The Trio of Mighty Prophets
February 17th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE TRIO OF MIGHTY PROPHETS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-17-85 10:50 a.m.
On radio and on television, this is the pastor bringing the message, the third one in our study and presentation of the prophet Ezekiel. The title of the message this morning is The Three Mighty Prophets. The trio of great servants of God: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. And for a background passage, reading from the beginning of the prophecy of Ezekiel:
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, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of the King Jehoiachin’s captivity,
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 there upon him.
The trio of mighty prophets: in the good grace and providences of God for His people, in times of greatest calamity and distress, God raises up His ministers, prophets, and apostles, and preachers, and pastors. It was so in the year 722 BC, when the Northern Kingdom was carried away by the bitter Assyrians into captivity [2 Kings 17:6]. God raised them up mighty prophets in that era of the history of the people of God: Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah. They were ministers from heaven, preaching to the people in that day of illimitable and almost immeasurable disaster, catastrophe, and calamity.
It was so about one hundred and ten or fifteen years later, when Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed as a nation and as a city and when the people were carried into slavery, into exile, into Chaldean-Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 25:9-19-]. God sent them three mighty prophets: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
And the message this morning; I found in the early service I have to leave most of it out. I just wish to the Lord that I had a long time to preach every Sunday—hours, just hours.
What we are going to do is we are going to compare those three men of God. First, Daniel. Their age: Daniel and Ezekiel were about the same age. Daniel was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC [Daniel 1:1-3]. He was a youth, a very, very young man, almost certainly a teenager. He belonged to the royal family of the seed of the kings of Israel. Ezekiel was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar the second time he besieged Jerusalem, in 598 and 597 BC [Ezekiel 1:1]. And Ezekiel also belonged to the aristocracy, not of the kings, but of the priesthood [Ezekiel 1:3]. He was twenty-five years old when he was made a captive and therefore was just approximately the same age of Daniel. Jeremiah was older. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet of God in the thirteenth year of Josiah [Jeremiah 25:3]. He was about twenty-five or thirty years older than Ezekiel and Daniel, and he began his prophetic ministry in 627 BC, all of which means that Daniel and Ezekiel listened to the prophet Jeremiah for the first growing-up years of their lives.
The men greatly differed in the areas in which they ministered. Jeremiah, all of his thirty-five years as a prophet of God, delivered his message from the Lord in Jerusalem [Jeremiah 1:2-3]. He was there all through the days of the besieging and the captivities. When Nebuchadnezzar came the first time, he was there; came the second time, he was there. When Nebuchadnezzar came the third time in 587 and carried the nation into slavery and destroyed the city and the people and the sanctuary [2 Kings 25:8-21], Jeremiah was there. He ministered all of his life—until he was carried into Egypt against his will, where he died—he ministered in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel was God’s prophet to the exiles in Babylonia [Ezekiel 2:3-8]. He was a prophet of the Lord to keep alive the true faith of God in the ultimate rebirth and regeneration of the people. As time goes on and I continue preaching, we are going to see that Ezekiel was the father and founder of what we know today as the synagogue, and the assembly, and the church. It began in the ministry, the prophetic preaching of Ezekiel. When all of the accouterments, all of the externalities of religion, were destroyed, no more priest, no more altars, no more temple, no more sanctuary, no more sacred Holy of Holies, every accouterment thought of for religion, when all of the institutions were destroyed, it was Ezekiel who kept alive the faith. The rebirth of the nation, a religion of the heart and of the soul: that is Ezekiel, as he preaches to the captives, the exiles in Babylon.
Daniel ministered in an altogether different kind of a world. Daniel was taken by the king to be a servant in the palace of the great monarch that ruled the civilized world [Daniel 1:3-6]. The hand of the Lord was with him, and Daniel rose in favor and in power and became vice-regent of the whole province of Babylon [Daniel 2:48].
I think that’s the reason that when the ultimate captivity in 587 BC [2 Kings 25:8-21], was carried into Babylon, that they were situated, they were settled in the most exclusive and salubrious and fertile area of the empire, by the River Chebar, by the great canal [Ezekiel 1:1]. And I think that’s also the reason that the people were allowed to live their own lives, to worship their own God, to go their own ways, to have their own community. It was the hand of Daniel that guided that. And it was ultimately the providence of God that made it possible.
