Ezekiel was instructed to eat what he found and then, more specifically, to eat the scroll that had been held out to him and to go to speak to the “house of Israel” (“the sons [or people] of Israel” [LXX]). (3:1; see the Notes section.) Obediently, he opened his mouth, and YHWH had him eat the scroll. (3:2) The directive for Ezekiel to cause his “belly” to eat and to fill his innards with the scroll may have served to assure him that he would not vomit up what normally would have been indigestible. In Ezekiel’s mouth, the scroll was as sweet as honey. Since YHWH is never the source of evil but only of good, everything that proceeds from him is delightful or sweet to his devoted servants. Even the pronouncements of punitive judgments are “sweet,” for they are merited and expressions of flawless justice. Therefore, besides the honor to serve YHWH as his prophet, the words of YHWH would have been sweet to Ezekiel. (3:3; see the Notes section.)
The designation “house of Israel” apparently applied to the Israelite exiles among whom Ezekiel was to enter to speak to them YHWH’s “words.” (3:4; see the Notes section.) Ezekiel was not being sent to foreigners, to persons whose speech sounded unintelligible to him and whose tongue or language would seem “heavy” to him. This could refer to a “language” that was hard or difficult or that the tongue of the speakers appeared to be impaired, expressing words in a way that sounded like gibberish to one unfamiliar with the foreign language. Ezekiel was being sent to his own people who spoke the same language he did. (3:5) He was not being sent to one of many peoples speaking a foreign language or being “heavy of tongue” (either having a difficult language or expressing themselves in a manner that sounded like gibberish to a person who did not know the foreign language). If YHWH had sent Ezekiel to a foreign-language-speaking people, they would have listened to him. (3:6) The “house [or people] of Israel,” however, would not listen to Ezekiel, for they were unwilling to listen to YHWH. They were “strong of forehead” (“contentious” [LXX]) and “hard of heart,” suggesting that they were stubborn or defiant and, in their “heart” or inmost self, unyielding and unresponsive.(3:7)
So that Ezekiel would be able to carry out his commission boldly and fearlessly, YHWH prepared him for the resistance and hostility he would encounter. He made his “face” or countenance as “hard” or as resistant to change as the faces of the people, and his “forehead as hard as their foreheads” (strengthened Ezekiel’s controversy against the controversy of the people [LXX]). (3:8)
YHWH assured Ezekiel that he would be up to the assignment to confront the rebellious “house” or people of Israel despite their obstinate and unyielding disposition and unresponsiveness. He had made Ezekiel’s forehead hard like a diamond or emery, “harder than flint.” Therefore, he was not to be afraid of them or terrified at their “faces,” their stubborn and defiant resistance to the message he would be proclaiming to them. According to the Septuagint, Ezekiel’s controversy with the rebellious people would be stronger than a rock or crag in everything or continually. (3:9)
For Ezekiel to take YHWH’s word into his “heart” would mean for him to make it a precious part of his inmost self. To hear it with his ears would signify to give undivided attention to it. (3:10; see the Notes section.)
After entering among the exiled people (literally, the “sons of your people”) who by then had been in Babylonian exile for at least four years (1:2), Ezekiel was to say to them, “Thus says the Lord YHWH.” Regardless of whether they listened or stubbornly refused to listen, he was to speak to them YHWH’s word or message. (3:11)
Either a “wind” or God’s spirit lifted Ezekiel up and took him away, possibly away from the glorious visionary scene and back to the actual circumstances. While this visionary movement of Ezekiel was occurring, the four-wheeled vehicle also appears to have been in the process of departing. Behind him, Ezekiel heard the “sound of great shaking,” probably a loud rushing sound. It may be that the four living beings or cherubs then uttered the doxology, “Blessed be the glory of YHWH from its place,” possibly meaning praised be the majesty of YHWH in its exalted heavenly place. The Targum is more specific in indicating that the living beings were the ones offering praise and saying the words of the doxology. (3:12) The sources of the “great shaking” or the loud rushing sound are identified as being the sound from the beating wings of the four living beings or cherubs as these wings touched (literally, “kissed”) one another, and as being the sound from the movement of the gigantic wheels beside the cherubs. (3:13)
Ezekiel sensed that a wind or God’s spirit had lifted him up and was transporting him. When the visionary aspect of his experience had ended, he proceeded to go, “bitter in the heat [or rage] of [his] spirit.” Possibly because he would be proclaiming a severe message of judgment to his own people who would be obstinate and unresponsive, Ezekiel was bitter and filled with indignation. His being bitter and going in the rage of his spirit also harmonized with his having consumed the scroll that contained “laments and moaning and woe.” (2:10; 3:2) According to the Septuagint, he went under the impulse of his own spirit. The “hand [power, control, or hold] of YHWH” on Ezekiel was “strong,” compelling him and strengthening him to carry out his commission. (3:14)
