He was made mute, unable to speak except when God delivered a word through him (Ezek. 3:26). He was bound with cords, literal or a figure for the power of God confining him to his house (3:25). He was made to do arduous and torturous things, lying on his left side for 390 days, bound again with cords, eating rough bread cooked with cow dung (4:4-17).
Of all the terrible things Ezekiel endured, the worst came with a word, “I am about to take from you the delight of your eyes at a stroke, yet you shall not mourn or weep.” The prophet obeyed, carrying out the terrible command. “At evening my wife died. And on the next morning, I did as I was commanded” (24:15-18).
If there was a tragic prophet, one might argue it was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Yet did Jeremiah, in all his trials, endure quite as much suffering as Ezekiel?
What can we say of the man, Ezekiel? Was he dedicated, a man of steel able to bear mortifying strain? Or was he a reluctant prophet, perhaps even a “member of the priestly class . . . infected with the same spiritual malady that plagued the group as a whole” (Daniel Block).
Psychiatrists have written about him, this mute who did crazy things such as digging holes in walls, describing hallucinations he claimed were divine, fascinated with feces and blood, and perhaps paranoid. In his commentary on Ezekiel, Daniel Block summarizes several psychological studies published about Ezekiel, including a monograph by Karl Jaspers (Vol. 1, Chapters 1-24: New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 10-11).
Rejecting the notion of a delusional Ezekiel, we are still left with two main choices to explain his condition. Was he impelled against his will, a reluctant and resistant prophet constrained by the hand of Hashem? Or was he dedicated beyond the usual limits of the human will, a man of iron will?
Moshe Eisemann says of Ezekiel:
How could Yechezkel teach the people of Jerusalem that their Temple would be taken from them? . . . How could they be made to believe that man’s most beloved prize would be snatched away because of his sin? That too Yechezkel had to demonstrate through the loss of the one that was most beloved to him — his wife. She would die in a plague, God told him. . . . Yechezkel’s tragedy would be a sign for them that they, like he, would be bereaved. And for this too Yechezkel was ready — because they were his people.
How could a mortal man be so dedicated? Such dedication was the very essence of Yechezkel’s mission (Yechezkel [Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1977] xxix).
In a completely different theory, Daniel Block presents Ezekiel the apathetic priest, the typical Jerusalemite made by the power of God to endure and demonstrate prophetic messages against his will.
Why, asks Block, do we constantly have reminders that the Spirit takes Ezekiel places, that the hand of Hashem moves him? Why, after being commanded to stand does it say that the Spirit brought him up to his feet (2:1-2)? Why is he warned not once, but repeatedly and in some stern sermons, not to be rebellious like Israel and not to refrain from delivering God’s messages (2:8; 3:16-21)? Why, after commanding him to eat the scroll, do we read that God fed it to Ezekiel (2:8 – 3:3)? Why was Ezekiel enraged in his spirit (3:14) and why did he sit silent for a week in a state of shock (3:15)?
Block presents us with Ezekiel the spiritually mediocre, the unremarkable man, chosen much as the judges in the days of the Judges in Israel. By this theory, Ezekiel was what God had to work with in an age of no spiritual giants.
And as we read, we have to wonder: which is true, which do we want to believe? Can a man steel himself so thoroughly to so hard a mission or would a man under the pressure of such a mission, be merely a reluctant puppet impelled by the hand of Hashem?
I do not feel comfortable as yet deciding which version to believe. Perhaps I will never know, even in the limited sense of knowing through interpretation of a text. Yet I will wonder about these things as I read and reread.