Throughout the Bible, there are a few instances where a prophet is instructed to eat a scroll or book. The most well-known case is when the prophet Ezekiel is commanded to eat a scroll, which contains words of lamentation, mourning, and woe (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3). However, Ezekiel is not the only prophet who consumes a divine written work. The apostle John also eats a small scroll in the book of Revelation.
These acts of eating scrolls and books have deep symbolic meaning. Consuming God’s word illustrates the calling of the prophet to internalize His message and speak His words. As we explore the biblical accounts of prophets eating scrolls and books, we will uncover the significance behind these strange acts.
- Ezekiel was commanded by God to eat a scroll containing words of lamentation, mourning, and woe towards rebellious Israel.
- Eating the scroll symbolized Ezekiel internalizing God’s message and taking it into his innermost being.
- John was commanded by an angel to eat a small opened scroll, which was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach.
- Eating the scroll represented fully absorbing the revelations and prophecies that John would speak to the churches.
- Consuming scrolls and books illustrates the prophets’ commission to deliver divine messages, not their own.
Ezekiel Eats the Scroll
The first instance of a prophet consuming a scroll is found in Ezekiel 2-3. Ezekiel was a priest called by God to prophesy judgement against the nation of Israel for its idolatry and wickedness. While in exile in Babylon, Ezekiel has a dramatic heavenly vision where God commissions him as a prophet:
And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:17-19 NKJV)
In this powerful scene, God calls Ezekiel to confront Israel in its sin and rebellion. Ezekiel is to internalize the divine message and faithfully communicate it to the people, regardless of whether they listen and respond or not.
To symbolize this commission, God instructs Ezekiel to literally consume the written words:
Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. (Ezekiel 3:1-3 NKJV)
Eating the scroll represents Ezekiel taking God’s words into himself and internalizing the message. It is now part of his innermost being, informing everything he says and does. The sweet taste likely depicts the joy and privilege of receiving divine revelation directly from God’s hand. Yet the message itself contains bitterness, speaking of judgment for Israel’s wickedness and the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel must fully absorb this difficult word and deliver it faithfully.
After consuming the scroll, Ezekiel goes to the exiles as commanded and spends seven days sitting among them in a stunned silence. The weight of the message he has ingested leaves him overwhelmed and distressed. When God opens his mouth, Ezekiel prophecies everything written on the scroll that he was instructed to eat (Ezekiel 3:16).
John Eats the Little Scroll
The second biblical instance of a prophet eating a scroll is found in Revelation 10. After receiving extensive visions about the end times, John witnesses a mighty angel come down from heaven holding a small opened scroll:
He had a little book open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land…Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.” So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. (Revelation 10:2, 8-10 NKJV)
While the contents of this scroll are not revealed, the symbolism is clear. Like Ezekiel, John is commissioned to fully absorb the divine revelations and prophecies he will communicate to the churches. The sweet and bitter sensation likely represents the mix of promise and judgment contained in the apocalyptic visions.
By eating the scroll, John graphically illustrates that he does not speak his own philosophy or ideas. He is to faithfully declare only what God reveals, just as the prophets before him. The vision reinforces John’s authority as the one called to speak God’s words concerning end time events.
Significance for Prophets
We may find the act of eating scrolls strange and distasteful. Yet these prophetic acts carry deep symbolic meaning for Ezekiel, John, and biblical prophets in general:
Internalizing God’s Word – By eating scrolls containing divine revelation, Ezekiel and John visualize fully absorbing God’s message into their inner being. His words become part of their very identity.
Submission to Divine Authority – Their consumption of the scrolls reinforces that their authority comes solely from God’s direct commission. The prophets do not preach their own words or ideas.
Responsibility to Speak – After eating the scroll, neither Ezekiel nor John have an option to stay silent. They are compelled to speak what God has revealed and commanded, regardless of the consequences.
Message Over Messenger – The scroll eating demonstrates that the source of the revelation is far more important than the personality or background of the prophet used to deliver it.
These key truths displayed in Ezekiel and John’s visions apply to all those called to speak God’s word throughout history. Pastors, teachers, evangelists, and prophets must submit to divine authority rather than preach their own philosophies. And their supreme responsibility is faithfully communicating what the Holy Spirit reveals, not pursuing popularity or a platform.
Sweetness of God’s Word
Beyond illustrating the prophetic calling, the description of the scrolls tasting sweet likely reflects the inherent goodness of God’s word:
How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103 NKJV)
Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart. (Jeremiah 15:16 NKJV)
The sweetness derives not simply from the pleasant reception of an encouraging message. Even words of warning and correction from God should be sweet to His servants. The divine wisdom contained in Scripture nourishes the soul:
My son, eat honey because it is good, and the honeycomb which is sweet to your taste; so shall the knowledge of wisdom be to your soul. (Proverbs 24:13-14 NKJV)
Honey represents the delightful experience of knowing God more intimately through His self-revelation. As we consume and digest His word, it becomes an integral part of us through the work of the Holy Spirit. So Ezekiel, John, and all who are called to speak for God must regularly feast on the sweet revelations that He has graciously given us through His written word.
Bitterness of Judgment
In addition to sweetness, consuming some of the scrolls also brought a bitter sensation. This reflects the difficult nature of some of the content the prophets were required to declare.
For Ezekiel, the scroll contained lamentations and pronouncements of judgment against Israel for its idolatry and sin. God was speaking through him to warn that Jerusalem would be destroyed if the people did not repent. This grievous word produced bitterness in his stomach even as the revelation itself was sweet (Ezekiel 3:14).
For John, the judgments contained in the apocalyptic visions likely explains the bitterness experienced. The book of Revelation is filled with plagues, disasters, wars, famines, persecution, and death. It highlights the ultimate triumph of God’s kingdom but only after a horrific period of judgment on those who rebel against Him. Though all these revelations are from God and thus sweet to digest, contemplating such global tribulation leaves a bitter aftertaste.
All who faithfully proclaim God’s word will likely experience both the sweetness and bitterness reflected in these prophetic visions. There is joy and privilege in preaching divine truth. But speaking hard messages of warning and repentance or confronting sin often comes with a personal cost.
The instances of Ezekiel and John eating scrolls teach some key principles applicable to believers today:
- God’s word is inherently sweet and nourishing for our souls as it reveals Him. But messages of judgment can leave a bitter impact.
- Prophets must submit fully to what God reveals, not promote their own ideas or philosophy.
- Those called to speak for God carry the sober responsibility to declare His truth completely and accurately, regardless of the consequences.
- No human personality or background adds authority to God’s word. The messenger is less important than the divine source of the message.
- All believers should feast daily on the sweet revelations in Scripture as food for our souls. God’s word makes us more like Him.
In a general sense, modern Christians do not receive direct revelations from God to deliver verbally to others. But all of us are still called to communicate His truth and goodness through our words and lives. As we soak in the sweet wisdom of Scripture, it should shape everything we say and do, just like it transformed the prophets. May we thoughtfully absorb God’s word so we can faithfully share it.