Maybe you’ve heard this proverb, “Mind your words and make them sweet for you never know which ones you’ll eat.” According to the internet, the origin of this idea of eating one’s words is centuries old; “The phrase eat your words is said to have originated in the Middle Ages, appearing in print for the first time in the 1500s. Yes, our linguistic ancestors were munching on metaphorical morsels even back then!
“The expression was initially introduced in a sixteenth-century pamphlet John Calvin wrote regarding Psalm 62: ‘God eateth not his word when he hath once spoken.’
“Then, in the 1600s, Sir Walter Raleigh said, ‘Nay wee’le make you confesse… and eat your own words,’ in his memoirs.
But it wasn’t until the 1700s that the phrase’s popularity really took off as it entered mainstream use.” (grammarist.com)
However, according to idiom.com, the phrase has its ultimate origin in the passage we’re studying this morning! In our normal use of this phrase, eating one’s words is admission you said something wrong and possibly suffering the consequences for it. However, in Ezekiel 3, the prophet is required to eat God’s words and though he found them SWEET at first taste, the meal would leave him feeling OVERWHELMED.
Doing God’s will requires a determined refusal to compromise with evil.
CONTEXT = On his thirtieth birthday, God gave Ezekiel a life-changing gift, His word. Let’s preface this passage by noting that years earlier, when Ezekiel was a young man living in Jerusalem before it was sacked by the Babylonians, he may have witnessed an incident involving Jeremiah. It happened sometime in the winter months of 603 B.C. The prophet had recorded God’s words on a scroll and read them aloud in the temple. King Jehoiakim didn’t like what he heard, so he tore the scroll into pieces, burned one piece at a time, then called for Jeremiah’s arrest. (See Jeremiah 36.) Whether he’d actually seen this happen or had only heard about it, you can understand how this would give Ezekiel an uneasy feeling about being God’s messenger in general and about scrolls too. Then God appeared, requiring him to chew one up!
1. God fed Ezekiel a line. (1-3)
The scroll contained God’s MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL; God chose Ezekiel to carry that message to his people. (1+4) God referred to Ezekiel as SON OF MAN in vs. 1, 4, and 10. This was before Daniel saw a vision of THE Son of Man, a figure endowed with divine power and authority. The use of the title here is a reference to Ezekiel’s humanity. It’s different when Jesus used it to refer to Himself.
Before he was ready to be God’s representative to Israel, Ezekiel had to go through this “induction ceremony” where he demonstrated his wholehearted acceptance of God’s word. This passage is that “ceremony.”
Rather than read it, God made him EAT it. (2) This is a symbolism that is in line with v. 10, where God commanded Ezekiel to LISTEN to Him and to internalize the message before passing it on to the people. This reminds me of another popular proverb: “You are what you eat.” Scientists tell us there is some truth to this, finding evidence that nutrition is one of the ways we gain health. In a spiritual/emotional sense, we become what we internalize. To the degree that we intend our core beliefs to influence our behavior, we not only speak the message, but we become the message. That is a sign of grace.
Somehow, the scroll tasted SWEET AS HONEY. (3) We’re told what was written on the scroll in 2:9; FUNERAL SONGS, WORDS OF SORROW, AND PRONOUNCEMENTS OF DOOM. In that case, how did it have a sweet taste in the prophet’s mouth?
The SWEET quality may mean Ezekiel welcomed God’s MESSAGE because it came from Him, not because it was good news. The psalmist expressed a similar feeling when he wrote about God’s Law, HOW SWEET YOUR WORDS TASTE TO ME; THEY ARE SWEETER THAN HONEY. (PSS 119:103) God repeatedly warned Ezekiel that his fellow JUDEAN EXILES were unlikely to welcome it or accept it.
2. God gave Ezekiel a flinty forehead. (4-9)
Though God’s words were SWEET to Ezekiel, his people would find them “sour.” As God’s word confronts sin and calls us to His standard of righteous living, it’s no surprise that unrepentant sinners hate it. No one likes to have their misdeeds exposed to the public.
The difficulty in communication was not linguistic, for they spoke a common language but stubbornness would cause them to resist what they were hearing. (5-7) The difficulty would not be hearing but heeding, not understanding, but accepting. Most poignantly, they’d already ignored everything God had told them, so Ezekiel should expect no better reception. The difficulty being they were HARD-HEARTED AND STUBBORN.
To enable Ezekiel to survive their opposition, God made him tougher than them. (8-9)= This sounds strange, but God promised Ezekiel he would be just as OBSTINATE AND HARD-HEARTED. What was a vice in the people would be a virtue in Ezekiel.
Symbolically, God gave Ezekiel a forehead AS HARD AS THE HARDEST ROCK. All this was to make him fearless in deploying the word: Ezekiel was not to fear them or their ANGRY LOOKS. The name Ezekiel means “God strengthens or hardens,” so God’s promise of a good kind of hard-headedness is right on point. Besides, they were merely REBELS and had no power to actually harm Ezekiel.