May we compare them in one other way: personally and domestically. In the sixteenth chapter of Jeremiah and the second verse, God interdicts, God prohibits his ever marrying. He is not to have a son. He is not to have a daughter. He is not to have a wife. He is not to have a home. This is the life of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 6:2].
The life of Ezekiel was at first beautiful. He was married to a wife that he greatly loved. In the twenty-fourth chapter of his prophecy, she is called the desire of his eyes. Then she was catastrophically taken away [Ezekiel 24:16-18]. In the choice and providence of God, she suddenly died, and Ezekiel was left alone with a broken heart and a broken home.
Daniel was a eunuch [Daniel 1:3-6]. In the thirty-ninth chapter of Isaiah:
Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:
Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.
And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
And when you open the Book of Daniel, the first thing to which you are introduced is this young son of the royal family taken into exile into Babylon. He is placed under the prince of the eunuchs [Daniel 1:3-7]. And five times in a small passage, Daniel is numbered among the eunuchs of Babylon [Daniel 1:3-18].
What can God do with an emasculated man? What can God do with a man who cannot speak, who’s not eloquent [Exodus 4:10]? What can God do with Moses? What can God do with a man who is blind? What can God do with John Milton? What can God do with a man who is deaf? What can God do with Beethoven, who closed his Ninth Symphony—written when he was deaf—with the most glorious hymn melody that we sing in our church? What can God do with a man who is deformed? Out of all of the visitors that were brought to the university in the four years I was there, the one that moved me most was a man who was crippled beyond compare, deformed.
What can God do with a man in prison? What can God do with a Paul, or a Silas, or a John Bunyan, who sees visions of glory? What can God do with “a man who is despised and rejected, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3], who is taken by His own people to the brow of the hill on which their town is built, to be cast down unto death? [Luke 4:29]. What can a Man do against whom the people rise up to stone him to death? [John 10:31-32]. What can God do with a Man who is nailed to a cross? [Matthew 27:32-35]. What can God do with a Man who is buried [Matthew 27:57-61], and His tomb sealed with the seal of the greatest empire the world had ever known? [Matthew 27:62-66]. What can God do with a Man who is dead? [Matthew 27:46-50]. The Spirit of God cries, “Arise, Victor and triumphant over sin, death, hell, and the grave” [1 Corinthians 15:54-57].
And what can God do with an emasculated man? “This,” says the Lord God. Isaiah 56:
. . . Let not the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep My Word, that choose the things that please Me, that take hold of My covenant.
Even unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
And the angel of the Lord said to Philip in the eighth chapter of Acts:
…Arise, arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza…
…and, behold, there passed by a eunuch of great authority under Queen Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasure, who had been to Jerusalem for to worship . . .
And returning, sitting in his chariot, reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah; and the Spirit said: “Go, join yourself to this chariot ” [Acts 26:28-29]: the beginning and the founding of the ancient Coptic Christian church of Ethiopia: what God can do with a eunuch, an emasculated man.
What God can do with any one of us: not in our strength, or in our all-sufficiency, or in our gifts, or in our endowments, but what God can do with our unworthiness, our nothingness, our brokenness, our kneeledness, our crying, and intercession and appeal unto Him. What God can do with a broken man; thus Daniel, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel.
May we now compare Jeremiah and Ezekiel? As I read and as I study, Jeremiah had a profound influence upon Ezekiel. That would be most explicable. Daniel had a profound influence upon Ezekiel. Ezekiel mentions him in his prophecies three times [Ezekiel 14:14, 14:20, 28:3]. But it was Jeremiah that greatly influenced Ezekiel.
I can just so well imagine Ezekiel listening to Jeremiah, as he delivered God’s message in the streets of the Holy City. Could I take just a second of time to point out the things that were delivered and preached by Jeremiah that you will find in Ezekiel? For example, Jeremiah eats the roll of the Word of God. A roll of the Word of God is given unto Ezekiel, and he eats it. That’s Jeremiah 15:16 and Ezekiel 3:3.
There is a proverb that Jeremiah quotes: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” [Jeremiah 31:29], that we are nothing but the result, and we bear the sins of our fathers. And Jeremiah preached the gospel of personal responsibility: no matter what your fathers have done, you are responsible before God for what you do. That same proverb is picked up and carried forward by Ezekiel. It’s in Jeremiah 31:30. It’s in Ezekiel 18:4.
