Who Is This Prophet Ezekiel?
February 3rd, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
WHO IS THE PROPHET EZEKIEL?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-3-85 8:15 a.m.
And we praise the Lord for the great throng that is in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church this morning, and no less for the multitudes of you who share the hour on radio. Almost every day someone who goes to other churches, particularly in other denominations, tell me that they listen to this early morning broadcast, either as they are dressing or on the way to their church. And I pray that the messages, so carefully and prayerfully prepared, will be always a blessing to your heart.
In these present Lord’s Days, we are preaching on the prophet Ezekiel. Last Sunday, the title of the sermon was, Why Study Prophecy? Why listen to the prophet? And the message today is entitled Who is the Prophet Ezekiel? The man himself; he describes himself in the first chapter and the first verse. He says:
I was among the captives, by the River Chebar—
then 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.
[Ezekiel 1:1, 3]
We are going to be acquainted, we are going to be introduced to Ezekiel through the great sorrows that overwhelmed his life. He lived in a time of unprecedented calamity and world change. So in those days of indescribable sorrow and devastation, we shall acquaint ourselves with the prophet and priest and pastor, Ezekiel.
The first great calamitous sorrow that came into his life happened when he was a youth and when he was a young man. He lived to see the disintegration and the catastrophic decline and end of the last great revival and restoration and reformation among the Judah and Jerusalem people of God. In his day, when he was born and the in days of his childhood and youth, there was a king over Judah who was the unexcelled, finest ruler the people ever had. In the twenty-third chapter of 2 Kings and the twenty-fifth verse, the Word of the Lord says this about Josiah: “And 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, according to the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” [2 Kings 23:25]. Can you believe the Word of God could say such a thing about a man? There never was a king, God says, like Josiah. And there’ll never be another one like him.
Josiah led the people in the glory of the greatest revival the nation had ever known [2 Kings 23:1-24]. And in the days of that revival this young priest Ezekiel grew up. He witnessed, he watched as a boy the royal servants of the king overthrow the altars of Baal, cut down the Ashtoreth, the images of the female goddess of fertility. And he watched the workmen as they repaired the temple of Jehovah. And it could have been that his aristocratic father, Buzi, was one of the priests who discovered the book of the law, doubtless Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 31:24-26], in the temple [2 Kings 22:8-10]. Certainly in all of Ezekiel’s writings, he betrays an intimate knowledge of the Book of Deuteronomy. And he could have been a part of the discovery of that wonderful book of the law, Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 31:24-26; 2 Kings 22:8-10]. And he could have shared, and doubtless did, in the greatest Passover that Israel ever observed [2 Kings 23:1-23], described so by the Word of the Lord.
It was a time of tremendous turning to God; it was an outpouring; it was a visitation from heaven; it was a mighty, mighty revival! And in the midst of that revival, at its very height, in the climactic days of that great turning to God [2 Kings 23:1-24], the revival found its abysmal and tragic conclusion in the death of King Josiah. Pharaoh Necho, the king of Egypt, marched north with his army to confront Nebuchadnezzar and Nabopolassar, who were marching north with the Babylonian legions, and they were meeting to decide the fate of the civilized world. And as Necho marched through Israel going north, King Josiah flung himself across Necho’s path at the narrow pass of Megiddo; Armageddon, Megiddo, the Mount of Megiddo, and in the battle that ensued, Josiah was slain [2 Kings 23:28-29].
A hundred fifty years later, in Zechariah 12:11: “In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadad Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo.” That mourning of Hadad Rimmon is the mourning over the slaying of King Josiah [2 Chronicles 35:20-24]. No sorrow did the nation ever experience like that sorrow. And the charioteers brought the dead body of their glorious king back to Jerusalem for burial [2 Chronicles 35:24]. Necho thereupon placed the eldest son of Josiah on the throne. His name was Jehoiakim, a vile and evil son of a glorious, good man [2 Chronicles 36:4-5]. Isn’t that the most inexplicable thing you could ever know or observe, how a good man can have such an evil son? And in that evil day, the calamities of Israel began to multiply [2 Chronicles 36:6-7].
I would like to pause here for just a moment to say something about the unutterable folly of this wonderful King Josiah in flinging himself across the path of the army of, at that time, one of the two greatest powers of the world, Egypt, and Pharaoh Necho [2 Kings 23:29-30]. Why would he do a thing like that? I have read and read and read and read, and the more that I read, the more I am frustrated and dumbfounded by the inexplicable answer to that question: why did this great king put himself in the path of Pharaoh Necho and allow himself to be slain by that vastly superior army?
