Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
After the Lord had pointed out to the prophet the difficulties of the call laid upon him, He prepared him for the performance of his office, by inspiring him with the divine word which he is to announce. - Eze 2:8. And thou, son of man, hear what I say to thee, Be not stiff-necked like the stiff-necked race; open thy mouth, and eat what I give unto thee. Eze 2:9. Then I saw, and, lo, a hand outstretched towards me; and, lo, in the same a roll of a book. Eze 2:10. And He spread it out before me; the same was written upon the front and back: and there were written upon it lamentations, and sighing, and woe. Eze 3:1. And He said to me: Son of man, what thou findest eat; eat the roll, and go and speak to the house of Israel. Eze 3:2. Then opened I my mouth, and He gave me this roll to eat. Eze 3:3. And said to me: Son of man, feed thy belly, and fill thy body with this roll which I give thee. And I ate it, and it was in my mouth as honey and sweetness. - The prophet is to announce to the people of Israel only that which the Lord inspires him to announce. This thought is embodied in symbol, in such a way that an outstretched hand reaches to him a book, which he is to swallow, and which also, at God's command, he does swallow; cf. Rev 10:9. This roll was inscribed on both sides with lamentations, sighing, and woe (הי is either abbreviated from נהי, not = אי, or as Ewald, 101c, thinks, is only a more distinct form of הוי or הו). The meaning is not, that upon the roll was inscribed a multitude of mournful expressions of every kind, but that there was written upon it all that the prophet was to announce, and what we now read in his book. These contents were of a mournful nature, for they related to the destruction of the kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple. That Ezekiel may look over the contents, the roll is spread out before his eyes, and then handed to him to be eaten, with the words, "Go and speak to the children of Israel," i.e., announce to the children of Israel what you have received into yourself, or as it is termed in Eze 3:4, דּברי, "my words." The words in Eze 3:3 were spoken by God while handing to the prophet the roll to be eaten. He is not merely to eat, i.e., take it into his mouth, but he is to fill his body and belly therewith, i.e., he is to receive into his innermost being the word of God presented to him, to change it, as it were, into sap and blood. Whilst eating it, it was sweet in his mouth. The sweet taste must not, with Kliefoth, be explained away into a sweet "after-taste," and made to bear this reference, that the destruction of Jerusalem would be followed by a more glorious restoration. The roll, inscribed with lamentation, sorrow, and woe, tasted to him sweetly, because its contents was God's word, which sufficed for the joy and gladness of his heart (Jer 15:16); for it is "infinitely sweet and lovely to be the organ and spokesman of the Omnipotent," and even the most painful of divine truths possess to a spiritually-minded man a joyful and quickening side (Hengstenberg on Rev 10:9). To this it is added, that the divine penal judgments reveal not only the holiness and righteousness of God, but also prepare the way for the revelation of salvation, and minister to the saving of the soul.
Introduction to the first prophetic announcement. - Eze 3:22. And there came upon me there the hand of Jehovah, and He said to me, Up! go into the valley, there will I speak to thee. Eze 3:23. And I arose, and went into the valley: and, lo, there stood the glory of Jehovah, like the glory which I had seen at the river Chebar: and I fell upon my face. Eze 3:24. And spirit came into me, and placed me on my feet, and He spake with me, and said to me, Go, and shut thyself in thy house. - הבּקעה is, without doubt, the valley situated near Tel-abib. Ezekiel is to go out from the midst of the exiles - where, according to Eze 3:15, he had found himself-into the valley, because God will reveal Himself to him only in solitude. When he had complied with this command, there appears to him there the glory of Jehovah, in the same form in which it had appeared to him at the Chaboras (Ezekiel 1:4-28); before it he falls, a second time, on his face; but is also, as on the first occasion, again raised to his feet, cf. 1:28-2:2. Hereupon the Lord commands him to shut himself up in his house - which doubtless he inhabited in Tel-Abib - not probably "as a sign of his future destiny," as a realistic explanation of the words, "Thou canst not walk in their midst (Eze 3:25); they will prevent thee by force from freely exercising thy vocation in the midst of the people." For in that case the "shutting of himself up in the house" would be an arbitrary identification with the "binding with fetters" (Eze 3:25); and besides, the significance of the address ואתּה בן אדם, and its repetition in Eze 4:1 and Eze 5:1, would be misconceived. For as in Eze 4:1 and Eze 5:1 there are introduced with this address the principal parts of the duty which Ezekiel was to perform, so the proper divine instruction may also first begin with the same in Eze 3:25; consequently the command "to shut himself up in his house" can only have the significance of a preliminary divine injunction, without possessing any significance in itself; but only "serve as a means for carrying out what the prophet is commissioned to do in the following chapters" (Kliefoth), i.e., can only mean that he is to perform in his own house what is commanded him in Ezekiel 4 and 5, or that he is not to leave his house during their performance. More can hardly be sought in this injunction, nor can it at all be taken to mean that, having shut himself up from others in his house, he is to allow no one to approach him; but only that he is not to leave his dwelling. For, according to Eze 4:3, the symbolical representation of the siege of Jerusalem is to be a sign for the house of Israel; and according to Eze 4:12, Ezekiel is, during this symbolical action, to bake his bread before their eyes. From this it is seen that his contemporaries might come to him and observe his proceedings.
