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Chapter 12 The Fate of the Inhabitants of Jerusalem and of Its King Is Depicted.
Ezekiel is told to act out the attempted desperate escape from Jerusalem of the defeated leading Israelites. He is then to depict the sad state to which they will come because of their disobedience and sin. This is followed by the renunciation of a well known proverb and a warning that, contrary to it, the consequences of Ezekiel’s prophecies will come about.
Ezekiel’s Depiction of the Coming Great Escape That Will Fail.
12.1-2 ‘The word of Yahweh also came to me saying, “Son of man, you dwell among the rebellious house, who have eyes to see, and do not see, who have ears to hear, but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.” ’
Again ‘the word of Yahweh came to’ Ezekiel, the indication of a new prophecy, and a reminder that he could only speak when he had a word from Yahweh. Otherwise he must remain dumb (3.26). And He spoke of the difficulties that Ezekiel was facing, the difficulties of ministering to a people who would not hear.
That is always the most difficult and heartless of tasks. And Yahweh offered little hope. They were, he said, a rebellious group of people, who did not want to hear the truth. While they would not listen to His word, they wanted comfort and assurance that they would soon return to their homeland. They could not believe that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. They could not believe that God would allow it. They could not bring themselves to accept that it was what they deserved.
Yahweh’s words may have reference to their treatment of Ezekiel’s description of his visions, or to their treatment of his overall message that God has deserted Jerusalem so that its fate was sealed, or indeed to both. They just would not and could not accept it.
‘Eyes to see’ may have specific reference to the acted out prophecies that Ezekiel has already performed. They had seen him bound up and lying on his side, eating starvation rations, they had watched him grow thinner and thinner and develop the inevitable painful sores, they had seen him depict the fall of Jerusalem, but they had refused to see in that the certainty of the downfall of Jerusalem, and of Israel and Judah. And they had heard what he had to tell them, both in his visions and through the word that Yahweh had spoken to him. But they were sceptical and unbelieving. They did not accept what he said. And why? Because, said God, their hearts were rebellious. That is why they would not believe that what he said was possible. Because it did not fit in with their idea of Yahweh, and they did not want to know what God had to say about it (compare 2.4; Isaiah 6.9-10; Jeremiah 5.21).
How easily we can fall into such a state. We can be so convinced that we are right that we do not subject our ideas fully to Scriptural examination.
So it would now be necessary for Ezekiel again to act out vividly and graphically what was about to happen.
12.3-4 “Therefore, you son of man, prepare your stuff for removal, and remove by day in their sight. And you will remove from your place to another place in their sight. It may be that they will consider, even though they are a rebellious house. And you will bring forth your stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removal, and you will go forth yourself in the evening in their sight, as when men go forth into exile.” is
What Ezekiel had to do this time was make a great show of packing his household goods and chattels as though he was moving house and going on a journey. Indeed just as though he was going into exile. He was to pack during the day and leave in the evening, bearing his goods and transferring from one place to another.
This would then stir the thinking of his fellow-captives who would want to know what he was doing. They had seen what he had acted out before, they had seen him in a trance-like state as though he was no longer in his body, and now the news got around that he was ‘doing it again’. Unquestionably the crowds would gather. Some would mock, others would shake their heads, but hopefully, said Yahweh, some might even consider the implications of his actions in spite of their rebelliousness (compare 2.5). It was necessary to give them a chance, for Ezekiel was the watchman of the house of Israel.
12.5-6 “Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry your things out through there. In their sight you will bear it on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark. You will cover your face so that you do not see the ground, for I have set you as a sign to the house of Israel.”
These further instructions would add to the significance of his acts. He was to leave his house through the wall, symbolising surreptitious escape from the city, and he was to leave as it was becoming dark in order to indicate the idea of secrecy and haste. And he was to cover his face so that he could not see the ground.
The houses in Babylonia would be made of sun-dried brick which, with some effort, would not be difficult to hack through , removing the bricks in order to make a way through. The covering of the face was probably to indicate that he was not expecting to see his homeland again so that he could not bear to look at the ground as he left (see verse 11), and it may possibly have also been intended to indicate secrecy and disguise.
And these things were to be ‘a sign’, a guarantee of their happening. They would warn the house of Israel, of what was coming. As they watched his actions he was to hope that they would accept that this was really what was going to happen to their fellow-Israelites in Jerusalem. At least when Jerusalem did fall, and it is difficult for us to imagine just how huge a blow that would be to them when it happened, they would recognise that God had been telling them that this was what He was going to do all the time.
12.7 ‘And I did so, as I was commanded. I brought out my stuff by day, as stuff for removing, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my hand. I brought it out in the dark, and bore it on my shoulder in their sight.’
Note the emphasis on the fact that he did as he was told. If only Israel had done the same. It would appear that during the day he prepared his stuff and gathered it together ready for the great removal, and then at night, having made a hole in the wall with his hands, actually shouldered it and carried it to another place.
12.8-9-10 ‘And in the morning the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, has not the house of Israel said to you, ‘What are you doing?’ You say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, This burden concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel among whom they are.’ ” ’
Ezekiel carried out his instructions, and as expected the people came to him and asked him what he was doing, and why he was doing it. So God then revealed to him the full import of what his actions revealed. They revealed not only what would happen to some of the people, but also to ‘the prince’ himself. (He possibly prefers this term for Zedekiah because all saw Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24.15; 25.27-30) as still their real king, even though deposed. But we should recognise that ‘prince’ is a regular term for the king in Ezekiel). All would be included in the situation.
‘This burden.’ Prophecy is regularly described in this way, for it was a heavy burden to the prophet, who did not delight in what he had to prophesy, and to the people who heard it because of the nature of the prophecy.
12.11 “Say, I am your sign. Just as I have done, so will it be done to them. They will go into exile, into captivity. And the prince who is among them will bear on his shoulder in the dark, and will go out. They will dig through the wall to carry out by it. He will cover his face because he will not see the ground with his eyes.”
What Ezekiel had acted out was a sign, a guarantee from God of would happen to both prince and people. Kings did not usually bear heavy burdens. But Zedekiah would, for he would have been brought down to a humble level by what was happening. Bearing the burdens may well have been part of his disguise. And they would go out ‘in the dark’. Compare John 13.30. It would be both literally true, and spiritually true. The future was dark before them. Their proud boast of being the chosen of Yahweh (11.15) would have collapsed.
As mentioned above the covering of the face probably primarily indicated that he could not bear to look at the sacred ground which he was having to leave behind him, a measure of his despair. He and his followers would be leaving with broken hearts (compare 1 Samuel 28.14). But it may also have indicated some measure of disguise (so LXX), or even have included that he would shortly be blinded (verse 13).
Breaking through the wall indicated the extremity they would have come to. It was an ignominious flight. The gates would be heavily guarded by the enemy. See 2 Kings 25.4-6; Jeremiah 39.4-5; 52.7-8 for its fulfilment.
12.13 “My net also will I spread on him, and he will be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans. Yet he will not see it, even though he will die there.”
The attempted escape will be frustrated, and it will be Yahweh’s doing. Like a hunter He will cast His net over them, and capture them in his snare (compare Hosea 7.12; Lamentations 1.13). They will not be allowed to escape, for they must reap what they had sown. God’s sovereignty over what Nebuchadnezzar was doing is clearly revealed. It is Yahweh Himself Who will bring Zedekiah to Babylon.
‘Yet he will not see it, even though he will die there.’ But though Zedekiah is brought to Babylon, where he will remain for the remainder of his life, he will not see it, for he will have been blinded (2 Kings 25.7).
12.14-16 “And I will scatter towards every wind all who are round about him to help him, and all his bands, and I will draw out the sword after them. And they will know that I am Yahweh, when I will disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries. But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine and from pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the nations where they go, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
Those of Zedekiah’s supporters and military units not captured and exiled with him will be scattered in every direction (‘every wind’ means in every direction. It probably refers to the well recognised ‘four winds’ (37.9; Jeremiah 49.36; Daniel 7.2; 8.8; 11.4; Zechariah 2.6), thus in all four directions). They will be dispersed among many nations and countries. They will constantly be harried by enemies, they will suffer famine and pestilence. But some (‘a few men’) will be spared so that they may face up to how they have sinned, may at last recognise Yahweh for what He is, and may then testify to the nations how what has happened to them was deserved because of their own dreadful behaviour. Thus the destruction of Jerusalem will bring honour to Yahweh in the eyes of the nations, instead of revealing Him as weak and unable to do anything. The latter would be the usual interpretation of the defeat.
The fact that ‘a few men’ will survive brings out the awfulness of their situation. It is only a few who will survive what is to come on them. As refugees their lives are going to be very hard, and will result in premature death for the large majority, through violence against them, pestilence and disease, and through continual food shortage. This will be the consequence of the way that Israel has treated Yahweh through the previous centuries. They had been given every chance, for He had constantly protected them, but instead of responding in repentance, they had taken advantage of Yahweh’s continuing mercy, assuming that it would go on for ever. So now His protection would be withdrawn.
‘And they will know that I am Yahweh.’ Twice repeated for emphasis, but with two different slants. Both the refugees and the nations they go among will learn the truth about Yahweh. Both will recognise His holiness, His hatred of sin, and His ability to act.
The Fear Coming On The Land.
12.17-18 ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and with carefulness.” ’
This indicates a further word from Yahweh. It may have no direct connection with the previous words. Here Ezekiel was to act out eating and drinking in fear and great wariness, partly depicting great terror at what is coming, and partly the fear lest someone come and take it away. Possibly it includes the desire to preserve with great care as much of the provisions as possible because of the shortage of food. The picture is one of the expectancy of disaster.
12.19-20 “And say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the land of Israel. They will eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with dismay, because her land will be desolate from all that is in it because of the violence of all those who dwell in it. And the cities that are inhabited will be laid waste, and the land will be a desolation, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’ ”
His actions would depict what was to come on Jerusalem and Judah. ‘The people of the land’ is a regular phrase indicating all the people, the common folk. The lack of administration would result in even more violence in the land, with no one to curb evildoers. Some would desolate the land by their activities. Thus the ordinary people would be burdened with care and would live in constant dismay. It is a picture of constant unrest and lawlessness, with its inevitable consequences. They had ignored Yahweh’s covenant and laws, now they would experience the consequences of doing so.
Both cities and land would be desolated. None would escape. That they might be made to recognise that their God was the God Who made moral demands, and exacted judgment when those moral demands were ignored. They would be made to recognise that it was indeed Yahweh, the living, present God, with Whom they had been dealing and whom they had been ignoring and treating casually.
In Spite of the Apathetic Attitude of the People The Warning Prophecies Will Be Fulfilled.
12.21-22 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have in the land of Israel, saying, ‘Time goes by, and every vision dies’.
The proverb is literally, ‘The days, they lengthen and every vision, it dies.’ The point being made is that time goes by but none of the prophecies come to fulfilment. Thus when the people hear a prophecy they shrug their shoulders and say, ‘it has never happened, it will not happen now.’ Proverbs can be very valuable, but they can become stilted and meaningless, resulting in apathy.
These people were aware of the prophecies of past prophets, of warnings about the coming ‘day of Yahweh’, and they considered that nothing had happened. How easy it is not to see in present history the fulfilment of God’s warnings. They were here in captivity, having witnessed Nebuchadnezzar’s successful campaign against Judah and Jerusalem, but had not see in it a ‘day of Yahweh’, for Jerusalem still stood.
12.23 “Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will make this proverb to cease, and they will no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, ‘The days are at hand and the word (i.e. carrying out of the word - effective fulfilment) of every vision.’
Israel are to be made to realise that the proverb is now no longer true. Indeed it will cease to exist. For the opposite is about to prove true. The prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah are about to come to their final awful fulfilment. And the people will see it and realise how foolish they were. ‘The days are at hand.’ That is, are about to burst on them with unexpected speed.
There is a warning to us all here of the danger of assuming that the warnings of God are simply empty threats which can safely be ignored because ‘God is love’, or of thinking that judgment is far off and therefore does not really matter.
12.24-25 “For there will no more be any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am Yahweh. I will speak, and the word I speak will be performed. It will not be deferred any longer. For in your days, O rebellious house, will I speak the word and will perform it, says the Lord Yahweh.”
The great problem for Israel was that of conflicting voices. There were the prophets who prophesied peace and security, words pleasing to men’s ears (Jeremiah 28.2-4, 11). And there were those like Jeremiah and Ezekiel who spoke dire warnings of what was shortly to come. And the people as a whole preferred the former.
But now, said Yahweh, this would cease. Once the horror came on them, prophecies of peace and security would be in vain. They would be obviously untrue. Those who spoke with meaningless promises, and flattered with pleasant words through divination, would be shown up and would cease. For what Yahweh had said, He would do. He had spoken, and He would bring it about. Indeed in the very days of Ezekiel’s listeners all he had warned about would come about. Yahweh would perform it.
12.26-27 ‘Again the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, behold, those of the house of Israel are saying, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days to come, and he prophecies of times that are far off.’ ” ’
Yahweh well knew the hearts of some of the men to whom Ezekiel prophesied. They considered his prophecies interesting, and similar to the warnings of past prophets. They did not deny that they would happen, but they assured themselves that they applied to well in the future. The ‘day of Yahweh’ was well in the future. For the present it was irrelevant. Such things could not happen now. How easily we too can so dismiss the warnings of the Bible. Life goes on, and seemingly nothing disturbs it. But for us too God will one day say, ‘The time has come’.
12.28 “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, None of my words will be deferred any more, but the word which I will speak will be performed, says the Lord Yahweh.’ ”
For them the hour was present. There would be no more deferment. Judgment would come. The day of Yahweh was here. All the dire things He had spoken of would happen. It ‘will be performed’, for Yahweh Himself would see to its performing. And these were the words, not of a minor god, but of ‘the Lord Yahweh’.
The church today faces a similar position with regard to the second coming. It can easily be seen as something that will not happen yet. But one day there will be a generation when all these things will happen, and in the light of the troubles facing the world it may well be our generation. We must watch, lest coming suddenly He find us sleeping.
Chapter 13. Yahweh’s Denunciation of Prophets Who Prophesy Their Own Ideas
Ezekiel has depicted the failure of the leaders of the people, the princes, the priests and the elders. Now he turns his attention on ‘the prophets’, probably the cult prophets. They too have failed Israel. These men had been appointed by, and attached to, the temple, or to other recognised sanctuaries, who paid their wages (compare Zechariah 11.12), and they were supposed to have some gift of divine inspiration. Many had gone into exile with the others. But Ezekiel is to point out that they really speak their own ideas, and not Yahweh’s, for they say only what men want to hear. They are not opening themselves to the inspiration of Yahweh in accordance with His teachings and with His word. The denunciation is then also applied to the prophetesses who use doubtful means to establish their ideas (verses 17-23).
This was the constant complaint of earlier true prophets (1 Kings 22.22; Isaiah 28.7-13, where strong drink was to blame; Micah 3.5-7), and especially of Jeremiah who spoke in a similar way to Ezekiel (Jeremiah 2.8; 5.31; 6.13-15; 8.10-12; 14.14-16; 18.18; 23.9-32; 26.8-11; 27.9-18; 28.1-17). Note the reference to false prophets in Babylonia (Jeremiah 29.21-32). They were there as well. The troubles that had come on Judah in its final days caused men to lean heavily on the cult prophets, but Ezekiel tells us that all that they heard was lies and self delusion.
The False Prophets (13.1-16)
13.1-3 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, and say to those who prophesy out of their own hearts, ‘You, hear the word of Yahweh, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have not seen.’ ” ’
Note Ezekiel’s continuing emphasis on the word of Yahweh coming to him. We can tend to forget that he was under the constraint of silence all this time and could only speak when he had a word from Yahweh. But when Yahweh came to him he had to speak. This was the difference between him and the false prophets he was speaking about. He was constrained to speak because of Yahweh’s Spirit working within him. In the words of Amos 3.8, ‘the Lord Yahweh has spoken who can but prophesy?’
This time the words were spoken against the popular prophets. They were popular because they said what men wanted to hear. They claimed to be prophets of Yahweh. But their words were not from God. They came from within them. They were their own ideas. They did not have the Spirit of God inspiring their words, but followed their own spirit. They did not ‘see’, for they were not true seers. They had no true spiritual insight coming from above. All they had came from within themselves. They promulgated their own ideas. They were blind leaders of the blind. And Ezekiel was to ‘prophesy against them’, that is to denounce them and their words.
‘The prophets of Israel.’ This included all the prophets both in Jerusalem and in the scattered communities in exile. They really had no message to give because they did not hear the voice of God.
‘Foolish.’ The word is a strong one (nabal). The foolish man brings disaster on himself because of his folly, as did Nabal (1 Samuel 25). Although professing Him, in his heart he ignores the reality of God (Psalm 14.1) and behaves and speaks in a way that is contrary to Him.
There are many today who are ‘foolish prophets’. They seem wise and are popular, saying what people want to hear, but they do not hear the word of God or teach in accordance with it. Rather they pick among the ruins of what is left of man’s wisdom.
13.4-5 “O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes in the waste places (ruins). You have not gone up into the gaps, nor made up the fence for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of Yahweh.”
The picture is a vivid one of foxes running around in the ruins of a city. They build their dens in the ruins, and forage and scavenge, but they do nothing about the state of the city. So it is with these prophets. They have ignored the gaps in the understanding of the people, and have not built them up ready for what is coming, for they have not seen it themselves. Nor have they caused them to physically strengthen the walls of the city by their warnings. Instead of ‘rebuilding the walls and filling in the gaps’, by preparing the people for the coming ‘day of Yahweh’ about to fall on them, they are like foxes who make comfortable holes for themselves in the ruins and scurry around building nothing, scavenging for what they can find, making false promises that will not be fulfilled. They are nothing but parasites.
Note the phrase ‘the day of Yahweh’. It refers to any period in history where God manifests His judgments. God is longsuffering and gives man much leeway, but there comes a time again and again when man’s sins come in on himself and devastating consequences result. And each such ‘day of Yahweh’ leads on to the next, until the final great ‘day of Yahweh’ when He brings in His final judgments.
(The alternation between ‘they’ and ‘you’ in these verses makes it uncertain when it is the people who are being addressed, and when the prophets, but it makes no difference to the sense. If ‘you’ is seen as applying to the people it simply incorporates them into the sins of the prophets).
13.6 “They have seen vanity and lying divination who say, ‘the oracle of Yahweh’, and Yahweh has not sent them. And they have made men hope that the word would be confirmed.”
The false prophets have given people false hope with false visions and lying divination. The word for ‘divination’ is regularly used in a bad sense of using false means to obtain ‘divine’ guidance (21.21-22; 2 Kings 17.7; Jeremiah 14.14; Numbers 22.7; 23.23; Deuteronomy 18.10; 1 Samuel 15.23), usually through special techniques such as familiar spirits, worked up trances, examining entrails of a sacrifice and throwing sand on the ground. But the fact that here it is called ‘lying divination’ seems to contrast it with the true reception of prophetic truth by men like Ezekiel (never directly called divination), obtained directly through Yahweh.
The result of the false visions and lying divination is that the people are deceived and expectant of something that will never materialise, will never ‘be confirmed’ by fulfilment.
13.7 “Have you not seen a vain vision, and have you not spoken a lying divination? In that you say, ‘the oracle of Yahweh’, in spite of the fact that I have not spoken?”
Whatever methods they used, even if it was just hopeful aspiration, they stand condemned. For although they claimed ‘the oracle of Yahweh’ they did not in fact produce a word from Yahweh. Whoever spoke through them it was not Yahweh, for they spoke lies.
13.8-9 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have spoken what is vain, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you,” says the Lord Yahweh, “and my hand will be against the prophets who see what is vain, and who divine lies. They will not be in the council of my people, nor will they be written in the writing (or ‘register’) of the house of Israel, nor will they enter into the land of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.” ’
The denunciation of the prophets for speaking empty words and ‘seeing’ what is vain, and ‘seeing’ what is false and ‘divining lies’ (compare verse 7), putting forth fabrications as an oracle from Yahweh, has brought on them the enmity of Yahweh. They have brought on themselves exclusion from the leadership of Israel, which they no doubt coveted, exclusion from the roll of those who are full members of the house of Israel, a blow to their self respect and hopes, and exclusion from the land of Israel, that is, final exclusion from the recognised benefits of the covenant. For being blotted out of ‘the roll of Israel’ compare Exodus 32.32-33. This also will demonstrate that God is truly the Lord Yahweh, with all that that means.