Now this is my answer. Remember, it is just mine, as I read and study. I think Josiah was guilty of a presumptuous sin. The hand of the Lord was upon him, and the power of God was working with him, and there never was, according to the Word, there never was a king like him before or after him [2 Kings 23:25]. And Josiah presumed upon that favor and blessing of God, a presumptuous sin. That’s a strange thing that you’ll find in the life of God’s greatest servants. Moses was told of the Lord:
You speak to the rock, and it will give forth water for the people—
this is the twentieth chapter of [Numbers]—
And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, and Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together, and Moses said, Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch water from the rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank.
But, the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, Because you did not sanctify Me and glorify Me before the people of Israel, therefore you will not enter the Promised Land.
Isn’t that a strange thing, how God’s greatest servants somehow come to the place where they presume upon the blessing of God in their lives? Moses was so endowed from heaven, and when God said to him, “Speak to the rock in My name” [Numbers 20:8] . . . Moses says, “Must we, Aaron and I, fetch you water?” And he strikes the rock in anger [Numbers 20:10-11], a strange sin, presuming upon God; presumptuous sins [Numbers 20:12]. That’s why I had you read that nineteenth Psalm [Psalm 19:1-14]. Do you remember the next to the last verse?
Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright,
and I shall be innocent from the great transaction,
from the great, great, great iniquity, the great transgression
No matter who we are or how the favor of the Lord may ever be upon us, it behooves us to remain humble before the Lord God; never presumptuous.
Anyway, that’s the first great sorrow that came into the life of Ezekiel, the ending, the tragic conclusion of the great revival under Josiah [2 Chronicles 35:20-24].
The second tremendous sorrow that came into his life was his captivity, his exile as a slave to the king of Babylon [Ezekiel 1:1]. What happened was, in those days in which Ezekiel lived, there was the great mighty struggle for the dominion over the civilized world. In 612 [BC] Nineveh was destroyed, and for hundreds of years, the suzerainty of the Assyrian had been dominant in the whole earth, the whole civilized world. And Nineveh was destroyed by the Medes and by the Babylonians in 612 [BC]. And in 609 [BC], Pharaoh Necho went north at which time Josiah was killed [2 Kings 23:28-29; 2 Chronicles 35:23-24]. And Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar also marched north. And there in a place called Carchemish, in 605 [BC], was fought one of the great determining battles of the earth, for the domination and the leadership of the civilized world. And Egypt was destroyed [Jeremiah 46:2-26]. The army of Necho was destroyed, and Egypt never rose again. From that day, 609 BC, until this day, Egypt has never been a great power.
The battle was won by Nabopolassar and by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians. And in 605 [BC], the year that great battle of Carchemish was fought, Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem, and at that time he allowed Jehoiakim to stay on the throne [2 Kings 24:1]. He’d been placed on the throne by Pharaoh Necho [2 Chronicles 36:4-5]. Nebuchadnezzar let him remain. But he took with him, in 605 [BC], a few of the royal seed of the house of Israel, the house of Judah. He took Daniel and his few friends and made them eunuchs in his court in Babylon [Daniel 1:1-3, 6-7].
Now for a while, Jehoiakim remained loyal to Nebuchadnezzar; but in about 598 [BC], Jehoiakim rebelled against the Babylonian king [2 Kings 24:1]. And Nebuchadnezzar came the second time to Jerusalem [2 Chronicles 36:6-7]. Before Nebuchadnezzar could arrive, Jehoiakim died. That’s a mysterious thing; don’t know how he died. Just that Jeremiah says he was buried with a burial of an ass [Jeremiah 22:19]. By the time Nebuchadnezzar arrived in Jerusalem, Jehoiakim was dead, and his son, Jehoiachin, was made king. And Jehoiachin reigned three months and ten days, and upon the third month and the tenth day, Nebuchadnezzar came with his army and invested Jerusalem the second time [2 Chronicles 36:9-10].
And this time when Nebuchadnezzar came, he carried away into Babylon, ten thousand of their fairest, flowering people [2 Kings 24:12-16]. He carried the king Jehoiachin to Babylon; he carried the queen; He carried all of the aristocracy; he carried the flower of the priesthood; and he carried all the men of war, and he carried all of the artisans, ten thousand of them. And among them was a young priest by the name of Ezekiel, who at that time was twenty-five years old [Ezekiel 1:3].
So Ezekiel is carried to Babylon, twenty-five years of age, in 598-597 BC. And there those exiles were settled north of the city on a grand canal that ran from the Euphrates to the Tigris River. The sadness of that exile is reflected in the one hundred and thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, there 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 carried 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, let my right hand forget her cunning.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
The sadness of the exiles carried in slavery to Chaldea, to Babylon.