The general divine instructions. - Eze 3:25. And thou, son of man, lo, they will lay cords upon thee, and bind thee therewith, so that thou canst not go out into their midst. Eze 3:26. And I shall make thy tongue cleave to thy palate, that thou mayest be dumb, and mayest not serve them as a reprover: for they are a stiff-necked generation. Eze 3:27. But when I speak to thee, I will open thy mouth, that thou mayest say to them, Thus sayeth the Lord Jehovah, Let him who wishes to hear, hear, and let him who neglects, neglect (to hear): for they are a stiff necked generation. - The meaning of this general injunction depends upon the determination of the subject in נתנוּ, Eze 3:25. Most expositors think of the prophet's countrymen, who are to bind him with cords so that he shall not be able to leave his house. The words ולא תצא appear to support this, as the suffix in בּתוכם indisputably refers to his countrymen. But this circumstance is by no means decisive; while against this view is the twofold difficulty - firstly, that a binding of the prophet with cords by his countrymen is scarcely reconcilable with what he performs in Ezekiel 4 and 5; secondly, of hostile attacks by the exiles upon the prophet there is not a trace to be discovered in the entire remainder of the book. The house of Israel is indeed repeatedly described as a stiff-necked race, as hardened and obdurate towards God's word; but any embitterment of feeling against the prophet, which should have risen so far as to bind him, or even to make direct attempts to prevent him from exercising his prophetic calling, can, after what is related in Eze 33:30-33 regarding the position of the people towards him, hardly be imagined. Further, the binding and fettering of the prophet is to be regarded as of the same kind with the cleaving of his tongue to his jaws, so that he should be silent and not speak (Eze 3:26). It is God, however, who suspends this dumbness over him; and according to Eze 4:8, it is also God who binds him with cords, so that he cannot stir from one side to the other. The demonstrative power of the latter passage is not to be weakened by the objection that it is a passage of an altogether different kind, and the connection altogether different (Hvernick). For the complete difference between the two passages would first have to be proved. The object, indeed, of the binding of the prophet in Eze 4:8 is different from that in our verse. Here it is to render it impossible for the prophet to go out of the house; in Eze 4:8, it is to prevent him from moving from one side to the other. But the one object does not exclude the other; both statements coincide, rather, in the general thought that the prophet must adapt himself entirely to the divine will - not only not leave the house, but lie also for 390 days upon one side without turning. - We might rather, with Kliefoth, understand Eze 4:8 to mean that God accomplished the binding of the prophet by human instruments - viz. that He caused him to be bound by foreigners (Eze 3:25). But this supposition also would only be justified, if either the sense of the words in Eze 3:25, or other good reasons, pronounced in favour of the view that it was the exiles who had bound the prophet. But as this is not the case, so we are not at liberty to explain the definite נתתּי, "I lay on" (Eze 4:8), according to the indefinite נתנוּ, "they lay on," or "one lays on" (Eze 3:25); but must, on the contrary, understand our verse in accordance with Eze 4:8, and (with Hitzig) think of heavenly powers as the subject to נתנוּ - as in Job 7:3; Dan 4:28; Luk 12:20 - without, in so doing, completely identifying the declaration in our verse with that in Luk 4:8, as if in the latter passage only that was brought to completion which had been here (Luk 3:25) predicted. If, however, the binding of the prophet proceeds from invisible powers, the expression is not to be understood literally - of a binding with material cords; - but God binds him by a spiritual power, so that he can neither leave his house nor go forth to his countrymen, nor, at a later time (Eze 4:8), change the position prescribed to him. This is done, however, not to prevent the exercise of his vocation, but, on the contrary, to make him fitted for the successful performance of the work commanded him. He is not to quit his house, nor enter into fellowship and intercourse with his exiled countrymen, that he may show himself, by separation from them, to be a prophet and organ of the Lord. On the same grounds he is also (Eze 3:26, Eze 3:27) to keep silence, and not even correct them with words, but only to speak when God opens his mount for that purpose; to remain, moreover, unconcerned whether they listen to his words or not (cf. Eze 2:4, Eze 2:7). He is to do both of these things, because his contemporaries are a stiff-necked race; cf. Eze 3:9 and Eze 2:5, Eze 2:7. That he may not speak from any impulse of his own, God will cause his tongue to cleave to his jaws, so that he cannot speak; cf. Psa 137:6. "That the prophet is to refrain from all speech - even from the utterance of the words given him by God - will, on the one hand, make the divine words which he utters appear the more distinctly as such; while, on the other, be an evidence to his hearers of the silent sorrow with which he is filled by the contents of the divine word, and with which they also ought justly to be filled" (Kliefoth).
