Who Is the Prophet Ezekiel?
February 3rd, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
WHO IS THE PROPHET EZEKIEL?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-3-85 10:50 a.m.
God bless the wonderful throng of you in the sanctuary today, and no less bless the thousands of the multitudes that share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message, the second one on Ezekiel. The sermons for these present months will concern this mighty prophet of the exile. Last Sunday, the title of the message was Why Study Prophecy? Why listen to the prophet? The message today is Who Is the Prophet Ezekiel?
When we turn to the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, he introduces himself to us with these words:
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month,
as I was among the captives by the River of Chebar. . .
– verse 3 –
the word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him.
Who was this amazing prophet? We shall find our introduction to him in the great sorrows that overwhelmed his life. He lived in a time of unprecedented calamity and world change. So as we look at the prophet Ezekiel, we shall speak of those tragic, overwhelming calamities, sorrows that came into his life.
The first one is this: Ezekiel lived to see the collapse of the greatest revival, and reformation, and restoration that the people of God had ever known. Under Josiah, the greatest king and the finest king that Israel ever had, after the suzerainty of King David. This man Josiah – the Bible speaks of him like this: in 2 Kings, 23:25: ‘King Josiah, like unto him there was no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might . .
neither after him arose there any like him [2 Kings 23:25].
This was God’s appraisal of King Josiah. He followed a wicked and vicious series of monarchs who baptized the capital and the state in human blood and who had led the people into gross idolatry. But under King Josiah, who began reigning in childhood, there was brought through him a marvelous revival in Israel. And in that revival, Ezekiel was born. And as a child and as a youth, he lived through its marvelous blessings and outpourings upon the people. When Ezekiel was a boy and then later as a youth, he saw the royal servants of Josiah overthrow the idolatrous prophets of Baal, the altars of that pagan god. He saw those royal servants cut down the Ashtoreth – the female goddess of fertility. And he watched the workmen as they cleansed and rebuilt the temple of the Lord [2 Chronicles 3:4]. His father belonged to the aristocracy, was a great priest. And as a lad, he must have seen his father, with the others in the temple, discover the law of Moses – doubtless the Book of Deuteronomy. For in Ezekiel, he displays an intimate knowledge of that book of Moses. And almost certainly, he took part in the greatest Passover that the nation had ever observed [2 Chronicles 35:1-19]. It was revival and restoration everywhere under this godly king Josiah. But in the midst of that marvelous visitation from heaven, that great reform and restoration, in the midst of it, the charioteers brought back king Josiah from Armageddon, dead, slain in battle – a thing that is unthinkable, a tragedy beyond description [2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 chronicles 35:20-24]. And Ezekiel witnessed the death of that revival and the turning back of the nation to idolatry and gross immorality; bloodshed and violence.
What happened in the life of Josiah was this. In 612, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was destroyed by the Medes and by the Babylonians under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar his son. And after the destruction of the great Assyrian empire, whose capital was at Nineveh, there were two mighty kingdoms in the world that were vying for the leadership of the civilized earth. One was Egypt under Pharaoh-Necho, and the other was Babylonia under Nabopolassar and his son, Nebuchadnezzar. And Necho, the Pharaoh of Egypt, moved north with his armies and at the same time, Nebuchadnezzar and his father Nabopolassar moved north from Babylonia with their armies to decide the outcome of the world. And for some inexplicable reason, Josiah put himself, flung himself at the narrow pass of Megiddo before the army of Necho and was slain in that battle [2 Chronicles 35:20-24].
The sorrow of that loss of good King Josiah was forever remembered by the nation. For example, in Zechariah chapter 12, verse 11, describing the repenting mourning of the nation when Jesus shall come the second time, Zechariah – about one hundred fifty years after the death of Josiah – Zechariah writes: "In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as of the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddon" [Zechariah 12:11]. That was the mourning and the death and the loss of good King Josiah. After those two great armies met in a place in the upper Mesopotamian Valley of Carchemish, the great final battle was fought in 605 BC, and Pharaoh-Necho was defeated. And Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon became the leader, and his armies and his nation the ruler of the civilized world.
