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Many of God's servants in the Old Testament are reluctant—Moses, Gideon, Saul (eventually defunct), Jonah and Jeremiah spring to mind. Moses protests five times in the course of Exodus 2-3:

11But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”

13But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

1But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?”

10But Moses pleaded with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”

13But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”

Jeremiah expresses reluctance at his commissioning (1:6):

"Lord Yahweh," I said, "I can't speak for you! I'm too young!"

and a complaint later on (20:7-18).

In contrast, Ezekiel does not make a single verbal protest of his call. Does this mean he was a willing prophet? What evidence do we have in the commissioning of Ezekiel (chapters 1-3) for his reluctance or willingness?

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His Silence does not Necessarily Indicate Willingness

Ezekiel is not as expressive of his emotions and states of mind as some of the other prophets, so his lack of protest does not necessary mean that he was a willing prophet. In the introduction to his commentary on the book, Daniel Block writes,

Ironically, although the oracles are presented in autobiographical narrative style, occasions when the prophet actually admits the reader into his mind are rare.

The eating of the scroll could be a mechanical obedience, and not one that reflected the state of his heart on the matter.

First Argument For Reluctance: Repetitive Calling

After all, God is quite repetitive in his call to Ezekiel—so much so that after commissioning him once, he leaves him alone for a weak and then commissions him again. This points to tacit resistance in the heart of the prophet.

Rebuttal: Repetition a Significant Theme in Ezekiel

But as in much of the Old Testament, Ezekiel, under the hand of God, makes much use of repetition in the book. Not a rote repetition (nor is God's commissioning of him a rote repetition), but a repetition that drives home and furthers the previous pronouncements on the topic. Moreover, for such a difficult task, a confirmation of calling must have been encouraging.

Second Argument For Reluctance: The Week of Bitterness

Daniel Block comments on the week in which Ezekiel sat stunned and bitter,

Ezekiel is infuriated by the divine imposition on his life and the implications of Yahweh's commission for him... The prophet does indeed share some of the hardened disposition of his compatriots.

Thus, not only is Ezekiel resistant, but he is resistant for a week in spite of the fact that Yahweh's hand is strongly upon him.

Rebuttal: Spiritual Bitterness

But the foregoing conclusion is completely uncalled for. The bitterness and rage needn't have been against Yahweh. Rather the bitterness arises from the opposition he is to receive; the rage against the rebellion of his people. God never asks his servants to treat a hard task as if it was not hard. The rejoicing he requires does not exclude intense grief, and rage is not necessarily ungodly. In fact, profound sorrow and wrath are both displayed clearly in the ministry of Christ Jesus. The experience Ezekiel has undergone is profoundly emotionally disturbing; this does not mean he is in rebellion to Yahweh himself. He is stunned by the glory of Yahweh; is is not only upset, but amazed, and there is no reason to suppose that the two emotions are in conflict. Isaiah, too, who does not resist his call but springs to it eagerly, expresses deep grief at his mission. Ezekiel's amazement and anger are both godly.

First Argument Against Reluctance: The Power of the Spirit

This conclusion seems irresistible when it is considered how thoroughly he was under the power of God. As Block says at multiple times in his commentary, Ezekiel is a man "totally possessed of the Spirit of God." This is evidently one of the crucial things that happens at his commissioning; as he is commanded to do something, he is empowered to so do. This is visualized when he is commanded to stand up by the voice and the Spirit lifts him and sets him on his feet. Moreover, in his week of bitterness he notes that the hand of Yahweh was strongly upon him. What does this mean but that his soul was being directed by the Spirit of God in an unusual and powerful way? Surely the conclusion that the Spirit works on Ezekiel from some external manner, or in purely physical ways, must be resisted. If Ezekiel is possessed of the Spirit, his disposition must be submissive—regardless of what it may have been before the theophany.

Second Argument Against Reluctance: The Theophany

Indeed, the theophany itself argues of his willingness. Neither Moses, nor Gideon, nor Jeremiah, nor Jonah, nor any other servant of God in the Old Testament save Isaiah, had a theophany to compare with Ezekiel's. But Isaiah also is a willing prophet ("Lord, how long must I do this?" is clearly sadness, not resistance). How could a prophet have a vision of the grandeur and excellence of Ezekiel 1 and yet resist the Spirit of God for a week? Of what account is it then to see the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh?

Who Cares?

I conclude that Ezekiel was made pliable to God's will by his Spirit-aided apprehension of the vision of the glory of God and so was not a reluctant prophet. But why bother to speak at such length on an apparently arcane subject? Several reasons, already alluded to, can be adduced in closing as for the importance of this point.

  • Maintaining a right understanding of the power of the Spirit of God and his mode of operation in softening hearts.
  • Understanding the irresistible transformation worked by a clear vision of the glory of God.
  • Seeing more fully the typology between Ezekiel and the Son of Man he prefigures.
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