13.10 “Because, even because they have led my people astray, saying ‘Peace’, and there is no peace. And when someone builds up a flimsy wall they daub it with whitewash.”
The word for whitewash comes from a root meaning to talk nonsense. Some in Israel have built up for themselves ideas, empty hopes, which are the equivalent of a flimsy wall which will not stand the test (compare verse 5 and verse 16) and the prophets contribute to their folly by whitewashing it to hide the cracks. What they speak is nonsense. They declare peace, but there will be no peace. They promise safety and prosperity for Jerusalem when there will be no safety or prosperity. Thus they lead the people astray.
It is always a temptation to a preacher to speak what people wish to hear, to reinforce their prejudices, to make them satisfied with a low level life and a lesser morality. They please men and not God. But such preachers too will be disqualified by God from His purposes. If we never disturb people we must question our ministry.
13.11 “Say to those who daub it with whitewash that it will fall. There will be an overflowing rainstorm, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind will rend it.”
Yahweh now declares a vivid picture of judgment. The flimsy wall which the prophets have tried to make respectable will collapse under a great storm. It will be tested by drenching rain, great hailstones and a stormy wind and will be unable to stand the test. It can be compared with those who build their lives on sand because they do not receive the words of Christ (Matthew 7.26-27). They too will be devastated by the judgment.
Note the change to addressing the hailstones. This vivid way of making things personal in the middle of a sentence or paragraph is found again and again in Scripture. Many however repoint the Hebrew to mean ‘and I will cause great hailstones to fall’.
13.12 “Lo, when the wall is fallen will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the whitewash with which you whitewashed it?’ ”
The prophets should consider what will happen when their prophecies prove false. When the storm washes away the whitewash, and causes the collapse of the wall, what will they say then when they are questioned about it, as they certainly will be?
13.13-16 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my anger, and there will be drenching rain in my fury, and great hailstones in anger to consume it. So will I break down the wall which you have daubed with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare, and it will fall, and you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am Yahweh. Thus will I accomplish my anger on the wall, and on those who have daubed it with whitewash, and I will say to you, ‘The wall is no more, nor those who daubed it’, that is, the prophets of Israel who prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, says the Lord Yahweh.”
Notice the continual repetition which is so much a mark of Hebrew literature. Once again the picture of the great storm and its effects is used and amplified, with the whitewash completely washed off, the wall crashing down, and the very foundations being laid bare. Platitudes and superficiality will not stand the test of judgment. Note also the stress on Yahweh’s anger and fury. When men refuse to acknowledge God’s holiness and proclaim a low immorality, they become the objects of His anger, that is, of His implacable attitude towards sin. And His judgments will then reveal what He is, will reveal His holiness and His demand for response to His ways.
And as the wall crashes down, so will the prophets. And this is a prophecy concerning Jerusalem and its future. The present lives of those who live there are built on lies, and the prophecies of peace are gross deceit. For Jerusalem is doomed, and with it the false prophets. Note the stress on the fact that this is the work of God Himself. It is twice emphasised that these are the words of Yahweh, and once that it will reveal that He is Yahweh (twice if we go back to verse 9). In all that is to happen they are to realise that it is Yahweh Who is at work.
The False Prophetesses (13.17-23).
We know from Miriam (Exodus 15.20), Deborah (Judges 4.4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22.14) that there were recognised prophetesses in Israel (see also Nehemiah 6.14), the latter two playing an important role in guidance in the ways of Yahweh, although they were exceptional. But we know little else about their function as a whole. Here again we come across prophetesses, but like the prophets they had ceased to speak truly and were involved in occult activity. Indeed ‘prophetesses’ may simply refer to women who seek to foretell the future through occult means, rather than a genuine group of cult prophetesses.
13.17-19 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart, and you prophesy against them. And say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Woe to the women who sew pillows (or armbands) on all joints of the hands (wrists and/or elbows), and make kerchiefs (shrouds) for the head of people of all heights to hunt lives. Will you hunt the lives of my people, and save those that are yours for yourselves? And you have profaned me among my people for a handful of barley, and for pieces of bread, to kill those who should not die, and to save those alive who should not live, by your lying to my people who listen and respond to lies.”
Those being prophesied against clearly participated in magic practises. The passage is difficult to translate simply because we do not know enough about magic practises in ancient Palestine. In Babylonia the magical binding of the wrists is witnessed, the purpose of which was to ‘enforce’ the binding power of a spell or incantation. That may well be what is in mind here. The ‘shrouds’ are long pieces of cloth that went over the head and reached down to the ground, covering the person from head to foot. They were used in order to ‘hunt persons’. Possibly the purpose of these was to enable the person so covered to reach out magically through spells or curses, while insulated against the natural world, to cause harm to their enemies. Perhaps it was to give the illusion of astral travel, the body supposed to disappear while under the shroud, and travelling magically to do its evil work on the enemy. Alternately it may be that the shrouds were impregnated with magic and thrown over the victim, or over some effigy or object belonging to him, ‘imprisoning’ him within the spell.
‘Will you hunt the persons of my people, and save those that are yours for yourselves?’ The purpose of the witchcraft was that those who submitted to the witchcraft (and paid for it) would be saved alive, for they were involved in the witchcraft and protected beneath the shroud, but those who were their enemies, who would be God’s own people, would be slain. There may well have been examples known, brought about by the combination of communication of what was happening and autosuggestion.
‘And you have profaned me among my people by a handful of barley, and by pieces of bread, to kill those who should not die, and to save those alive who should not live, by your lying to my people who listen and respond to lies.’
Here the idea is probably of magic rites involving handfuls of barley and pieces of bread, possibly tossed onto a flat surface to be ‘read’ (like tea leaves), the reading intended to result in death for the victim in mind. That the reading had to be communicated to the victim is suggested by the last phrase. It would seem that some of God’s people were on the whole so weak and unbelieving that they accepted the truth of what they heard and died by autosuggestion. Among those who superstitiously believed in the witchcraft the suggestion that they were cursed might well produce death through fear and hopelessness, and lack of a will to live.
For the use of barley and bread in worship compare the cakes to the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 7.18. See also 44.17-19). Thus eating the bread may have been part of the spell.
‘To kill those who should not die.’ They had done nothing to deserve death, and therefore what was done was a form of murder. ‘To save those alive who should not live.’ This may suggest that those who had done something worthy of death got rid of the witnesses and the accusers by this means, and so perverted justice. Or it may simply mean that the people in question were worthy of death for indulging in witchcraft (Leviticus 20.6, 27; compare Leviticus 19.31; Deuteronomy 18.11; 22.5; Isaiah 47.9, 12-14).
‘By your lying to my people who listen and respond to lies.’ It would seem that only those who believed what they were told were likely to suffer. Those who rejected such ideas in the power and name of Yahweh were not affected.
13.20-21 “Wherefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold I am against your armbands (wristbands) with which you hunt the people (nephesh - living person) as birds (or ‘as becoming flying ones’), and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the people go, even the people that you hunt as birds. Your shrouds will I also tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they will no more be in your hand to be hunted, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
It is clear from this that the armbands and shrouds were seen as binding people by spells, not because of their own power but because of the power given by the superstitions of the people who believed their lies. The hunting as birds again suggests astral travel, or something similar. Thus when God’s judgment came their armbands and shrouds would be torn from them. They would no longer be able to harm others. God’s people would no longer be in their hands or subject to their suggestive powers. Thus would all see that Yahweh was triumphant over them. The fact of Yahweh’s all-powerful nature would be revealed.
13.22-23 “Because with lies you have grieved the heart of the righteous whom I have not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way and be saved alive. Therefore you will no more see vanity, nor divine divinations, and I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you will know that I am Yahweh.”
The prophetesses had done the very opposite of the purpose intended for them. Instead of making the righteous glad and the wicked aware of their sins, they had by their lies grieved the hearts of those Whom Yahweh wished to make happy, and had strengthened the wicked in their sins, removing from them the fear of temporal judgment. Thus the wicked continued happily on in their wicked ways, instead of repenting and finding life, and the righteous grieved when they should not have needed to.
This was why Yahweh would bring His judgment of death on the prophetesses, so that they could no longer see what was vain and empty and divine what was false, to the hurt in the end of both righteous and wicked. So were they, and we, discovering why God’s judgment on Jerusalem was going to fulfil His purposes and was in line with His justice and holiness. Then all would know that He really is Yahweh, the holy and living God Who acts.
There is little difference between these prophetesses and those who in our day go to the occult to receive advice, discover the future and contact the dead, and indeed even in some cases to bring harm on others. These practises are equally condemned.
So God was building up a picture as to why Jerusalem had to be destroyed. He had outlined the detail of the different forms of idol worship going on in Jerusalem (8.5-18) and its surrounds (6.1-7), which involved both priesthood (8.16) and laity, with its resulting descent into all kinds of wickedness, He had described the evil ways of the civil leaders, with the resulting violence (11.1-13), and now He had demonstrated the evil of the false prophets, and the wicked practises of the prophetesses. The whole city was a mass of wickedness, ripe for judgment.
Chapter 14 Those In Captivity Share in the Condemnation of Those in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel was now to stress that those who had gone into exile shared the condemnation of Jerusalem because of their evil ways. They were really no different from those who were still in Jerusalem because they still engaged in idolatry and the ways associated with it. And unless they turned from it they too would bear their judgment.
14.1-3 ‘Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me, and the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face. Should I be enquired of at all by them?” ’
The elders of the Israelites in captivity now came to Ezekiel. He had clearly made an impression on them and they were seeking Yahweh’s words through him. But they had not come as true believers, men firmly committed to the covenant with Yahweh, but as those who sought Yahweh’s advice as One among others. They were compromisers. They believed in Yahweh to a certain extent, but they served other gods too, the gods of their captors. However, they were probably hoping to receive some word of comfort and hope in their predicament. Yahweh was the specialist on Jerusalem.
But God knew the truth about them. He knew their hearts. They were still involved in similar idol worship to that which had called down God’s judgment on Jerusalem, and their hearts were with them and not with Yahweh. Thus Yahweh called them ‘these men’ in contempt.
‘The stumblingblock of their iniquity.’ Another way of speaking of idolatry. It either referred to their idols which caused them to stumble and fall into iniquity (compare 7.19 where it was their gold and silver; 14.4, 7 where it was seemingly the idols themselves; 18.30 where it was their transgressions which included idolatry), or to the fact that they had encouraged and participated in idolatrous rites, thus leading the people astray, encouraging them in idolatry and putting a stumblingblock before them, causing them also to stumble (compare 44.12). It basically referred to what caused men to stumble. It is a phrase unique to Ezekiel.
‘Should I be enquired of at all by them?’ They had no right to seek His face, for they sought the face of idols. He would not hear those who simply treated Him as one of a pantheon of gods. He would not listen to any but those who were totally true to Him (compare Psalm 66.18; 1 Kings 18.21).
14.4-5 “Therefore speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Every man of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and puts the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet. I, Yahweh, will answer him in accordance with it according to the multitude of his idols, that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through idols.’ ”
Yahweh warned that He would not pretend that things were well. All those who were taken up with idols, and chose to come before them in worship, thus making them a stumblingblock in their religious lives, would receive a straight answer when they came to God’s prophet. In accordance with the number of their idols He would answer them, with warnings of severe judgment.
‘That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart.’ This may indicate that His purpose in this was that He might turn their hearts towards Him and capture them. For it was idolatry, and the immorality that went with them, that was causing His hostile attitude towards them and thus estranged them. Or it may mean that His intention was to take them captive in judgment just as they were, with their inner hearts set on idols.
14.6-8 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Return you and turn yourselves from idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, and takes his idols into his heart, and puts the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet to enquire for himself concerning me. I Yahweh will answer him by myself. And I will set my face against that man, and will make him an astonishment, for a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from among my people, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’ ”
The constant repetition reveals how hard God was trying to drum in this lesson to Ezekiel’s hearers, the people in exile. Idolatry had for so long been a hindrance to Israel’s faith, as today Mammon and Sex are, and God was determined to root it out. He again called on them to ‘return’ to Him and ‘turn’ themselves from idols, and the abominations that were a part of their worship.
But if they did not do so, and yet sought to a prophet to try to justify their position, He would not answer through the prophet. Indeed He would deceive the prophet (verse 9). And He would Himself answer in judgment those who refused to reject idols. He would set His face against them and treat them in such a way that all would remember it. They would become a sign. What happened to them would become proverbial. For He would destroy them from among His people. Then would all know that He was truly Yahweh, the living, holy God, Who would never condone sin and unfaithfulness.
‘Return you and turn yourselves from idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.’ A positive response was being called for, a turning about. It was not enough to be ‘sorry’, they had to take positive action, a resolve once and for all to have nothing to do with idols. This reflects a mistake made by many that all they have to do is keep on saying sorry to God before they race back to the things they love. But God requires a total turning about, a true repentance, reflected not so much in tears as in obedience.
‘The strangers who sojourn.’ Note also that this was to apply to any who would take up permanent residence among the people of Israel. It was necessary that they too reject idolatry. (LXX here calls them ‘proselytes’). Otherwise they would bring down the judgment of God on Israel. The success of this ministry was revealed in that when exiles did return to Jerusalem they were particularly careful to spurn idolatry and refuse ‘fellowship’ with outsiders. Possibly in fact, as men will, they became too careful. But at least the lesson was learned.
14.9-10 “And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I Yahweh have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand on him, and will destroy him from among my people Israel. And they will bear their iniquity. The iniquity of the prophet will be on the same level as the iniquity of the one who seeks to him.”
For those who persisted in idolatry God would even provide false prophets, prophets who were deceived. In a sense people receive the teachers that they deserve. If they do not want God’s pure word, then God will allow them teachers who go astray from the word. And both the teachers and they will be destroyed together. Judgment will come on them and they will be rooted out from among God’s people. And from it God’s people will learn their lesson.
‘I Yahweh have deceived that prophet.’ This could be said because God was seen as the ‘first cause’ of everything. We would say ‘He allowed it’. The prophet would be deceived because his mind was closed to God and he was a man-pleaser not a God-pleaser (Isaiah 8.20). That was not God’s doing. The people would have false prophets because they did not want to listen to true prophets. They would choose them for themselves. But God would allow it because they had first chosen their own way and closed their minds to the truth. If they hardened their hearts, God would allow more things that would further harden their hearts. The judgment of God on those who pursued idolatry would be in allowing them to continue in it until it destroyed them (compare Leviticus 20.3-6; Deuteronomy 28.36; Hosea 4.17; and see Paul’s vivid description of the process for all nations in Romans 1.18-32). Thus in the end what happened was in the permissive will of God (compare Isaiah 45.7; Amos 3.6).
14.11 ‘ “That the house of Israel may go astray from me no more, nor defile themselves any more with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people, and I may be their God,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
God’s purpose behind all this, both in what He allowed, and in the judgment He brought on those who continued in sin and idolatry, was in the end for the sake of His true people. He was wooing them and teaching them lessons by His judgments so that they would learn their lesson and once and for all turn their back on idolatry and look to Him. Then He would be their God, and they would truly be His people. This in the end lay behind all the judgments pronounced by Ezekiel. In the end their aim was mercy on those who would respond.
How often men come to God’s people with smooth words that seem so plausible. A small change here, a slightly different interpretation there that is not quite in accordance with God’s word, but pleases men. And they are such good and sincere people. And they deceive many. But they cannot finally deceive God’s true people (1 John 2.20). And God allows it because that is what the people want. If they do not want His word in its fullness, He will let them have another. But it will stand against them in the judgment. In the words of Yahweh through His prophet, ‘if they do not speak according to My word, it is because there is no life in them.’
The Righteous Few Will Not Cause the Many To Be Spared.
Now came a new argument, that the presence of righteous men among Israel would not defer the judgment of God. The time for that was past. The thought looks back to Abraham’s pleas over Sodom when ten righteous men would have been sufficient to stave off judgment (Genesis 18.32). But there were not such, there was only Lot and his family, and judgment came. However they were not to see hope in this, for even if three of the most righteous men in history had been among them they would not be able to defer this judgment that God had determined. Only the righteous themselves would be spared, as Lot was out of Sodom. And the judgment will be terrible and lasting, composed of famine, sword, dangerous wild beasts and pestilence.
14.12 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting treacherously, and I stretch out my hand on it, and break the staff of its bread and send famine on it, and cut off from it both man and beast, though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord Yahweh.” ’
Note that the application is general. It is a general principle. It applies to any land against which God might intend to bring judgment for acting treacherously, but it is quite clear that Jerusalem is in mind in the context.
The principle is that once God has finally determined judgment, even the presence of godly men will not prevent it. The godly themselves will be delivered but Yahweh’s judgment will not be prevented. Thus they need not look to the presence of men in Israel like Jeremiah and Ezekiel as evidence that they were safe. Why, even the presence of those great and good men Noah, Daniel and Job, would not forestall the judgment God intended to bring on Jerusalem. Noah was ‘a righteous man, blameless in his generation’ (Genesis 6.9), Job was ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil’ (Job 1.1). Neither were strictly Israelites, and both were thus a good example to use as a general principle.
Noah was a particularly good contrast, for his presence in the world had delayed the flood for many years, but in the end it came, even though it had been delayed to give them opportunity to repent. So would it come on Jerusalem. The mention of Job demonstrates that his story was at this time well known in Israel, and that he was admired and respected as a righteous and holy man. His righteousness too did not prevent great suffering.
The mention of Daniel presents us with a slight problem. The name is different from that used in the book of Daniel, (Dani’el here, Daniyye’l in Daniel), but it is a variation which occurs in other names referring to the same person (Do’eg (1 Samuel 21.7; 22.9) spelled Doyeg in I Samuel 22.18, 22), so that is not a great difficulty. More difficult is as to whether the contemporary of Jeremiah and Ezekiel could have achieved such fame by the time Ezekiel was speaking. But he had been taken captive from Jerusalem years earlier, and in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar had interpreted his dream and been raised to honour (Daniel 2). Word may well therefore have got back to Jerusalem about this, and at a time when people were seeking comfort and hope he may well have become a folk-hero. The mention of a contemporary who had clearly been ‘delivered’ from the coming judgment on Jerusalem would add considerable weight to Ezekiel’s argument.
An alternative Daniel is found by some in stories surrounding the Dan’el known from Ugaritic literature, who had a reputation for wisdom and righteous judgment. But it seems unlikely that Ezekiel would choose such a figure when he had many heroes from Hebrew tradition such as Abraham that he could have called on, especially as Dan’el was connected with the very idolatry that was being condemned. However the Ugaritic myths may have been based on earlier stories of a famous king Dan’el, well known in Israel, which exalted his goodness and did not connect with idolatry and with Baal. Certainly, like Noah and Job, as he was not an Israelite he would fit the pattern. It does not, however, really matter which we choose, for it does not affect the poignancy of the illustration.
‘Acting treacherously.’ The word is strong. It indicates those who have sinned to the full.
‘Break the staff of its bread and send famine on it, and cut off from it both man and beast.’ For the ‘staff of bread’ see 4.16; 5.16 and compare Leviticus 26.26; Psalm 105.16; Isaiah 3.1. Bread was the basic food on which they leant and depended for survival. Thus to break the staff meant to remove their bread, which would be the result of famine. That both man and beast would be cut off indicates the severity of the judgment.
14.15-16 “If I cause dangerous wild beasts to pass through the land, and they despoil it so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts, though these three men were in it, as I live says the Lord Yahweh, they will deliver neither sons nor daughters. They only will be delivered, but the land will be desolate.”
The presence of such wild beasts indicates a land deserted by man, and thus one already under judgment, to be taken over by the wild beasts who would despoil what was left. The mention of sons and daughters probably has both Noah’s and Lot’s stories in mind, when their children were delivered. This judgment is to be worse in its effect than that of Sodom, with none deliberately spared except the exceptionally righteous.
14.17-18 “Or if I bring a sword on that land and say, ‘Sword, go through the land,’ so that I cut off from it man and beast, though these three men were in it, as I live says the Lord Yahweh, they will deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only will be delivered themselves.”
Again the idea is in mind of devastating judgment. This is no local raid but a raid by a huge army which totally devastates the land destroying man and beast. If it is the Lord’s doing then there is no deliverance from it except for the truly righteous.
14.19-20 “Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury on it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast, though Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, as I live says the Lord Yahweh, they will deliver neither son nor daughter. They will deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.”