In the twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah writes to the exiles in Babylon saying, “Don’t you listen to those false prophets who say you’ll soon be able to return home. You will not be able to return home soon. So build you houses, and marry your daughters and your sons, and live your life there as exiles and slaves in a foreign land” [Jeremiah 29:1-9]. And Ezekiel did that. He had his home in a little place called Tel Abib, a hill of corn, on the grand canal of Chebar [Ezekiel 3:24, 8:1]. And there he ministered as a prophet, and as a priest, and as a pastor to the people in slavery in Babylon [Ezekiel 2:3-7].
The third great sorrow: the first one, when he saw the ending of the great revival in the death of King Josiah [2 Chronicles 35:20-24]. The second great sorrow in his life, when he was carried as a captive to Babylon, as a slave to Nebuchadnezzar, when he was twenty-five years old [Ezekiel 1:1]; the third great sorrow of Ezekiel: the sadness of his call and commission.
Thus saith 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.
I will stretch out My hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more so than the desolate wilderness toward Diblath.
[Ezekiel 6:11, 14]
In all their habitations, the judgment of God upon a wayward and idolatrous Israel, that was the sad commission of Ezekiel, and I haven’t time to pursue it.
His message was one of wrath and judgment and visitation from God! The Lord said, “I will make your face as hard as flint in order that you may become to these idolatrous people a message of judgment from God” [Ezekiel 3:8-9]. And he delivered that message; one of damnation, and famine, and pestilence, and sword, and destruction, and desolation [Ezekiel 6:11, 14]. Oh! I cannot image a thing as sorrowful as the commission given to the prophet Ezekiel [Ezekiel 3:8-9]. I don’t have time to speak of it, but while he was delivering his message before some of the princes of the people, this prince Pelatiah died there before him. And Ezekiel cries over the body of his dead prince, “Alas, alas, Ah Lord God! Will You make a full end of even the remnant of Israel?” [Ezekiel11:13].
A man who speaks for God doesn’t invent his own message; never, not if he’s a messenger from the Lord. All a messenger from God is, he’s a voice; he’s an echo. He just delivers the word of the Lord. And that is typified incarnate in this pastor-priest-prophet Ezekiel.
Now the last: the great sorrows of Ezekiel. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the book, the first verse, Ezekiel announces the third time that Nebuchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem. And this time, in 587 [BC], this time is the last time he ever needs to come.
In the ninth year of his captivity, in the tenth month, 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, even of this same day:
the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day.
He announces there in Chaldea the day that Nebuchadnezzar begins the siege that will destroy the city, the temple, and the nation. Now the [sixteenth] verse:
Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: thou shalt not mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down.
Forebear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head, put on your shoes, eat not the bread that the people bring to the house because of the dead.
So I spake unto the people in the morning: and in the evening my wife died; and I did in the morning, that day, the following day, as I was commanded.
And in the next verses, it says that “Ezekiel is a sign of God unto the people” [Ezekiel 24:24]. On the day that the great siege of Jerusalem began, announced by Ezekiel in the land of the Chaldeans [Ezekiel 24:2, 18], on that day his wife died. “The desire of thine eyes shall die with a stroke” [Ezekiel 24:16]. Had she been a wife despicable, cruel, heartless, promiscuous, we could understand why he might not mourn, why he might not weep; She didn’t deserve any tears. There are many wives that it would be a gift from heaven if they died. That’s one of the most sorrowful observations you could ever make in human experience. But not this wife; she is described by the Lord God as the “desire of his eyes” [Ezekiel 24:16]. He loved his wife profoundly but when she died—that day that the great siege of Jerusalem began—when she died, the Lord God said to Ezekiel, “As a sign to the people, you are not to weep; you are not to mourn; you are not to cry. And you are to go ahead with your life as though nothing had happened” [Ezekiel 24:16, 24]. The purpose of it was for God to evidence before the people that the personal sorrow of one’s life is nothing compared with the illimitable, immeasurable sorrow of the loss of a nation, and of the loss of the city, and of the loss of the temple, and of the loss of the fellowship and relationship with God Almighty. The sorrow of the destruction of the people and the loss of their relationship with Jehovah God was so deep it was unutterable; it was inexpressible; it was too deep for tears. And the sign of it was to be Ezekiel in the loss of his wife [Ezekiel 24:16, 24].
Now I have to conclude. Let me say several things about that: number one, as between personal sorrow and duty, our obligation is duty; it’s with God. “I did in the morning as I was commanded” [Ezekiel 24:18]. I wish I had time to describe to you some of the things that I live through, and watch, and hear, and see in my study, and sometimes hear as people kneel before the Lord. A girl I’m thinking of; one of the most beautiful young women I ever saw, crying inexpressibly, her heart torn in love, in love, deeply in love, promised to marry, an engagement, a ring. But the boy, not a Christian and not even open-hearted toward the faith; and with tears beyond lamentable crying, she bows before the Lord, breaks off the engagement, and seeks to build her life in another area.