Now may I say two things here in passing by. Number one: in 609 BC, when Necho had slain Josiah at the pass of Megiddo, at Armageddon, the Mount of Megiddo – Armageddon – that is where the great final battle of the world will be fought; when Necho slew Josiah at Armageddon, he came back to Jerusalem, and he placed Jehoiakim, the eldest son of Josiah, on the throne [2 Kings 23:34; 2 Chronicles 36:4]. And Jehoiakim was a vile and evil king. And when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Necho at Carchemish, one of the great battles of the world, when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Necho at Carchemish up there at the top of the Mesopotamian Valley in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem. That is the first time that he came. And he allowed Jehoiakim, who had been placed on the throne by Necho, to remain as king over Judah. But he took with him into Babylon a few of the seed of the royal family and made them eunuchs in his palace in Babylonia. And one of those of the seed of the royal family was Daniel, and with him, his three friends and others of the royal household who were taken to Babylon in that first captivity in 605 [Daniel 1:1-7].
Now, may I say an aside? That war between Assyria, between Iraq and Egypt, has been a portent of the trouble in the Middle East and has continued from those ancient days until this. But, there is coming a glorious time when the prophecy of the Lord God will be fulfilled; which is uttered by Isaiah in Isaiah 19:23-25 when the prophet of God says:
There is coming a day when there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve – the Lord God – with the Assyrians.
In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria – Iraq – the work of Mine hands, and Israel Mine inheritance.
I say that because of the presence in God’s house today of our Christian brothers from Egypt, and from Jordan, and from Lebanon, and from Syria, and from Iraq. They are here in God’s house together, loving one another and loving us all together in the Lord – which is a harbinger and a portent and an earnest of the great and final day when men shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks, and they do not learn war anymore [Isaiah 2:4]. God bless you, brethren, and the Lord hasten the day when there shall be peace in Israel and peace in the Middle East, and when the conflict that now rages in Lebanon will be dissolved in an infinite brotherhood of love, and understanding, and mercy, and goodness, and charity – God grant it. The Lord hasten the day of his coming.
My other aside: why is it that this marvelous king Josiah flung himself, seeking to stop the army of Pharaoh-Necho as he marched northward to meet the Babylonians [2 Chronicles 35:20-22]. Why? I have read and read and read and read, and there is nobody that can offer an explanation of why the unthinkable action of Josiah in putting himself and his little army before the might of Pharaoh-Necho in which he was slain. Now, I have my own persuasion and remember it is just mine. This is what I think. Why did Josiah do that? I think it was because of the sin of presumption. God worked with Josiah as he had worked with few men in this earth, and the blessings of heaven were upon him. He was young, and the outpouring of the Spirit of revival and restoration moved Judah and Jerusalem into the very presence of heaven itself. It was a great, great, great restoration. And the blessing of God upon Josiah was almost unbounded. Now what can happen to a man who is unusually blessed of the Lord? He can forget the humility by which he is a servant of the great God. And he can do things in his own strength, he is persuaded of his own great powers. He can presume, he can be guilty of the sin of presumption before the Lord.
One of the most tragic illustrations of that is in the life of Moses. When the people in the twentieth chapter in the Book of Numbers were crying for water:
The Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak unto the rock . . . and it shall bring forth water. . . .
Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and said unto them and said to them: Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch water out of this rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank,
But the Lord said unto Moses and to Aaron, Because you,did not sanctify Me – exalt Me before the eyes of the people, but exalted yourself, as though you made the water gush from the rock – therefore, you will not enter . . . the Promised Land,
The sin of presumption; as though we do it in human flesh, as though our arms were able to bring a victory to accomplish a great thing for God – that is why I had you read the nineteenth Psalm. O Lord God, "Deliver Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent of the great transgression [Psalm 19:13].
All of us bowing before the Lord: if I have life, God gave it to me; if I have health, it comes from His gracious hands; if I have any blessing, it is from His sweet remembrance of me; and if there is any good that I can do, it is from His elective choice in my life. All of us humbly bowed before the Lord, receiving as from Him alone all the gifts and endowments, remembrances and benedictions that sanctify and hallow our lives. I think that is what happened to good King Josiah in presumption as though he were doing these things. He flung himself in front of Pharaoh-Necho and lost his life. That brought an end to the great revival, and this young man Ezekiel looked upon it, one of the great sadnesses in the history of God’s people.
