Son of man, hear what I say unto thee: Be not thou rebellious, like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee. And when I looked, behold, a hand was sent unto me; and10, a roll of a book therein. And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without; and there were written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe. Moreover, he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy stomach to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then I did eat: and it was in IUy mouth as honey, for sweetness. And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them. . . . So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit: but the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me.-EZEKIEL ii. 8-10; iii. 1-4, 14.
THE unregenerate natural man may delight in the letter of the Divine Word, because he can interpret it to favor his own evils; but, at the same time, he despises the inward and spiritual meaning of the same – Divine Word, because it is clear truth, which exposes his evil character.
THE LITERAL FACTS.
Our text narrates the experiences of the prophet, just after he had seen the wonderful. symbolic vision of the whirlwind, the infolding fire, and the wheels within wheels. The Lord was sending Ezekiel to warn and to teach the Israelites, who, as stated in the context, were then a rebellious, hard-hearted and stiff-necked people. The special message to Ezekiel instructed him to eat that which the Lord would send to him. And then a hand appeared to him, holding the roll of a book, written upon, within and without, and containing lamentations and mourning and woe. And he was commandedto eat the book, and then to go to the people of. Israel, and to speak to them the words of Jehovah.
IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD.
This scene was in the spiritual world; and the prophet engaged in its experiences with his spiritual senses; i.e., the senses of his spiritual body. These facts are clear, not only from the nature of the case, but also from the language of the context. At the beginning, it is said that, while Ezekiel was by the river, ” the hand of Jehovah was upon him,” which means that he was in unusual conditions, brought about by the Lord. As Ezekiel expresses it, ” The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” And again he says, “The spirit lifted me up, and took me away, … and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit: but the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me ;” i.e., he was moved and guided by the Lord.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
The spiritual meaning of the vision is not only general, referring to the nation, but also particular, and regarding each man’s individual mind. Spiritually, the rebellious house of Israel is the unregenerate natural mind of man, with all its selfish and sensuous feelings and thoughts, and all the man’s bad habits. And these conditions were general in Israel, at the time of our text.
Every man is born in a spiritual body, which is within his material body, but whose spiritual senses may be opened, at any time, by the Lord, so that the man can then see, and act, etc., in the spiritual world. This was the case with all the seers, and others named in the Scriptures who were, at times, intromitted into the spiritual world.
The hand, by which, especially, we express our power, represents power. We speak in agreement with this symbolism, when, for instance, we say that we have a matter” in hand,” or that “we have our hands on it,” when we mean that it is within our power. In this case, as the hand was in the spiritual world, it represented, especially, the power of the spirit, and particularly the power of the Spirit of God, operating in and from His Divine Word.
For ” the roll of a book” which the hand held, represented the Divine. Book, the Word of the Lord. It is called the “roll” of a book, because, in ancient. days, books were manuscripts, written on long pieces of parchment, or of papyrus, or paper, which were rolled on two rollers; and, as they were read, they were unrolled at one end, to read, and rolled again, at the other end, as used. The book, held in the hand, represented the Word of the Lord, which the prophet was to carry to Israel. For the salvation of Israel, as of other nations, was to come by means of the Divine Word, revealing to the people the love and wisdom of the Lord, and His laws for human life, which men must follow, in order to be saved from the inward hell which their own evils would naturally form in their hearts and lives.
The hand” spread” the book before the prophet; i.e., the Lord revealed His truth to His prophet. The book was written, within and without; i.e., it had an ‘inward and spiritual ‘meaning, and an external and literal sense. And there were written therein, “Lamentations and mourning and woe;” i.e., the spiritual truth reveals the evils and falsities and sins in the inward motives and thoughts of evil men , as well as in their outward conduct. Men lament over the good which they lose. And so, lamentation represents the sorrow which is inseparable from all evil, and in which good is lost. Evil vastates, or lays waste, all the good in the man’s heart, especially when he abuses the letter of the Divine Word, to favor his own evil loves. Then, spiritually, ” evil shall slay the wicked.”
