When students of the Bible read or think of the name Ezekiel, what typically comes to mind? I can still remember the thoughts I had when I first read through the book of Ezekiel, and I still think those same thoughts whenever I read excerpts today. Those thoughts were always overwhelmed by the amount of faith Ezekiel would have had to preach to those people.
If you recall, Ezekiel prophesied and preached to the Israelites during their time of deportation in Babylon. Ezekiel, a priest, the son of Buzi, was deported along with king Jehoiachin and several other Israelites (see 2 Kings 24:12-16; Ezekiel 1:1-3; 33:21; 40:1). If I could put a date on it, I would put it around 598 BC. The book of Ezekiel tells about the many visions God gave him to inspire the people to repent and turn to God.
So, why would I say the faith of Ezekiel stood out to me in this book?
First, I would like to call to attention Ezekiel’s status before the exile. We are told in 1:3 that “the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest…” Ezekiel would have been a priest if it had not been for the unfaithfulness of his kinsmen. In fact, many believe that in 1:1 when Ezekiel says “on the thirtieth year,” he is referring to his birthday. According to Numbers 8:24, priests begin their service at the age of 25, which is right around the time Ezekiel would have arrived in Babylon. This priest turned prophet would have surely been looking forward to a life full of service in the Levitical Priesthood, but could only be effective as a priest if he was where the temple was. Putting yourself in the shoes of Ezekiel, how would that make you feel? I can only imagine that was frustrating, but it did not keep him from serving God. We see his faith in a willingness to be utilized no matter where he was.
Keeping in mind what Ezekiel would have been, let’s now focus our attention to what God called him to be. God called him to be a prophet, preacher, observer, and a watchman in the second and third chapters of the book. In several of those cases, God made one thing abundantly clear to Ezekiel: these people do NOT want to change, and they certainly do not want to hear. God told Ezekiel in 2:3-4,
Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children.
Again, putting yourself in the shoes of Ezekiel, how would you feel about speaking to a group of people who were already this far gone from the Lord? As a preacher of the gospel, I can definitely say that I would probably be hesitant. Reading through the book of Ezekiel however, you see a man whose faith in the LORD outweighed his doubt in the people.
The actions Ezekiel took in this book are appalling to many who read the Bible – from laying on his left and right side for 430 days (see 4:1-8) to eating defiled bread because the Lord commanded it (see 4:9-17). In both of these cases, Ezekiel obeyed so he could communicate God’s word to the exiles surrounding him. Although the methods God chose for Ezekiel seem unnecessary, that is not up to us to decide. Clearly, Ezekiel thought so as well. In this book see a man willing to preach, teach, and prophecy no matter what the people thought of him because Ezekiel only cared what the Lord thought of him.
Considering all that has been stated, I can only think of one reason as to why a man would do any of this – faith. Ezekiel had faith in God’s plan for him, even if it meant not being a priest. He also had enough faith to preach and teach hard things to a group of people who did not want to hear it. Ezekiel boldly and proudly proclaimed the Word of God throughout all kinds of adversity.
I pray that I will also have the faith to preach God and His Christ in the face of people who do not want to hear it. I pray that I will have the willingness to change into what God wants me to be, not what I thought I needed to be.
I pray to have faith like Ezekiel.
All scripture references come from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
Chase Byers lives and works in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with his wife Rebecca.