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Eat the Word

by Tim O'Hearn

I like to eat. Lately my physique shows that more than I would like. Food is our friend, and like any friend I enjoy its company. Of all the food groups my favorite is chocolate. In some circles I am known as one who likes exotic foods. (By that I mean Thai, Greek, Cantonese, and Japanese rather than snake, spider, ant, or dog.) Of all the things in the Bible that people are told to eat or not to eat, perhaps the most interesting is the word of God.

Most people like or dislike foods based on their experience, culture, and physical characteristics. Some people may like one food, while others despise it on the first taste. On rare occasions that which a person likes as a child becomes detestable later in life, or that which was hated as a child becomes tolerated or enjoyed in adulthood. Generally, though, our tastes are established in childhood and remain essentially the same throughout life. So it is also with the law and prophecies of God

There are those who, by training or nature, love the taste of God’s word. David was such a person. He wrote about the taste of the teachings of God. “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103) (I never was terribly fond of honey, so I just replace that word with chocolate in my mind.) Jeremiah also said he ate God’s word, and liked what he tasted. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” (Jer 15:16)

On the other hand we find people today who seem to find God’s word distasteful. Some of them are like I am with snake and squirrel. They have never tasted the word, and have no desire to do so. Others have eaten the words, but were unable to digest them. Clarence Darrow, for instance, had read the Bible before participating in the John Scopes “monkey” trial. He had found no flavor in it, and proceeded to use what he could not savor to try to destroy those who found it sweet. Still others today find they cannot eat the word because they have been taught that bitter was sweet. They enjoy the bitterness of sin and cannot enjoy the sweetness of righteousness.

God specifically commanded two of his prophets to eat scrolls with his prophecies on them. Both were conditioned to regard God’s instructions as sweet. Their reactions are instructive.

On the one hand there is Ezekiel. “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 belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.” (Ezek 3:1-3) The nation of Israel was in the midst of captivity and persecution. The message was of restoration. What could be sweeter to a captive than that? The word of God was sweet because of the results that were promised.

There are many parallels between the books of Ezekiel and the Revelation. In a clear similarity to Ezekiel, John is told to eat a scroll of God’s prophecy. “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 belly was bitter. (Rev 10:9-10) Unlike Ezekiel, John found God’s word both sweet and bitter. It sounded sweet, but when fully digested caused unease. Unlike Ezekiel, John and the church were enjoying a measure of freedom and peace. Unlike the prophecy to Ezekiel, the scroll that John ate promised persecution. It was sweet, because it promised ultimate victory, but before that victory must come the Roman persecution.

Just like the prophets, God’s people today may find the Word both sweet and bitter. The word of salvation is like honey to those who are aware of sin. It is refreshing to know the promise of salvation. Yet the man of God must also realize that there are many who reject that promise. The sweetness is tinged with the bitterness that some will reject it. When one loves others, God’s promises may be bitter along with the sweet.