Ah, some of the things that are imposed upon us by the commandments of the Lord! Between sorrow and the commandment of God, between sorrow and duty, our obligation is to God; always to the Lord.
A second thing: wouldn’t you suppose that a man who is as faithful to the Lord God as Ezekiel would have been spared the sorrows and the tears of life? Isn’t that a supposition that the fire and the flood will not come by us who serve the Lord? Not so! The same sorrows and tears and floods that overwhelm the world overwhelm God’s people too. The difference lies in the response. The man of the world, facing his sorrow, does so in cynicism or in bitterness or in brooding, but the child of God, as Isaiah 43 will say:
When thou passes through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they will not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, it shall not burn thee; and the flame shall not kindle upon thee, because I am with thee!
The difference lies in the presence of God in the human heart and in the human life.
God said to Paul, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, when He called him, God said to Paul, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16]. Because I am a child of God does not mean that I am delivered from the fire, or the flood, or the blood! It just means that God is with me in it and through it [Isaiah 43:2-3].
May I observe another thing? Death is not a great calamity to the child of God. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. Paul said, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to go and to be with Christ; which is far better” [Philippians 1:23]. Death is not a calamitous, monstrous thing to the child of God. It’s “a going to be with our dear Lord.”
A last thing: when God calls us into an experience of inexpressible sorrow, out of it, in His will, will come some of the greatest benefactions and comforts and strengthenings of life. I haven’t time to speak of it, but after this, for two years he was dumb. All during the days of the siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was dumb [Ezekiel 3:26, 24:27, 33:22]. He didn’t speak after the death of his wife, commanded not to mourn or weep [Ezekiel 24:16], for two years he never spoke. Upon the news of the fall of Jerusalem, to the ears of Ezekiel, he opened his mouth for the first time in two years [Ezekiel 33:22]. And thereafter, in the Book of Ezekiel, his message is one of comfort and strength and encouragement to the remnant of God’s destroyed people. Sorrow is to be like that in our lives. It but teaches us to be a minister in His name, in the kindness and goodness of our souls to others.
I one-time walked up to a woman in an association where I was pastor of a rural church, and I said to her, “I think you are the greatest woman I’ve ever seen or ever known in my life.” Well, why would I say that to her? It was this: she and her husband lived on a beautiful, spacious plantation in a beautiful home, an affluent family. They had three children, a teenage boy and his little brother and little sister. In those days—which was unusual in those days—they had a car for those children. And they went to school, they drove to school in their own little coupe, little one seated car. And upon this morning, it was a cold morning, upon this morning, evidently the boy was talking to the children or the children were talking to the teenage driver, and they weren’t looking. The windows were up, cold, and they didn’t hear. And the boy drove his car in the path of the fast Pan American passenger train that runs from Chicago to New Orleans. And in a moment, all three of those children were killed.
That mother went through an inexpressible grief and sorrow and, and in her commitment to God, she turned and gave her life to all of the children in that association. And she was the leader of their Sunbeam Bands, and their mission organizations, and their Girl’s Auxiliaries. And she just gave her life, just gave her life to ministering to other children.
That’s a marvelous, wonderful way of God, in taking our sorrows and our disappointments and out of them God frames and forges the greatest blessings that come in life. And there’s no sweeter example of that than in the death of our Savior and the suffering of our Lord [Matthew 27:26-50]. Out of it has come the hope of heaven [John 14:3], the forgiveness of our sins [Ephesians 1:7], and our great salvation [1 Timothy 1:15].
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, to come to the Lord in loving faith and trust, to look to Him, to ask God to bless us, to yield to Him all the issues of life, “Lord, Lord, in Thy presence, I bow, I open my soul heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward, I’m coming to give my life and my heart to the Lord Jesus” [Romans 10:9-10, 13] Or, “I’m coming to put my life in fellowship of this wonderful church.” Or, “I’m coming, answering God’s call in my own soul and heart.” As the Spirit shall say, as God shall move, as the Lord shall open the door, may God give you faith, and commitment, and love, and joy to enter in [Ephesians 2:8-9].
On the first note of the first stanza, in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, here I am; here I come. This is God’s day for me and I’m on the way.” May angels attend 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 presumptionII. Ezekiel taken captive into Babylon
A. Israel’s sorrow
B. Jeremiah’s letter to the exilesIII. Ezekiel given a sad commission
A. A message of judgmentIV. 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