The same principle applies when God determines to bring pestilence on a land in His anger against sin and idolatry, the presence of the truly righteous would not save the land, nor even their own families. Only the righteous themselves would be delivered.
14.21 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “How much more when I send my four sore judgments on Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the dangerous wild beasts, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?” ’
The general principle having been stated it was now applied to Jerusalem. If other lands could be so judged, how much more sinful Jerusalem. The judgments previously described are now seen as ‘the four sore judgments of Yahweh’. ‘Four’ regularly indicates the whole known world. It is the number of those outside the covenant. Thus Jerusalem is numbered among them as an outcast.
All these judgments were a regular part of an invasion. The sword to slay, the famine resulting from the burning of the crops or from siege, the wild beasts taking over because of the desolating of the land and the removal of the inhabitants, and the pestilence following from the conditions under which men had to survive. Note the continual stress on the depth of the judgments, cutting off from it man and beast.
14.22-23 “Yet behold in it will be left those who escape, who will be carried forth, both sons and daughters. Behold they will come forth to you, and you will see their way and their doings, and you will be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought on Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought on it, and they will comfort you when you see their way and their doings, and you will know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, says the Lord Yahweh.”
But in the case of the judgment on Jerusalem some would be allowed to escape. The point here is that it is only because Yahweh determines it. These are not the righteous previously mentioned (it will include sons and daughters) but some chosen out to be an illustration to the exiles of why God’s sore judgments have come on Jerusalem. As their way and doings are observed it will be clear why God has acted in judgment. Then the exiles will realise that His judgment was not without good reason. ‘Doings’ always has a bad sense in Ezekiel (20.43-44; 21.24; 24.14; 36.17, 19; 36.31).
‘You will be comforted.’ Or rather ‘you will gain some kind of ease of heart from recognising that their judgment was just’. The word means ‘to breathe a deep breath’. Thus the idea is that they can again breathe freely because they recognise the justice of what has happened.
‘All that I have done in it, says the Lord Yahweh.’ The prophet is quite clear on the fact that all that will happen will be the Lord’s doing.
Chapter 15. A Depiction of Jerusalem - A Useless Wild Vine.
Here the vine is used as an example because its wood is useless for any other purpose than to be burned. Because of its nature, once it ceases to be fruitful it is only fit for destruction. Israel saw themselves as a fruitful vine (Genesis 49.22; Psalm 80.8-11). God saw them as a wild and useless vine.
15.1-3 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, what is the vine tree more than any tree, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest? Will wood be taken from it to make any work? Or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel on it?” ’
The later implication is that Jerusalem is like the vine (verse 5), but in Ezekiel’s case it is the wild vine, one of the trees of the forest. Unlike other trees in the forest its usefulness is limited to bearing its fruit. But who gathers fruit from the wild vine? And apart from this it is nothing. It is useless for being carved or shaped, it is useless as a pin to hang things on. If it does not bear fruit it is nothing. The pin is elsewhere used to indicate someone who can be relied on (Isaiah 22.23-25; Zechariah 10.4). But Jerusalem is like a wild vine, not to be depended on. No one partakes of its fruit and it is useless for anything else. It should of course be a fruitful vine but it is not, for it has placed itself as one among the nations in their idolatry.
In the past Israel was likened to a vine that should have been fruitful, but sadly revealed itself as a wild vine (see Genesis 49.22; Deuteronomy 32.32; Psalm 80.8-16; Isaiah 5.1-7; Jeremiah 2.21; Hosea 10.1). This is the end of the process.
15.4 “Behold it is cast into the fire for fuel. The fire has devoured both the ends of it, and the middle of it is burned. Is it profitable for any work?”
In fact its only other use is as fuel, and it is not even very good for that. It is quickly consumed, both ends and middle. And what other profit has it? None. This is then again emphasised. The comparison of both ends with the middle is explained in verse 7. That which is burned at both ends represents those slain in the invasion of Jerusalem. The middle which is also burned represents those who escape, only to face further judgment.
15.5 “Behold when it was whole it was not made into any work, how much less when the fire has devoured it, and it is burned, will it yet be made into any work.”
Once it is burned it is even more useless if that were possible. When whole it was useless, now it will be even more useless. This is God’s verdict on Jerusalem, and on all whose lives are fruitless.
15.6-8 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “As the vine trees among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and I will set my face against them. They will go forth from the fire, but the fire will devour them. And you will know that I am Yahweh when I set my face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
The reference to Jerusalem is now made clear. They are just fuel for the fire. Their land is to be made desolate because of their sin. And this will be because Yahweh has set His face against them. So even those who go forth from the fire and seemingly escape the judgment, will find that judgment follows them (compare 5.2 - ‘I will draw out a sword after them’).
‘And you will know that I am Yahweh when I set my face against them.’ What happens to them will make all recognise Who and What Yahweh is.
Chapter 16 A Further Depiction of Jerusalem - An Unwanted Foundling.
Having depicted Jerusalem as a wild and useless vine, it is now depicted as having been an unwanted foundling, wallowing in its distress, until Yahweh came and had pity on it. Then He had bestowed favour on it, but it had proved treacherous, and had deserted Him for others, and had become a prostitute with many lovers. The words are spoken of Jerusalem but undoubtedly include all Israel. What had happened to the one had happened to the other, and Jerusalem and its environs now stood for Israel. It was all that was left to them. Ezekiel’s language is strong and vivid, and very literal. He deliberately describes things as they are with the intention of arousing disgust, because he is bringing out that Jerusalem was disgusting.
God’s Gracious Deliverance of an Undeserving and Helpless Israel.
16.1-2 ‘Again the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations.” ’
God will now recount Israel’s great sin and apostasy, to show her the greatness of the sin that she has committed. ‘Abominations’ especially as in mind idolatry but anything that possesses a man’s mind and comes between him and God is abomination.
(In Ezekiel the terms ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Judah’, and ‘Israel’ are almost synonymous. What applies to one usually applies to the other. All are seen as one).
16.3 “And say, thus says the Lord Yahweh to Jerusalem, Your birth and your nativity is the land of the Canaanite. The Amorite was your father, and your mother was a Hittite.”
‘To Jerusalem.’ This word conjures up two thoughts, Jerusalem as a city, which God had chosen as His dwellingplace (Psalm 132.13), and Jerusalem as representing the whole of what was left of Israel. Israel, even the exiles, were often described as ‘Zion’ (e.g. Zechariah 2.7). What remained of the land of Israel was not very large, being composed of Jerusalem and its environs, so that Jerusalem could be seen as representing the whole. Indeed it was the heart of Israel, and bore within it the stamp of the whole. So we do not need to choose between whether he has Jerusalem in mind or Israel. The one was represented by the other.
These words are derogatory. Israel prided itself on its ancestry, and the Canaanites were a byword for immorality and sin, which was why God had demanded that they be utterly destroyed. This latter condemnation was also aimed at the Amorites and the Hittites who dwelt in the land (Deuteronomy 7.1-5; 20.17). All three names could in fact be used as a general designation for the inhabitants of the land. See among others Genesis 10.16; 15.16; Numbers 13.29; Joshua 1.4; 5.1; 7.7; 24.15, 18; Amos 2.10.
There are a number of points here. One is that neither Jerusalem nor Israel were in fact as racially pure as they thought. They were of mongrel descent. Israel did in fact include Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites in their ancestry, for such would be among the servants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and among the mixed multitude that became a part of Israel at the exodus and at Sinai, and this was added to by intermarriage contrary to God’s command (Deuteronomy 7.3). And the suggestion is that this was now coming out in their behaviour.
The second is that they had become like those that they had lived amongst. They had been established in the land of the Canaanites and had aped the Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites in the land, who had ‘fathered’ and ‘mothered’ them. That was why they were behaving as they were.
The third was that Jerusalem itself was a city of bastard descent, a city of mixed race, and those races evil. In the wider meaning of the terms the Jebusites who dwelt in Jerusalem were Canaanites and Amorites, and were associated with the Amorites and Hittites as dwellers in the mountains (Numbers 13.29), and they lived among the Israelites, no doubt being forced to submit to the covenant with Yahweh after the capture of the city by David.
Thus Israel’s professed purity was a farce. There was nothing in their background to make them especially attractive. Anything they had was because of God’s goodness to them.
16.4-5 “And as for your nativity, in the day that you were born your navel was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you. You were not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied you to do any of these things to you, to have compassion on you. But you were cast out in the open field because your person was abhorred in the day that you were born.”
‘Your nativity.’ The time of birth and what immediately followed. The thought is probably that of the ‘birth of the nation’ in Egypt, a slave nation treated abominably. But the more general idea was that they were basically unwanted so that no one bothered with them, even those who had ‘fathered’ them. (The idea that it was the Abrahamic period mainly in mind is denied by the fact that the father was an Amorite and the mother a Hittite).
The meaning of the word translated ‘to cleanse’ is unknown. It is probably a technical term for cleaning up the baby and removing the stains of afterbirth. ‘Salting’ was probably for antiseptic purposes. Swaddling was wrapping up the baby for protection. But no one did this for Israel. They were unwanted. So they were, as it were, tossed into a field in their filthy state just as they came out of the womb, because they were hated. This, alas, was all too often the experience of an unwanted baby. The idea behind all this is that in themselves they had nothing to be proud of. Their state was such that they were only to be pitied.
16.6 “And when I passed by you and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you, ‘In your blood, live.’ Yes I said to you, ‘In your blood live.’ ”
Yahweh found her in her dreadful state, kicking and struggling in her own blood and had pity on her. There is divided opinion as to whether ‘in your blood’ is part of what Yahweh said or not. Either we read ‘I said to you in your blood, “Live”, where there is huge emphasis on the fact that Israel was lying in her blood, to bring out her dreadful state (much blood would have been spilled in Egypt), or the phrase means basically ‘I said to you, “out of imminent death, live” ’. Either way the important fact is that Yahweh commanded and gave life. Without Him she would have ceased to be. Life began again when Israel was spared at the Passover and crossed the Sea of Reeds. But it is also a beautiful picture of the new birth, something experienced by God’s true people in every age.
Several versions and the LXX omit the repetition of ‘in your blood live’, but it is typical of ancient literature and is probably repeated for emphasis. It was the moment of deliverance from which all else followed.
16.7 “I caused you to multiply (literally ‘made you a myriad’) as the bud of the field, and you increased and flourished (‘waxed great’) and you attained to exceptional ornament (‘ornament of ornaments’). Your breasts were fashioned and your hair was grown. Yet you were naked and bare.”
The vivid pictures are striking. They flourished like buds of the field springing up all over the ground, and growing into full flower, attaining to full beauty (excellent ornament). Lack of ornaments was seen as a sign of mourning and sorrow and unacceptability (Exodus 33.4). Their ‘ornaments’ are then described, fully fashioned breasts and long and luxurious hair. These were indeed the ‘ornament of ornaments’ for a woman. The pictures have in mind that He is speaking to a whole people so that the description takes this into account. The whole people flourished as one.
Some would change the text to read, ‘you came to the time of menstruation’ (requiring a slight change in the Hebrew text) but this is unnecessary, although the similarity to the word for menstruation may have been the reason for the words used.
‘Yet you were naked and bare.’ Although they had received life and beauty there was still that which was lacking which God would now provide for them. The account is not intended to be fully realistic (even though grown she was still covered in blood - verse 9). It is poetry in prose. It is depicting her state as she was in herself and the total dependence of Israel on Yahweh for all that she had.
The idea of nakedness not only suggests need but also sinfulness. When Adam and Eve had sinned they ‘knew that they were naked’ (Genesis 2.7, 10). They were exposed in all their sinfulness and weakness. Nakedness regularly pictures abject need and sinfulness (2 Chronicles 28.19; Isaiah 20.3-4; Lamentations 1.8; Ezekiel 23.29; Hosea 2.3; Micah 1.8; Nahum 3.5).
16.8 “Now when I passed by you and looked on you, behold your time was the time for love. And I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine.”
The time moves on and Israel was maturing. The Great Deliverer again passed by and recognised that it was time to take Israel as His wife because she had reached ‘the time for love’. The spreading of the skirt of his long cloak over her indicated taking her under his protection and an acceptance of her as His betrothed (Ruth 3.9). Thus she who had been naked was no longer naked. She was His, and covered by Him. This incident almost certainly refers to the Sinai covenant, and Sinai made provision to deal with the problem of Israel’s sin And this is confirmed by the words that follow.
‘Yes, I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine.’ While the covenant represents marriage in the story (compare Proverbs 2.17; Malachi 2.14), the use of the term ‘covenant’, rather than ‘married you’, confirms that it refers to Yahweh’s covenant with His people. Compare Exodus 19.4-6 together with Deuteronomy 28.9; Exodus 24.8. These were precisely the promises of the Sinai covenant.
16.9-12 “Then I washed you with water, yes, I thoroughly washed away your blood from you, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered work and shod you with sealskin, and I girded you about with fine linen, and covered you with silk. I decked you also with ornaments, and I put bracelets on your hands and a chain on your neck, and I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.”
Yahweh had then washed her from all her past imperfections and anointed her with oil, both to beautify her and to demonstrate that she was His. Anointing with oil always ritually represented the dedication of something to Yahweh.
Then He clothed her with the finest clothes and decked her with jewellery and ornaments (compare Genesis 24.53; Psalm 45.13-15; Isaiah 61.10). Embroidered work was very expensive, sealskin (dugong skin) was of the finest quality. Fine linen and silk were for the wealthy. The ornaments were such as any woman of a distinguished family would wear (compare Isaiah 3.21). Finally He placed a royal crown on her head. The foundling had become a queen. The growth of Israel to such an exalted position may well refer to her exaltation under David, when she was queen of the nations round about, and possibly to the earlier days of Solomon in all his splendour. And what had happened to Israel had also happened to Jerusalem (Psalm 48.2; 50.2). But we must not limit it to historical allusions. She had become a queen in God’s eyes.
16.13 “Thus were you decked with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered work. You ate fine flour, and honey, and oil, and you were extremely beautiful and you prospered to royal estate.”
The picture is idealised. It was how God saw His people once they were cleansed. They who had been sinners had become beautiful in His eyes, and He had made them His queen, and had richly provided everything that they could need. The gods of other nations had goddesses as their consorts, but Yahweh’s consort was His people. He was to be all in all in their eyes, and they were His beloved. Compare for a similar figure in the New Testament Ephesians 5.26-27.
16.14 ‘ “And your renown went forth among the nations for your beauty, for it was perfect through my majesty which I had put on you,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
Their covenant with Yahweh, and His faithfulness to it, had given them renown among the nations, and God had bestowed on them His majesty. In their particular area they had reached the pinnacle, admired by all. All the world came to hear the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 10.23-24). And they owed it all to Yahweh. But pride always comes before a fall because man is basically sinful. And that is just as true today as it ever was.
Israel’s Base Response to the Goodness of Yahweh.
16.15 “But you trusted in your beauty, and played the prostitute because of your renown, and poured out your whoredoms on all who passed by. His it was.”
The beauty and renown that God had given them proved their downfall. It led to disobedience and idolatry. We only have to think of the effect on Solomon of his foreign wives, all the result of his splendour (1 Kings 11.1-3). They inveigled him into idolatry (1 Kings 11.4-6). And what the king did the people gladly copied. ‘On all who passed by.’ They had previously been delivered by Yahweh passing by (verses 6, 8), but now those who passed by were lovers, and they led her astray. These lovers would once not have looked at her, but because of what God had done for her she had now become desirable. ‘His it was.’ Each one of them could have her, she was free and easy.
16.16 “And you took of your clothes and made for yourself high places decked with various colours (RSV ‘gaily decked shrines’), and played the prostitute on them. The like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.”
She stripped off her clothes so as to attract her lovers. Then the fine and rich clothes that Yahweh had given her in her prosperity were used to decorate the high places where the gods of Canaan were worshipped and honoured (compare 2 Kings 23.7), and sexual perversions took place in accordance with Canaanite religion (compare Jeremiah 3.2).
‘The like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.” What they did was so disgraceful that the like of it has been known neither before or since.
16.17 “You took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and played the prostitute with them.”
The picture is vivid. It was as though they had made the god-images in order to make love to them. But it was of course done with the cult male and female prostitutes. And they had done it with the silver and gold that Yahweh in His goodness and love had given them!!
16.18 “And you took your bordered clothes and covered them (the idols), and set my oil and my incense before them.”
The catalogue of dastardly behaviour continues. They put the fine clothes that Yahweh had given them on idols. The oil and incense that He had given them in abundance they offered to false gods. But we need to beware before we are too amazed. Many a Christian life has been withered because of God’s goodness to them which has made them forget Him. Wealth and prosperity are the enemy of the dedicated spiritual life.
16.19 “My bread also which I gave you, fine flour, and oil, and honey with which I fed you, you even set it before them for a sweet savour. And thus it was, says the Lord Yahweh.”
All the things which Yahweh had given them they passed on to their idols. The bread on which they had fed abundantly, and the luxury food which He had given them to enjoy, a far cry from the hunger and poor food they had known in the wilderness before they received the manna (Exodus 16.3), these they offered, not in thanksgiving to Yahweh, but as a sweet savour to their new gods. God had fulfilled all His promises to them and they had thanked Him by offering His abundance to their ‘lovers’.
‘And thus it was, says the Lord Yahweh.’ Thus it was, that was the real situation. This was God’s final summary on their behaviour. All the things He had given them, luxury food, luxury clothing, luxury jewellery, gold and silver and ornaments, all the things He had piled on them in His grace and goodness, they were giving to His ‘rivals’. That was how they had behaved, and were behaving. Could there be anything worse? Yes, there could. Worse was to follow.
16.20-21 “Moreover you have taken your sons and your daughters, whom you have borne to me, and these you have sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whoredoms a small matter that you have slain my children, and delivered them up, making them pass through the fire to them?”
To all that had gone before they had added this, that their own children whom they had borne to Yahweh, for all the firstborn were especially His, they had passed through the fire to Molech, to be devoured by him in the fire. Were their previous sins of unfaithfulness of such light importance that they could add this gross sin? Note the ‘my children’. They had slain those who belonged to Yahweh by offering them to other gods. Thus they had added theft, murder and sacrilege to their other sins.
Child sacrifice had been long known in Canaan, usually, but not always, to Molech, (Leviticus 18.21; 20.2-5; Deuteronomy 18.10; 2 Kings 23.10; Psalm 106.38). That was why God had given the important lesson to Abraham that it was not by slaying his son that he would please God (Genesis 22). He learned the lesson that, in the words of Micah, ‘shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does Yahweh require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6.6-8). But it seems to have increased dramatically around the period just prior to that in which Ezekiel is speaking (Jeremiah 7.31; 32.35).
16.22 “And in all your abominations and your whoredoms you have not remembered the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare and were weltering in your blood.”
He referred them back to what had been their miserable condition. He pointed out how they had forgotten the past, and what He had done for them, and what they owed to God. It was clearly stated in the covenant. ‘I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” but they had overlooked the fact. How easy it is to forget God’s faithfulness and goodness to us when things are going well. See especially the warning in Deuteronomy 6.10-12.
‘All your abominations and your whoredoms.’ In their case it was their idols which concentrated their minds on earthly things and behaviour, together with the sensual rites and accompanying unrestrained lust. In our case, although we may not erect idols, we have our own gods; singers, footballers, sportsmen, Mammon, Sex and Greed. These too take our minds from God and have become far more to us than they should.
16.23-25 “And so it is after all your wickedness - woe, woe to you, says the Lord Yahweh - that you have built yourself an eminent place (or vaulted chamber) and have made yourself a lofty place on every street. You have built your lofty place at every head of the way, and have made your beauty an abomination, and have opened your feet to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your whoredom.”
The ‘eminent place’, and the ‘lofty places’ on every street, may refer to the brick pedestals used by cult prostitutes in Assyrian inscriptions and the cult elevations symbolising the sacred marriage of the fertility goddess. Their encouragement of cult prostitution was seen by Yahweh as portraying their own adultery.
Alternately they may be prominent roof top shrines indicating the availability of fertility rites in connection with Canaanite worship. They would then be the equivalent of religious brothels. Either way these proliferated and could be found in every street and especially at prominent places.
‘And have opened your feet to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your whoredom.’ This indicates the widespread participation in such rites, but it is also preparing for what follows. They had welcomed the Egyptians (verse 26), had to tolerate the Philistines (verse 27), and had opened their arms to the Assyrians (verse 28) and the Babylonians (verse 29). This refers to political intrigue, and the constant seeking of help from anyone but Yahweh. It resulted in the necessity for introducing the gods of these nations and giving them exalted status. But that did not excuse them taking them to their hearts and filling Jerusalem with them. The fact was that they did not just reluctantly tolerate them, they showed how depraved they were by welcoming them with opened legs, (a very vivid metaphor).
