C. The Commissioning of Ezekiel (1:28b-3:11)

Nature and Design

Whereas 1:4–28a had been taken up completely with the recording of visual images, 1:28b–3:11 is dominated by verbal communication. Together these two texts provide a classic illustration of two types of roles that prophets played: ḥōzeh, “visionary,” and nābîʾ, “one summoned by God.” 1  As noted earlier, many interpreters separate the experiences described in these two sections, finding support in the radical contrast in literary styles and in the nature of the respective prophetic experiences. However, the latter argument holds only if one presupposes that prophetic experiences and the records of those events exist only in pure forms; that is, one person would probably not be involved in visionary and auditory experiences at the same time. But this opinion is questionable for several reasons. First, one of the primary subcategories of call narratives involves an overwhelming theophanic vision followed by God’s verbal commissioning with the prophet (cf. 1 K. 22; Isa. 6). Although the account of Ezekiel’s vision and commissioning are longer and more complex than any other, it follows this pattern precisely. Second, prophets who were renowned for their oracular pronouncements were also designated ḥōzîm (Amos 7:12). Third, several prophetic books that consist largely of oracles are formally introduced as “the visions” of the respective prophets (Isaiah, Obadiah, Nahum). Others speak of words or oracles that the individual “saw” (Amos, Micah, Habakkuk). Ezekiel is to be classified among those who were conscious of having been formally inducted into the office of prophet in the court of the divine king, and then sent out as an emissary of God. The record of 1:4–3:15 takes the reader through the phases involved in his inauguration into the prophetic office.

The literary style of this text is set by the phrase wayyōʾmer ʾēlay, “And he said to me.” wayyōʾmer occurs 41 times in Ezekiel. 2  Only in 10:2, which is textually questionable, does it appear without a subject and the following preposition ʾel. 3  In every occurrence in the book the subject is Yahweh, but only 5 times is his name given (4:13; 9:4; 23:36; 44:2, 5). Only 3 times is the person addressed someone other than Ezekiel (9:4, 7; 10:2). Usually the expression occurs in contexts in which Yahweh and the prophet are relating personally, or Yahweh is providing the prophet with an interpretation of some aspect of a vision that he is observing. 4  It is occasionally followed by an imperative, commanding the prophet to proclaim a message arising out of a vision. 5  The manner in which this expression is used in the book is extremely significant. It reflects the unidirectional nature of most of the communication that occurs between God and Ezekiel. The instances in which the prophet responds verbally are rare. 6  For the most part the prophet remains a passive recipient.

Although it stands to reason that the commissioning phase of Ezekiel’s call should be verbal, the amount of direct speech in 1:28b–3:11 is remarkable. Indeed, if the direct speech (along with the strictly formulaic introductions of speech) is removed, the narrative framework is reduced to one short paragraph:

Then I heard someone’s voice speaking. As he was speaking to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet. And I listened to the one who was speaking to me. Then I noticed a hand stretched out toward me, and in it was a rolled-up scroll. He unrolled it before me; it was full of writing, front and back. Inscribed on it were laments, moaning, and wailing. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. So I ate it, and it turned sweet as honey in my mouth.

The narrative residue consists of a straightforward, objective chronicle of Ezekiel’s experience. The facts are recounted with great economy of words; there is no flowery language, no elevated diction. Apart from its autobiographical form, and the surprise implicit in the word hinnēh, the text provides few clues about the author’s response to the event. It is not that occasions for response are lacking. Horror might have been expressed at the laments, moaning, and wailing written on the scroll, or disgust at being commanded to eat it, or surprise as well as pleasure when the ingested scroll turned sweet as honey in the prophet’s mouth. But what emerges is the picture of a passive prophet. In the inaugural vision he had been a spectator; here he is a sponge.