Thus lamentation is the loss of goodness, in the heart. But mourning represents the loss of truth, in the intellect, when falsities control the thought. And woe represents the loss of joy in the practical life and conduct of the evil man.
EATING, THE BOOK.
The prophet, at the Divine command, ate the book. In bodily eating, there are several processes. The mouth receives the food, and masticates it. It then passes into the stomach, as the common receptacle, whence the food is to be distributed. Spiritually, taking food into the mouth, represents receiving any good or truth, any new feeling or thought. But food must go through the process of digestion, in the stomach, which process represents the examination by rational thought, which we give to the new conditions of feeling and of thought. And, further, the passing of the digested food to its next receptacle, represents the more interior and spiritual thought given to our new experiences, to test them by our interior will. For, comparatively, the work of the stomach represents the work of the understanding; while the work of the bowels represents the action of the will, or heart, when new conditions are received and accepted, appropriated and assimilated by our mind.
SWEET AND BITTER.
As the prophet was eating the book, its taste was very sweet in his mouth, But we observe that, later, he felt a state of bitterness, in the spirit. These conditions of sweet and bitter are the key-notes of this parable. Similar things are narrated by John, in the Revelation : ” And the voice which I heard from heaven spoke unto me again, and said, Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went to the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy bowels bitter: but it shall . be, in thy mouth, sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up: and it was, in my mouth, sweet-as honey:
and as soon as I had eaten it, my bowels were bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again, before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”(Revelation x. 8- I I. )
And John declared that these things happened while he was “in the spirit;” i.e., in the spiritual world, and in his spiritual senses. Now, between these two narratives you will notice several points of close resemblance, In both, the prophet was in the spiritual world ;’ and he saw a book, which was open, and in the ‘hand of an angel; and he ate the book, and it was as sweet as honey, in his month; but when he carne to digest it, it was bitter; and, in each case, the circumstances immediately preceded a call to prophesy to the people. Thus, in each case, the vision was to prepare the prophet for his work. Sweetness represents the delight which comes to the mind in receiving pleasant things, which agree with our desires and thoughts. Honey represents this delight of the mind, especially of the natural mind, dealing with the external side of things.
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL.
In an orderly state of mind and of life, the things which delight our natural mind are in correspondence with the things which delight our enlightened spiritual mind, But, in an unregenerate state of mind, many things delight the natural feeling and thought, which do not correspond with the things of spiritual good. And also, in this state, many things, in their external forms, delight the. natural mind, while, in their internal aspects, they are very distasteful to the same mind. For instance, the literal sense of the Divine Word, the Scriptures, may delight a man’s natural mind, because he can interpret the literal sense in many ways, and according to his own ways of thinking and feeling. And he can make the literal sense of the Bible appear to justify his evil affections, and his false notions, and even his sinful acts.
For instance, the ancient Jew interpreted the letter of the Old Testament to prove that the Jews were more holy than other nations, and were especially chosen to be the Lord’s people. And this view was delightful to the ancient Jew’s personal and national pride. But the Jews did not understand the inward and spiritual meaning of the Divine Word, or they would have seen that they were not chosen to be a spiritual church, but merely to represent a spiritual church, in an external way, by symbolic actions.
Again, the ancient Jews were delighted with the literal sense of the Scriptures, which foretold the coming of a Messiah. And their delight was in their supposition that the Messiah was to exalt them, as a nation, and to give them wealth, glory, and power, in this world, and in worldly things. But, when Jesus came, as the promised Messiah, His personality, His ways of life, and His teachings, were very. distasteful to the Jews, because He proclaimed that His kingdom was not of this world, but that He came to lead men into a spiritual kingdom, by regeneration. And thus, representatively, while the Divine Word was sweet in the mouth of these Jews, it was bitter in their bowels.