16.26 “You have committed fornication with the Egyptians, your neighbours, great of flesh, and have multiplied your whoredom to provoke me to anger.”
It began when Solomon took Pharaoh’s daughter as his wife to magnify himself and to cement a political alliance with Egypt (1 Kings 3.1; 9.16, 24; 11.1-4). Egypt was the major nation to the south of Canaan and a natural ally against any enemies from the north, but friendship with Egypt meant involvement with their gods, which included Pharaoh, manifestation on earth of Osiris, and thus fraternisation with Egypt was forbidden by the prophets (17.15; 20.7; 23.3; 2 Kings 17.4; 18.21, 24; 25.26; Isaiah 30.1-5; 31.1; 36.6; Jeremiah 24.8; 37.5; 41.17; 42.4, 14-19; 43.7; 44 all; Lamentations 5.6).
‘Great of flesh.’ Egypt from a fleshly point of view appeared to be a formidable ally. But Israel should have known that Yahweh was greater and should not have looked to Egypt (Isaiah 30.2).
‘And have multiplied your whoredom to provoke me to anger.’ This is an indication of Israel’s fascination with the gods of Egypt which resulted in their worshipping them and serving them (Jeremiah 44.8, 15, 17, 25).
16.27 “Behold therefore I have stretched out my hand over you, and have diminished your allotted portion, and delivered you into the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who are ashamed of your lewd ways.”
Compare here 2 Chronicles 28.18; Isaiah 9.12 which demonstrate that the Philistines were an ever present menace, taking advantage, when they dared, of any weakness. They occupied many towns of Judah ‘and dwelt there’. The extent of Israel’s land was becoming less and less. Thus when Jerusalem rebelled against Babylon it would again give them their opportunity which they took (25.15), for which they would eventually be punished by God (25.15-17; Jeremiah 25.20; 47.1; Zephaniah 2.4-5; Zechariah 9.6).
So as a result of Philistine activity their ‘allotted portion’ had been further reduced, and life became a burden. We have an example of this from the Taylor Prism where Sennacherib says of Hezekiah ‘His towns which I had despoiled I cut off from his land, giving them to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza, and so reduced his land.’ All these were Philistine kings. But God here points out that the Philistines were more righteous than Jerusalem for they despised the flagrant behaviour of Jerusalem in welcoming many gods. Even the ungodly Philistines were mainly faithful to their own gods.
16.28 “You have played the prostitute also with the Assyrians because you were insatiable, yes, you have played the prostitute with them, and yet you were not satisfied.”
The resume of their history continues. They had welcomed the Assyrians and their gods with open arms (2 Kings 16.7-16; 21.5). And this was not because of direct invasion but because they sought his help against their enemies. The result was that the Assyrians never again left them alone until they themselves were defeated by the Babylonians. Such submission to Assyria necessitated the acceptance of their gods to some extent, but they went further than that, for they actually welcomed them
‘And yet you were not satisfied.’ Their apostasy had done them no good. They found no peace of mind or heart, nor did they find constant prosperity. Yahweh was no longer with them.
16.29 “You have moreover multiplied your whoredom in the land of Canaan as far as Chaldea and yet you were not satisfied herewith.”
Now the Babylonian gods were included in their worship, both in Jerusalem and in exile (as we have seen earlier they had a whole miscellany of gods - chapter 8). So the whole of their history since the time of Solomon has been one of unfaithfulness to Yahweh and slavering over other gods, together with the immoral ways of those gods. Yet still they were not satisfied.
16.30-32 “How weak is your heart,” says the Lord Yahweh, “seeing you do all these things, the work of an imperious, whorish woman, in that you build your eminent place at the head of every way, and make your lofty place in every street, and have not been like a prostitute in that you scorn hire. A wife who commits adultery. Who takes strangers instead of her husband.”
Israel’s behaviour is shown for what it is, the product of a weak and faithless heart. She behaves just like a prostitute, with her prostitute podiums and cultic shrines offering these services. But she is worse than a prostitute, for she does not do it for money in order to survive, but she does it because she loves it, deliberately faithless to her husband with any stranger who passes by. And it is flagrant. She does not creep about, ashamed of what she is, but is ‘imperious’, proudly displaying her behaviour and arrogant with it.
16.33-34 “They give gifts to all prostitutes, but you give your gifts to all your lovers, and bribe them, that they may come to you on every side for your whoredoms. And the contrary is in you from other women in your whoredoms, in that none follows you to commit whoredom. And whereas you give hire, and no hire is given to you, you are therefore the opposite of them.”
Israel’s unforgivable state is emphasised. Rather than being the one who was paid, she actually pays in order to indulge in prostitution. She bribes men to prostitute her, in order to ensure that she can be satiated. There is no other prostitute like this. She is unique. No other follows her example. Indeed her behaviour in paying instead of receiving payment demonstrates that she is the opposite of them. She has debased herself worse than a prostitute.
Two thoughts possibly lie behind this example. Firstly that Judah first came to the notice of Assyria, before Assyria had showed any belligerence towards her, when she sent payments and appealed for her help, and then openly welcomed her gods without any constraint being put on her (2 Kings 16.7-16; Hosea 8.9), followed by her willingness to expose herself to Babylon, even under a good king (2 Kings 12-15). And secondly that she did indeed seem to welcome any gods which came to her notice, without any persuasion being necessary, so that she gave rather than received.
So Ezekiel has outlined a number of reasons for the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the exile; excessive vanity (verse 15a), spiritual prostitution (vv. 15b-19), human sacrifices (verses 20-21), forgetting God’s goodness and unmerited favour (verse 22), exposing her prostitution openly (verses 23-25), trusting to pagan nations rather than to Yahweh (verses 26-29), and a weak heart and mind that had cast off all moral restraints (verses 30-34).
God’s Judgment On Her Behaviour - She will Be Treated As An Adulteress.
16.35 “For this reason, O prostitute, hear the word of Yahweh, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, because your brass was poured out and your nakedness discovered through your whoredoms with your lovers, and because of all the idols of your abominations, and for the blood of your children which you gave them, therefore behold I will gather all your lovers with whom you have taken pleasure, and all those whom you have loved, with all those whom you have hated, I will even gather them against you on every side and will make open your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness.”
Ezekiel now directly addresses Israel, by ‘the word of Yahweh’, as a prostitute in process of her profession. She is stripped of her clothing and her discharges come out of her. There may be the idea that she continued to ply her trade during her menstrual period (‘like brass poured out?), for menstrual discharge was looked on as ritually ‘unclean’. But he may just have in mind discharges during sexual intercourse. Thus here she was revealing herself as Ezekiel saw her, disgusting and without shame
The use of the word ‘brass’ here must be compared with its use by Ezekiel in connection with refining. (He speaks as a layman, not as a metalsmith). It has in mind inferior brass with its impurities which it is difficult to refine out. Thus in 24.11 it is closely allied to dross and parallels the ‘filthiness’ and ‘rust’ that gathers in an inferior brass cauldron, the impurities of which cannot be removed even when it melts in the fire; and in 22.18 the idea is of brass being melted in the furnace and being like dross.
Compare Jeremiah 6.28-29 where Jeremiah says, ‘they are all as brass and iron, they all deal corruptly’ and along with iron it is seen as containing impurities such that it cannot be refined, and is compared with ‘refuse silver’. So the ‘brass poured out’ here has in mind what is inferior and unrefinable because of its impurities. ‘As brass poured out’ may well have become a familiar and vivid way of speaking of a woman’s discharges.
Israel’s disgusting state is then clarified. She is responsible for the multiplying of idols, and the lewdness that goes with them, they are like her discharges. And she is especially responsible for the blood of her slain children offered to these idols.
16.37 “Therefore behold I will gather all your lovers, with whom you have taken pleasure, and all those you have loved, with all those you have hated, I will even gather them against you on every side, and will reveal your nakedness to them that they may see all your nakedness.”
Prostitutes who offer themselves in public gathering places where drinking also goes on, which would be the case with cult prostitutes, are often subjected to degrading treatment by those who have previously made use of their services, in a state of drunkenness. It was probably a familiar sight in Jerusalem. That is what is in mind here. A prostitute subjected to humiliation and degradation by her drunken and debased former ‘lovers’.
I remember having a case described to me which took place in a Cyprus bar, where the prostitute, whom many of them had previously ‘used’, was seized by a gang of drunken soldiers, who used a bottle neck to perform degrading acts on her. It had even disgusted the far from puritanical (non-Christian) soldier who told me of it.
Thus would Israel suffer from those all around her, both her ‘allies’ (those whom she loved) and her enemies who were waiting to pounce (those whom she hated). They would surround her, gaze on her abject state, and abuse her, a vivid picture of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and subsequent devastation of the land by Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites and Philistines (Ezekiel 25).
Note the ‘you have taken pleasure’. It is a rare prostitute who takes pleasure in what she does. They usually despise their clients, although they are sensible enough to hide it. But Israel was so licentious that she had actually taken pleasure in her disgraceful behaviour.
16.38 “And I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged. And I will bring on you the blood of fury and jealousy.”
Because of her licentious behaviour and sacrifice of her children to idols she will be treated as an adulterous wife and a child exposer, and judged accordingly. ‘Exposure’ involved abandoning a new born child somewhere to die. Many a woman, and especially prostitutes, rid themselves of an unwanted child by exposure. The idea is particularly poignant in that that was what God had pictured as happening to Israel in verse 5. Thus the offering of their children by fire to the gods is likened to such child exposure.
‘And I will bring on you the blood of fury and jealousy.’ This may mean that she will receive what is due both from those who are angry at her doings, and those who are jealous of her, from her ‘lovers’, but more probably the idea is of the fury and jealousy of her divine Husband Who demands the ultimate penalty on such behaviour (compare verse 42). Both adultery and murder incurred the death penalty. All may of course be in mind here for the statement is general.
16.39-41 “I will also give you into their hand , and they will throw down your eminent place, and break down your lofty places, and they will strip you of your clothes, and take your fair jewels, and they will leave you naked and bare. They will also bring up an assembly against you, and they will stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. And they will burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women, and I will cause you to cease from playing the prostitute, and you will no more offer yourself for hire.”
Ezekiel quite happily intermixes his illustrations and connects them with the realities of its fulfilment. Firstly Israel as linked with Jerusalem will be handed over by her Husband to her lovers who will dismantle all her prostitute’s equipment, remove her beautiful clothing and her jewellery, and leave her naked in her shame. She would lose everything that God had given her, through the activity of the very lovers that she had chased.
The picture then moves on to her being brought before the gathered assembly of judges (where she may have lost her fine clothing and jewellery but would not strictly be naked, but Ezekiel is piling on the humiliation) where she is sentenced to death by stoning, the penalty for adultery (Deuteronomy 22.21-24; Leviticus 20.10) and for encouraging others to idolatry (Deuteronomy 13.10), and also to be thrust through with the sword and burnt with fire, the penalty for a city which turns to idolatry (Deuteronomy 13.15-16).
‘And execute judgments on you in the sight of many women.’ One purpose of stoning was a warning to women who saw in it the consequence of adultery and idolatry. Even so will the judgments Yahweh pours out on Israel and Jerusalem be a warning to all who see it, and especially to the exiles.
All these things would be literally fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. The sufferings of the people of a besieged city that did not surrender was always dreadful in the extreme, the men were unmercifully slaughtered, the women raped and then often killed. No pity would be shown.
‘And I will cause you to cease from playing the prostitute, and you will no more offer yourself for hire.’ Israel’s ability to behave in this way will cease because Jerusalem and the land of Israel will be no more.
16.42 “So will I cause my fury on you to cease, and my jealousy will depart from you, and I will be quiet, and angry no more.”
Yet in all this God’s purpose is finally merciful. He wants to rid His people of idolatry so that they will again respond in full to the covenant. Once their sin has been dealt with His righteous anger against sin will no longer be necessary. Once their idolatry has ceased He will no longer need to be concerned about their not looking to Him. He will no longer need to be a ‘jealous God’. The terms fury and jealousy are anthropomorphic and not to be taken too literally. His ‘fury’ is His set attitude against sin as the moral Judge of the universe, His ‘jealousy’ is His righteous concern against their behaving in a way which is detrimental to themselves and to the world. As with any good and righteous husband, God’s heart is set against anything that wrecks His wife’s life, and uniquely His wife will be able to benefit from His punishment, for some of His people remain.
So will He be ‘quiet’. His work will have been accomplished, justice will have been satisfied, and He will be able to restore His people to their old relationship.
God Compares Jerusalem and Israel With Samaria and Sodom. She Is Worse Than Both.
16.43 “Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have fretted me in all these things, therefore, behold, I also will bring your way on your head,” says the Lord Yahweh, “and you will not go on committing lewdness above all your abominations.”
This verse connects what has gone before with what now follows. God remorselessly confirms that there is no alternative to judgment. Israel have forgotten all He has done for them, causing Him great distress because they are only harming themselves, and the world to whom they should have been a witness. Thus they must suffer the consequences, for the sake of others who see what occurs (verse 41), for if they do not they will simply magnify their lewdness and become worse and worse, which is something that God cannot allow.
16.44-46 “Behold every one who uses proverbs will use a proverb against you, saying, ‘As is the mother, so is her daughter.’ You are your mother’s daughter, who loathes her husband and her children, and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathe their husband and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite, and your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells at your left hand, she and her daughters, and your younger sister who dwells at your right hand is Sodom and her daughters.”
These verses present a miserable picture of humanity, with its fightings and squabbles, its hatreds and prejudices, its racialism, and its constant enmity of man against man, and nation against nation, each hating the other. And the proverb thus applies, ‘like mother, like daughter’. The ‘mother’ of Jerusalem and Israel was a Hittite, whose husband was an Amorite. But they all hated each other. The relationships must be accepted loosely as representing inter-relationship and connection. We do not need to ask who their husbands were in the other cases for we are not told. It is a parable and no application is made. It simply means anyone associated with them.
All the inhabitants of Canaan had been constantly at war with each other, as the Amarna letters reveal to us. There was no love lost between them. They regularly loathed each other (read the correspondence). Thus the Hittites loathed the Amorites, (their ‘husband’), who had long dwelt alongside them, and they loathed the Israelites, and they loathed the Sodomites. And the Samaritans hated everyone around them, and the Sodomites had originally loathed the Hittites and Amorites, and the pre-Israelites. The point is that everyone hated everyone.
The names were carefully selected. The Amorites and the Hittites were of those Canaanites who were utterly condemned by Yahweh for their evil and licentious ways (the first two names in Deuteronomy 20.17, see also 7.1-5; and note 1 Kings 9.20; 2 Chronicles 8.7). The people of Samaria were the northern tribes of Israel who demonstrated what they were by being carried off into captivity for their extreme sinfulness (2 Kings 17.6-18). The Sodomites were a byword for sin, licentiousness and complacency. Yet all of them were to be seen as better than Jerusalem, (the heart of every Israelite in Jerusalem would be appalled at the thought), as she was revealed by her behaviour.
In view of the stated fact that the husband of the Hittite was an Amorite it is doubtful if we can associate the ‘husbands’ with God (as in the previous parable) as some seek to do. It is indeed very questionable whether Ezekiel would see God as the husband of the wicked Sodomites. The ‘daughters’ would be their related towns and villages. (Such are regularly called ‘daughters’ in Joshua and elsewhere. Verse 48 seems to exclude reference to ‘daughters’ as signifying children offered as sacrifices).
16.47 “Yet you have not walked in their ways nor done after their abominations, but, it is a very little thing, (or ‘in a very little time’) you were more corrupt than them in all your ways.”
The statement is sarcastic. They had not behaved like Sodom and Samaria, no, they had behaved far worse. Sodom and Samaria were bad enough, but Israel had sinned even more. ‘It is a very little thing’ is probably the intended meaning and is heavy in sarcasm. ‘A little thing’ was how Israel might have stated it, but not Yahweh. (The translation ‘In a very little time’ would suffer from the fact that Sodom’s history was long past, even though such lengths of time were then probably very vague to most people).
16.48-50 “As I live,” says the Lord Yahweh, “Sodom your sister has not done, she nor her daughters, as you have done, you and your daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread and prosperous ease were in her and in her daughters. Nor did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before me. Therefore I took them away when I saw them (or ‘as I saw fit’).”
The evil behaviour of Sodom and her sister towns was proverbial. But, says Yahweh, the behaviour of Jerusalem and Israel was worse. Isaiah 3.9 says of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘the show of their countenance witnesses against them, and they declare their sin as Sodom.’ Lamentations 4.6 goes further and says, ‘for the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom.’ Indeed the destruction of Sodom is regularly spoken of in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 29.23; Isaiah 1.9; Jeremiah 49.18; Amos 4.11) as illustrating the awful judgment of God. And yet Sodom had not sinned as greatly as Israel.
The sins of Sodom are categorised. She was proud, complacent, basking in prosperity, lacking in concern for the poor and needy, arrogant and idolatrous (committed abomination), so much so that God took her people away when He saw them. We know something of her degradation and sexual perversion from Genesis 19, the natural result of following their religion and of the gods they worshipped. But she had not sinned like Jerusalem had done, multiplying their idolatry over so long a period. No wonder they were doomed.
16.51-52 “Neither has Samaria committed half of your sins. But you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and put your sisters in the right by all your abominations which you have done. You also bear your own shame in that you have given judgment for your sisters. Through your sins which you have committed, which were more abominable than they, they are more righteous than you. Yes, be you also confounded and bear your shame, in that you have put your sisters in the right.”
Samaria had been guilty of gross sin. They had built high places in all their cities and villages, down even to their watchtowers, and they had set up pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree. They had served idols and rejected the pleading of the prophets. They had ignored His Law and behaved like the nations round about them. They had even offered up their children as sacrifices. (See for the whole 2 Kings 17.9-17). Thus Yahweh had removed them out of His sight (2 Kings 9.23).
But their sins were not half those of Judah and Jerusalem, nor did they multiply gods half as much. Indeed compared with Jerusalem and Judah they were to be seen as a righteous nation. Jerusalem and Judah were so wicked that compared with them Samaria and Sodom were ‘in the right’. So Jerusalem had made the wickedness of Sodom and Samaria seem not half so much (compare Matthew 11.23-24 for a similar contrast). The indictment against Jerusalem is compelling. How could she be spared?
The Coming Restoration Will Bring Shame On Jerusalem.
Suddenly in the gloom there comes again the promise of future restoration. With all the blackness of the future before them final restoration is guaranteed, as is the restoration of Sodom and Samaria. But that restoration will fill them with shame as they remember their sins and what they have been.
16.53-54 “And I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in the midst of them, that you may bear your own shame, and may be ashamed because of all that you have done, in that you have become a consolation to them.”
The fortunes of both Sodom and Samaria will be restored. The areas in which both were found will prosper. And Jerusalem and Judah will also be restored that they may learn shame for all that they have done, and especially shame that they were so wicked that they made the other two look righteous in comparison, and that, by the judgment that came on them, they brought consolation to the others. Where they should have been witnesses by the purity of their lives and worship, they had instead become witnesses by the example set by the judgment that came on them.
This was partially fulfilled when Palestine flourished in later centuries as a place faithful to the One God, but found its greater fulfilment through the activities of the Christian church, and will find its final fulfilment in eternity in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The translation ‘I will turn again their captivity’ is a possible alternative translation (so RV). Compare Deuteronomy 30.3. But the equally acceptable translation ‘restore their fortunes’ is here more likely, especially in view of the fact that Sodom were not taken into captivity as the others were. The return from captivity is also, however, included.
16.55 “And your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, will return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters will return to their former estate, and you and your daughters will return to your former estate.”
Eventually both Palestine and the Jordan valley would be restored to their former state, and the judgment on them will have been lifted Whether in the case of Samaria we are to read into this the return of some of the exiles we are not told. But it was inevitable that once the opportunity arose some would make their way back to the land, whether to Samaria or to Judah and Jerusalem, and meanwhile Samaria would again prosper.
But most astonishing of all, Jerusalem and Judah would also be restored and would once again prosper, having learned well that idolatry must be allowed no more. Of the many lessons that they did not learn, that was one lesson that they learned to the full.