Jeremiah preached the doctrine of a new heart, a regeneration, an inward and spiritual religion, separate and apart from all externalities. And that great revelation of spiritual religion, inward religion, announced by Jeremiah is carried forward to its ultimate by the preaching of Ezekiel. That will be in Jeremiah 31 [Jeremiah 31:31-34] and Ezekiel 36 [Ezekiel 36:24-28].
I have to close with this. Jeremiah speaks of the rise in a more glorious form of the nation Israel and the people of God. He speaks of a millennial restoration in the midst of the ash, and the despair, and the famine, and the flame, and the fire, and the destruction, and the slavery, and the captivity, and the death of the nation, and of the city, and of the sanctuary. Jeremiah speaks of a great restoration, a millennial glory awaiting for the people of God. That will be in Jeremiah 30 to 33, and it will be in Ezekiel, from chapter  to chapter 48.
These glorious men of God who lived in the most tragic and calamitous of times, they lifted up their eyes and saw the more glorious future God had chosen for His people. Now I wish we had the days and the hours to elaborate on that for us. There’s no one of us who has not yet been in a calamitous era in life. But we’ll face it.
When I left the service this morning, one of our finest men was seated there at the door of my study. And he said, “Pastor, with great reluctance do I come to you at this hour between services, but my heart is crushed and my heart is broken. And I just wanted you to pray with me, just pray with me.”
All of us face those inevitable heartbreaks and sorrows of life. To live in them is to live in despair, in darkness, and finally, death. But the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lifted up their faces and saw the glory of God yet to come, some greater day and some better thing for us. That’s the Lord in His kindness and goodness to His people.
In many ways Jeremiah and Ezekiel were very much alike. Both of them were given a message that was harsh and judgmental. Both of them announced captivity and slavery and destruction for the nation and for the city, both of them. Jeremiah was to be an “iron pillar and a brazen wall” [Jeremiah 1:18]. And Ezekiel was to have a forehead of adamant, of flint [Ezekiel 3:9], “to dwell among scorpions and briers and thorns” [Ezekiel 2:6]. I’m just quoting the Word of the Lord. And both of them were alike in their unflinching testimony. They never pulled back or withdrew from delivering the whole message of God. Both of them carried to a glorious hope the faith of the true religion of Jehovah after all of the externalties were taken away.
And both of them used symbol, symbolic teaching, constantly in their preaching. Jeremiah, for example, will take an earthen jar and bash it to pieces: a symbol, a sign, a parable of what is going to happen to the people [Jeremiah 19:1, 10]. Jeremiah will take his waistband and bury it on the Euphrates [Jeremiah 13:1-5]: a symbol of the captivity of people. Jeremiah will take a yoke and put it around his neck, and he goes up and down the streets of the city of Jerusalem bearing a yoke: a judgment of God upon the sins of the people [Jeremiah 27:2-13].
Ezekiel did the same thing. He took a soft brick, drew on it a diagram of the city, and then the ramparts that besieged it [Ezekiel 4:1]. Ezekiel would take bread, symbolizing affliction, famine, scarcity [Ezekiel 4:9]. Ezekiel was commanded to shave off his head, shave off the hair of his head, and to shave off his beard and to cut it in three parts, a third to be burned in the fire, a third to be cut in pieces, and a third to be scattered to the wind [Ezekiel 5:1-2]: symbols and signs of the judgment of God upon Jerusalem. Both of them preached alike with symbols and parables and signs.
But the thing that most moves me as I study and read these men that were sent from God are the differences between them. And I’ve chosen three. Briefly, the first one: they ministered to people who were altogether different, even though they were branches of the same nation, Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Judah, and Ezekiel to the captives in Babylon.
Jeremiah saw a vision: two baskets of figs, one rotten and worm-eaten and repulsive, sour, and the other delectable and delightful and good. And the Lord God said to Jeremiah in that vision: these worm-eaten decadent, rotten, spoiled, unpalatable figs are these that are now living and left behind in Jerusalem and Judah. And the good figs, the delectable, delightful figs, are the exiles that have been taken away into Babylon [Jeremiah 24:1-10]. The messianic hope of God is in the slaves. It’s in the exiles. It’s in these that have been carried away.
But when you look at that, you wonder: “How could such a difference be between the people?” You’ll find it in Ezekiel. For example, the people that were left behind in Jerusalem took advantage of those thousands of captives that were taken away into exile, and they seized their property for their own [Ezekiel 38:12]. And the children of the captives that were taken away into slavery, they were reproached, as those in Jerusalem who were left behind said: “These that have been taken away are greater sinners. That’s why they’re in captivity, and we are free here at home” [Ezekiel 36:3].
