In Ezekiel, I will admit, there are few things that I really “get”. The book basically opens with one of the most bizarre visions I can imagine (the wheels in the sky), and it gets denser from there. But there are, as in all of the Scriptures, points where God will bring illumination and help us see. God seems to value sight, if you doubt this I would refer you to the Gospels, where Jesus declared war on physical blindness through His miracles and on spiritual blindness through His teaching.
In the third chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet has already received God’s word in the form of a scroll that he ate, he’s been promised to be as resolute for the cause of truth as his enemies have been for the cause of rebellion, and he’s received word as to who his audience is: his countrymen who were in exile. God told Ezekiel to go and deliver the message whether they wanted to hear it or not. After this conversation with God, Ezekiel records two distinct times that “the Spirit of the Lord lifted me up” (Ezekiel 3:12, 14). This had to be encouraging and even confidence building as the prophet was setting out to not only deliver a hard truth to his countrymen but also to do it to them while they are away from their homes, overrun by a ruthless, foreign war machine.
In my denominational background we have a certain understanding of what happens when the Spirit of God “visits” or “empowers” someone. It has been understood in the terms that David used in the Psalms
For by you I can run against a troop,
and by my God I can leap over a wall.
But the story of Ezekiel has a much different mood. He says in 3:14 that the “Spirit lifted him up” and the “hand of the Lord” was “strong” on him, and with that confession we then read:
And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.
Anointed. Called. Inspired. Touched. Strengthened. All of these words describe Ezekiel’s condition as he set out to deliver God’s message to the exiles. But there’s another word, a reality for many of us, that must be added to this “traditional” list: overwhelmed. Ezekiel was overcome. Daunted by the task in front of him as well as the weight of the message given to him, not to mention the strength and might of the One that gave him the message, Ezekiel arrived and instead of “lighting everybody up” with a rip-roaring fire and brimstone message he took a look around and collapsed. He sat down for seven days. Can I ask the question: have you ever sat down for seven consecutive days?
If I may offer my own explanation here, which admittedly could be wrong. I think that sometimes we rush into giving advice, offering a “word from God”, or explaining the problems of the world. We are, as Christians, often far too quick with our answers and far too slow with our compassion. And it’s not an easy thing, I understand, because we honestly do have the answers for the world. I will never back down from the truth that we have the ultimate message of hope, redemption, and peace. But I will add to that, eternal answers should never be offered with casual flippancy. What kind of torture is it to someone who is walking through deep pain to have a stranger or mere acquaintance offer a stock answer? That can far too easily begin to sound like, “hey stupid, you wouldn’t have had to go through all of this if you would have just asked me for my advice earlier.” Offering hope should be devoid of every ounce of pretense or gloating. If I can state the obvious, that’s as Christ-like as professional wrestling.
Ezekiel had the message, he had the word, but in order to deliver it with any kind of effectiveness he also had to know the weight of the situation. Perhaps we aren’t as effective in sharing the hope of Jesus as we could/should be because we have failed to sit. Noticeably, everything that I see in this text seems to point to this “sitting” being done with the full power and anointing of the Spirit of God. A messenger is far better qualified to deliver his/her message once acquainted with the audience. Sometimes that requires a season of “sanctified sitting”. Plopping down beside the hurting, putting an arm around their shoulder and just being “in” the situation with them.
God give us strength to sit.