16.56 “Was not your sister Sodom a byword (‘report, news item’) in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your wickedness was discovered? Just as the time of the reproach of the daughters of Aram and of all who are round about her, the daughters of the Philistines who do despite to you round about. You have borne your lewdness and your abominations, says Yahweh.”
The idea here is that they had once used the name of Sodom as a byword for sin, until things changed when their own wickedness was uncovered, and now similarly they are being made a byword for sin by the people of Aram (Syria) and by the Philistines who are round about them. Thus they are receiving the consequence of their dreadful behaviour. They have replaced Sodom as the epitome of lewdness.
16.59 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will even deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in the breaking of the covenant.”
Because they have despised the oath they made to God, by breaking the covenant, God will deal with them accordingly. He will initiate the curses of the covenant (Deuteronomy 27.15-26). Both the marriage covenant and the Sinai covenant are in mind here, the one as a picture, the other as the reality.
The promise of Final Hope. The New Everlasting Covenant.
Once again Ezekiel surprises us by introducing hope in the midst of gloom. He reminds us that God’s purpose behind all that is to come is the final restoration of His people. This is a trait of the book, the shining of a light in the midst of almost unrelieved gloom. Jerusalem must indeed fall, the Temple must indeed be destroyed, the people must indeed go though much turmoil and suffering, hope must almost seem gone, but in the end God’s longsuffering and unmerited love towards His people will be revealed in complete restoration.
16.60-62 “Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish to you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed, when you will receive your sisters, your elder sisters and your younger, and I will give them to you for daughters, but not by your treaty-making (covenant). And I will establish my covenant with you and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
God will never forget His covenant with His people, made at the very beginning. His love and His promises made there still stand, hindered only by their intransigence. So one day He will establish with them a new covenant, an everlasting covenant.
When this takes place they will think back on their behaviour and be ashamed (compare 20.43; 36.31; Zechariah 12.10-14), and this covenant will not only include them, but also many ‘sisters’ both older and younger. God’s covenant will not only be for them, but for the world. And it will be none of their doing, nor will it be the result of their political manoeuvrings.
These verses are remarkable in what they reveal. Firstly they indicate that the first covenant, the covenant of Sinai, was insufficient because of man’s weakness and because it was not all inclusive.
Secondly it indicates that the new covenant will be everlasting. There will be no way of annulling it, for it will be brought about by God’s activity and not man’s, and will therefore succeed in its aims. It will thus never cease. We can compare here the words of Jeremiah where he speaks of the new covenant which will be written in men’s hearts, ‘I will put My law in their inward parts, and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying “Know Yahweh”, for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says Yahweh, for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more’ (Jeremiah 31.33-34). See also Ezekiel 36.25-32; 11.18-20; 37.26-28; Isaiah 59.21; 61.8. It promises full, total, and permanent restoration through the powerful working of God by His Spirit in men’s hearts.
Thirdly it excludes man having any part in it except as the recipient. It will not be by man’s treaty-making.
Fourthly it promises that at the last men will be ashamed of what they have been, as they respond with others to the grace of God.
Fifthly it reaches far beyond God’s original people to the whole world, to both old and new nations (the elder sisters and the younger sisters in their plurality go far beyond Sodom and Samaria), in the same way as His covenant with Abraham, for this covenant is the final outworking of that one (Genesis 12.3). That covenant, unsought, unmerited, and unconditional, began it all, this one, unsought, unmerited, and unconditional, will be its final realisation.
“And I will establish my covenant with you and you will know that I am Yahweh.” All the way through these past chapters we have had the refrain ‘and you will know that I am Yahweh’, and it has always seemed like a threat, for the point was always that they would know it through judgment on their sins, but now the promise is again given, and the idea is more personal and joyous (I will not say ‘more positive’ because all that God does is positive). Like a wife coming to know her husband whom she hardly knew, so will His people come to know Him in an everlasting relationship.
16.63 “That you may remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouths any more because of your shame, when I have forgiven you all that you have done, says the Lord Yahweh.”
The result of this restoration under a new, everlasting covenant will be a full realisation of their own undeserving and an awareness of complete forgiveness. On the one hand they will be silenced as they consider the former, never again to boost themselves, or clamour, or make great claims for themselves. On the other they will have perfect peace because of their awareness of a forgiveness which is full and absolute.
Chapter 17 The Parable of the Great Eagles and Its Significance.
God likens Babylon and Egypt to two great eagles having dealings with Israel and declares what their fate will be.
The Parable of the Two Great Eagles.
17.1 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’
Ezekiel was still under his vow of silence apart from when the word of Yahweh came to him. The people were slowly beginning to appreciate more and more that here was one who spoke from God.
17.2 “Son of man, put forth a riddle and speak a parable to the house of Israel.”
What was to follow was a riddle to be solved and a parable, here a story with a hidden meaning (but which was to be explained), with an important message for the people of Israel.
17.3-6 “And say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, full of feathers, which was many-coloured, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar. He cropped off the topmost of its young twigs and carried it into a land of trading (cana‘an). He took it into a city of merchandise. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a field prepared for seed, he placed it beside many waters. He set it as a willow tree. And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned towards him, and its roots were under him. So it became a vine, and sprouted out its branches, and produced sprigs.”
The eagle is portrayed as powerful (a great eagle with great wings), ferocious and threatening (long of pinion), and splendid (a full array of many-coloured feathers). Compare for the eagle as such a harbinger of judgment Deuteronomy 28.49; Jeremiah 28.40; 49.22; Lamentations 4.19; Habakkuk 1.8. Verse 12 tells us that it represented the king of Babylon.
The tall cedar represents the rebel confederacy against him in Syria and Palestine, in ‘Lebanon’, a term regularly used of the area (compare Joshua 1.4; 2 Kings 14.9; 19.23; Isaiah 10.34; 37.24; Zechariah 11.1-3), proud and upstanding. The cedars of Lebanon were famous as an example of what was tall and majestic (Isaiah 2.13; 1 Kings 4.33; 2 Kings 14.9; Psalm 104.16; Ezekiel 31.3). Thus in Judges 9.15 to ‘devour the cedars of Lebanon’ was to wreak havoc on a variety of tall trees.
The top of the cedar represents their aristocracy. The ‘topmost of the young twigs’ is probably Jehoiachin, king of Judah, seen from a patriotic viewpoint. He may have been the leader of the confederacy that united to oppose Nebuchadnezzar.
Babylonia was at this time famous for its trade, Many imported goods came from Babylon (compare Joshua 7.21; Revelation 18.11-15) and so it is described as ‘the land of trade’, and Babylon itself as the city of merchants. They were seen by Israel at the time as the trade centre of their world. The word for ‘trade’ is cana‘an, but the land of Canaan would not be called by this name at that time, and the word can also mean ‘trade’, which it almost certainly indicates here.
The ‘seed of the land’ refers to Zedekiah (verse 13, compare 2 Kings 24.17), who replaced Jehoiachin as king when Jehoiachin was transported, planted in fertile ground as though in a land where water did not depend on the rain but came from its many rivers. Thus he was dependent for his growth on Babylon. The ‘many waters’ of the Euphrates and Tigris with their tributaries are compared later with the ‘many waters’ of Egypt and the Nile and thus refer to Babylon. He was set ‘like a willow twig’, one that delights in water, and grew into a luxuriant vine (Compare Isaiah 44.4). Nebuchadnezzar was concerned to gain his support and loyalty, and watered him. But it was a vine of low stature, completely subservient and of limited power. Its branches bent towards the king of Babylon and its roots were under him. But in this way Zedekiah prospered and was fruitful.
17.7-8 “There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers, and behold this vine bent its roots towards him, and shot forth its branches towards him from the beds of its plantation, that he might water it. It was planted in a good field by many waters that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, and that it might be a goodly vine.”
The second great eagle is Egypt (verse 15). It too is mighty but it has no long pinions, nor is it as splendid. But Zedekiah was drawn from his loyalty and transferred his fealty to Egypt under Pharaoh Hophra (Jeremiah 44.30). His aim was that he might be watered by Egypt as he had been by Nebuchadnezzar and grow and be fruitful. Verse 8 is almost a repetition of verse 6. What Nebuchadnezzar had done for him he also sought from Egypt, but he hoped it would be in much more freedom and with greater honour as a goodly vine rather than one of low stature. He was anticipating the same prosperity from his alliance with Egypt. But it was a hope and not a reality. And it never came to fruition. (Some see verse 8 as recapping what Nebuchadnezzar had done for him, but the sequence suggests it refers to Egypt).
In both cases the vine is planted in Palestine, but watered first from Babylon and then Egypt. Each is seen as the source of water from their great and famed resources.
17.9-10 “You must say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Will it prosper? Will he not pull up its roots, and cut off its fruit that it may wither, that all its fresh springing leaves may wither, even without great power and many people to pluck it up by its roots? Yes, behold, being planted will it prosper? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it? It will wither in the beds where it grew.’ ”
Yahweh’s question is as to whether or not Nebuchadnezzar will prevent their hopes, and His answer is ‘yes’. He will pull up their roots (compare verse 7), and cut off their fruit so that its fresh springing leaves wither in the beds (of its plantation - verse 7) where it grew. And he will do it without needing great power or a large army. He will come like the hot east wind from the desert (compare 19.12; Job 27.21; Isaiah 27.8; Hosea 13.15) drying up all in front of him.
The Significance of the Parable.
17.11-12 ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Say now to the rebellious house, Do you know what these things mean? Tell them, behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took its king and its princes and brought them to him in Babylon.”
Once more the voluntarily dumb prophet speaks, for he has a word from Yahweh. And once again the exiles are called ‘the rebellious house’ (twelve times in all - compare 2.5, 6, 8; 3.9, 26, 27; 12.2, 3, 9, 25; 24.3). This was how God saw His people, a people in rebellion against Him, with their idolatry and their disobedience to His covenant demands, as especially revealed in the ten commandments as expanded in the Law.
The parable is expounded for them. Jehoiachin, his princes and the cream of the people of Judah and Jerusalem were carried into exile in Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24.10-16). Jehoiachin’s presence in Babylon (as Ya’u-kinu) is testified to by Babylonian cuneiform tablets detailing his rations of oil and barley.
17.13-14 “And he took of the royal seed and made a treaty (covenant) with him. He also brought him under an oath and took away the mighty of the land, that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his treaty (covenant) it might stand.”.
Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with his half-brother Mattaniah, and gave him a new name, Zedekiah (2 Kings 24.17), a sign of allegiance and vassalhood. Then he bound him by a solemn treaty and an oath of loyalty, and removing to Babylon all ‘the mighty’ of the land (2 Kings 24.16), left him weak and totally dependent. It was his policy so to weaken his subjects that they could not rebel. Thus they would be loyal and would survive and prosper at their own level, and so be able to pay more tribute.
17.15a “But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people.”
This verse hides a huge amount of intrigue between Jerusalem and Egypt. Who made the first contact we do not know, probably Egypt, seeking to foment trouble among the smaller states for their own benefit, and seeking assistance in their own plans against Assyria. But Zedekiah, saw his chance to break for freedom and ‘rebelled against the king of Babylon’ (2 Kings 24.20). This was contrary to Yahweh’s words through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27.12-15). He sent to Egypt for assistance in the form of soldiers and horses.
We have independent confirmation of such intrigues in the Lachish letters, a collection of twenty one ostraca found in the ruins of Lachish. ‘Konyahu, the son of Elnathan, commander of the army, has gone down on his way to Egypt’.
17.15b-16 “Will he prosper? Will he escape who does such things? Will he break the covenant and yet escape? As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke, even with him in the midst of Babylon he will die.”
The rebellion, which was strictly against the revealed will of Yahweh through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27.12-15), was doomed from the start. Egypt made a show of strength, and the siege on Jerusalem was lifted for a time (Jeremiah 37.5, 11), but they were no match for Nebuchadnezzar as Jeremiah had foretold. Here great emphasis is laid on Zedekiah’s failure to keep his oath and observe the terms of the treaty he had made with Nebuchadnezzar.
But the point is not so much that he broke the treaty, treaties made under duress were often being broken, but that he broke a treaty which had the approval of Yahweh. It was not only a covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, it was a covenant with Yahweh Himself (verse 19).
These words of Ezekiel would seem to have been given at the time when the rebellion was in process. And like Jeremiah he forecast only one end, defeat and humiliation, and resultant permanent exile in Babylon.
17.17 “Neither will Pharaoh and his mighty army and great company perform for him in the war, when they cast up mounds and build siege-walls to cut off many persons.”
God’s verdict on the Pharaoh and Egypt is that is that they will not be able to perform what they have promised when Jerusalem is besieged, and its inhabitants cut off by mounds and siege walls.
17.18 “For he has despised the oath by breaking the covenant, and behold, he has given his hand, and yet has he done all these things. He will not escape.”
The solemn nature of Zedekiah’s vows is brought out, made ‘an oath’ and ‘a treaty’ and ‘gave his hand’, all signs of fealty. There would seem to be implied that he did this willingly, probably to obtain the kingship. Such oaths and treaties were strange things, they were seen as sacredly binding, and yet it was generally recognised that an oath made under duress was only binding until you became strong enough to break it. Indeed had Jerusalem surrendered when Nebuchadnezzar approached Zedekiah might well have retained the kingship (Jeremiah 38.17-18). But the point was that such oaths and treaties justified strong reprisals.
‘He will not escape.’ He was doomed.
17.19 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “As I live, surely my oath which he has despised, and my covenant which he has broken, will I even bring down on his own head.”
Behind all that has been said, however, is the fact that Zedekiah and Judah had not only broken faith with Nebuchadnezzar, they had broken faith with Yahweh. What they had done to Nebuchadnezzar they had already done to Yahweh. They had constantly broken their solemn oath and covenant with Yahweh made at Sinai and regularly renewed. The idea is also probably that because Yahweh had committed them to keep faith with their oath and treaty with Nebuchadnezzar that had become part of that covenant. In the end it was for rebellion against and disobedience to Yahweh that these things were happening to them.
17.20 “And I will spread my net on him, and he will be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and will plead with him there for his trespass that he has trespassed against me.”
Zedekiah’s problem was that, because he had flagrantly disobeyed Yahweh, it was Yahweh who was against him. Thus as a hunter spreads his net and snares his prey, so will Yahweh trap Zedekiah, with the result that he will be taken captive to Babylon. Note that it is Yahweh Who snares him and Yahweh Who takes him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is but the instrument. And there Yahweh will have personal dealings with Zedekiah so as to win him over. The mercy of Yahweh never ceases.
17.21 “And all his fugitives in all his bands will fall by the sword, and those who remain will be scattered towards every wind, and you will know that I Yahweh have spoken it.”
Those who followed Zedekiah would suffer similar fates. They would be hunted down, they would be slain with the sword, and the remainder would be scattered in all directions. They would have lost homes, wealth and means of sustenance, becoming perpetual refugees. They would be dependent on the kindness of others for their lives, which would often not be forthcoming, for they were turbulent times.
17.22-23 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will also take of the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it. I will crop off from the topmost of his young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it on a high and eminent mountain. In the mountain of the house of Israel will I plant it, and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar. And under it will dwell all fowl of every wing. They will dwell in the shadow of its branches.” ’
In verse 4 the topmost of the young twigs represented Jehoiachin. Thus here we have a prophecy of the rise of the future expected Davidic king (34.23; 37.24; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-5; Jeremiah 23.5-6), partially fulfilled in Zerubbabel, but only finding its final fulfilment in Jesus Christ. This young twig will be planted in the mountain of the house of Israel, thus he will grow from a nation of Israel again established in the land.
The fact that it comes from the top of a lofty cedar, and is planted on a high and eminent mountain stresses his greatness and pre-eminence. He will grow and prosper and achieve pre-eminence for he will bring forth boughs and bear fruit and be a goodly cedar. And all birds of every kind will dwell in his branches, a picture of all nations finding shelter in him. Compare Matthew 13.2 where this refers to the Kingly Rule of God introduced by Jesus.
It is significant that Ezekiel does not make the mountain of the house of Israel more specifically the mountain of Yahweh’s house as earlier prophets do (Isaiah 2.2; Micah 4.1), as many commentators do here. But ‘the mountain’ regularly means the hill country stretching from Galilee in the north to Judah in the south. The idea of the temple being central is deliberately avoided. It is the king who is central.
17.24 “And all the trees of the field will know that I Yahweh have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish. I Yahweh have spoken and have done it.”
Some refer the high tree and the green tree to Assyria and Egypt, but in the parable the tree represented Israel. The point is that Israel who exalted themselves, and who claimed to be the living tree, will have been brought down, but the low and dry tree, which represents the despised remnant faithful to Yahweh (compare Isaiah 6.13), will flourish. Compare for the idea Isaiah 53.2.
‘I Yahweh have spoken and have done it.’ This crowns the chapter. All that will happen will result from the word of Yahweh (see Isaiah 55.11).
Chapter 18 Every Man Is Responsible For His Own Sin.
Ezekiel now outlines the behaviour of the righteous and the wicked in terms of three generations in one family, a righteous man and a wicked son, followed by a righteous grandson. The point behind this is to stress individual responsibility. Each will be judged in accordance with his response to God’s revealed will through the Scriptures. At this time this would include the Law of Moses and the early prophets. He also stresses the dangers of turning away from God and the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness always available. He finishes with a call to such repentance, a change of heart and spirit.
18.1 ‘The word of Yahweh came to me again saying.’
The prophet is still bound by his oath of dumbness but has again received a word from Yahweh to pass on.
18.2-3 “What do you mean that you use this proverb about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live,” says Yahweh, “you will not have occasion to use this proverb in Israel any more.”
The coming lesson on individual responsibility is opened by taking a popular proverb and rebutting it. Like all proverbs it contained truth when taken rightly, but was misleading when take wrongly. It is always true that our children to a certain extent suffer for our failures, as well as benefiting from our successes, that we are all to a certain extent what we are because of our backgrounds. But when this becomes fatalism, suggesting that we cannot escape the round of fate, it becomes dangerously misleading. In the end we are what we choose to be.
The idea of corporate sin is an example of this. There is a sense in which we are responsible for the activities of our families and communities, if we go along with them without protest, and seek to do nothing about them. If we share in their attitude, we share in any judgment made on them. But in the end, God tells us, we are each responsible for our own behaviour and actions. We are accountable as individuals. And that is how we will finally be judged.
This applied very much to the exiles. They looked back and to a large extent blamed their present situation on their ‘fathers’ (Lamentations 5.7). ‘Our fathers have sinned and are no more, and we have borne their iniquities’. And they had some justification for this. (Compare Exodus 20.5; 34.7; Numbers 14.18; Deuteronomy 5.9). But they now had to be faced up with the fact that in the end their fate depended on themselves, and that it was their own sin which was the cause of present judgment. See 3.16-21; 14.12-20; 33.1-20; Deuteronomy 24.16; 2 Kings 14.6.
There is a significant contrast here with the use of the similar proverb by Jeremiah 31.29. There Jeremiah was looking ahead to the coming age when the new covenant would be established. Then, he said, individual responsibility will be clearly established. But through Ezekiel God says that that time is now. We must not just wait for the future, He says, we must recognise that there is a need for full response to God even now.
That lesson is important. While Ezekiel too looked forward to the coming age, he also very much emphasised that what was true then could be true now. Would men then receive the Spirit? They could receive the Spirit now (verse 31 compared with 36.26). Would they be changed then? They could be changed now. While each age has its different emphases, God’s way of deliverance through faith in His mercy and forgiveness, and God’s gracious activity on behalf of His own through His Spirit, have not changed. Salvation has always been, and will always be, by faith through grace (Ephesians 2.8), as a result of the activity of His Spirit, and as a result of God’s own provision of a means of propitiation and reconciliation. It was just as true then as now.
18.4 “Behold all lives are mine. As the life of the father, so also the life of the son is mine. The one who sins, he will die.”
The use of the word ‘soul’ for nephesh in modern translations is misleading. In Ezekiel’s day the philosophical conception of ‘the soul’ did not exist. The nephesh was rather the life principle within him, the essence of what a man was. God had breathed on man and he became a living person (Genesis 2.7). Thus man had life because God had given him it, and that life could be taken away. As in most parts of the Old Testament, Ezekiel says nothing about an afterlife.
So here the emphasis is on this fact that man has life because he has been given it by God, that he is accountable for his own sin, and that if he does sin he will die. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23), but it is each for his own sin.
The Righteous Father.
