“Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Rev. 10:8-9).
In a strange part of the Revelation that seems like a lull, John is now invited to take the little scroll from the angels’ hand and “eat the scroll.” There is no doubt this is an echo of similar instruction given to the prophet Ezekiel when he was commissioned: “And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (Ezek. 3:1-3). Unlike Ezekiel though, John was told that it would first make his stomach bitter though it would be sweet to his taste. It was no doubt due to the fact that John was ushering in a series of judgments that his stomach was first made bitter by the scroll.
“Eat the scroll” is God’s instruction to us as well. Not just read it or meditate on it but eat it until, through the process of matriculation, it becomes part of the fiber of our being. Eugene Peterson describes this process: “The angel hands it over, ‘Here it is; eat it, eat the book.’ And John does. He eats the book—not just reads it—he got it into his never endings, his reflexes, his imagination, The book he ate was Holy Scripture. Assimilated into his worship and prayer, his imagining and writing, the book he ate was metabolized into the book he wrote, the first great poem in the Christian tradition and the concluding book of the Bible, the Revelation” (Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson, pg. 9).
This is what sustained Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness when he was famished and thoroughly exhausted from lack of nourishment. It is interesting to note that he was near the place where Israel crossed into the land of Israel to begin their occupation. When Satan came to tempt Him, three passages from Deuteronomy were immediately on his tongue—passages recorded in that book of sermons spoken by Moses on the shores of Jordan when that generation was about to cross over. These verses were not glibly recited like creeds in a church service but spoken out of a rich reservoir of biblical texts that formed the fiber of his inner being. He who was the Word knew the word because it was his daily meditation.
Moses reminded Israel of why they should eat the scroll: “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deut. 32:47). Judging from what seems to be the norm on the religious landscape today, there isn’t much scroll-eating. Most seem content skimming the surface but not really biting into the Word and chewing it so that it is broken down into portions where it can be swallowed and thereby metabolized. Its not difficult to understand why there is no hunger to eat the scroll. When we eat the dainties of the world, how can we ever be hungry to eat the word of life?
Nevertheless, the command stands to “eat the scroll.” It is worth noting that John is commanded to consume this scroll so that he might fulfill his ministry (see Rev. 10:11). Where did we ever get the impression that we could be useful to God without obeying this command? It serves as the foundation for all ministry in the house of God. So let us obey this command and “eat the scroll”.