The second great sadness in the life of Ezekiel concerned his captivity, when he was taken a slave by the Babylonians. After Jehoiakim who had been placed on the throne of Jerusalem by Necho and then confirmed in 605 by Nebuchadnezzar, after he had reigned eleven years, Jehoiakim rebelled against the Babylonians – against Nebuchadnezzar [1 Kings 24:1]. And Nebuchadnezzar came the second time to besiege and to encompass Jerusalem. Before Nebuchadnezzar could get there, Jehoiakim – the eldest son of Josiah – king Jehoiakim for some mysterious and inexplicable reason died. And Jeremiah says he was buried with a burial of an ass. When Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin was placed on the throne and he reigned three months and ten days. Then Nebuchadnezzar came and besieged and took the city the second time [2 Kings 24:6-11]. And this time when Nebuchadnezzar came, he took captive into exile ten thousand of the flower of Judah. He took captive the king Jehoiakim and his queen, his wife. He took captive the aristocracy and the flower of the land. He took captive all the men of war and all the partisans and craftsman, the cream of the people [2 Kings 24:14-16]. And among those ten thousand captives that Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylon was this young priest, twenty-five years old, Ezekiel. It would be hard for us to enter into the depths of the sorrow of that slavery and exile. We sense some of it in a song that they sang, the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willow trees in the midst thereof.
For they that brought us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning.
. . . may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy
I say it would be almost impossible for us to enter into the sorrow of that captivity. Jeremiah in the twenty-ninth chapter of this prophecy wrote a letter to the exiles in Babylon, to Ezekiel and to his people. And Jeremiah said, do not listen to the false prophets who say you will be back home soon. You are going to be there. You are going to be there a long time. And build you houses and give your sons and daughters in marriage and make it your home [Jeremiah 29:4-6]. So Ezekiel is dwelling in his house, in a little place called Tel Abib, the hill of corn, by the great Grand Canal that ran above Babylon from the Euphrates to the Tigris River, and there he lived his entire life as a slave in exile to the Babylonians.
The third great sorrow of Ezekiel’s life: the first one he saw the end of the great reformation revival in the death of King Josiah; the second great sorrow, he was taken in the second invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar as a slave and a captive into the land of the Chaldeans into Babylonia; the third great sorrow of his life – his commission from God. What a sadness. What an illimitable, immeasurable sorrow. The mission, the commission, the calling, the message of God to Ezekiel – in the sixth chapter beginning at verse 11:
Thus says the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.
He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus shall I accomplish My fury upon them. . . .
And I will stretch out My hand upon the land, and make it desolate, more so than the desolate wilderness toward Diblath.
What a calling, what a message! One of blood and fire and fury from the judgments of God! Which reminds me to say that any man of God, any God-called preacher is not to stand in the pulpit to deliver what he thinks or to deliver his fine discourses that come out of his thinking or his mind, but he is to stand there to deliver the message of God. The true preacher is an echo. He is a voice crying in the wilderness. His message is not one that he concocts or that he thinks up, but his message is to come from the living God, and that was the message delivered to Ezekiel – one of the saddest, one of the most tragic that mind could imagine.
May I give one instance of the sadness of that? In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, he is standing before the princes, and God has given him a message of rebuke to the princes of the people. "Son of man, these are the men that devise mischief, and give wicked counsel to the city" [Ezekiel 11:2]. Now look at verse 13: "And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord God! wilt Thou make a full end of the remembrance of Israel?" [Ezekiel 11:13]. While he was delivering his message of judgment – while he delivered it, the prince of the people, Pelatiah, fell down dead before him. And Ezekiel, looking at the body of his fallen prince, cries before the Lord saying, "Lord God! is this to be the destiny of all of God’s people?" The sadness of his commission and calling and message is almost enough to break the human heart in thought, much less in actuality and incarnation.