18.5-9 “But if a man is just and does what is lawful and right, and has not eaten on the mountains, nor has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, nor has defiled his neighbour’s wife, nor has come near to a woman in her separation, and has not wronged any, but has restored to the debtor his pledge, has spoiled none by violence, has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered the naked with clothing, he who has not lent at interest to the needy, nor has taken any increase, who has withdrawn his hand from iniquity, has executed true judgment between man and man, has walked in my statutes, and has kept my judgments to deal truly. He is just. He will surely live, says the Lord Yahweh.”
The righteous man is now described, the one who is acceptable to God and thus free from judgment. He may suffer from the normal pressures of life, but he will not suffer for his sin. Each example is take from the law of the covenant.
‘If a man is just and does what is lawful and right.’ The test of a man is his obedience to the word of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures.
‘And has not eaten on the mountains, nor has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel.’ To ‘eat on the mountains’ referred to participating in festivals connected with idols in the high places (see Deuteronomy 12.2). These festivals in Canaan were orgies of sexual perversion (22.9) and involved mystical association with the gods in all their lax ways. Combined with this was the submission to, and worship of, these idols, bowing down to wood and stone in direct contravention of God’s demands (Exodus 20.5). As Paul would demonstrate, this would lead to corrupt living (Romans 1.18-32).
‘Nor has defiled his neighbour’s wife, nor has come near to a woman in her separation.’ The next test is in attitudes towards women. A man’s attitude and behaviour towards women is a good measure of his whole behaviour. The first refers to adultery (Exodus 20.14; Leviticus 20.10, 18; Deuteronomy 22.22), the stealing of what was most precious to a man. It declares strict bounds beyond which a man may not go. He may not touch another’s wife. The second refers to intercourse during the menstruation period (Leviticus 15.19-24; 18.19-20). The latter had health dangers in the circumstances of the time, but it was also intended to stress the sacredness of the blood as representative of life and death. At a time when life was cheap it was a constant reminder that God saw life as sacred.
“And has not wronged any.” This refers to behaving rightly towards his neighbours. The righteous man behaves as he would wish others to behave towards him. He always avoids doing what is harmful to others. Then specific examples follow, taken from the Law.
“But has restored to the debtor his pledge.” The basic idea is that he has treated his debtors, those who have borrowed from him in time of need, correctly and compassionately, not with exacting demands but with kindness and consideration. Exodus 22.25 puts it ‘you shall not be to him as a creditor’, that is, treat him harshly. When a cloak was take in pledge it had to be restored at night so that the debtor had necessary protection against the cold (Exodus 22.26-27; Amos 2.8; Deuteronomy 24.12-13). Compare also Deuteronomy 24.6 where a millstone was not to be accepted as a pledge because a man’s life depended on being his able to mill grain, and 24.17 where a widow’s clothing was not to be taken in pledge. Consideration was to be shown at all times. Thus a debtor was not to be humiliated (Deteronomy 24.10-11). And of course pledges had to be returned once the debt was paid off (Ezekiel 33.15), something that was not always done, on one pretext or another. So God watches carefully how we treat those who owe us a debt of any kind.
This is a reminder that God is concerned about how we run our businesses. Our excuse may be, ‘but this is business’. God says, ‘remember it is My business, and I will call you to account for how you run it.’
‘Has spoiled none by violence.’ This was especially spoken to the strong and influential, but included all who considered using violence on order to enrich themselves. The use of violence to obtain one’s will is repudiated whether in commercial activities or any other. It includes robbery with violence and banditry, but also has in mind all extortion.
‘Has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered the naked with clothing.’ The words are reminiscent of Matthew 25.35-36. Compare also Luke 16.19-31. The righteous man is revealed by his constant concern for the poor and needy, feeding the hungry and clothing those in rags. He is epitomised by consideration and thoughtfulness.
‘He who has not lent at interest to the needy, nor has taken any increase.’ This does not have in mind commercial lending, except where the borrower is in personal financial need. It has in mind lending to those in need and poverty and who found themselves in severe straits. To such the well-to-do man should be willing to offer help and assistance. And it was stated clearly in the Law that such people, when fellow-Israelites, must not be charged interest, nor must any ‘increase’ (percentage of produce) be accepted as reward (Exodus 22.25; Leviticus 25.35-37; Deuteronomy 23.19-20. See also Psalm 15.5; Proverbs 28.8). Loans should be made to needy people of God out of generosity of heart, not to make a profit or obtain a benefit.
‘Who has withdrawn his hand from iniquity, has executed true judgment between man and man, has walked in my statutes, and has kept my judgments to deal truly.’ This finally summarises the righteous man. He avoids wrong, is totally fair and upright in his dealings, is completely trustworthy as a witness, lives in accordance with the word of God as revealed through the Law and the Prophets and deals truly in all things.
‘He is just. He will surely live, says the Lord Yahweh.’ On such a man God declares His verdict. These are the ways of a man accepted as right with God. He behaves rightly towards both God and man. Thus he will enjoy a prosperous life and will not die prematurely under judgment.
The Wicked Son.
The purpose of the comparison is to refute the idea that a man suffers or benefits as far as God is concerned because of his family connections. A man may naturally benefit, or otherwise, as a result of his family environment, behaviour and wealth, but in the end God’s dealings with him will be solely on the basis of his own moral behaviour and attitude towards God.
18.10-13 “If he beget a son who is a robber, a shedder of blood, and who does any one of these things (i.e. those about to be described), and does not any of those (i.e those previously described), but has even eaten on the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife, has wronged the poor and needy, has spoiled by violence, has not restored the pledge, and has lifted up his eyes to the idols, has committed abomination, has given forth on usury and has taken increase. Shall he then live? He will not live. He has done all these abominations. He will surely die. His blood will be on him.”
A son may turn out to be the exact opposite of his father. He may steal or obtain by false means, he may use unnecessary violence, he may partake in idolatry, he may misuse his neighbour’s wife, wrong the poor and needy, receive gain by violence, misuse his debtors, demand high interest, and so on. And what will be the result? He will not be protected in God’s eyes by the goodness of his father, or the uprightness of his family. Because of his own behaviour God will judge him, and he will suffer accordingly.
This was why Israel’s religion was unique in its day. Yahweh was concerned with, and required, right moral behaviour. Other religions were concerned with doing what the gods required, satisfying them with gifts and sacrifices and subservience, and persuading them to give some assistance in matters of life with which they were concerned. Moral behaviour was not seen as required by the gods, and indeed the gods were often seen as worse behaved than men. But Yahweh was different. His covenant regulated men’s behaviour as well as their religious activity.
Note the close connection between eating on the mountains and defiling the neighbour’s wife. The two were regularly connected as men and women got drunk and behaved licentiously in fertility rites under the guise of religious activity. Note also ‘all these abominations’. Idolatry was ‘abominable’ because of the attitudes it encouraged and the fruit that it produced. Almost any evil behaviour could be justified from the behaviour of the gods. So when God condemned ‘abominations’ it included all these things.
‘Shall he then live? He will not live. He has done all these abominations. He will surely die. His blood will be on him.’ There is a clear indication here of a difference between death and punitive death. In some way he comes under punishment. Nothing is spelt out, but the impression is that in some way he will be positively punished. He will forfeit all that is good, and his death will be final.
The Righteous Grandson.
18.14-17 “Now, lo, if he beget a son who sees all his father’s sins which he has done, and fears (an alternative reading is ‘considers’), and does not such things, who has not eaten on the mountains, nor has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, has not defiled his neighbour’s wife, nor has wronged any, has not taken anything in pledge, nor has spoiled others by violence, but has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered those lacking in clothes with clothing, who has withdrawn his hand from the poor, who has not received usury nor increase, has executed my judgments, has walked in my statutes. He will not die for the iniquity of his father. He will surely live.”
A further generation, the third generation, is now depicted. Here the grandson is in opposition to his father’s evil way of life. He fears Yahweh and does not do things which are against His will, but practises the good that Yahweh demands. He avoids idolatry, sexual transgression, wronging others, taking pledges, using violence to obtain his ends. Rather he feeds the hungry, provides necessities to those in need, does not ill-use the poor, does not seek interest or a percentage of produce when lending to those in need.
‘Has executed my judgments, has walked in my statutes.’ Compare Leviticus 18.4. See also Deuteronomy 26:16-19; 30:15-20. This man seeks to please God. He obeys His word and His laws, and follows His ways continually. In the words of Micah 6.8, he ‘does justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with God’. Thus his way of life and his end are different.
‘He will not die for the iniquity of his father. He will surely live.’ The sentence that hangs over his father will not hang over him. Rather he will live (compare Leviticus 18.5). We cannot ascribe to Ezekiel simply the idea that all good men live long lives and all men die abruptly for it is, and was, patently not so. And while he probably had in mind the destruction of Jerusalem and the deaths that would result, even that does not satisfy his words, for he was referring to a number of generations. The idea was clearly that in some way the righteous ‘live’ in a way that the unrighteous do not, enjoying the blessing of God within in the inner spirit, finding the way more smooth with Someone to call on, enjoying a resulting improved prosperity. And yet having said that it certainly also looks forward to man’s end. The righteous die in blessing, the unrighteous under judgment (compare Psalm 73 where the ideas are expanded).
18.18 “As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did what is not good among the people, behold he will die in his iniquity.”
The grandson’s goodness will not protect his father. His father will be brought to account for his sins. He will take responsibility for his own actions. Nor will the righteousness of his father save him. Everyone is finally individually accountable.
Note the positiveness of the whole passage. Had the prevailing position been totally in mind the contrast would have been between two wicked and one righteous. But the concentration is here on the blessing of the righteous, and the attitude is positive. The threefold generations may well have in mind the idea that Israel began well, sank into sin and now have the opportunity to repent resulting in full restoration.
Furthermore it does away with the fatalism of those who felt that they were at the mercy of their fathers’ doings. Let them but arise and change and all will be different. Each man is responsible for his own sin and his own life, and finally determines his own destiny. The future can be rosy, but only if they go forward with their hand in the hand of God.
Ezekiel was not questioning the continuity of the effects of sin. The consequences of sin often go on long after the sin is forgiven, and sadly embrace others, often to the third and fourth generation. The life of David was constantly beset by the consequences of his forgiven sin, and he was finally refused the privilege of building the temple because of them. And his manner of life badly affected his sons. But Ezekiel is stressing final individual responsibility, and that God can compensate for a man’s background, and will not hold it against him where he seeks to do the right.
God Answers The Charge of Unfairness.
It is worthy of note that the people felt that God was being unfair precisely for the opposite reason than many of us would, bringing out how important, attitude transforming and thought provoking his words were seen to be. They considered, without thinking of the consequences with regard to themselves, that a man should suffer because of the evils of his family. They did not consider that that would then leave them with no hope. They did not see themselves as iniquitous. They looked on themselves as satisfactory.
18.19a “Yet you say, ‘Why does the son not bear the iniquity of the father?’
They had grown up with the idea of corporate responsibility. They judged others on the basis of it, and what we see as proper and right because of our background in the word of God they saw as unreasonable and unfair. If a man has done great harm, they argued, then his son must share the responsibility for it, whatever his own behaviour. And to a certain extent this is true in society, but God’s point is that it is only to a certain extent. Of course they would then have gone on to argue that because they belonged to the covenant community God should have treated them as special cases because of it. Thus they did not like the idea that they could be called to personal responsibility.
But God was pointing out that in the end everyone is responsible solely for his own actions, at that time a revolutionary thought. We only have to take responsibility for what we could have done something about. He was not denying that if we sit back and do nothing when wrong things are done then we share responsibility for them. Note His emphasis on the need for positive actions. But He was facing men up with the fact that blame finally depended on personal attitude and behaviour. He gave His reply.
18.19b-20 “When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all my statutes, and has done them, he will surely live. The person who sins, he will die. The son will not bear the iniquity of the father, nor will the father bear the iniquity of the son, the righteousness of the righteous will be on him (the righteous one), and the wickedness of the wicked will be on him (the wicked one).”
God’s reply was that each will be judged on his own merits, on the basis of what he reveals himself to be by his life. None will be condemned for the behaviour and attitudes of another. He who honours God and obeys His commands will live. He who by his sin and by his life reveals that He despises God and His ways will die.
Once again the words go deeper than mere life and death, containing some idea of quality of life as well as awfulness of judgment. ‘The one who has done right will surely live, -- the one who sins will die.’ The sinner will die in himself before he finally faces the judgment, and then the judgment will lie before him, the dreadful end, the judgment of death and dishonour. While the afterlife was as yet an unknown doctrine some trace of it lies behind the words, an instinct not yet put into words, although Daniel would enunciate it in Daniel 12.2-3.
‘The son will not bear the iniquity of the father, nor will the father bear the iniquity of the son, the righteousness of the righteous will be on him (the righteous one), and the wickedness of the wicked will be on him (the wicked one).’ The contrast is deliberately stark in order to establish the principle. It ignores the shades of difference that would arise the levels of righteousness and wickedness. It was the principle that mattered. Each is responsible for himself and will receive accordingly.
Elsewhere it would be revealed that the fully righteous would only be so because of the activity of God in their lives, for none were fully righteous in themselves. But here that was not under consideration. What was in question here was the basis and fairness of the judgment of the God who held each responsible for himself, and judged each one face to face only for his own sins.
18.21-22 “But if the wicked turn from all his sins which he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do what is lawful and right, he will surely live, he will not die. None of his transgressions which he has committed will be remembered against him. In his righteousness that he has done he will live.”
But the course of no man is set in stone. In God’s goodness there is always place for repentance. If a man turns from his sin to the way of righteousness he will receive life. Then all his sins will be forgiven him. They will be remembered no more for ever. Because he has been restored to God’s way he will live.
This assumes, of course, his returning to God’s covenant and coming to God through the means of propitiation and mercy He has provided. That was part of His statutes and laws. Righteousness included righteousness towards God and towards man. It is the attitude of a truly repentant man who receives forgiveness from God through the blood of sacrifice shed for him, and in trust and obedience as a forgiven sinner lives a new life within the covenant. This had to be so for the sake of the righteous as well, for they were most conscious of the fact that they were sinners.
18.23 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” says the Lord Yahweh, “and not rather that he should return from his way and live?”
These words should be seared on all our hearts. God has no desire for, or pleasure in, the death of the wicked. He does not want any to be lost in the judgment. But inevitably it must be so for they choose that way themselves. Their wills are turned against Him and they will not repent. But God would rather that they returned to Him and found mercy, so that He might give them life.
These words were an offer to those in Jerusalem, even in their last extremity. God had no pleasure in what He was about to bring on Jerusalem. He longed that they might respond and be saved. They were a cry to the exiles too. If they would but hear there was a way back. Any who responded would be saved. That was why Jeremiah had been sent among them. That was why Ezekiel was now speaking the words of Yahweh. Hope was there. If it had happened in Nineveh (Jonah 3) it could happen in Jerusalem. And yet all the while the inexorable message of judgment on Jerusalem revealed that it would not be. God knew that on the whole they would continue to reject Him, is spite of His offer of mercy. But when they did so it would not be because He had not sought them.
18.24 “But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations which the wicked man does. Shall he live? None of his righteous deeds which he has done will be remembered. In his trespass that he has trespassed and in his sin that he has sinned, in them will he die.”
God has no pleasure in the death of anyone. But if a righteous man turns away from his righteous living and takes up the way of wickedness, following in the abomination of flagrant disobedience of God’s laws, as illustrated in verses 10-12, his past righteousness will not save him. Thus once for all is done away the theory that a man will be measured in scales, the good against the bad. His righteous deeds will not be remembered. There will be nothing to put in the scales. He will be condemned for his current life. Present submission to God’s covenant and obedience to His requirements alone can make a man right with God. There is no room for presumption.
Note the differing words used for sin. Here ‘iniquity’ is ‘wl speaking of behaving unjustly, doing wrong. ‘Trespass’ is m‘l signifying acting counter to one’s duty to God. ‘Sin’ is chata’ meaning to miss the way or the goal, or the mark aimed at. To fall short. (See Judges 20.16 where it means to aim and not miss).
18.25a “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not equal’.”
The unusual use here of ‘the Lord’ by itself (see also verse 29 and contrast the usual ‘Lord Yahweh’) suggests that this had become a standard grievance of the people, so much so that it had taken a stereotyped form. They considered that God was not being fair to them. What they meant was that He was not fitting into the norms that they had laid down. They considered that guilt belonged to the group, and therefore to everyone in the group. And no doubt they considered that the group to which they belonged was of the better sort.
But they did not like God facing each of them up with their own sin. Of what benefit then was it that they had righteous forebears? Of what benefit that their family had a name as being ‘respectable’ and ‘religious’? Of what benefit that they walked in the way of their fathers, honouring them by doing as they did? Of what benefit that they were the people of the covenant, even if they had only followed it half-heartedly? God’s reply was ‘none’, and they did not like it. They did not like being faced with personal responsibility, and they considered it unfair.
18.26-28 “When the righteous man turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and dies in it, for the iniquity that he has done will he die. Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed, and does what is lawful and right, he will save himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all his transgressions which he has committed, he will surely live. He will not die.”
God again summarises His position. Each man is responsible for his own attitudes and doings, and for continuation in the right way. If he becomes a wicked man, any amount of previous righteousness will not save him, but if a man awakens to his sinfulness, repents of his wickedness, and begins to live his life in obedience to God and His ways, he will be forgiven and will find life and not death. So God is concerned with a man’s present attitude and response. That alone is the proof that a man is right with God, and that alone determines his present wellbeing.
18.29 “Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not equal.’ Oh house of Israel, are my ways not equal? Are your ways not unequal?”
God challenges Israel to recognise that in fact it is they whose ways are unequal and unfair. They would condemn a man for what he could do nothing about, being a ‘victim’ of the behaviour of his group. God will only condemn a man for what he himself is responsible for. Of course that would include blaming him for condoning the sins of others. That was the sin of the relatives of Achan (Joshua 7.24-25). But where he had stood firm for God and His covenant, he would be guiltless.
God’s Final Offer and Plea.
18.30 “Therefore I will judge you, Oh house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord Yahweh, “Return you, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so will they not be a stumblingblock of iniquity to you.”
It is unquestionable that this was a new emphasis for the house of Israel. Of course, in the past men had been responsible for their own sins, and had been judged accordingly. This is clear from many incidents in the past. But their main emphasis had been on Israel as a whole, and the behaviour of their kings and leaders, and their response to it. They had been as one within the covenant. They had seen themselves judged as groups and as a nation.
Now the emphasis was to be on each individual and each family, and how they responded towards God and the covenant. Those who sinned would die. Those who responded to Him and walked in His ways would live. It had become a personal thing in preparation for the new covenant which would transform individual lives. It was the beginning of a new perspective.
The house of Israel would still be judged, but man by man instead of as one. Each could return to God and turn from their transgressions, thus removing the stumblingblock caused by their iniquity, by their wrong and unjust behaviour. None would be blamed for the sinful actions of the group unless they participated in them. It was a firm movement towards individual accountability which would later result, among other things, in the teachings of the Pharisees and the teaching of Jesus and the early church.
18.31-32 “Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why will you die, Oh house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies,” says the Lord Yahweh, “For which reason turn yourselves and live.”
These remarkable verses must be seen in the light of 36.26 (see also Jeremiah 32.39). The call of God assumes His willingness to work in them what is required. If they were willing to turn from their sins, God was willing to work in them a new heart and a new spirit. What would later be promised for the future, was here promised in the present if they would respond. They could be born from above by the Spirit of God. They could be inwardly renewed. But it required a change of heart and mind about their rebellion against the covenant, and about their sinfulness and abominations.
God’s plea was heartfelt. He did not want them to have to die. He did not want to bring His judgment on them. ‘Why will you die?’, He pleaded, as only the strong could. ‘I have no pleasure in it.’ He was waiting and ready to forgive. He was waiting to receive them again and make them fully His own.
‘Cast away your rebellion.’ The words are strong. At the root of the word for ‘transgressions’ lies the thought of rebellion. So they are to fling from them their rebellion of heart, and the acts that reveal that rebellion.
And it is always the same. God is longsuffering and merciful. Until the moment when it is too late He is always ready to accept our repentance and forgive. But what would follow in Ezekiel also reminds us that at some time the point is reached when it is too late. Then there can only be wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is not a question of whether a man can be saved and then lost. It is the question of the test as to whether a man is truly saved. For the man who is truly saved will persevere to the end.
