Feasting with God #46
“Such Sweet Sorrow”
Text: Ezekiel 2:8-3:3
8“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” 9And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
When he was tempted by Satan to use his divine omnipotence for selfish purposes, Jesus responded by citing the book of Deuteronomy: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). But who would have ever thought to take this literally? No, we don’t go around tearing pages out of our Bibles and eating them. To do so would be missing the point.
Ezekiel was called to be God’s prophet at a time when Israel was rebelling (and God here calls that nation “that rebellious house”), and like many prophets before and after him, he was called to bring the rebellious people back to God. This was a difficult and terrifying task. Imagine the comparatively small task that would face you if you had to confront a loved one with their sin. If your parent, sibling, spouse, or other close friend or family member was living in some sin, is it easy to speak to them about it? What goes through your head? “They’ll get mad at me.” “I’ll lose that relationship.” For Ezekiel and the other prophets called upon to tell Israel about their sins, these same thoughts were going through their heads, added to the fear, “They’ll kill me!”
And there was God, commanding Ezekiel to go and be the bearer of bad news to Israel: “Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” Earlier God had told him, “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’” and, “And you shall speak my words to them” (2:4, 7). Compare how God called others of his prophets: Moses, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4:12), and Aaron through Moses, “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and pout the words in his mouth” (4:15); Jeremiah, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’” (Jer. 1:9); Isaiah, “And [the seraph] touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people,’” (Is. 6:6-9), and Isaiah later prophesied to the redeemed people God’s words, “And I have put my words in your mouth” (51:16).
These prophets are never expected to go and tell God’s people God’s will on their own. Each time, God places his Word into his prophet’s mouth, whether through speaking to them aloud and sending his Spirit (as in Moses’ case), through a touch (as Jeremiah), through a burning coal upon the lips (as Isaiah), through the eating of those very words (as Ezekiel), or through hearing the words aloud from another prophet (as Aaron, and perhaps more significantly, as the people to whom Isaiah prophesied).
Look at what Ezekiel had to preach: this scroll, written on both sides, is entitled, “Words of Lamentation and Mourning and Woe.” To say it is an unpleasant message is an understatement. And yet Ezekiel, having been told three times by God, “Eat what I give you,” three times building up how bitter he expects this experience to be, ate it, “and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”
This is what is surprising about God’s Word. We speak of its two doctrines: Law and Gospel. The Law terrifies, and when we hear or read it we want to withdraw. However if, as in Ezekiel’s case, we “feed [our] belly” and “fill [our] stomach” with God’s Word, Law included, if it is allowed to permeate our entire being through the working of the Holy Spirit, if it penetrates our soul, then we will find that in our mouth it is “as sweet as honey.”
This is because the Law of God’s Word is never allowed by God to be left alone. The Law is always followed by its fulfillment: the Gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21-25). For the same reason, we can see the sweetness of putting God’s Word of Law in our mouths and preaching it to sinners, for when they see the Law, they can see also how it was fulfilled in their salvation through Jesus Christ.
“Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right. Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” Amen. (Ps. 119:169-176)
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.