By Elizabeth Prata
STAY IN THE HOUSE!
I came across a strange scene when I was reading Ezekiel last night. God calls Ezekiel to be a watchman. To be His prophet. To speak His words among the people. So immediately after the call, God told Ezekiel to shut himself up in his house and to remain silent. This is strange. Aren’t prophets the ones who go around preaching, roaming the Land, proclaiming His words?
It’s in Ezekiel 3:24, and I posted verses 22-27 for context.
22And the hand of the LORD was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” 23So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face. 24But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house. 25And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. 26And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house.”
When we think of the Old Testament prophets we think of their normal goings and comings. Prophet Elisha was born in the Northern Kingdom but prophesied as far north as Damascus. Jonah was sent to Nineveh. Elijah was at Carmel battling the 400 false prophets. How many times do we read the phrase from God to His prophet, “Arise and go…”
So what’s with ‘Arise and stay’? Prophets speak, but Ezekiel is rendered mute. How can this be?
It is thought that Ezekiel’s restriction lasted 6 or 7 years.
I’m not going to shed any new light on the interpretation of the above passage. By all accounts I read, the passage is a dense one and highly contested. A variety of interpretations have been written. I am no theologian and I don’t have any new insights. However, I do want to share some of the interpretations, raise some questions, and note some parallels to today.
v. 25 – Most interpreters don’t believe that Ezekiel sat in his kitchen tied to a chair with cords and was completely silent. Most believe that this part of the verse here is symbolic, that God is severely restricting Ezekiel’s sphere of influence to his home, that he was actually to remain in his house but free to move around within it.
v. 26a – John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was rendered mute when he questioned the angel Gabriel’s announcement of the upcoming conception. (Luke 1:20). In the Old Testament world, people recognized that a supernatural power had overcome someone who was rendered mute. (Luke 1:22; Daniel 8:17, Revelation 1:17). Daniel was speechless, but being in shock and unable to speak is different than God purposely rendering someone mute, literally ‘sticking his tongue to the roof of his mouth’.
v. 26b Ezekiel’s muteness was to be so that he was unable to reprove them, due to their rebellion.
v. 27 indicates Ezekiel was told to prophesy at times, and the Leaders also came to Ezekiel in his home sometimes rather than Ezekiel roaming the land. But for those 6 or 7 years, Ezekiel was to be inside and largely silent.
Long ago when God worked through a prophet, He spoke in many ways. One of the ways He spoke was to use the prophet as a living symbol. Hosea’s marriage to an adulteress is one example. This was to show that God pictured His relationship with the adulteress Israel, who went after many other gods. He instructed Ezekiel at another time to bake bread over a fire using human excrement for fuel, (later changed to cow dung), symbolizing God’s view of the Israelites’ repulsive defilement.
So how is God using Ezekiel as a symbol here? That God is using Ezekiel is not debatable. He is. But this is where things get messy. No one is positive what it means when God shuts up a prophet in his house.
Was it to to refrain from open fellowship with the people as The Bible Knowledge Commentary indicates?
Was it to indicate that the nation been passed over…Given over… That judgment is coming, it is too late to repent, as pastor Dan Duncan preached?
Was it for a sign of the manner in which Ezekiel’s countrymen would close their ears, hindering him as far as in them lay from delivering the message of the Lord, as Barnes’ Notes tells?
Was it as some think this shutting up was an emblem of the siege of Jerusalem, as Gill’s Exposition says?
Was it to be an object lesson to God’s people that their rebellion was making it increasingly difficult for Him to communicate to them as the Holman Concise Bible commentary explains?
I tend toward this last one. God has always been a communicator with His people, since Adam and the Garden, the first moments of human existence. God condescends in myriad ways to communicate His will and desires to us. He called Ezekiel as a prophet and instructed him that His words would be in Ezekiel’s mouth. Just not all the time, only at restricted times. When the siege of Jerusalem was over and they went into exile Ezekiel was released from the restrictions.
The Pulpit Commentary has the notion that I want to explore for application to us today:
There was a time to keep silence, as well as a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7), and for the immediate future silence was the more effective of the two. It would, at least, make them eager to hear what the silence meant.
God has shut the Church in their houses. His prophets, i.e. preachers of truth, are not in public speaking His word! He has removed the church from the public square! WHY!?
This is the question of the hour. It is a startling thing that God has stopped the church. Don Green of Truth Community Church preached on this recently. He said When God Stops the Church we should be asking ourselves why.
During this pandemic we have been asking what is God doing among the pagans, why did He stop the nation, why did He stop the world. What is He doing among the lost, is judgment coming next? But we should be asking ourselves the same question. Am I sinning and putting a blot on my local church? Is my local church sinning in some way that needs repenting? Is my denomination in sin? Is the global church displeasing to the Lord in such a way that He stopped our mouths in the public square? Just as the people in Israel wondered why God’s prophet was shut up in his house, silent, we should wonder why God has shut us up inside our homes, silent among the people He sent us to preach to.
Don Green, from the above linked sermon:
It has implications for us when such a sudden change has come upon our lives, we should not regard it in a light manner, we should not regard it superficially. We all have a responsibility of self-examination in all this. It would not occur to most believers to examine themselves in light of these circumstances. … but, He has sent this to us with a purpose. He is doing something in us and to us and for us that we are to contemplate and to take spiritual stock and to benefit from spiritually.
We should not be looking for ‘things to get back to normal’ said Pastor Green.
When things gets back to normal…there’s something more important than that which is going on here. It overlooks the fact that God has a purpose for us in the here and now, in the present time. Don’t overlook why God has stopped the church. We need to consider why God has sent such a remarkable discipline upon His people!
It was remarkable that God told Ezekiel to stop talking and stay home. It is likewise remarkable that God is telling us to stay quiet and shut ourselves in our home. As part of redeeming the time, we should be asking ourselves individually and corporately, why did God do this and what does He want me to do? Because even in the silence, Jesus and His Father are always working-
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)