It’s an unusual thing, the hope of the nation. Isn’t that an amazing thing? The hope of the nation is in these who are enslaved, who have been wrenched from house, and home, and country, and land, and people, and live in slavery and in exile. God does such amazing things!
A second difference between Jeremiah and Ezekiel: Jeremiah, as he faced his assignment, was bitterly persecuted, hated, ridiculed, outcast. He was looked upon as a traitor [Jeremiah 20:2, 38:6]. He called for repentance and for submission to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar [Jeremiah 38:2-3]. And they, by their false prophets who remained in Jerusalem and Judah, believed that God would deliver them and Nebuchadnezzar would never come and take away the city, or the people, or the nation, or the sanctuary, or the beautiful vessels by which they worshiped God [Jeremiah 38:4].
Consequently, Jeremiah was looked upon as a bitter enemy of the king, and of the people, and of their hope for peace. They took Jeremiah, and they put him in a miry pit to die. And the kindness of a eunuch, of a eunuch, raised him up [Jeremiah 38:5-13]. He was then imprisoned. Then he was placed in stocks, and he was ridiculed by all of the people [Jeremiah 20:2]. That is the life of Jeremiah: a life of infinite sadness and brokenness, all of his life, all thirty-five years of his prophetic ministry.
The life of Ezekiel with the exiles was in a different pattern. He also had a message of judgment and repentance, if there is not a turning to God. But he was received by the people as a messenger from heaven. Several times in the Book of Ezekiel, such as chapter 14 [Ezekiel 14:1], such as chapter 20 [Ezekiel 20:1], several times in Ezekiel will you find the elders coming and sitting at his feet to inquire of the word of the Lord. He lived in a different world.
But the biggest difference between Ezekiel and Jeremiah lies in their response to the calling of the Lord and to the message of God that they brought from heaven. Jeremiah argues with God. He resents the persecution under which he is daily cast. And he laments his life, and his calling, and his prophetic ministry. Not in all literature will you see anything like the pathetic laments of Jeremiah before the Lord God. And not in all the Bible will you find anything comparable to the arguing of Jeremiah with the Lord God who has called him and sent him. The death agony over the years of the nation and the city, Judah and Jerusalem, is intensified tenfold in the rending soul of the prophet Jeremiah.
I want to take a moment to read to you some of these pathetic passages by which Jeremiah laments before God and argues with the great Jehovah of heaven. It started off that way. When the Lord called him, in the first chapter, Jeremiah replied: “Ah, Lord God! I cannot speak: for I am but a child” [Jeremiah 1:6]. I turn to the fourth chapter:
Then said I, Ah, Lord God! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reaches unto the soul.
My heart, my soul! I am pained . . . my heart maketh a cry within me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of trumpet, the alarm of war.
How long shall I see the standard, and hear the trumpet call to battle?
[Jeremiah 4:10, 19, 21]
Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous: Truly this is a grief that I must bear.
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not himself: It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,
But O God, when You correct me, do not do it in anger, lest You bring me to nothing.
[Jeremiah 10:19, 23, 24]
The fourteenth chapter:
O the Hope of Israel, the Savior in time of trouble, Why shouldest Thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside just to tarry for a night?
Hast Thou utterly rejected Judah? Hast Thy soul loathed Zion? Why hast Thou smitten us and there is no healing? We looked for peace, and there is no good; for a time of healing and behold, trouble!
Do not abhor us, for Thy name’s sake, do not disgrace the throne of Thy glory: remember and break not Thy covenant with us.
[Jeremiah 14:8, 19, 21]
The next chapter, chapter 15:
Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and I rejoiced in my heart…I sat in the assembly, and they mocked me.
…I sat alone because of Thy hand:
Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable…Will Thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?
I turn to the seventeenth chapter:
Heal me, O God, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: Behold, they say of me, Where is the word of the Lord?
As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow Thee: neither have I desired the woeful day . . .
Be not a terror unto me: Thou art my hope in the day of evil. Let me not be dismayed.
I turn to the twentieth chapter:
O Lord, Thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.
For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.
And then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more of His name—I quit this ministry—But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.
Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed.
Cursed be the man that brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee…
Let that man be as the cities that the Lord overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide;
Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me.
Wherefore came I out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?
Did you ever hear anything like that in all of your life? I say, not in literature are their cries and laments and brokenheartedness like that. That is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.