These pleas of God in Ezekiel reveal the human side of salvation. It is up to Israel whether they will repent or not. The choice is theirs. They must exercise their wills and respond, believing that God on His side will renew them and put His Spirit within them, or they must receive the consequences of a failure to do so. It was the same call to believe as would be exercised in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.
Yet the whole book reveals that only within the sovereignty of God would they respond. That is why this great movement of the Spirit awaited the future. Though He called them they would not respond. Jerusalem would be destroyed. In the end it is only when God makes the first move and brings about His will on those whom He will call, that response will come.
Chapter 19 A Lament for The Kings of Judah.
Having faced all Israel up to their personal responsibility Ezekiel now brings the lesson home by writing a lament for the kings of Judah (called ‘the princes of Israel’), Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin. These were the men to whom Israel had looked but in each case they had failed. Israel is likened to a lioness producing cubs, and the cubs are the princes of Judah (Israel). Their fate is then lamented, a fate which was the result of the fact that they ‘did evil in the sight of Yahweh’ . This is followed by a poem of the withering of the vine of Israel and the cessation of kingship.
The Young Lions of Israel-Judah.
19.1 “Moreover take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say.’
Those who represent Judah now represent Israel, for Israel has been taken up into Judah. So the lamentation is for ‘the princes of Israel’. The princes in mind are those who reigned only shortly and were made captive by foreign kings, first by Egypt and then by Babylon, for Ezekiel is bringing home the miserable state of the pride of Israel who had turned away from Him.
Israel (Judah) is likened to a lioness, strong and powerful, rearing her cubs. This was how she saw herself. And she was proud of her kings, and their warlike abilities, and looked to them to keep her safe.
Lions were a familiar feature of life in Palestine throughout the Old Testament and beyond. They were seen as fierce and noble beasts and were used to symbolise powerful control and rule (Genesis 49.9; Micah 5.8; Numbers 23.24; 24.9 compare 1 Kings 10.19-20). A royal lion was found on the seal of Shema from Megiddo.
So here Jehoahaz is likened to a lion descended from the lioness of Israel (Judah). Ezekiel is bringing out how Israel saw herself and her kings, in contrast with what happened to them. But Israel was wrong. He only reigned for three months before being carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23.31-33) where he eventually died (Jeremiah 22.10-12), but the description is not of his reign but of how he was trained in warlike qualities. It explains that he was a warlike man, but that in spite of that he was made a captive. Why? Because he had forsaken Yahweh.
‘He was taken in their pits, and they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt.’ His defeat and capture is described in terms of the ancient lion hunt.
Jehoahaz was succeeded by Jehoiakim, who reigned for eleven years, but he is ignored for he does not illustrate the point of the disaster that came on their princes. Thus the next prince in mind is Jehoiachin. He is described as being powerful and trained up in war, and some of his exploits prior to becoming king are indicated, even though he was only eighteen years old when he began to reign.
Again he only reigned for three months, for he took the throne while Nebuchadnezzar was attacking Jerusalem due to his father’s refusal of tribute, and yielded it to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24.8-15). He was still rated as king in Babylon and we have archaeological evidence concerning the rations of his household there (2 Kings 25.27-30), where he is referred to as ‘Ya’u-kinu, -- king of the land of Yahudu’.
‘Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost.’ Judah had ‘waited’ in a brief hope that God would step in and give them victory, either by the return of Jehoahaz from Egypt, which never happened, or through Jehoiakim, but she soon realised that there was no hope in either of them. ‘Her hope was lost’. Thus they looked to the young Jehoiachin as their future deliverer.
‘Then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion. And he went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion. And he learned to catch the prey. He devoured men. And he knew (or ‘humbled’) their palaces, and laid waste their cities, And the land was desolate, and the fullness of it, because of the noise of his roaring.’
Jehoiachin was a warlike young man and gained a certain local reputation, raising hopes. The result of his warlikeness was devastation for his neighbours’ land. But he quickly turned out not to be the expected deliverer.
‘Then the nations set against him on every side, from the provinces, and they spread their net over him, he was taken in their pit, and they put him in a cage with hooks, and brought him to the king of Babylon. They brought him into strongholds, that his voice should no more be heard, on the mountains of Israel.’ Like Jehoahaz before him he was attacked by forces of a foreign king, this time loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, hunted down like a lion, captured and handed over to a king, but this time it was the king of Babylon. He was no more a free man ‘on the mountains of Israel’. There may be an indication here of his idolatry (see 6.3-5). The word rendered ‘cage’ may also mean ‘prisoner’s neck band’.
So the mighty princes of Israel had proved a disappointment, and all Ezekiel and the people could do was sing a song of despair and lament over them. It was a reminder that Israel-Judah was a small nation and without God’s protecting hand could do nothing against the wider world.
The Withering of the Vine.
The concentration now comes off the kings to Israel-Judah as a whole, and to its destiny. It is likened to a fruitful vine with many thick boughs, prominent and strong among which were the branches that represented the kingship. ‘Strong rods’ came from the vine to provide their sceptres. Thus they ruled in power, raised high among the thick boughs. Here we are taken back to such days as those of David and Solomon. The change from plural to singular may indicate reference to the current king, Zedekiah, as a representative of that royal household. The mixture of lion, sceptre and vine is not new. It is found in Genesis 49.9-12 speaking of Judah and kingship.
The likening of Israel to a vine is a well known one in the Old Testament, sometimes favourable as a picture of fruitfulness, as initially here (Genesis 49.11-12; Isaiah 27.2-6; Psalm 80.8-11), and sometimes derogatory because wild and unfruitful (15.1-8; 17.1-10; Isaiah 5.1-7; Jeremiah 2.21). It depicts fruitfulness, or when failing, blameworthy lack of fruitfulness. So Israel were previously strong and its kings were mighty.
‘Like a vine in your blood planted by the waters.’ For ‘in your blood’ we can compare 16.6, 22. Birth in blood was not an uncommon sight. This vivid mixed metaphor connects the lament with the parable in chapter 16. It indicates here that although Israel was a flourishing vine, she had grown so out of poor beginnings and from suffering. (The phrase is admittedly difficult but no widely acceptable alternative suggestion has been made). For planting by the waters see 17.5. To be planted by waters was to be highly blessed and fruitful (compare Psalm 1).
Here is the depiction of the failure of the kingship, and of the people. The glory of Israel-Judah was plucked up and cast down, and her rulers (‘strong rods’) were broken off and withered, and consumed by fire. Israel-Judah was transplanted to an unfruitful desert place, and her misfortunes will have resulted from her king who had brought about her misery (fire has gone out from him), leaving her with no one to rule her. And the whole finally resulted from the failure of Zedekiah to obey God and remain in submission to Babylon (Jeremiah 27.12-13).
The whole lament is a stark recognition of failure, both of their kings and of the people. What God had made prosperous had languished, and finally withered, through their disobedience to His covenant.
19.14b ‘This is a lamentation, and will be for a lamentation.’
A lamentation is a suitable ending to chapters 12-19. They have depicted the failure of Israel-Judah to respond to God’s goodness and gracious love. And now all that remains is lamentation, a dirge for their failure and the failure of their kings in whom such hopes had rested.
Chapter 20.1-44 A History and Prophesy of God’s Dealings with Israel.
In this chapter we are given a detailed description of the history of what God had done for His people, and how they had not responded to Him, beginning with their experiences in Egypt, continuing in the wilderness, and then in the land of Canaan. It continues by speaking of what God’s purposes and intentions for His people are. In each example He reveals how He showed His goodness towards them, how they then rebelled against Him, how He purposed to reveal His anger on them, and how in the end He spared them for the sake of His own name and reputation. Then He reveals that in the end He will restore His people so that through them He might be revealed to the world, again for the sake of His own repute.
The Approach of the Elders of Israel.
20.1 ‘And so it was in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to enquire of Yahweh, and sat before me.’
The date given is in August 591 BC. Like the majority of the dates in Ezekiel it is related to the date of Jehoiachin’s captivity (1.2). On that day some of the elders of Israel with him in captivity in Babylonia came to Ezekiel, and sat before him. Their purpose was to ‘enquire of Yahweh’.
Ezekiel was divided up into major sections by these datings. 1.2 is dated July 593 BC, 8.1 is dated September 592 BC, 20.1 is dated August 591 BC, 24.1 is dated January 588 BC, 33.21 is dated January 585/6 BC and 40.1 is dated April 573 BC, which are in chonological order. (The oracles against nations were also dated (26.1-32.32), but not in chronological order).
No other reason is given for their enquiry, and no information about the content of their enquiry. It may simply mean that they wanted to know whether God had any message for them. But elsewhere ‘enquiring of Yahweh’ meant securing a divine revelation concerning a particular event (see 1 Kings 14.5-18; 22.7-28; 2 Kings 8:8-15; 22.13-20; Jeremiah 21.2-14; 37.7-10). So it may be that they were enquiring about the situation in Jerusalem and as to how long their exile would continue, especially having regard to Zedekiah’s attempted alliance with Egypt.
As we have seen there was a huge amount of intrigue between Jerusalem and Egypt. Who made the first contact we do not know, probably Egypt under Pharaoh Hophra, seeking to foment trouble among the smaller states for their own benefit, and seeking assistance in their own plans against Assyria. But Zedekiah saw his chance to break for freedom and ‘rebelled against the king of Babylon’ (2 Kings 24.20). This was contrary to Yahweh’s words through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27.12-15). He sent to Egypt for assistance in the form of soldiers and horses (see Jeremiah 37.5), but the assistance would be shortlived.
We have independent confirmation of such intrigues in the Lachish letters, a collection of twenty one ostraca found in the ruins of Lachish. ‘Konyahu, the son of Elnathan, commander of the army, has gone down on his way to Egypt’.
Or it may be that they were seeking confirmation of the acceptability of an attempt to syncretise their worship of Yahweh with the worship of the gods of the land where they found themselves (see 20.32, and note the words ‘that which comes into your mind’).
20.2 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’
Ezekiel remained in his house under his enforced silence (3.26), only speaking when ‘the word of Yahweh’ came to him. Silently he watched their assembly, and then the word of Yahweh came to him.
20.3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Have you come to enquire of me? As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I will not be enquired of by you.’ ”
Note the continued use of ‘son of man’. It was a constant reminder to Ezekiel that he was but an earthly man, and yet we must also see in it that he was a man who was special to God, a man apart, a chosen instrument, a man set apart for God’s service. Its frequency was such that it became a semi-title.
But the reply that he had to give to the elders was an indirect one. It was no oracle responding to their questions, but a declaration of why they were in their present condition, and a refusal to acknowledge their right to ask Him anything.
It is most people’s assumption that when they are in some kind of trouble they can come to God and he is always ready to listen. Here, however, we learn differently. These men who represented ‘His people’ had come with that assumption, and they now learned that God would not speak with them. He would not resolve their problems. They were in rebellion against Him, revealed by the abominations they committed (see 18.10-13, 24), therefore He was deaf to their pleas.
20.4 “Will you judge them, son of man? Will you judge them? Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers.”
Instead Ezekiel must pass His judgment on them. He was to show them why, as with their fathers before them, they could not expect any response from God.
‘Will you judge them, son of man? Will you judge them?’ Ezekiel was there in his silent vigil before God, and as he looked at the elders he was wondering what he could say to them about why God would not reply to their questions. What judgment could he give? God simply said, remind them of their history, a history of disobedience and rejection in the face of all that God had done for them, a disobedience and rejection that still continued. There were no grounds for it. God had been continually good to them. Indeed He had persevered in His goodness long after they had revealed that they did not deserve it.
God’s Dealings with Them in Egypt.
20.5-6 “And say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up my hand to the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up my hand to them and said, “I am Yahweh your God”, in that day I lifted up my hand to them to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, to the land which I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands.”
God depicts His choice of them as occurring when they were in Egypt. Prior to that His choice had been of individuals and their households, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But in Egypt He had chosen Israel as a budding nation, as a people for Himself.
This reminds us that in spite of Ezekiel’s stress on individual responsibility, God was sovereignly at work in His people. Indeed He had bound Himself to them by an oath. To ‘lift up the hand’ was a popular means of swearing an oath.
Note the sequence. He chose them, then He swore to them, then He made Himself known to them, then He delivered them. The actions were all of God. Compare Exodus 3.6-8; 6.2-8.
‘In the day when I chose Israel.’ God had previously chosen Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12.1-3; 18.18-19). But the day when He chose Israel as a people with their own identity (composed not just of descendants of Abraham but of all those who had attached themselves to them as descendants of the servants of Abraham, and of those who had intermarried with them or thrown in their lot with them) was the day when he called them through Moses (Deuteronomy 4.37; 7.6; 10.15; 14.2 compare Amos 3.2; Psalm 105.6, 9-11). Note that ‘Israel’ is defined as ‘the seed of the house of Jacob’, but the word ‘seed’ indicates the seed of all who were conjoined with Jacob in the family tribe, those who were ‘born in his household’ (compare Genesis 14.14).
‘And lifted up my hand to the seed of the house of Jacob.’ The ‘lifting up of the hand’, the swearing of the oath, is spoken of as being before the making of Himself known to them in order to bring out that it was the act of Yahweh alone in His divine will. The manifestation of this oath-swearing occurred a number of times, and especially at Mount Sinai, but these were all the result of His first oath made to Himself (compare Genesis 22.16; Hebrews 6.13).
‘And made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up my hand to them and said, “I am Yahweh your God”.’ ‘I am Yahweh your God’ was first declared to them in Exodus 6.7; compare 6.2, 8, and confirmed in Exodus 20.2, compare Psalm 81.10; Hosea 13.4. This was a specific adoption of Israel by Yahweh as His ‘firstborn’ (Exodus 4.22).
‘In that day I lifted up my hand to them to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, to the land which I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands.’ God’s intention in choosing them as His people was that He might deliver them from Egypt and bring them to a good land, a fruitful land. The term ‘flowing with milk and honey’, both natural products of the land, is a description regularly used of Canaan describing it as naturally fruitful (Exodus 3.8, 17; 13.5; 33.3; Jeremiah 11.5; 32.22).
‘To the land which I had espied for them.’ A beautiful picture. He had, as it were, looked around and selected out a suitable place for them.
‘Which is the glory of all lands.’ That was the Israelite view of it. They saw it as God’s land, God’s inheritance and therefore highly favoured (compare Jeremiah 3.19; Exodus 15.17; Deuteronomy 4.21; 15.4. See also Daniel 11.16, 41; 8.9).
20.7 “And I said to them, ‘Cast you away every man the abominations of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God’.”
In Egypt the people had not been faithful to the God of their fathers, and had worshipped many gods. This is not mentioned in Exodus 1-15 although subsequent events confirmed it (see Exodus 32.1-4, 8, 23 compare Leviticus 18.3 which assumes it, and Exodus 33.5 where the ornaments would be connected with idolatrous practises). These would include Baal and Asherah among others, for the Canaanite gods were worshipped by many in the Goshen area. And God had commanded them to do away with them, and not to worship them.
‘The abominations of his eyes’, those abominable things to which they looked. All this helps to explain the mystery of why God allowed the descendants of Abraham to suffer so in Egypt. They had been unfaithful to Him and had followed after idolatry and the perverse lifestyle connected with it.
20.8 “But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me. They did not every man cast away the abomination of their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out my fury on them, to accomplish my anger against them in the land of Egypt.”
The people were continually rebellious and refused to obey God. This clearly went on even while Yahweh was working to deliver them. Thus He had intended again to bring on them His fury, something which they had already tasted in their bondage. But, as He then tells us, He did not do so. And why? Not for their sakes but for the sake of His own name and reputation. We must recognise that this ‘change of mind’ is putting what happened as a drama in human terms, depicting it as seen by men. God knew all along what He was going to do.
20.9 “But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.”
God had acted to protect His own ‘name’ and reputation (compare Psalm 106.8; Isaiah 48.9; Jeremiah 14.7, 21). The name in the ancient world indicated all that someone was. To see God’s glory was the same as knowing His name (Exodus 33.18-19). So instead of punishing Israel He had delivered them so that the nations would see what kind of a God He was, and would not be able to decry His great power and ability to deliver.
God’s Deliverance In The Wilderness.
20.10-11 “So I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes and showed them my judgments, which if a man does he shall live in them.
So God delivered His people from Egypt by His mighty power, led them out of it into the wilderness and there entered into His covenant with them at Sinai (Exodus 20), again with the promise ‘I am Yahweh your God’ (Exodus 20.2). There He gave them His statutes and judgments, response to which bring life (Exodus 20.12; Leviticus; Deuteronomy 4.10; 5.16). They would result in a full life of blessing. Primary in these statutes and judgments was their response to God, covered by the first five ‘words’ (commandments - the fifth is included because the parents stood in the place of God). They would live because they walked with God, which would then be revealed in their keeping the last five ‘words’ (commandments).
The later New Testament strictures against the Law (John 1.17; Acts 13.39; Romans 3.20; Galatians 3.10-11) were not against this significance of the Law, but against the idea that had grown up that eternal life was achievable by punctilious observance of every ordinance in exactly the right way, and of every detail of the moral Law. They had taken their eyes off God and fixed them on themselves.
To ‘live’ as compared with to ‘die’ indicated wellbeing and blessing. It indicated the enjoyment of God’s presence (Psalm 139.7-12). While there were a few indications of it, there was not at this stage, as far as we know, any general thought out conception of an afterlife. This would slowly grow through the coming centuries (but compare Daniel 12.2 which is its beginnings. See also Isaiah 53.12; 26.19; Psalm 16.10-11; 17.15; also possibly 11.7; 140.13. It was at this stage an instinct within the heart of the righteous rather than an expressed doctrine).
20.12 “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them that they might know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”
The importance of the sabbath as a sign that Israel were God’s people is stressed here. The keeping of the sabbath, first mentioned in Exodus 16 and ratified in Exodus 20, demonstrated that they were a people ‘set apart’ (sanctified) by Yahweh for Himself, and looked on as His own people. See on this Exodus 31.13-17. The Sabbath had a dual purpose for the Israelites. It was a constant reminder to them that Yahweh was the great Creator of all things (Exodus 20.11), and it reminded them of His creation of their nation (Deuteronomy 5.14-15). It was the central sign of the Old Covenant (Isaiah 56.2, 4).
Paul too indicated that to keep a day (or all days) to the Lord was right, but stressed that the particular day was unimportant. What mattered was the keeping of one day for Him (Romans 14.5-6). However in contrast with the Jewish Sabbath the early church generally did not see it as a day of total rest, but as a day for serving God.
20.13 “But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes, and they rejected my judgments, which if a man does he shall live in them. And my sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I said I would pour out my fury on them in the wilderness to consume them.”
Again in the wilderness God’s goodness was not sufficient to stir the people to obedience. Again they rebelled against Him. And they played havoc with the Sabbath (see verse 16 which suggests that it was their idol worship that did this, see also, for example, Numbers 15.32). So again God determined to bring His judgments on them (see Exodus 32.10; Numbers 14.11-12; 16.21, 45, 49; 21.6; 32.9-13).
‘Which if a man does he shall live in them.’ See Leviticus 18.5; Exodus 20.12; Deuteronomy 4.10; 5.16), and compare Psalms 19.7-11 and 119, especially verses 17, 25, 37, 40, 88, 92 etc.
20.14 “But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them out.”
But because He knew that the eyes of the world were on this nation whose God had so remarkably delivered them from Egypt, He spared them, even though they did not deserve it, so that the nations would recognise His power and graciousness, and realise that He was indeed able to preserve His own people (see Exodus 32.11; Numbers 14.13-16).
Further Comments on God’s Merciful Dealings in the Wilderness
20.15 “Moreover also I lifted up my hand to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands.”
This is the reversal of verse 6. He who had sworn to them to bring them out of Egypt into the good land He had prepared for them, now lifted up His hand and swore that those of that generation would not enter it (Numbers 32.10-13). The land that that generation had so looked forward to seeing was lost to them forever. God’s favours are conditional on obedience.
20.16 “Because they rejected my judgments and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths, for their heart went after their idols.”
The reason for His anger is again declared. They rejected His judgments and did not walk in His statutes. God’s requirements were put aside and ignored for the sake of their idols. They broke the covenant with Yahweh. And their idol worship led to them desecrating the Sabbath, presumably justifying it on religious grounds. We too may have our idols, things which we set our hearts on which prevent us living in accordance with God’s will and requirements. And they too will bring judgment on us.
20.17 “Nevertheless my eyes spared them from destroying them, nor did I make a full end of them in the wilderness.”
