judgment is levelled. Yet he must be entirely apart from complicity with it. First, verse 5, he is called to " lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north ... and behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry." Secondly, verse 7. "he brought me to the door of the court ... and he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw ; and behold every form of creeping things, abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about." The secret evil is disclosed. This terrible state of things had occurred through ancients of the people, who were leavened by the most pernicious opinions. " The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth." In verse 14 is the third abomination. " Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz." It is not only the mind and opinions that are polluted, but the affections: every element of the nation was defiled and idolatrous.
In verse 16 is the fourth. "And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house, and behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east."
To the prophet these four secret and inveterate abominations are disclosed, and in chapter 9 he is shewn the execution of the judgment. But prior to it, or concurrent with it, and of chief importance, is setting a mark on those who in sorrow of heart are far from the evil of the day: " Those that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." To the man of God the judgment of God's people is always a distress ; hence, 4' it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ali Lord God! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem? "
Now in chapter 10 quite a different experience is vouchsafed to him., It is the sight of the glory of God ; a sorrowful sight in one respect, because it is leaving the house, leaving the earth, but cheering to the man of God in another aspect, because the ways and purposes (which " the wheels " are in figure) are predetermined and assured. The form of a man's hand was under the wings of the cherubim. A Man will yet act in the glory of God. Nothing cheers the heart of the true servant in times of failure so much as a clear sight of the glory of God, as Moses said when the failure of Israel oppressed his spirit, " 0 Lord, shew me thy glory." And thus Stephen was shewn the glory brought in and assured for ever in the Man Christ Jesus, when the evil of Israel was consummated in rejecting Him as king in glory. It is a fine preparation for suffering, service and testimony here. But not only this, in chapter i i we read, " The spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the Lord's house," that he might witness the public teachings of the leaders of Israel which say, " It is not near; let us build houses : this city is the caldron, and we be the flesh." He is directed to prophesy; "and it came to pass, when I prophesied, Pelatiah son of Benaiah died." The very sight and example of judgment greatly affects the prophet; the man of God, however he may proclaim judgment, because of the holiness of God, is always deeply affected when it falls on even one; as he says, " Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel? " He is then comforted by a communication of God of future mercy to Israel. The glory of God leaves the city, and Ezekiel returns to the captivity, and spake unto them all the things that the Lord had shown him. All the previous discipline was to fit the prophet for communicating the mind of the Lord to the captivity.
And now in chapter 12 he is to be passed through another experience, because of the state of the people. He is to be a sign to the house of Israel. " And I did so as I was commanded: I brought forth my stuff by day, as stuff for captivity, and in the even I digged through the wall with mine hand; I brought it forth in the twilight, and I bare it upon my shoulder in their sight." A wonderful thing for the prophet to say that he is the sign, as Paul in another day could say, " We are ensamples unto you to follow us." He shows that in himself personally he suffers the sorrows of the judgment which is impending, and of which he warns them. And still more, the word of the Lord comes to him, saying, " Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness; and say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord God of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel ; They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land may be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the LORD."
It is a great encouragement that the " same afflictions are accomplished in our brethren that are in the world " ; .that the servant of God in other days suffered as we do now. Ezekiel had to contend with the same unbelieving spirit in his day as we have in our day. If they say in this day, " Where is the promise of his coming? " they said in that day, " The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth," chap. 12 : 22. The less the natural man can see of the purpose and ways of God, the more the spiritual man is simply cast on the word of God and assured by it in faith. Hence the answer to this infidel taunt is, " The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision." To make this true to the prophet, the word of the Lord comes to him again, and he is desired to say unto the house of Israel, " There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord God." Now follows a very important and trying service, the most so I might say in this day. It is to expose the false teachers, man and woman, among the people of God. A particular discipline prepares for a particular service, and the only way to be qualified to rebut and confute the false teachings of the hour is the simple fact that the day of Christ is coming; that man's hopes are all vain. Chapter 13 instructs the servant in the mind of the Lord concerning these false prophets. And here there are great principles for our help and guidance. This building with untempered mortar will eventually crumble to pieces. The servant must learn in patience to possess his soul ; one of the great characteristics of his being in divine power is the patience with which he can wait for the Lord's own time, knowing that the long-suffering of the Lord is salvation. " He that believeth shall not make haste." When I am truly assured that I am in the Lord's mind, and that He is at my right hand, I can wait patiently on Him, and I can rest assured that He will bring it to pass. Ezekiel is placed in the greatest divine honour for a servant on earth-even to be a light for God here ; this is the true place of the Lord's servant and prophet.
Chapter 14. " Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me." Surely one should gladly submit to any discipline in order that one might be qualified for so great service. How blessed if any of us were fitted of God to be the expositor of His mind in this evil day, so that the leaders of earthly religion should turn to us for light and instruction ; and inasmuch as any of us are for Christ here, we are prepared, and set by Him, however little recognised, for this end. It is not discipline now so much with Ezekiel as education: discipline prepares for education; hence it is interesting and helpful to note the time and order of education.
In chapter 15 Israel is the vine-tree ; nothing in itself naturally, yet it was the emblem of God's people on the earth to delight the heart of God and man. When the vine took its place among other trees it was nothing; " how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it? " for God " will set his face against them."
Chapter 16 is a review of all God's ways in grace to Israel, and details how wickedly they had turned out : hence it is said to the prophet, " Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations." It is very necessary that the servant should not only see the judgment of God on the vine-tree-God's professed people-but that he should clearly and distinctly set before them their fall and departure from the place and condition in which God had set them. So is it now. Perhaps there is a deficiency in our ministry on this head; namely, that we do not sufficiently " cause Jerusalem to know her abominations." A servant is never able to expose with point and vigour the declension of others unless he has been preserved or rescued from that declension himself.
From this to the end of chapter 39 the prophet is not only educated in the mind of God regarding all the nations in connection with Israel, but to him is declared the counsel of God. And now after this vast range of judgment being declared to him he can wind up with the gracious tidings of the blessed God. " I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them.... Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God." And finally he is shown in vision the establishment of God's sanctuary in the midst of His people (chaps. 40-48), a cheering and blessed close to his education as a servant and prophet of God.