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What would you do if God told you to go do a particular job and that you would visibly fail as you did that job? This is the story of Ezekiel and his call to preach. See some of his account below:
3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 2:3-7, Billy added bold for emphasis).
Speak to the Stubborn!
Verse 7 is the key to this passage and to the discussion here: “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” What is the preacher to do when people aren’t listening to him? Continue to preach! What is the preacher to do when he is derided and sneered at and is scorned by the people he’s called to serve? He’s to continue preaching! What is the preacher to do if he hasn’t had a convert in 10 years because the people refuse to listen? Preach anyway! This is exactly what God said to Ezekiel. God is saying, essentially, “You are to preach my Word whether you see ‘results’ or not. When they reject you, when they laugh at you, when they confront you, keep on preaching for I have called you to preach! I have not called you to bring about results, I’ve called you to preach! Preach My Word! Preach anyway, for that is what I’ve called you to do!”
Let’s look at Ezekiel 3 now and see God, again, speaking with Ezekiel about his calling:
4 And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8 Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9 Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” 10 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.11 And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear” (Ezekiel 3:4-11).
They Will Not Listen to You!
God promised Ezekiel in verse 7 of chapter 3, “But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me…” Now, of course we can say that this command of God was meant for Ezekiel and for the house of Israel, but can we really say that America is any different? Is America really “willing to listen” to what God would have to say to them (us!) about sin, judgment, and hell? Broadly speaking, has any group of people ever been naturally open and receptive to being called “sinners” and headed to hell? Based upon numerous lines of Scripture, I would say the answer is a resounding “No!” Therefore, it can be argued that all preachers are “Ezekiel” in one sense and that all the people that any preacher is ever sent to are “the rebellious house of Israel” in a sense. This is where our hope and trust in God alone for any type of “positive responses” to our preaching comes to bear. Do we really believe that only God can “give the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6)? Do we really believe that we are mere sowers of seed and waterers of seed and that we are actually “nothing” (1 Corinthians 3:7)? “Ministry success” to Ezekiel was Not getting results, for God had already promised they wouldn’t listen, but it was simply proclaiming what God told him to proclaim.
Collision of “The Church Growth Movement” and Ezekiel
How does the “Church Growth Movement” philosophy square itself evenly with these verses in Ezekiel 2-3? If we were always meant to get “positive results” from our preaching, then why wasn’t this also the case for Ezekiel? Where do we find God disciplining Ezekiel for “not getting results”? What we find, instead, is that God expects Ezekiel to preach His Word, and He will be pleased with that. I believe that we have forgotten a central fact regarding “ministry success”: Preaching the gospel IS ministry success because it glorifies God when we preach the gospel. If the gospel is preached, that is success, and that brings glory to God on its own, whether anyone every “comes down the aisle” or not. The question we should be asking in our ministries is not, “How many did the preacher bring in this past month?” but rather, “How faithful has the preacher presented the gospel this past month?”
Here are nine “takeaways” from Ezekiel 2-3, some that I’ve mentioned above, and some that I’ve not mentioned:
- People are rebellious and will not listen
- So don’t expect a positive, happy response every time you preach.
- I am not to be afraid of their words or dismayed at their looks
- Speak God’s Word even if they refuse to hear
- God’s Word to a rebellious people is “lamentation and woe” (v. 10).
- Be filled with God’s word (3:1-3)
- If I do not speak God’s word to them, then their blood is on my hands (3:16-20)
- Conversely, if I DO speak God’s Word to them, then THEY are responsible, not me, for the state of their souls.
- We are “bound” to speak ONLY God’s Word (3:22-27)
I would love to hear your comments and questions in the “Comment” section below!
- Why do you think we are all so driven by visible success?
- How would you respond if God told you to go do a task and He guaranteed that you would not be visibly successful at doing it?