“[The book] starts off with how she sobs at night because she wants a divorce. And then on to her husband being mad because she wants a divorce – and then he’s still mad when she moves in with a guy. Well duh. Not for me.” That was the first Amazon review. I trolled a little lower down the listing. Another said, “I was very disappointed that she has since left her [second] husband [whom] she found in the book, it made the finding of him less in my eyes.” And my fave, “Don’t Recommend…this is an autobiography about a needy, self-centered person.” #Harsh. Before you despair about ever writing your own autobiography, those rejection reviews were balanced by more favorable ones: “a must read for people…who’ve had our hearts broken,” and “…by far my all-time favorite book,” from a person whose life experience lines right up with the author’s. She’s Elizabeth Gilbert and the book’s Eat. Pray. Love. and I ‘ve never read it and I don’t know if it’s worthwhile. What I do know is this: the last two verses of our section had three verbs in them and the first verb of our ours and hers turned out to match! For whatever reason, Eat. Pray. Love. is what came flitting into my brain when in 3:3-4 the Lord says to Ezekiel the prophet, “ eat…go…speak”.
It’s actually not a bad relation to make, I think. Properly it’s called, “One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia”. It’s a story, so the cliff-notes told me, about a woman whose marriage ends with her early mid-life crisis and who embarks on a journey of self-discovery where she will take three actions: eat and enjoy the sensual things of life in Italy, pray and discover spirituality in India, and then find love in Indonesia once again. And there’s probably some value there but, to be honest, I don’t think I need to read it to grasp it. It’s a search for everything… in what we’d call the “self-help” category – one of the thousands of options in the “what can you do to set things right in life”, genre – in her case: eat. pray. love. So I say – I don’t need to read it to know that it, like many other things, relates to the key issue this morning. You might say that life for the sons and daughters of man is as simple as this – whose verbs will you follow? Will it be the ones we could run out and find or the ones the Lord provides?
This morning, we’re in chs.2-3 of Ezekiel – right after the opening vision where Ezekiel saw the Lord, brilliant and mind-boggling and powerful on his moving throne. And this section is the call, the first mission the Lord gives to Ezekiel, his soon-to-be prophet. In v.3 the Lord says, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me…”
Recall with me very briefly: in biblical history this is when, after many many times the Lord through his prophets had told God’s people to repent and to orient their lives under his will and to receive his care and love and blessings, but they didn’t – they refused, they rebelled, and they were relocated. Off into Babylon they were taken. To these people Ezekiel was called – to call them back to the Lord.
And the Lord was specific about what Ezekiel would encounter:
- 3 they were in revolt – literally – they transgressed, they broke the covenant, the agreement of family love between God and them, the agreement to serve their king, tossed it in the garbage and went off in search of everything…
- 4 they’re obstinate and stubborn – literally they’re hard-faced and hard-hearted. Just like the prophets had been saying for a long time, “[T]hey have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” or “They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent.” (Jeremiah 6:15, 5:3). They would be hard and stuck and adamant in their sins and in their choices to do and believe whatever they wanted.
- And v.6 – with words and looks and worse they’d push back hard.
- In fact, six times in ten verses, God labels them rebellious.
They had a verb problem. You might say that Israel had an eating disorder. What was Ezekiel’s call? In v.8, the Lord says to Ezekiel, “Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” The implication is: like some little toddler with a plate of peas, Israel had refused to take in the words God had set before them. Instead, they’d gone and eaten all sorts of other things, seeking after their own spirituality, without God; worshiping and praying to all sorts of gods – chief of which was their own desires. And it betrayed where their love was – for others than their first love, really for themselves.
And it’s important to mark it, because the sons and daughters of man in this age, just like that one, are tempted to help themselves just the same. To pursue the most unnatural, unreasonable, offensive, and backward of things – to eat/consume whatever they like. Family members and friends you know have walked away from what God has said about their marriages or about sexuality or about sins or the need for salvation – and found some other spirituality, to pray to the god of wisdom or reason or some unifying theory about life or… You know people in rebellion against God’s ways and hard-headed about anything he says and who will give you words and looks and maybe worse if you try to dissuade them from what they love.
