IN SOME WAYS THE FIRST three chapters of Ezekiel hang together to describe Ezekiel’s early call and commission—the commission of a prophet called to serve in declining times. In the Old Testament, not all prophetic calls are the same. Elisha served as an apprentice to Elijah; Amos was called while he was serving as a shepherd; Samuel first heard the call of God when he was but a stripling. But prophets commissioned to serve in peculiarly declining times have some common features in their call. We cannot trace all of those features here, but one of them emerges with great strength in Ezekiel 2.
Here God tells Ezekiel what he is being called to do. He is being sent, God says, “to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me” (Ezek. 2:3). He is being sent to the nation of Israel, at least that part of it that is in exile with him—and that part, of course, comprised the most gifted, the most learned, the most noble, the most privileged. From God’s perspective, they are merely “obstinate and stubborn” (Ezek. 2:4). Ezekiel is to tell them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says” (Ezek. 2:4). So far God has not told Ezekiel what he is to say, i.e., the content of what the Sovereign Lord says. Rather, the rest of this chapter is devoted to making sure that Ezekiel understands that his ministry turns absolutely on one thing: passing on to this rebellious house the words of God. “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezek. 2:7).
Of course, it is always important for prophets and preachers to speak God’s words faithfully. But it is especially urgent in declining times. In periods of revival and prosperity, the preacher may be viewed with respect, his faithfulness and insight lionized. But in declining times, those who truly speak for God will be taunted and threatened. The pressures to dilute what God says become enormous. Clever exegesis to make the text say what it really doesn’t, selective silence to leave out the painful bits, hermeneutical cleverness to remove the bite and sting of Scripture, all become de rigueur, so that we can still be accepted and even admired. But God is aware of the danger. From his perspective, success is not measured by how many people Ezekiel wins to his perspective, but by the faithfulness with which he declares God’s words. Anything less participates in the rebellion of this “rebellious house” (Ezek. 2:8). This calls for godly courage that drives out fear (Ezek. 2:6-7).
Precisely where are such faithfulness and courage most urgently demanded in the Western world today?