God hardens Ezekiel’s heart, tasks him to deliver prophetic message to the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:4 – 3:15)
After indicating his acceptance of God’s task by eating the scroll, Ezekiel is told to go to the people of Israel and tell them what he has seen. God emphasized that even though the message should be clear to the people, they would not be willing to listen because they were hardened and obstinate. To compensate, God told Ezekiel he would make him as unyielding and hardened as they were. God told Ezekiel:
“I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them, even though they are a rebellious people.”
“Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart the words I speak to you. Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Tell them this is what the sovereign Lord says – whether they listen or not.”
The spirit lifted Ezekiel. Behind him, he heard a loud rumbling sound as the “glory of God” rose from the place where he was standing. The sound was like wings of the living creatures brushing against each other, the sound of the wheels beside him, a loud reverberating noise.
The spirit then lifted Ezekiel up and took him away.
Ezekiel went in bitterness and in the anger of his spirit with the strong hand of God on him. He came to the exiles at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. There he sat among them for seven days, deeply distressed.
What the story means to us today
Christian soldiers have a responsibility to spread the word
As Moses had been told earlier, Ezekiel was warned that his message would not be well received. This news greatly distressed Ezekiel. No one enjoys feeling helpless while your society crumbles around you. The distress is harsher when we know the solution but people refuse to listen.
Today we see society’s indifference is similar to ancient Israel’s. Many are stubborn and defiant, refusing to listen to God’s plan, much less agree to adhere to its strict guidelines. But God tells us to not be afraid or terrified by cynics.
Undoubtedly, ministry may trigger a hostile response from non-believers. In the New Testament, we see the response to Jesus’ message is so inimical, believers are killed for their convictions. But we too, like Ezekiel, will be given the courage and perseverance necessary to tend to unbelievers. And like Ezekiel, we must lay aside fears, indifference, and willingly accept the call to spread God’s word.
Additional thoughts and considerations
The Israelites ignore God’s message
God points out that the recipients of Ezekiel’s message, the Israelites, were not people of “obscure speech and strange language” (the original Hebrew says, “deep of lip and heavy of tongue”). In other words, the Israelites were perfectly capable of understanding Ezekiel’s revelation. If fact, God tells Ezekiel that people of foreign language would listen better than the Israelites. The Israelites willingly chose to ignore God’s message and thus, were choosing to ignore God.
The Israelites’ rebellious, stubborn traits are pointed out numerous times throughout the bible. For many years the Israelites rejected God’s word – we see this in the royal family, the temple priests, and even in the courts of justice. Their fixed ignorance of God’s objective is a hindrance to God’s plan.
What does it mean – “Ezekiel was hardened”?
The meaning of Ezekiel’s name tells all – it means one who is “strengthened by God”.
The sound of God’s movement
Ezekiel struggles to describe what he sees, particularly the “glory of God” rising to the heavens amidst a loud, rumbling sound. Ezekiel describes the noise as the sound of the creatures’ wings rubbing against each other and the sound of the turning “wheels” next to him. His description sounds uncannily like the sound of mechanical engine operation.
Whether Ezekiel’s description of events is spiritual or physical is of course, impossible to know. However, it is not hard to imagine Ezekiel’s description as a physical description of known or imagined forms of propulsion we are familiar with today.
The spirit lifted Ezekiel and took him away
Although many believe the phrases describing Ezekiel being “lifted” could refer to a spiritual lifting of his soul, the verses seem to indicate a physical lifting of Ezekiel’s body. This is supported by the apparent physical evidence presented by Ezekiel including detailed descriptions of the sounds he heard and the rumblings he felt.
Ezekiel leaves “in anger” and “bitterness”
Ezekiel says he left “in bitterness and in the anger”. Possibly Ezekiel takes on his task bitterly because God hardened his spirit but more likely, Ezekiel was bitter because he views his task as unpleasant. Indeed, Ezekiel seems hesitant to deliver the message to the Israelites. Adding to his quandary, God is stern in his command to go forth and prophesize leaving Ezekiel little opportunity to back out. Ezekiel was likely despondent, shocked, afraid, dumbfounded, even appalled at what he had been commissioned to do.
However, the verses clearly tell us that God promised to harden Ezekiel’s spirit, either through spirited anger or more accurately, what we would call “heated passion” today. There is no reason to believe the act of fortifying Ezekiel’s demeanor did not begin immediately – whether Ezekiel relished his task or not.
Why did Ezekiel sit with the exiles in Tel Aviv for seven days?
Ezekiel says he “sat among the exiles for seven days.” There are various explanations for the prolonged period he sat without acting.
Ancient law (Judicial and Ceremonial) allocates seven days for various purposes. The laws in Leviticus specify seven days for the period of ritual purity. In other texts, seven days is the typical period for mourning. It is likely that Ezekiel was simply respecting ancient law, waiting (anxiously no doubt) for the expiration of seven days before he delivered the news of impending doom destined for those he loved.