But one may scarcely characterize the direct speech incorporated into this narrative framework as dialogue. There is only one speaker, Yahweh. The absence of verbal responses from the prophet is consistent with the lack of emotional or nonverbal reactions in the narration. The overwhelming domination of Yahweh, which had been apparent in the foregoing vision, continues. These features have a significant bearing on the intention of the text: to describe Ezekiel’s conscription into divine service. Yahweh is the divine king who calls and who determines the nature of the mission that his emissary is being called upon to fulfill. Its terms are not negotiable.

The section 1:28b–3:11 is structurally complex. Following the opening preamble that describes Ezekiel’s preparation for the interaction to come (1:28b–2:2), the main body of the text breaks down into three parts: two divine commissioning speeches (2:3–7; 3:4–11), between which is sandwiched a brief vision account (2:8–3:3). The divine speeches may be further subdivided into the charges (2:3–5; 3:4–9) and exhortations to Ezekiel (2:6–7; 3:10–11). In addition to their common elevated prose style, the links between the two speeches are evident in the following verbal parallels:

1.  The twofold commissioning formula (with šālaḥ)

A  2:3; 2:4  (stated positively in each case)

A´  3:5; 3:6  (stated negatively and hypothetically)

2.  The twofold reference to the obstinacy of Israel:

A  2:4  The descendants are qĕšê pānîm and ḥizqê lēb

A´  3:7  All Israel is ḥizqê mēṣaḥ and qĕšê lēb

3.  The twofold appeal not to fear his audience:

A  2:6  “Fear not” (ʾal-tîrāʾ, 3 times)

“Do not be terrified” (ʾal-tēḥāt)

A´  3:9  “You shall not fear” (lōʾ tîrāʾ)

“You shall not be terrified” (lōʾ tēḥat)

4.  The identification of the rebellious character of Israel as the basis for the appeal not to fear:

A  2:6  “For they are a rebellious house” (kî bêt mĕrî hēmmâ) (cf. also 2:5, 7, 8)

A´  3:9  “For they are a rebellious house” (kî bêt mĕrî hēmmâ)

Although the ties between the two speeches are strong, they go their own ways in several respects. The first places greater emphasis on Israel’s rebellious character; the second on Israel’s hardness. The imagery in the first involves nettles, thorns, and scorpions; in the second, adamant and flint. In the first the prophet is warned not to be squeezed into the rebellious mold of the nation (2:8); in the second Yahweh promises to shape him according to their mold himself (3:8–9).



 1 The etymology of the word is uncertain. Cf. J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962), p. 102. On the distinctions among these and other designations for prophets see G. V. Smith, “Prophet; Prophecy,” ISBE, 3:986–89.

 2 Even-Shoshan, Concordance, pp. 88–89.

 3 See below on 10:2.

 4 For contexts involving personal relations see 2:1, 3; 3:1, 3, 4, 10, 22, 24; 4:15, 16; 8:5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17; 37:3; 47:6. As such wayyōʾmer ʾēlay presents a contrast to the more formal word-event formula wayĕhî dĕbar yhwh ʾēlay, “and the word of Yahweh came to me,” which introduces messages to be officially transmitted. Cf. above on 1:3. For contexts involving interpretation see 9:9; 11:2; 37:11; 41:4; 42:13; 43:7, 18; 46:20, 24; 47:6.

 5 See 11:5, ʾĕmōr; 37:4, 9, hinnābēʾ. C. B. Houk (“Bn-ʾdm Patterns as Literary Criteria in Ezekiel,” JBL 88 [1969] 186) finds in the combination of wayyōʾmer ʾēlay and ben-ʾādām a criterion for isolating an originally independent series of visions, but the use of the expression is more a function of content than literary history.

 6 See 4:14, in protest at being asked to eat defiled food; 9:8, in protest at Yahweh’s wrath poured out over the remnant of Israel in Jerusalem; 11:13, in protest, fearing the elimination of the entire remnant of Israel; 21:5 (Eng. 20:49), in protest over the cynical response of the audience toward him; 37:3, in response to Yahweh’s question.