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In some ways the first three chapters of Ezekiel hang together to describe Ezekiel’s early call and commission—the commission of a prophet called to serve in declining times. In the Old Testament, not all prophetic calls are the same. Elisha served as an apprentice to Elijah; Amos was called while he was serving as a shepherd; Samuel first heard the call of God when he was but a stripling. But prophets commissioned to serve in peculiarly declining times have some common features in their call. We cannot trace all of those features here, but one of them emerges with great strength in Ezekiel 2.
Here God tells Ezekiel what he is being called to do. He is being sent, God says, “to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me” (Ezek. 2:3). He is being sent to the nation of Israel, at least that part of it that is in exile with him—and that part, of course, comprised the most gifted, the most learned, the most noble, the most privileged. From God’s perspective, they are merely “obstinate and stubborn” (Ezek. 2:4). Ezekiel is to tell them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says” (Ezek. 2:4). So far God has not told Ezekiel what he is to say, i.e., the content of what the Sovereign Lord says. Rather, the rest of this chapter is devoted to making sure that Ezekiel understands that his ministry turns absolutely on one thing: passing on to this rebellious house the words of God. “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezek. 2:7).
Of course, it is always important for prophets and preachers to speak God’s words faithfully. But it is especially urgent in declining times. In periods of revival and prosperity, the preacher may be viewed with respect, his faithfulness and insight lionized. But in declining times, those who truly speak for God will be taunted and threatened. The pressures to dilute what God says become enormous. Clever exegesis to make the text say what it really doesn’t, selective silence to leave out the painful bits, hermeneutical cleverness to remove the bite and sting of Scripture, all become de rigueur, so that we can still be accepted and even admired. But God is aware of the danger. From his perspective, success is not measured by how many people Ezekiel wins to his perspective, but by the faithfulness with which he declares God’s words. Anything less participates in the rebellion of this “rebellious house” (Ezek. 2:8). This calls for godly courage that drives out fear (Ezek. 2:6–7).
Precisely where are such faithfulness and courage most urgently demanded in the Western world today?
Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 has been telling the Corinthians how not to view servants of Christ. They are not to view any particular servant of Christ as a group guru, for that means other servants of Christ are implicitly inferior. When each different group within the church has its own Christian guru, there are therefore two evils: unnecessary division within the church, and a censorious condescension that pronounces judgment on who is worthy to be a guru and who is not. Paul insists that all that God has for the church in a Paul or an Apollos or a Cephas rightly belongs to the whole church (1 Cor. 3:21–22).
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 4, Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians how they are to view servants of Christ: “as those entrusted with the secret things of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). The word rendered “secret things” does not mean “mysterious things” or “things that only the elite of the elect may learn.” The word is often rendered “mysteries” in our older versions. In the New Testament, it most commonly refers to something that God has in some measure kept veiled, hidden, or secret in the past, but which he is now making abundantly clear in Christ Jesus. In short, these “servants of Christ” are entrusted with the Gospel—all that God has made clear in the coming of Jesus Christ.
Those given a trust must prove faithful to the one to whom they are accountable (1 Cor. 4:2). For that reason, Paul knows that how the Corinthians view him is of little importance; indeed, how he assesses himself has no great significance either (1 Cor. 4:3). Paul knows that it is important to keep a clear conscience before the Lord. But it is possible to have a clear conscience and still be guilty of many things, because conscience is not a perfect instrument. Conscience may be misinformed or hardened. The only person whose judgment is absolutely right, and of ultimate importance, is the Lord himself (1 Cor. 4:4). It follows that the Corinthians should not appoint themselves judges over all the “servants of Christ” whom Christ sends. When the Lord returns, the final accounting will become clear. At that point, Paul says, “each will receive his praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5)—a wonderful thought, for it appears that the final Judge will prove more encouraging and positive than many human judges.
Some place remains in the church for discernment and judgment: see tomorrow’s meditation! But there are always batteries of critics who go way “beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6) with legalistic tests of their own disgruntled devising, attaching themselves to their gurus and abominating the rest. They often think they are prophetic, whereas in fact their pretensions come close to usurping God’s place.
23:1 Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” 2 Therefore David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3 But David's men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” 4 Then David inquired of the LORD again. And the LORD answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
6 When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. 7 Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 8 And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. 9 David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. 14 And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.
15 David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. 16 And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. 17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” 18 And the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.
19 Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? 20 Now come down, O king, according to all your heart's desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king's hand.” 21 And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, for you have had compassion on me. 22 Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. 23 See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” 24 And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul.
Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. 25 And Saul and his men went to seek him. And David was told, so he went down to the rock and lived in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. 26 Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. And David was hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land.” 28 So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape.1 29 2 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi.
4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,1 that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless2 guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent3 you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,4 as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
2:1 And he said to me, “Son of man,1 stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.2 Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.
8 “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” 9 And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
38:1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
and meditate treachery all day long.
13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!”
17 For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!