The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
— T. S. Eliot (“The Rock”)
The conversation begins:
- God: Ezekiel, you are Israel’s sentinel, and I am sending you to warn them of my judgment. Go and speak to them.
- Ezekiel: OK, Lord.
- God: Hold on, first I need to bind you up in chains, so you can’t go out among your people. I will also make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so you can’t reprove them.
Look at the confusion here. God just told Ezekiel that he is the man who would warn the Israelites of his judgment. Then he told Ezekiel that he can’t visit or speak with his people. Ezekiel must have been perplexed.
Have you ever been convinced that God had called you to do something, only to find the task impossible to complete? Let’s look at a few examples:
- Have you felt called to further your education, only to find you could not get into the school you chose?
- Have you felt called to minister, only to be refused the position you wanted in your local church?
- Have you felt called to share your faith with a friend, only to have that friend despise you at the mention of God?
You get the picture.
. . .
The conversations continues:
- Ezekiel: OK… Lord? Er… You told me that I was Israel’s sentinel. Don’t sentinels have to speak in order to warn the people?
- God: After we spend some time talking, I will open your mouth for you. This way, you will only speak my words.
This was God’s last instruction to Ezekiel before sharing his plans with him. Just before the sentinel delivers his first warning, God gives him the final and most critical advice: “You are only to speak my words when I give them to you. Do not soil my message with your own presuppositions and temperament.”
My first thought at this turn of events was, “Lord, church life would be a lot less confusing if you kept this policy in place for all of your kids!” Realistically, a church full of automatons would be incapable of pleasing God. Ezekiel was given this ‘gift’ because God insisted on transmitting his word flawlessly to his people.
Although God does not compel us to speak only his words, that should be our goal. We should always strive to hear clearly from God before we endeavor to speak for him. Imagine how different history would be if the church had always understood God’s will before speaking it! Imagine what church life would be like today, if no preacher or televangelist ever took God’s name in vain by attributing attitudes and actions to God that he hates.
David understood this as well. He was convinced that he couldn’t even praise the Lord, without the Lord first inspiring him:
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
(Psalm 51:15, NRSV)
. . .
Lord, help us never to presume to speak on your behalf—until we know what you want us to say. Open our lips, Lord, and we will praise you and share your praise with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.