This state of silence, according to which he is only then to speak when God opened his mouth for the utterance of words which were to be given him, is, indeed, at first imposed upon the prophet - as follows from the relation of Eze 3:25-27 to Ezekiel 4 and 5 - only for the duration of the period Eze 3:25 to Eze 5:17, or rather Eze 7:27. But the divine injunction extends, as Kliefoth has rightly recognised, still further on - over the whole period up to the fulfilment of his prophecies of threatening by the destruction of Jerusalem. This appears especially from this, that in Eze 24:27 and Eze 33:22 there is an undeniable reference to the silence imposed upon him in our verse, and with reference to which it is said, that when the messenger should bring back the news of the fall of Jerusalem, his mouth should be opened and he should be no longer dumb. The reference in Eze 24:27 and in Eze 33:22 to the verse before us has been observed by most expositors; but several of them would limit the silence of the prophet merely to the time which lies between Ezekiel 24 and Eze 33:21. This is quite arbitrary, as neither in Ezekiel 24 nor in Ezekiel 33 is silence imposed upon him; but in both chapters it is only stated that he should no longer be dumb after the receipt of the intelligence that Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Chaldeans. The supposition of Schmieder, moreover, is untenable, that the injunction of Eze 3:25 refers to the turning-point in the prophet's office, which commenced on the day when the siege of Jerusalem actually began. For although this day forms a turning-point in the prophetic activity of Ezekiel, in so far as he on it announced to the people for the last time the destruction of Jerusalem, and then spake no more to Israel until the occurrence of this event, yet it is not said in Eze 24:27 that he was then to be dumb from that day onwards. The hypothesis then only remains, that what was imposed and enjoined on the prophet, in Eze 3:26 and Eze 3:27, should remain in force for the whole period from the commencement of his prophetic activity to the receipt of the news of the fall of Jerusalem, by the arrival of a messenger on the banks of the Chaboras. Therewith is also connected the position of this injunction at the head of the first prophecy delivered to him (not at his call), if only the contents and importance of this oracle be understood and recognised, that it embraces not merely the siege of Jerusalem, but also the capture and destruction of the city, and the dispersion of the people among the heathen - consequently contains in nuce all that Ezekiel had to announce to the people down to the occurrence of this calamity, and which, in all the divine words from Eze 6:1-14 to Ezekiel 24, he had again and again, though only in different ways, actually announced. If all the discourses down to Ezekiel 24 are only further expositions and attestations of the revelation of God in Ezekiel 4 and 5, then the behaviour which was enjoined on him at the time of this announcement was to be maintained during all following discourses of similar contents. Besides, for a correct appreciation of the divine precept in Eze 3:26 and Eze 3:27, it is also to be noticed that the prophet is not to keep entire silence, except when God inspires him to speak; but that his keeping silence is explained to men, that he is to be to his contemporaries no אישׁ, "no reprover," and consequently will place their sins before them to no greater extent, and in no other way, than God expressly directs him. Understood in this way, the silence is in contradiction neither with the words of God communicated in Eze 6:1-14 to 24, nor with the predictions directed against foreign nations in Ezekiel 25-33, several of which fall within the time of the siege of Jerusalem. Cf. with this the remark upon Eze 24:27 and Eze 33:22.