I must hasten; the fourth and last great sorrow of the life of Ezekiel. The first one was he lived to see the end of the great revival in the tragic death of good King Josiah. The second one: he was carried in the second visitation of Nebuchadnezzar in besieging Jerusalem; he was carried into slavery into captivity and exile into the foreign country of Babylon. The third great sorrow of his life: his message was one of judgment and visitation from God because of the idolatrous sins of the people. The fourth one, the fourth one: turn to the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. In verse 1, he announces the very day that Nebuchadnezzar comes the third time and the final time to besiege Jerusalem. "In the ninth year" – that is the ninth year of his captivity – "in the tenth month and in the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, write thee the name of the day, this day, even this same day – this is the day – the king of Babylon sets himself against Jerusalem, this same day" [Ezekiel 24:1-2]. Over there in Chaldea by the River Chebar, the prophet Ezekiel announces that this is the day, this day; King Nebuchadnezzar is besieging Jerusalem for the last time. And as you remember, after two years, the word came to Ezekiel that the city had been infested; been burned with fire – its temples destroyed, its walls broken down; the people slain by the sword, or what remained carried into captivity – and was destroyed, the nation and the city and the temple worship. That day – that day, by prophecy, Ezekiel announced it to the exiles in Babylon. Now look at verse 15 and following: "Also the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down. Forebear to cry, make no mourning for the dead" – dress yourself up – "eat not the food" that is brought to your house. "So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died; and I did the next day as I was commanded" [Ezekiel 24:15-18].
What an amazing – an amazing sign as the twenty-sixth verse and twenty-seventh verse of that same chapter, what an amazing sign does God make out of Ezekiel. On the day that the city is infested, besieged, on that day, God says to Ezekiel: this day at even thy wife shall die. But you are not to weep, and you are not to cry, and you are not to mourn. I am taking her away at a stroke; the desire of thine eyes [Ezekiel 24:16]. Now there are some women – there are some wives – that are so cruel, and so heartless, and so mean, and so unspeakable, and so promiscuous that their death would be a gift from God. That is one of the most sorrowful observations that you could ever make in human life, but it is universally true in every generation. There are some wives that are so vicious in their lives that if they were to die it would be a benediction from heaven, but not so with Ezekiel’s wife. God says to Ezekiel: I will take away from thee "the desire of thine eyes."
He loved his wife and gave his life in loving remembrance and care for her. And yet, God took her away. As a sign of what? What God was doing is this: when God took away the wife of Ezekiel and commanded him not to cry, not to weep, not to mourn, God was saying to Israel: the grief – the inexplicable hurt and sorrow of the destruction of the nation, and the destruction of the city, and the destruction of the temple, and the exile and captivity and slavery of the people – is so great that personal sorrow is not even to be countenanced, not even to be compared, not even to be mentioned, not even to be referred to. The great loss of the nation, and of the temple, and of the worship, and of the city is too deep for tears. It is inexpressible. Therefore, God said to Ezekiel, for the two years that follow after – that two years of the siege of Jerusalem, you will be dumb, you will not speak [Ezekiel 3:26]. The sorrow is too great for words and for tears.
May I close as hastily as I can with some words about that? Number one: between sorrow and duty, always God’s will is to be done. He says here that when God commanded me, "When your wife dies, the desire of your heart and of your life, you are not to weep, you are not to mourn." It says here, "I did in the morning, the next day, according as I was commanded" [Ezekiel 24:18]. Between sorrow and duty, God’s will and commandment are always to be obeyed. I live in that kind of a world and always have. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have seen say, a beautiful girl – I am thinking of one now – a beautiful, beautiful young woman; engaged to a young man – not a Christian, nor does he show any indication of ever turning to the Lord – and with tears and lamentations and crying that would break your heart, she covenants before God to break off the engagement and never see him again. Between sorrow and God’s commandments, God’s will – always God’s commandment is to be obeyed, no matter what the price, no matter how many tears.
Number two: religion is not an insurance against sorrow, and death, and the flood, and the fire, and the blood. "Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes," her death was not an accident. Her death was by the hand of the Lord. He took her. "Well, I thought that if one gave himself to the Lord, death, and sorrow, and tragedy would not come nigh him."
This man Ezekiel, "Ezekiel how faithful you are, how godly you are; therefore all the sorrows of life will not come nigh thee." Is that God? It is not! Ezekiel is God’s prophet and God’s obedient servant, yet the sorrow of his life overwhelms him. What is the difference? What is the difference? The difference is this: not that because I am a child of God, I will be free from the sorrows and hurts of human life. No. But because I am a child, God will be with me in and through those hurts and disappointments and trials. As the forty-third chapter of Isaiah says:
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm thee: and when thou walkest through the fire, thou shall not be burned; and when the flames are kindled upon thee, thou shall not be destroyed, for I am with thee.
