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First, the opening part shows how important it is for the prophet to empathize with God and his perspective. Trailing on from the closing lines of chapter 2 and into the beginning of chapter 3, Ezekiel in his vision is commanded to eat a scroll with “words of lament and mourning and woe” (Ezek. 2:10) written on both sides. Ezekiel eats it and reports that “it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ezek. 3:3). Why would a scroll full of “words of lament and mourning and woe” taste sweet? The point of the vision is that God’s words become sweet to Ezekiel simply because they are God’s words. God really does know best; he knows what is right. Therefore even when his words pronounce judgment and calamity, there is a sense in which the prophet must be empathetic to God’s perspective.
Similarly in the next verses (Ezek. 3:4–9): Ezekiel is not being sent to some foreign culture where the first step is to learn the local language. He is being called to speak to the people of his own heritage. Nevertheless he will find them unwilling to listen to him, precisely because they are unwilling to listen to God (Ezek. 3:7). So God promises: “But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:8–9). So in this head-butting contest Ezekiel is being enabled to side with God unreservedly. God sometimes raises up strong and obstinate leaders who, regardless of personal popularity, hunger to side with God. None of this means that Ezekiel has no fellow-feeling for the exiles; both the next verses and the rest of the book contradict any such notion. Nevertheless his commission is a call to empathize with God’s perspective and to be unyielding.
Second, this chapter contains a call to utter warnings and to be careful (Ezek. 3:16–27). The theme of the watchman (Ezek. 3:16–21) recurs in the book (chap. 33), and can be explored later. But in the closing verses Ezekiel is forbidden to say anything—courtesies, greetings, political speeches, whatever—except for what God gives him to say. This state of affairs endures until the fall of Jerusalem, about six years away (Ezek. 33:21–22), when his tongue is loosed. This restriction adds weight to the times he does speak. It is also a challenge to everyone who speaks for God. All of our talk and our silences should be so calibrated that when we convey God’s words our credibility is enhanced and not diminished.
In case anyone were to read 1 Corinthians 4 and conclude that no standards whatsoever are to be maintained in the church—after all, maintenance of standards requires judging, doesn’t it?—the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 5, provides a case where Paul berates the church in Corinth for not exercising judgment and discipline. We must reflect a little on this case itself, and then on the way it is linked to the previous chapter.
Paul insists that, with respect to the man he describes in 1 Corinthians 5:1, two evils are in view. The first is sexual. A member of the church “has his father’s wife.” The peculiar language suggests he is sleeping with his stepmother. In any case the sin is so gross that it would be shocking even among the pagans. The second is the limp response of the church. Despite this wickedness among them, their penchant for arrogant strutting, which surfaces in many chapters of 1 and 2 Corinthians, never falters. They should have been consumed with grief; they should have excommunicated the man who did this (1 Cor. 5:2).
We cannot reflect on all the elements of this judgment, but observe the following:
(1) The judgment Paul wants meted out is to be communal. The entire church, “assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4), in the consciousness of his powerful presence, is to take action. Thus the failure to do so is a church-wide failure.
(2) One of the reasons for taking this action is because “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (1 Cor. 5:6); evil in the church that no one deals with soon affects the entire church.
(3) This has nothing to do with disciplining the outside world. Paul assumes that the world outside the church will allow sin to fester. What he has in mind is discipline within the church of God (1 Cor. 5:9–10).
(4) Paul’s understanding of what conduct should be subject to church discipline is not restricted to the sexual arena, or this particular form of sexual sin. He means to include major moral defection and gives an exemplary list: greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, swindling. Elsewhere, he adds to major moral defection two other arenas: major doctrinal deviation, and persistent drive for schism.
Now all of this he openly calls “judging” (1 Cor. 5:12–13). Christians are to judge “those inside,” while God judges “those outside.” At the very least, chapters 4 and 5 must be kept in creative tension. More importantly, the Corinthians in chapter 4 were imposing judgments “beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6), i.e., deploying standards and criteria with no basis in God’s revelation, and out of mere party interest. They were not imposing judgments in chapter 5 despite what Scripture, properly understood, says. Both are breaches of God’s revelation.
24:1 When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats' Rocks. 3 And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself.1 Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4 And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 5 And afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD's anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD's anointed.” 7 So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.
8 Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. 9 And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? 10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you.2 I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD's anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12 May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the LORD therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”
16 As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the LORD put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the LORD reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father's house.” 22 And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.1
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church2 whom you are to judge? 13 God judges3 those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
3:1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
4 And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8 Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9 Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” 10 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. 11 And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”
12 Then the Spirit1 lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice2 of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the LORD from its place!” 13 It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. 14 The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the LORD being strong upon me. 15 And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling.3 And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.
16 And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for4 his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
22 And the hand of the LORD was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley,5 and there I will speak with you.” 23 So 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. 24 But 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. 25 And 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. 26 And 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. 27 But 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.
39:1 I said, “I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
3 My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:
4 “O LORD, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing1 they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
9 I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
10 Remove your stroke from me;
I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
11 When you discipline a man
with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah
12 “Hear my prayer, O LORD,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
a guest, like all my fathers.
13 Look away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!”