The truth is: it hasn’t ever changed. St. Paul faced persecution when taking God’s ways out into a world that wanted it’s own. Jesus himself faced it. His own people were so enamored of what they wanted life to look like and be that all they could do was disbelieve that he was the one God sent. And Jesus Christ has sent you and me, along with Paul and Ezekiel of old, into that works. Not on a prophetic mission, but on a Great Commission. “Go and make disciples (God-followers) of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Our commission, is to anyone in the world – that they might be gathered into God’s family with us.
Which means, I don’t think the temptation for you this morning is necessarily to give in to the world’s verbs – but perhaps to sit because we’re afraid. That’s where Ezekiel was – sitting by the Kebar River. You know when I go sit down by a river? When I want to think about nothing but water passing by – to escape. And notice how three times God says to his prophet, “Do not be afraid”? Because we’re tempted by disregard of our friends and afraid sometimes of the looks they give or the actions our world might take – we’re afraid to say anything at all.
So…when God speaks to his prophet and commissions his people out into this kind of world, he gives us all the help we need. He gives us exactly the verbs to do it.
EAT, sons and daughters of man. Do not rebel but eat. Eat the Word God has set before you. And acknowledge what’s on the menu. Ezekiel, in v.9, received a scroll full of words, “words of lament and mourning and woe.” And that is God’s Word to you and me. It says bitter things about my temptations to go “find myself” rather than letting him tell me who I am; and about my failures to live according to his will; and about my fear that brings hesitation to speak his Word. It calls these my sins. And they’re not insignificant – for them it says the payment is death. And it says there is no self-help guide for this. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov 14:12) Even in the good news of God’s Word, there’s bitterness. What is the essence of the message? “[I]t is by [undeserved love] you have been saved [or rescued], through faith [trust]—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) God’s Word is full – back to front – of the bitter thought that I cannot rescue myself, but that rescue had to be made for me.
But what happens when I eat this Word? Ezekiel said, “I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:3) The psalmists hit it more than once: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119:103) Jeremiah the prophet, though he experienced great trouble said the same and reasoned it out, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.” (15:16) As Ezekiel would later say in ch.37 – God’s people would be all the people he gathers together under one name, in joy under the rule of one king – his Jesus.
Eat, my friends, eat this up – that God’s Word convicts you and me of our fears and sins and inaction. And calls us to repent in sorrow, and turn away from them. And with great joy let’s us taste and see that the Lord is good. That he has provided forgiveness for our fears and inaction when Jesus died at his cross – Christ for us in our place. That Jesus’ death and life provides the righteousness that covers over our iniquities and fills out hearts with good things – the love of God guaranteed as we carry forth his Word and patiently produce fruits of faith – Christ for us even in persecution.
“[Sons and daughters of man], eat this [Word of salvation] and (not just a bit or now and again) fill your stomachs with it.” Because you need the fuel to do what God has called you to do…
- GO. Don’t be afraid, don’t sit by your river, don’t wait. Go out into your lives with your friends and your family and people you don’t know. Go as people rescued by Jesus Christ, labeled as his family and called to be his own. Go, knowing that God, as he promised Ezekiel, will strengthen your faith to be unyielding, steadfast, and unafraid. Because you know that, though there be thorns, thistles, and scorpions, and though the people be obstinate, they rebel against the Lord, not you; he is the final judge; and he is your Savior.
And SPEAK. God sent his prophet and said, “say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says…’” Speak not just as some mom or a friend or a brother or a coworker but – in all humility – as a servant of the king, the sovereign, whose might and power you serve. Who said, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen…” Speak, not what you crafted. Not what someone told you they’d like to hear. Speak what you ate – what God said – his Word – the one that gives you joy and strength and promises to work in the same sweet way in other hearts too. For “[all of that Word of God is] God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (2 Ti 3:16) ready for every kind of situation.
And Paul’s word to Timothy would serve well to send you – so you never run out of verbs: preach – prepare – be patient and careful – keep your head – do the work of sharing the gospel. But I like how God said it to our prophet still – nothing to go searching for and everything you need, “Do not be afraid… eat [my Word]… go [out among the people]… and speak my words to them.”