The science and history behind the story
The “exiles” at Tel Aviv
Although Ezekiel’s message will ultimately be directed to all Israelites (i.e. “the house of Israel”), God sends Ezekiel to minister to the Jews exiled in Babylon – the Israelites who had been forcibly detained following the conquest of the kingdom of Juda.
After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon) besieged Jerusalem and required a “tribute” be paid by King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim refused to pay in the 4th year which led to another siege (and Jehoiakim’s death) in 586 BC. As a result, his successor, Zedekiah, and others not killed in the siege were exiled and deported to Babylon. Jews would not be allowed to go back until 539 BC when Cyrus overthrew Babylon and issued a decree permitting Jews to return to Jerusalem (about 50,000 exiles returned to the land).
The events described in the Bible are confirmed in the Babylonian Chronicles (a series of tablets recording major events in Babylonian history), Jehoiachin’s Rations Tablets (found in the royal archives of Nebuchadnezzar), and various other historical texts.
Ezekiel in Tel Aviv
The verses say the exiles were in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv, or Tel Abib, means “mound of the flood”. The name is a conversion of a word from the ancient Akkadian language. Researchers believe it does not refer to the modern city of Tel Aviv in Israel. It was more likely located near Nippur on the Chebar canal (i.e. Kebar River) but the precise location is not clear. This is the only mention of the place name in the Bible.
Notes on Biblical translation
A forehead like the hardest stone – harder than flint
God tells Ezekiel he will make his forehead like the hardest stone – harder than flint. Various translations include hardest stone, rock, flint, granite, and even diamond. Hebrews had two words describing hardness – one is typically translated as “iron” while the one referred to in Ezekiel (which is only used three times in the Bible) implies an even harder substance. Thus, various translations attempt to portray the degree of hardness using a variety of modern-day metaphors.
4 He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. 5 You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel—6 not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. 7 But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. 8 But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. 9 I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.”
10 And he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. 11 Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”
12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound as the glory of the LORD rose from the place where it was standing. 13 It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. 14 The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. 15 I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
4–6 Then he told me, “Son of man, go to the family of Israel and speak my Message. Look, I’m not sending you to a people who speak a hard-to-learn language with words you can hardly pronounce. If I had sent you to such people, their ears would have perked up and they would have listened immediately.
7–9 “But it won’t work that way with the family of Israel. They won’t listen to you because they won’t listen to me. They are, as I said, a hard case, hardened in their sin. But I’ll make you as hard in your way as they are in theirs. I’ll make your face as hard as rock, harder than granite. Don’t let them intimidate you. Don’t be afraid of them, even though they’re a bunch of rebels.”
10–11 Then he said, “Son of man, get all these words that I’m giving you inside you. Listen to them obediently. Make them your own. And now go. Go to the exiles, your people, and speak. Tell them, ‘This is the Message of GOD, the Master.’ Speak your piece, whether they listen or not.”
12–13 Then the Spirit picked me up. Behind me I heard a great commotion—“Blessed be the Glory of GOD in his Sanctuary!”—the wings of the living creatures beating against each other, the whirling wheels, the rumble of a great earthquake.
14–15 The Spirit lifted me and took me away. I went bitterly and angrily. I didn’t want to go. But GOD had me in his grip. I arrived among the exiles who lived near the Kebar River at Tel Aviv. I came to where they were living and sat there for seven days, appalled.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
3:4 He said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. 3:5 For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel—3:6 not to many peoples of unintelligible speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand—surely if I had sent you to them, they would listen to you! 3:7 But the house of Israel is unwilling to listen to you, because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hard-headed and hard-hearted.
3:8 “I have made your face adamant to match their faces, and your forehead hard to match their foreheads. 3:9 I have made your forehead harder than flint—like diamond! Do not fear them or be terrified of the looks they give you, for they are a rebellious house.”
3:10 And he said to me, “Son of man, take all my words that I speak to you to heart and listen carefully. 3:11 Go to the exiles, to your fellow countrymen, and speak to them—say to them, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says,’ whether they pay attention or not.”
3:12 Then a wind lifted me up and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me as the glory of the LORD rose from its place, 3:13 and the sound of the living beings’ wings brushing against each other, and the sound of the wheels alongside them, a great rumbling sound. 3:14 A wind lifted me up and carried me away. I went bitterly, my spirit full of fury, and the hand of the LORD rested powerfully on me. 3:15 I came to the exiles at Tel Abib, who lived by the Kebar River. I sat dumbfounded among them there, where they were living, for seven days.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
4 And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. 5 For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; 6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. 7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted. 8 Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. 9 As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. 10 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. 11 And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. 12 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. 13 I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. 14 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.
15 Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.