A mouth full of words – Tuesday, 19th Week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 2:8-3:4
We are nourished from two tables at the Eucharist. The table of the word and the table of the bread. Often, we think that the table of the bread (Eucharist) is more important than the nourishment we get from the table of the word (the readings of sacred scripture) and so we permit ourselves to enter mass late; enquiring about the ‘validity’ of mass when we are late. Hold on to this thought as we study today’s text.
Ezekiel was called by God while in exile. Like the prophet Isaiah he was a priest but scholars have opined that before he exercised his priestly ministry in Jerusalem, he was taken off into exile along with King Jehoiachin and thousand others in the 598BC. It will be several years later under King Zedekiah that Jerusalem will finally be destroyed. Ezekiel is now called by God in exile, in Babylon, to be his prophet.
God speaks to Ezekiel and calls him a ‘mortal’. In several translations this reads as ‘son of man’. This is a phrase peculiar in the Old Testament to Ezekiel with the exception of two instances in the prophet Daniel. It is used 93 times in Ezekiel and its purpose is to emphasise the great gap between a transcendent God and the human being. But in Daniel it takes on a messianic meaning, taken up later by Jesus, who refers to himself several times as the (not a) “Son of Man”.
In chapter one, Ezekiel see the vision of a chariot with four living creatures with human like form. He fell on his face when he heard a voice speak to him. Today’s text describes a strange apocalyptic vision but its meaning is clear. The voice that he hears commands him to stand and commissions him to do as he is told. Ezekiel is given a brief background of the people he is to speak of; his own people. The biography of the people he is to prophecy to is brief because they are predictable; they and their decedents are no different (2:4). God calls them ‘a nation of rebels and sinners’ (2:3). ‘They are stubborn’ (2:4).
At this time the children of Israel still had something of a kingdom in Judah and a temple in Jerusalem. Yet many of them were also scattered across the Middle East, by the forced exiles under the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Ezekiel’s word was for all of them.
Unlike Jeremiah who told that lord that he had been seduced and tricked into a job of being a prophet, Ezekiel is told his job description clearly. God tells Ezekiel that he is to speak to a difficult audience. He knows the character of the people he is being sent to. He is told that they will refuse to hear his message for they are a rebellious house ( 2:5). ‘Goyim’ the Hebrew word for rebellious is in the plural referring to both Israel and Judah but was also a word used normally for heathen nations. Over a dozen times in Ezekiel the phrase ‘rebellious house’ (literally, ‘house of rebellion’) is employed. God is making a point, instead of the ‘house of Israel’ they had become the ‘house of rebellion.’
Ezekiel is told that there will be briers and thorns surrounding him and he will live among scorpions. He will be starred at with unwelcoming looks that will shatter him (Hebrew translation) (2:7). But God assures Ezekiel not once but thrice in verse six (as he did with all his prophets and with us) with the words, “do not be afraid.”
God, speaking to Ezekiel now commands him not to be rebellious like the people he is called to prophecy to. He is not to be rebellious but obedient and in obedience he is asked to eat what God gives him. Ezekiel opens his mouth only to be told to eat a scroll with text written on it; words of lamentation, mourning and woe (2:8). Unlike most ancient scrolls, it is written on both sides. The implication is that it is totally filled with God’s word and God’s judgement of his people.
Ezekiel, obedient to the Lord ate the scroll and was nourished. The eating of the scroll was not just a spiritual experience for Ezekiel. It acted out a spiritual truth: Ezekiel must receive and internalize and digest the word of God before he could be a messenger of that word to the house of Israel. Ezekiel wasn’t to merely “taste” or “sample” God’s written revelation. He was to fill himself with it, especially because it was received from God.
When he was being called by Yahweh, the mouth of Isaiah had been touched by a seraph. In the case of Jeremiah, Yahweh had put his words into the prophet’s mouth. Here Ezekiel uses an even more graphic image of how God’s word becomes part of him. Ironically, we are told the words on the scroll were words of lamentation and mourning and woe, yet when Ezekiel ate the word of God, when he was nourished by it, Ezekiel found these bitter words as sweet as honey. God’s word is always spoken with love and with the well-being of the recipient in mind even when they are words of lamentation, mourning or woe.
If the word of God is not very sweet to you and me, do we still have an appetite for his word?