Ezekiel came to the exiles who were residing at Tel-abib by the river Chebar, probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea. He then took up residence where they were dwelling. While there for “seven days,” he sat “stunned” in their midst. His being stunned may have been on account of the vision he had seen and the assignment to fulfill the role of a prophet. Another possible reason for his being stunned could have been because of feeling a need for time to reflect on everything he had seen and heard. (3:15; see the Notes section.) At the end of the seven days, the “word of YHWH” came to him. (3:16) This “word” or message explained the role Ezekiel was to fill. YHWH made him to be a “watchman” or lookout to the “house [or [people] of Israel.” In that capacity, Ezekiel would hear from the “mouth of YHWH” a “word,” evidently a message about impending punitive judgment for unfaithfulness, and then was to give the warning to the people that YHWH had conveyed to him. (3:17; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”)
If YHWH said to a wicked man (“lawless man” [LXX]), “You will definitely die [literally, dying you will die],” and Ezekiel, in his role as a watchman, failed to warn him to turn away from his wicked way [“his ways” (LXX)] so that he might live, the man would die for his guilt, but YHWH would require his blood from Ezekiel’s hand. Ezekiel would be held accountable for his death because of having withheld from him the opportunity to repent and to continue to live. (3:18)
If Ezekiel warned the wicked man (“lawless man” [LXX]) and he did not turn away “from his wickedness and his wicked way [his lawlessness and his way (LXX)],” the man would die for his guilt. For having faithfully discharged his commission as a watchman, Ezekiel, however, would deliver his own “soul” or life. He would share no responsibility for the death of the wicked man. (3:19)
If a righteous man turned away from his righteousness (righteous deeds [LXX]) and committed injustice (transgression [LXX]) and YHWH placed a “stumbling block” before him, causing him to fall or to experience calamity, he would die. His righteous deeds would not be remembered or taken into consideration, for he had ceased to be an upright man and merited punishment for his wrongdoing. If Ezekiel had failed to warn the individual, YHWH would require that one’s blood from his hand. Ezekiel would be held accountable for neglecting to give the warning that might have saved the man’s life. (3:20)
If Ezekiel warned the righteous man not to sin and he stopped sinning, the righteous man would live because he responded to the warning that had been given to him. For faithfully discharging his responsibility as a watchman, Ezekiel would deliver his own “soul” or life. (3:21)
The “hand” (power or control) of YHWH was upon Ezekiel, and he was instructed to “arise” and go to the plain. YHWH would speak to him there. The plain likely was an uninhabited area some distance from the nearest town or city. (3:22) Ezekiel did get up and headed for the plain. He then saw the “glory of YHWH” standing there, like the glory or majesty (“like the vision and like the glory” [LXX]) that he had seen “by the river Chebar,” probably a major canal in Chaldea. (See 1:4-28.) Apparently overwhelmed with reverential fear, Ezekiel dropped to his knees and bowed down, with his face touching the ground. (3:23)
God’s spirit entered into Ezekiel, impelling him to “stand up on [his] feet.” YHWH began to speak to him, telling him, “Go, shut yourself in the midst of your house.” The instruction appears to be that Ezekiel was to go into seclusion or hiding because of the extreme hostility of his own people. (3:24) Seemingly, their opposition to Ezekiel as YHWH’s prophet would be comparable to their tying him up with cords and not permitting him to go out among them. They apparently would do everything they could to hinder or stop him from proclaiming the word of YHWH to them. (3:25; see the Notes section regarding “son of man” and the interpretation of the Targum.) When YHWH had no message for him to proclaim, Ezekiel would be mute. It would then be as if YHWH had made his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth, and he would not say anything to reprove the people, for they were a “rebellious house,” unwilling to respond to any correction and defiantly refusing to abandon their wayward course. They did not deserve to hear words of reproof. (3:26) When, however, YHWH had a message for Ezekiel, he would open the prophet’s mouth. Ezekiel would then say to the people, “Thus says the Lord YHWH.” The one who was willing to listen should listen, and the one choosing not to listen could refuse to listen. Ezekiel could expect unresponsiveness, for the people proved to be a “rebellious house.” (3:27; see the Notes section.)
In this chapter (verses 1, 3, 4, 10, 17, and 25), as is the case throughout the entire book of Ezekiel, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
The Septuagint, in verse 15, differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It indicates that Ezekiel, in a state of having been lifted up, “entered among the captivity” or among the people who had been taken into Babylonian exile. He then moved about among those who were residing by the river Chebar. He “sat” or resided there for “seven days” and lived or went about “in their midst.”
The Targum interprets the binding of Ezekiel (verse 25) to mean that God imposed his word upon the prophet as with the chains that restrain prisoners.
According to the words of verse 27 in the Targum, the one listening should heed the instruction, and the one refraining should refrain from sinning.