Isn’t it unusual that when Jesus said, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” [Matthew 16:13], the first one they named was, “They say You are like Jeremiah” [Matthew 16:14]. Jesus wept, cried, brokenhearted [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8]. That’s Jeremiah.
Ezekiel moves in another world. He never questions God’s will or God’s word. He never flinches before the burning message that he delivers. He never hesitates. He never withdraws his hand. He follows faithfully and obediently whatever God has called him to do, bears any burden that the Lord lays upon his heart. Ezekiel never argues with God; humbly, prayerfully, obediently submits and follows after.
I do not know of a better or more poignant illustration of that in the life of the prophet Ezekiel than in the death of his wife. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, God commanded him, saying: “I, God, did it. I take away the desire of your eyes” [Ezekiel 24:16]. And that night his wife died. “And you are not to weep, and you are not to mourn” [Ezekiel 24:17]. And the next morning Ezekiel says: “I did as God commanded” [Ezekiel 24:18]. He never wept. He never mourned. A poet has written of that. By the river Chebar, Ezekiel pleads with God:
. . . “She is mine,
My fair white lamb, mine only one; But You, God,
Have many, in Your calm Fold on the hill
Of frankincense and myrrh. O Lord God, be content
To lead Thy flock where shining waters sleep;
And leave this poor man in the wilderness
With his one ewe lamb!”
In obedience, without outward bereavement, he delivers God’s message.
. . . for no weak tears
May fall upon the sacred fire; no sound
Ordinances of the Prophet’s voice,
Speaking to all the ages, from the mount
Of cloud and vision.
He went forth with bowed head,
To speak for God, — with such strange calm as God
Can give to dying men, or men with hearts
More dark than death could make them.
He did as he was commanded.
. . . By my ruined home
I stand to speak for God, and stretch my hands,
Emptied of their sweet treasure, in God’s name
To all the people.
[From “Ezekiel and Other Poems,” by Barbara Miller Macandrew, 1879]
Never a question:
Life is a burden; bear it;
Life is a duty; dare it;
Life is a thorn-crown; wear it,
Though it break your heart in twain;
Though the burden crush you down;
Close your lips, and hide your pain,
First the Cross, and then, the Crown.
[from “A Thought,” Abram J. Ryan]
It is not for us to choose the providences of our life. That is in the gracious hands of our great God. And if it is one of brokenness, one of tears, one of defeat, disappointment, and frustration, and despair, may His name be praised.
However God shall choose for each one of us; it’s in His will. And it’s for us to bow, and to pray, and to love, and to follow after, and to give glory to His name, believing, believing, that He has somewhere, sometime, in another place, a more beautiful thing prepared for us.
That is our hope. That’s the Christian faith. Out of death is resurrection and life. Out of darkness is light. Out of defeat is victory. Beyond this earth is heaven and God’s kingdom yet to come. And to that we give ourselves, working, praying, laboring, loving, serving, with our hearts lifted up and our faces toward Him.
And to that, that commitment, we invite you this holy and heavenly hour to give your heart in faith to that blessed Lord Jesus who was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7; Romans 1:4]; to join with us in the praise and worship of God in this dear place; to walk in and out before us as a member of this sweet congregation. We encourage you. We bless God for you. We welcome you in your coming. The whole family, “Pastor, this is my wife, and these are our children. We’re all coming today.” Or just a couple, or just you, if you’re in the balcony, there’s time and to spare; down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, God bids you. The Holy Spirit welcomes you, woos you, and the rejoicing of our own hearts is expressed when you come. Do it now. Make the decision now, and the first note of the first stanza that we sing, make it the first step of this new life with us, and for God. Do it, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A.
A. Difference in age
1. Ezekiel and
Daniel were similar in age
2. Jeremiah was
B. Difference in place of
delivered his message in Jerusalem
2. Ezekiel was God’s
prophet to exiles in Babylon
3. Daniel served in
the palace of the monarch
C. Difference in personal
prohibited from ever marrying
2. Ezekiel married
to his love, which is then taken away
3. Daniel was a
D. God uses the broken
A. Jeremiah had profound
influence on Ezekiel
B. Many similarities
between the two
1. Both given harsh
message to deliver, yet unflinching
2. Both used symbols
and parables in preaching
C. The difference between
the two men
1. The people they
2. The way they were
3. Their response to
the calling of God
a. Jeremiah argues with God
and laments his life