And similar conditions exist among men, to-day. For instance, take the prevailing theory of “Salvation by Faith, alone,” as taught in many of the churches, from the letter of the Scriptures misunderstood, By this doctrine, men are taught to expect salvation by a “Vicarious Atonement,” without any regard to the actual character of a man, in the quality of his heart and of his life. And many men enter the churches, and become very pious, because they expect to gain heaven thereby, without the long and hard labors of practical regeneration, by the change of character, from evil to good, in the leadings of the Lord. They delight in their belie! that, in spite of their evil life, God will impute to them Christ’s righteousness.
But, when such men are taught the spiritual truth, from the inward and spiritual sense of the Scriptures, confirmed by the literal sense when properly understood; and when they find that salvation is not by faith alone, but by love in the heart, and faith in the intellect, and righteousness in the life, they find such truth to be very bitter to them, because it takes away their theory of easy salvation; and it demands of them the continued and severe labor of living themselves out of evil, and into goodness, in obedience to the Divine commandments. They do not relish the clear truths that God does not impute to them the righteousness of Christ, but that our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who is, Himself, the one God of Heaven and earth, imparts to them His righteousness, in the measure in which they cease to be unrighteous in their practical’ daily life, and in which they live according to the Divine laws.
These things are inwardly bitter to the man who hopes to secure an entrance into heaven, without the trouble of actual regeneration. But the literal sense of the Bible was sweet to him, because he understood It to promise him an easy way to heaven. These conditions were portrayed in Jesus’s explanation of His parable of the sower: “He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth . the Word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, ‘but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or .persecution ariseth, because of the Word, by and by he is offended.” The Word was, to him, externally sweet, but internally bitter.
THE STATE OF THE WORLD.
Look over the world, to-day, in politics, in business, in the professions, and in the workings of labor, and even in the churches, and in the so-called reforms and charities, and you can easily see how often the spirit of selfishness and of worldliness seeks to intrench itself behind the literal sense of the Bible, and thus to live a practical daily life which is utterly opposed to the spirit of the Divine Word.
The spirit of selfish worldliness is so clearly demonstrated in the dealings of the nations with each other, that, in the light of the spirit, we must exclaim with the Psalmist of Israel, “The gods of the nations are idols.” (Psalm xcvi. 5.)
Nations and individuals are gambling and juggling with the letter of -the Scriptures, in their efforts to avoid the clear teachings of the spiritual sense, which cannot be twisted into agreement with human selfishness. Christianity has been taught to the world nearly two thousand years. And, to-day, Christianity is the professed religion of the leading nations of the world; and yet, nowhere in this world, is a certificate of church membership a guarantee of actual good character, or a passport to the confidence of our fellow-men. And it is so, because the churches have been satisfied and delighted with a theory of salvation which bears no practical relation to the spirit and life of Christ. In this world, to-day, comparatively few understand and believe in, the Lord, Jesus Christ, as the one and only God, the Giver of life, the Leader and Savior of men, whose teachings, understood in our rational and spiritual minds, are to be to us the breath of life, the bread of life, and the way to heaven, here, in order that we may abide in heaven, hereafter.
He is in heaven in whose heart the principles of heaven are his motives and purposes, and in whose daily life the Divine commandments are his rules of conduct; in whose mouth, spiritually, the letter of the Word is sweet, and in whose inward parts the spirit of the Word is equally sweet. Of such the Lord said, ” I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts,” the great law of love, the mover of the universe. It is necessary that the letter of the Word should be sweet to the natural-minded man, in order to attract his notice, and to engage his attention, before he has any vital interest in the truth. And then, little by little, he can be led towards, and finally into, the spiritual meaning. But this spiritual meaning will not be sweet to his mental taste, until he has allowed the letter of the Word to work a reform in his conduct and in his motives.
Speaking to the tempter, Jesus exclaimed, ” Man shall not live by bread, alone, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew iv. 4.) The Divine Word will be life to us, inwardly and outwardly, in spirit and in letter, if our whole life shall daily say, 0 Lord, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them ; and Thy Word was, unto me, the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” (Jeremiah xv. 16.)
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887