What is Sweet as Honey yet Causes Bitterness in the Heat of the Spirit?

by Mike Ratliff

Believers are called to role of reconciliation, forgiveness, loving our enemies, and turning the other cheek by being humble and Spirit-filled. Also, the genuinely humble believer will not be timid, but bold.

Part of being bold because of the moving of the Holy Spirit within us is to proclaim the truth even if it takes the form of a rebuke. We are told to love our enemies, but we must not have unity with professing believers who are mired in heresy. On the other hand, those in apostasy must be rebuked in love with the goal of restoring them to fellowship and unity within God’s truth.

Much of the Bible is prophetic in nature. A large part of those prophecies take the form of God rebuking His people for their apostasy as well as declaring His coming judgment upon the world for their rebellion against Him and His ways.

One such prophet was Ezekiel. His book opens with him witnessing the glory of God in a magnificent vision. His account of it in Ezekiel 1 is utterly amazing. It is obvious that when he wrote it that he was struggling to describe the indescribable. In v26-28 Ezekiel describes his reaction to seeing this.

26 Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. 27 Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. 28 As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking. Ezekiel 1:26-28 (NASB) 

I marvel at those nowadays who claim to have had personal visits from our Lord. They never describe a reaction to God’s glory like Ezekiel’s. I am sure that none of us could stand in His presence even if we only had a glimpse of His magnificent glory.

1 Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” 2 As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. 3 Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. 4 I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Ezekiel 2:1-4 (NASB) 

Notice that God commanded Ezekiel to stand, but he could not until the Spirit entered into him and set him on his feet. All of God’s commands to His people are like this. He commands us, but it is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can obey Him. What is Ezekiel’s mission? He is being sent by God to the Jews to say, “Thus says the Lord God.” Why?

5 As for them, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 2:5 (NASB) 

God is going to make sure that those to whom Ezekiel prophesies will know that God has sent him and that he is a prophet indeed. Notice that God is not guaranteeing to Ezekiel that his mission or ministry will be a success as people measure success. Instead, some will believe while others won’t. God will be glorified either way.

6 And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. Ezekiel 2:6 (NASB)

Ezekiel’s ministry will cause his hearers to become hostile, but God commands him to not be afraid of them or their words. He is to proclaim the truth directly from God, but he is not to expect any repentance. Instead, it will be as if he is being constantly struck with thistles and thorns while sitting amongst scorpions. In other words, for all his preaching and prophecy, he will receive nothing but antagonism from those to whom God sent Him.

7 But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.
8 “Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” 9 Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it. 10 When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe. Ezekiel 2:7-10 (NASB) 

God gives Ezekiel a scroll. God infers that he is to eat the book. Ezekiel looks at the writing that is on the front and back. The words there are of lamentation and mourning and woe. His ministry will be one of rebuke that is full of grief and hard words. He will not become popular with those to whom he ministers will he? Notice again that God directs him to eat the book. What does that mean? Ezekiel was not to literally eat the pages of the book, but he was to spiritually receive God’s message in such a way that it would become his inward passion. Does this not describe the same process by which we become Spirit-filled? If we internalize God’s Word, permeating our entire being with it, we will become controlled by its power that is the Holy Spirit.

1 Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. Ezekiel 3:1-3 (NASB) 

The message from God was judgment, but, since it is God’s Word and it also vindicated His holiness, righteousness, glory, and faithfulness, it is sweet as honey.

4 Then He said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. 5 For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel, 6 nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. But I have sent you to them who should listen to you; 7 yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate. 8 Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9 Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house.” 10 Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely. 11 Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” Ezekiel 3:4-11 (NASB) 

In this passage we see that Ezekiel’s sufficiency in his ministry comes from God enabling him to be so. Ezekiel’s name in Hebrew means, “strengthened by God.” Ezekiel’s ability to live up to his name comes from God. This strength will enable him to faithfully prophesy to the Jews whether they hear or refuse to hear or whether they attack or don’t attack him.

12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord in His place.” 13 And I heard the sound of the wings of the living beings touching one another and the sound of the wheels beside them, even a great rumbling sound. 14 So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord was strong on me. Ezekiel 3:12-14 (NASB) 

The Word of God is as sweet as honey because it is the truth and it glorifies Him. However, that does not mean that His Word does not also contain rebuke and judgment. God sends those who proclaim His truth. I would doubt that any of them had a vision like Ezekiel’s to prepare them for their ministries, but that does not mean that when these men stand in the gap and prophesy the truth they aren’t being led spiritually in their obedience to speak lamentations, mourning and woe. However, to the man, I also would not doubt that they know all about the sweetness of God’s Word and the bitterness in the heat of their Spirit that comes from obeying Him in proclaiming it. The Apostle John also experienced this.

8 Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he *said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. 11 And they *said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” Revelation 10:8-11 (NASB) 

In our day and time the apostates have overrun the Church. Their leaders are becoming progressively more and more apostate with each sermon they preach and each book they publish. There are the Word-Faith preachers who have totally misinterpreted scripture so they can become wealthy by duping millions to give them their money. Then there are the liberals who claim to be Christians, but deny all or nearly all of God’s good doctrines while working full-time to line up their church’s values with the world’s values. Some of these liberals are called neo-Evangelicals who are all about easy-believism to the point that their “gospel” is no longer the Gospel from the Bible. Cults are becoming recognized as mainstream Christians. These are only a few examples.

What are we supposed to do? Are we to fight or are we to do nothing or are we to love them? If we fight them, we will use tactics that are not edifying because it will be born from our flesh. If we do nothing then we are being self-protective and are actually being timid in our fear of being harshly treated by those who refuse to hear. However, if we choose the third option, which is to love them, does that mean we accept their apostasy and love them like brothers, accepting them with open arms? No! It means that we rebuke them based entirely from God’s Word. His Word will be sweet as honey in our mouths as we lovingly share the truth from God’s Word and why we are shining His light into their ministries. We do this boldly with the goal of restoration, but we must not flinch when the bulk of them refuse to hear. It is when their defenders come after us that we will experience the bitterness in the heat of the Spirit.

Are you willing to stand in the gap, sword drawn, filled with God’s Word and empowered by the Holy Spirit? If so, then you will know the sweetness of God’s Word and you must not become dismayed when the bitterness comes upon you in the heat of your Spirit. God’s will be done!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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