3. God encouraged Ezekiel. (10-13)
God encouraged Ezekiel to take His words to HEART, then take it to the EXILES. (10-11) God’s message would form the core of his commitment, shape his character, transforming his innermost being (HEART). Ezekiel was to apply the message to himself first, listening CAREFULLY himself. Then he could take the words to the EXILES regardless of their reaction.
The authority of God’s messengers never lies with the messenger, but with the message God has sent. Therefore, Ezekiel didn’t need to worry about their rejection: as he will learn in the second half of this chapter, his job was to deliver the warning, not to create a reaction.
God encouraged Ezekiel with a vision of heavenly beings. (12-13) This is a completion of the vision recorded in chapter one. Ezekiel reacted properly to the supernatural wonder when he said, “MAY THE GLORY OF THE LORD BE PRAISED IN THIS PLACE!” For your own information and edification, compare these glorious and supernatural LIVING BEINGS with the FOUR LIVING CREATURES and other heavenly creatures that surround the throne of God in Revelation 4.
4. Ezekiel found it hard to accept. (14-15)
Ezekiel’s immediate reaction to all this was BITTERNESS AND TURMOIL, strong but God’s influence was STRONG. (14) It is testimony to the integrity of Scripture that it doesn’t try to cover up the tilted haloes of the saints: this whole experience left Ezekiel all shook up.
On the one hand, God was calling on Ezekiel to deliver an unpleasant message to an unreceptive audience. God Himself said his mission would not be a success. Add to that the desperate situation of the exiles as a contrast to the heavenly vision of chapter one and verses 12-13: The place where they lived was called “Tel-abib,” which meant “a heap left by the flood.” Ezekiel was literally “down in the dumps.”
On the other hand, the message had tasted SWEET and the Lord had promised to strengthen Ezekiel’s resolve to enable him to overcome their resistance. So, you can see how Ezekiel was conflicted, needing a week to sort out his feelings and thoughts.
His emotional reaction was strong (BITTERNESS and TURMOIL), but the Lord’s HOLD on him was stronger. That’s how Ezekiel was able to faithfully spread the message despite his misgivings.
Ezekiel was OVERWHELMED and thought about it for a week. (15) His reaction proves he took the Lord’s MESSAGE seriously, internalized it, and understood what faithfulness would cost him. The number seven is descriptive: mourning for the dead typically took 7 days and a priest’s consecration took a week to conduct. In a sense, Ezekiel mourned the end of his old life and prepared for his new one as God’s spokesman.
What the Lord will tell him at the end of that week (vs. 16-27), will further define Ezekiel’s level of responsibility higher. The next thing the Lord commanded fits with these seemingly impossible demands already given.
Doing God’s will requires a determined refusal to compromise with evil.
It’s true that God will not require of all His children exactly what He required of Ezekiel. However, it is also true that like Ezekiel, all his followers are required to internalize His word, allow it to change them from inside out, and boldly speak it, even in the face of rebellious opposition. I find it a task that I fail at repeatedly and causes me much heartache. I can empathize with Ezekiel’s bitterness and turmoil, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of the opposition. Enemies of the word exist within the Church and within the culture. Because their god is self, they do not blanche at using any and every means to deceive.
Two things help me. One, the knowledge that God is stronger than all the rebels combined. His word is utterly reliable and He will be victorious. The more my focus remains in Him, the easier I find it to endure.
Two, I have a hope for Heaven that encourages me to endure the petty difficulties of this life. The opposition of a few rebels cannot deter me from the joys set before me in these promises from God’s word.
So, what’s favorable about having a flinty forehead? First, this does NOT permit arrogance, presume success, require constant argumentation, or excuse petty prejudice. Indeed, if you have God’s words in your heart, that should be the only thing that issues from your mouth.
Second, it means that your speech will always be aimed at someone else’s benefit. That may require confrontation or some other kind of difficult circumstance, but it will never be aimed at winning an argument or insulting someone’s character.
Third, it means you are responsible only for speaking the words, not for what others choose to do with them. We will say more on this score next week.
Fourth, you don’t have to come up with the message, you must faithfully report God’s words. As often as possible, quote Scripture. Then, if you get any complaints, you can advise them to “take it up with the Author.”
Fifth, God backs up His words by giving you His strength and wisdom.
The quotations about the idiom came from https://grammarist.com/idiom/eat-ones-words/#:~:text=Origin%20and%20Etymology%20of%20Eat%20Your%20Words&text=The%20expression%20was%20initially%20introduced,words%2C%E2%80%9D%20in%20his%20memoirs., and https://www.theidioms.com/eat-words/, both retrieved on 2 February 2, 2024.
Ralph H. Alexander, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, Ezekiel, 1986, pp. 762-765.
Peter C. Craigie, The Daily Study Bible Series, Ezekiel, 1983, pp, 16-21.