The difference between the man of the world as he faces the prejudices of life – he does it in bitterness and in cynicism and in hopelessness – but the child of God faces the tragedies of life in the strength, and power, and blessing, and hope of the Lord. God said by his servant Ananias to Saul in the ninth chapter in the Book of Acts. "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts9:16]. And Paul said – when the sorrows of life overwhelmed him – he said, "God said, My grace is sufficient for thee: . . . therefore I rejoice in infirmities, in troubles, and in trials; for when I am weak, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:9-10].
The tragedies that come to us in human life in God are always for an ultimate and final blessing. Always! Always! Always! I went up to a woman one time – I was a rural pastor in an association – and I said to her, “I think you are the most marvelous woman that I think I have ever known or ever seen.” Why did I say that to her? She and her husband lived in a beautiful plantation home. They were most affluent. They had three children – a teenager, and his little brother and sister. Now this is fifty years ago, when for a youngster to have a car, was an amazing thing. And that teenager with his little brother and sister had a coupe, a little one-seated car. And they went – drove to the school in that car. And upon a cold day in the wintertime when the windows were up and they never heard, and apparently could have been talking as children do, that lad drove that car in a crossing before the furious speed of the Pan American Passenger train that ran from Chicago to New Orleans. And in a moment – in a moment, the three children were slain – were killed, dead. And that marvelous woman wept over those three caskets – her three children. What she was doing was – when she turned from the inexplicable sorrow of the loss of all three of her children, she turned to adopt in love, and grace, and service, and helpfulness all the children of the county. And she was their leader in their Sunbeam bands, in their mission groups, in their girl’s auxiliaries. She poured her life into a ministry to all of those dear children in our association. That is what God can do for all of us. Out of the sorrows and trials of our lives, God can work some great holy purpose for His name’s sake if we will love Him and trust Him and let Him lead us through it. That is God.
I have to close. That is what happened to Ezekiel. When I turn to the rest of the book, the first part of the book out of which I have been preaching – the first part of the book is one of scathing denunciation. I had in mind to go through some of the things that God showed Ezekiel surreptitiously, clandestinely, privately – what the people were doing secretly, the abominations of Israel – why God judged them, and the burning message of Ezekiel as he brought before the people the wrong and the violence of their sin. And after this, when I turn to the rest of the Book, his message is one of tears, and of comfort, and of promise, and of hope, and of ultimate and final salvation. That’s what sorrow will do if you love God. You will be a different kind of a person. People won’t even recognize you. There will flow out of your soul and out of your heart a great love for God, and a great love for His people, and a willingness to minister with hand and heart in His name and for His sake: God having provided some better thing for us.
We are going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal and while we sing it, as God shall speak to your heart, in this balcony round you, there’s a stairway front and back on either side, time and to spare. A family you, a couple, a just one somebody you, "This is God’s day for us and we’re coming." In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart and I’m on the way. Going to give my heart to the Lord God, to Jesus Christ, I’m going to look upward and heavenward to Him. Or, "I have my family with me pastor, and all of us are coming. All of us are coming." Or, "I’m answering God’s call in my heart for a special ministry." As the Spirit shall press the appeal, make the decision in your heart now to come. Answer with your life. That first step will be the most meaningful you’ll ever make. Come. May angels attend you? God bless you, as you come while we stand and while we sing.
WHO IS THE PROPHET EZEKIEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Ezekiel witnessed the collapse of the greatest revival the people of God had ever known
A. He was born in the days of revival under King Josiah
B. Tragic death of Josiah devastated the nation
C. Why Josiah sought to stop the army of Pharaoh-Necho
1. The sin of presumption
II. Ezekiel taken captive into Babylon
A. Israel’s sorrow
B. Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles
III. Ezekiel given a sad commission
A. A message of judgment
IV. The fall of Jerusalem, the death of his wife
A. Lesson in sorrow and duty
1. Always God’s will is to be done
2. Religion is not insurance against sorrow and death