Although he prevented the first generation from entering the good land, He showed mercy. He spared their children that they might enter in. He refrained from making a full end of Israel.
God’s Dealings with the Second Generation in the Wilderness.
So His people had proved themselves unfaithful in Egypt, even when He was working mighty things for them, and again on their journey to freedom, when again He had worked for them. But now came the new generation who should have learned their lesson from what had happened, but they too rebelled against Him. Israel’s history was one of constant rebellion.
20.18-20 “And I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with idols. I am Yahweh your God. Walk in my statutes and keep my judgments and do them, and hallow my Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am Yahweh your God.”
Yahweh had renewed His covenant with the children of those who had been disobedient. To them too He had said in the regular renewal ceremonies, ‘I am Yahweh your God, walk in My statutes and keep My judgments’, and had warned them against following the ways of their fathers. To them too He had stressed the need to observe His Sabbaths as the sign of the covenant. These were a gracious sign of His own creation rest, taken because all was ‘very good’. They too should have entered into rest as His obedient people.
20.21 “But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes, neither did they keep my judgments to do them, which if a man does he will live in them. They profaned my sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out my fury on them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.”
But the sad tale of rebellion was repeated. Once again they had turned from the covenant requirements which were designed to give them a full and abounding life, and had done what was wrong in God’s sight. And this included the fact that they had also failed to do what was right. Again they had profaned the Sabbath. So God had once more determined to bring judgment on them in His anger (His set attitude against sin), even there in the wilderness.
20.22 “Nevertheless I withdrew my hand and wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I brought them forth.”
Yet again Yahweh withheld His judgment for the sake of His reputation and His name (compare Numbers 16.21-22; 25.1-9). He continued to preserve them and to protect them from their enemies, so that the watching world might see that as the great Deliverer from Egypt He was able to keep and deliver them. The picture was one of man’s total undeserving.
20.23-24 “Moreover I lifted up my hand to them in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them through the countries, because they had not carried out my judgments, but had rejected my statutes and had profaned my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their father’s idols.”
Nevertheless although He had spared them He had sworn to them (lifted up His hand to them in an oath) that if their behaviour continued He would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them throughout the known world to a life of restlessness and misery, because of their covenant unfaithfulness (Leviticus 26.33; Deuteronomy 28.64; Psalm 106.26-27). This would be due both to their refusal to obey His commands, and to their turning their eyes on other than Himself.
20.25-26 “Moreover I also gave them statutes which were not good, and judgments in which they would not live, and I polluted them in their own gifts in that they caused to pass through the fire all who opened the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am Yahweh.”
Finally because of their failure to respond to Him truly He left them to follow their own ways. This is depicted as the positive act of Yahweh. In the end all was seen as Yahweh’s doing. He allowed false prophets to rise, He allowed false teaching to be given, He allowed them to partake in the most degrading religions of Canaan. He withdrew His guidance and protection and admonition (although they were never fully withdrawn for He also sent true prophets to plead with them). Thus would follow the awful consequences depicted in Leviticus 26.14-45; Deuteronomy 28.15—29.19)
Man’s evil heart continually distorts truth. Left to himself he brings harm on his own head, thinking all the time that it will benefit him. He softens the requirements of God’s laws and suffers the consequences. In the case of Israel it even led them to offer up their firstborn children to the gods in sacrifice (Leviticus 18.21; Deuteronomy 18.10; 2 Kings 21.6; 2 Chronicles 28.3; Jeremiah 7.31; 19.5; 32.35). ‘Passing through the fire’ usually refers to the worship of Melek (Molech - the vowels, being the vowels of bosheth’ (shame) changed to reflect ‘shame’) although the idea of child sacrifice is occasionally referred to the worship of Baal (Jeremiah 19.5) probably through syncretism.
‘I polluted them in their own gifts.’ Their very worship had become polluted. Instead of the joyous gifts and offerings to Yahweh, and the redemption of the firstborn through sacrifices, allowing them to express their worship fully and without restraint while at the same time preventing the heartbreak of actually losing their children, they chose to enter into the painful, heartbreaking ways of sacrificing their own firstborn children, ways that brought them only desolation, and they did this in direct disobedience to the command of Yahweh because they thought that they knew better than He did.
This passage stresses the overall sovereignty of God. The same prophet who could stress the responsibility of each individual person to respond, also stressed that in the end all, including man’s ways, was under the control of God, for they could do nothing without His permissive will. Thus when Israel came to their senses they would recognise that all this had happened to them through Yahweh’s doing. Because of their sin and rebellion He had stood aside and left them to their own ways, thus bringing on them the consequences of their own actions. This finally brought home His sovereignty and purity in contrast with the degradation that their disobedience had brought. Then they would know that He was Yahweh, totally distinct from all the gods that they had served.
Their Behaviour on Entering in the Land of Canaan.
Israel were no more obedient when they entered Canaan, as the Book of Judges makes clear.
20.27-28 “Therefore son of man speak to the house of Israel and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, in this moreover have your fathers blasphemed me in that they have committed a trespass against me. For when I brought them into the land, which I lifted up my hand (swore) to give to them, then they saw every high hill and every thick (flourishing) tree, and there they offered their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering. There also they made their sweet savour, and there they poured out their drink offerings.
They compounded their rebellion in that when God actually gave them the land He had promised them, in spite of their rebellion, they made use of it to worship other gods. The very basis of the land, the high hills and the flourishing trees (thickly branched and therefore prominent and flourishing) became the means of worship of false gods. Instead of seeing all that was in the land as the blessing of Yahweh, they offered up sacrifices, presented offerings, offered up incense and poured out drink offerings to the so-called gods of the land, utilising the ancient sanctuaries of the Canaanites. Yahweh was sidelined.
Thus they blasphemed the name of Yahweh, for they implied that it was to these gods that they were indebted and not to Him. All the worship that should have been His was poured out on others. No wonder He spoke of the ‘provocation’ of their offerings.
20.29 “Then I said to them, ‘What does the high place mean to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah to this day.
This sentence is a play on words. ‘Bamah’ means ‘high place. But ‘ba’ means ‘go’ and ‘ma’ means ‘what’. In it God is challenging what the significance was to them of these high places. He wanted to sting them into recognising the folly of their behaviour.
Idolatry was worldwide outside Israel. By their idols, made usually with their own hands, they saw themselves as bringing the gods to some extent under their control. Here they could deal with their gods, worship them, influence them, and by destroying other men’s idols weaken their gods. Then they could go away and forget them, leaving them on their shelves or in their high places. And those gods were regularly depicted as creatures of the earth, with all their bestial ways. This was all in contrast with the invisible God of Israel Who was free to go where He would, was not restricted to a place, was transcendent and not a part of creation, and Who could not be manipulated but required obedience wherever they went. Let them think about that!
Why God Will Still Not Deal With Them And What He Intended To Do About It.
20.30-31a “For these reasons say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Do you pollute yourselves in the same way as your fathers did? And do you go a-whoring after their abominations? And when you offer your gifts, when you make your sons pass through the fire, do you pollute yourselves with all your idols to this day? And shall I be enquired of by you, Oh house of Israel?’ ”
The questions were confirmation that it was so. These men before Ezekiel were no different from their fathers. They still followed in their idolatrous ways. They still loved the worship of false gods and gave their hearts to them, even to the extent of that grossest of sins, child sacrifice. They continued to pollute themselves by idol worship (see Romans 1.18-31) and by setting up other things above Yahweh. Why then should they expect Yahweh to listen to them and respond to their questioning? He would not do so.
20.31b-32 “As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I will not be enquired of by you, and that which comes into your mind will not be at all, in that you say, ‘we will be as the nations, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone.’ ”
They would have neither the one thing nor the other. They had lost their right to learn from Yahweh, but they would also not be allowed to continue in their idolatrous ways. It is always man’s desire to fit in with his environment and be like others and ‘accepted’. But God’s people are not to be like that, indeed will not finally be allowed to be like that. Note the contemptuous ‘serve wood and stone’. This is in contrast with worshipping the living, invisible God.
God Will Act Again In Power, As At The Exodus, To Deliver Them, Whether They Like It or Not. He Will Call Them To Account.
20.33 “As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm and with fury poured out I will be king over you.”
‘As I live.’ This is in direct contrast with the gods of ‘wood and stone’. He is the living God. And because they are dealing with the living God they will be treated differently from others. He will come as their sovereign overlord to His rebellious subjects (just as Nebuchadnezzar would come against Jerusalem), and with power and vengeance, to take His rightful place as their King and to receive their submission. And this because it is His purpose.
Note how these words are a threat rather than a promise. They had wanted to be absorbed into the nations with their idolatry but it would not be allowed. God will not let them go. They will be called to account and then their future will depend on their response.
20.34-36 “And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead with you face to face. Just as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, says the Lord Yahweh.”
As He had done with the people of old at the exodus from Egypt, so will He deal with His people in the future. Although they have forsaken Him they will not finally be allowed to be forsaken, for it is He Who is Lord and over all, and not them. His purposes will not be allowed to fail. Thus they will be brought to a situation where they will have to choose between blessing or judgment.
They wanted to be ‘like the nations’ but there would come a day when He would no longer allow it. Indeed the nations would not want them, and that would be because of the hand of God. Thus would they be gathered out of the countries to which they had gone. But the picture is not one of untold blessing. Rather He would be dealing with them in His anger. He would be facing them up with what they were and would seek to bring them back into covenant with Himself, just as He had at Sinai. God will not be thwarted even by His people.
Note the emphasis that this will be in ‘the wilderness’. This will be a new Exodus, but here it also stresses that they will still be in barrenness (compare Hosea 2.6; 12.9). Their future blessing will depend on their response. There He will plead with them face to face, just as He had at Sinai in the wilderness. But many will not respond (verse 38) and will stay in the wilderness, just as the previously rebellious Israel in the time of Moses had died in the wilderness and had never seen the Promised Land.
20.37-38 “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them forth out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter into the land of Israel. And you will know that I am Yahweh.”
The passing ‘under the rod’ was picturing the way that the shepherd passed his sheep under his rod as he checked and assessed them (Leviticus 27.32; Jeremiah 33.13). Thus Israel would be assessed and called to account. Then the offer of the covenant will once again be made and they will be able to accept or reject it. And those who reject it, ‘the rebels’, will be purged out. They will not enter into God’s inheritance (contrast Hosea 2.14-15). God’s action on behalf of Israel will only mean blessing for those who truly respond.
Leviticus 27.32 depicts the passing under the rod as resulting in one out of ten being declared ‘holy to Yahweh’. There may here therefore be the expectancy that the faithful will be a small minority, a ‘tenth’. Compare Isaiah 6.13.
‘The bond of the covenant.’ The new covenant would be binding. It was not something that could be entered into lightly. Once they accepted it they would be bound by it.
20.39 “As for you, Oh house of Israel, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Go you. Serve every one his idols, now and hereafter if you will not listen to me. But you will no more profane my holy name with your gifts and with your idols.”
For the present those listening had a choice. They must choose between Him and idols. But they could not have both. If they wished to choose idols let them serve them, both now and later, but let them not then come to Yahweh with gifts or associate Him with idols. Then they would be in contrast to those who yet will serve Him purely (verse 40). They would reveal themselves not to be His people.
20.40-41 “For in my holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, says the Lord Yahweh, there will all the house of Israel, all of them, serve me in the land. There will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you as a sweet savour when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries in which you have been scattered, and I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations.”
In contrast with the disobedient and the rebels there will yet be those who once again serve God faithfully. The whole of Israel, yes ‘all of them’, will serve Him in the land. Note here what is meant by ‘all Israel’. It is those who remain after the rebels have been purged out and the disobedient excluded. Here already we have the seeds of the doctrine which Paul will expand in Romans 9-11. Not all Israel are the true Israel. Only those who respond and obey are the true Israel.
‘In my holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel.’ ‘The mountain’ was the term used to depict the whole of the mountain region of Israel from north to south, here described as ‘the mountain of the height of Israel’. This might seem therefore to be referring to the land of Israel as a whole. Thus we need not necessarily see it as limited to, although it includes, Mount Zion. It is true that in Isaiah 27.13; 56.7; 66.20; Joel 2.1; 3.17; Zephaniah 3.11; Zechariah 8.3 ‘the holy mountain’ is Mount Zion. But Mount Zion was all inclusive. Indeed His people in exile could be called ‘Zion’ (Zechariah 2.7). Thus the whole mountain region was all God’s holy mountain, set apart for Himself and for His people. It was ‘the mountain of His inheritance’ (Exodus 15.17).
Mount Zion was seen anyway as inclusive of all the territory that surrounded it. Compare how in Psalm 78.68 ‘the mount Zion which He loved’ is the tribe of Judah, the ‘chosen’ tribe, over against the remainder of Jacob’s descendants, so that ‘He loves the gates of Zion more than the dwellings of Jacob’ (Psalm 87.2). The ‘beloved mountain’ therefore there refers to His chosen ones. Mount Zion was central because it was seen as the site of God’s earthly dwellingplace, where God was with all His people, but it was a part of the whole mountain range of Israel, which was His inheritance.
Israel would indeed return there to prepare the way for the coming of the One Whom God would send and through those who responded to Him God’s name would be sanctified, revealed as holy and unique, among all the nations.
‘There will all the house of Israel, all of them, serve me in the land. There will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.’ To these rebellious people making their enquiries before Ezekiel God promised that one day there would be those who would truly serve Him in the land. All those who were truly His people would serve Him. They would be accepted, and from them He would require complete fulfilment of the covenant and active and true worship, and the giving to God of what was His. Ezekiel as a priest saw it in terms of the priestly offerings, but we may see it as symbolic of offerings of praise and thanksgiving and spiritual worship.
‘I will accept you as a sweet savour when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries in which you have been scattered, and I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations.’ One day God would again receive His people ‘as a sweet savour’, something welcome and pleasant and acceptable, who would bring honour to His name. This found partial fulfilment in those who served God faithfully after the restoration in the four hundred years before Christ, and final fulfilment in the ministry of Christian Jews to the world in the early church throughout the known world. Having been gathered to the mountain of Israel they had been prepared by Jesus for their worldwide task.
So in the end God would triumph. Once again we have in tension the idea of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, with God’s sovereignty prominent.
20.42-43 “And you will know that I am Yahweh, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I lifted up my hand (swore) to give to your fathers, and there you will remember your ways, and all your doings in which you have polluted yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that you have committed.”
The vision was for the future, but here God promises to these enquiring exiles (he was more merciful than He had said He would be, see verses 3, 31), that one day Israel will return to the land, and they will repent with a great repentance and awareness of sin, recognising their own total unworthiness. There would be a great restoration to God, as finally seen through the ministry of John the Baptiser and of Jesus Himself.
20.44 ‘ “And you will know that I am Yahweh when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, Oh you house of Israel,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
Note the repetition of ‘you will know that I am Yahweh’. Compare verses 5, 7, 12, 19, 26, 38, 42. God had been revealed as He is in His mighty deeds in past days, and He will be revealed so again. All that He had done and would do was so that men may know Him as He is. What mattered was the full revelation of God, for thereby would man enjoy his greatest blessing. So God would do all this for His own name’s sake, for by their behaviour and their doings the people were totally unworthy of it.
It should be noted that there is no hint here of the rebuilding of the Temple. That was not what was important to God, although it may be seen as intended in a secondary way to be included in the comments about the offerings, the firstfruits of their oblations and the holy things.
Chapters 20.45-21.32. The Certain Judgment of Yahweh.
In the Hebrew Bible 20.45 is the commencement of chapter 21, and the passage fits better with what follows. The picture moves from the overall view of history and the future to God’s certain judgments now to come on Israel. These verses consist of a number of oracles, probably occurring over a period of time. They are connected by the theme of God’s sword of judgment.
20.45-46 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards the south (temana), and drop your word towards the south (darom), and prophesy against the forest of the country in the Negeb.” ’
There is an emphasis on the ‘south’ in the Hebrew brought out by the use of different Hebrew words (the Negeb also indicated south of the hills of Judah), and we can see Ezekiel turning towards the south from Babylon in the sight of his listeners. Today the Negeb is waterless desert except where it is watered by man made irrigation, but it is clear that in Ezekiel’s time the land somewhat more fruitful and sufficiently watered to produce a ‘forest’ of trees. It was from the south that Egypt was expected to come with its useless aid.
But ‘the south’ in the first two cases may have reference simply to the southern kingdom, to Jerusalem (21.2a) and the ‘land of Israel’ (21.2b-3). LXX translates the words for ‘south’ as place names.
20.47-48 “And say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of Yahweh. Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will kindle a fire in you and it will devour every green tree in you, and every dry tree. The flaming flame will not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north will be burned by it. And all flesh will see that it is I Yahweh who have kindled it. It will not be quenched.”
The fire would begin in the southern forest in the Negeb and would spread northward, devouring all in its path. For such forest fires as an illustration of the activity of Yahweh see Psalm 83.14; Isaiah 9.18-19; 10.16-19; Jeremiah 21.14). In this case it was the fire of warfare, the fire of the invader, burning up the ‘trees’, the inhabitants of the land. In view of its starting point it was probably seen as involving in some way Egypt (possibly a threatening of their border by the Babylonians before proceeding against Judah), but speaking more of the forces of Nebuchadnezzar as they mercilessly reduced Judean cities one by one, until finally Azekah fell, and then Lachish, leaving Jerusalem to stand alone (see Jeremiah 34.7). Nothing would be able to quench it and no one would be able to turn his face from it. All will see in it that Yahweh has acted to bring about His will. Its unquenchability was a sign of the certainty of His judgment.
There is in letters discovered in the ruins of Lachish remarkable testimony to the way the watchmen of Jerusalem constantly took note of the signal fires of Lachish and Azekah as the invasion progressed, testimony that they were still holding out, until one night the lights of Azekah could no longer be seen. It is tempting to see this last as the last moments of Azekah, but it may just have been the result of bad weather.
‘Every green tree in you, and every dry tree.’ It will affect both seemingly righteous and those who were unrighteous (see 21.1) All will be involved.
20.49 ‘Then said I, “Ah, Lord Yahweh, they say of me, is he not one who tells stories (or ‘a riddler of riddles’)?” ’
Here we have a very human touch. In spite of being the mouthpiece of Yahweh Ezekiel is still conscious of what his listeners feel about him. He is disconcerted once again to have to speak to them in parables, for they have clearly begun to criticise him for it and to accuse him of being ‘the riddler of riddles’ (memashel meshalim).
The Riddle Explained.
21.1-3 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards Jerusalem, and drop your word towards the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel, and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says Yahweh, behold I am against you and will draw out my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.’ ” ’
The explanation of the parable is now given. Note the connection between Jerusalem, the idolatrous sanctuaries and the land of Israel (Judah). All are seen as one in their degradation (contrast 20.40 where in the future the mountain of Yahweh will be wholly acceptable). The fire has now become Yahweh’s sword. All therefore will suffer at Yahweh’s sword, both the totally wicked and those who were more righteous (compare 2 Samuel 24.16). None will be spared, for the wicked did evil and the righteous did nothing.
The drawing of the sword from its sheath is always a picture of imminent judgment. Compare the captain of Yahweh’s host in Joshua 5.13 who was about to bring judgment on Jericho, and contrast Jeremiah 47.6 where the judgment was with overflowing waters, which were also described as Yahweh’s sword which Jeremiah wanted to be sheathed, although it could not be because He still had work to do. See also Deuteronomy 32.41; Isaiah 31.8; 34.5-8; 66.16; Jeremiah 25.31; 50.35-38; Zephaniah 2.12. The One Who was once their defender has now become responsible for the attack on them.
For ‘I will draw out my sword from its sheath’ compare ‘I will kindle a fire in you’ (20.47). Both are deliberate warlike actions whose intent is destruction.
21.4-5 “Seeing then that I will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked, therefore will my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north. And all flesh shall know that I Yahweh have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath. It shall not return any more.”
This time the judgment will be total and unrestrained. The whole land will be included, both those who think themselves righteous, as well as the very wicked. It will cover all, moving from the south upwards, and all will realise that this is indeed the work of Yahweh and that it is final. There comes a time for all when God’s moment for reaping comes.
For ‘it shall not return any more’ compare ‘it shall not be quenched’ (20.48). The two sections are parallel.
21.6-7 “Sigh, therefore, you son of man. You will sigh with the breaking of your loins and with bitterness before their eyes. And it will be when they say to you, ‘Why do you sigh?’, that you will say, ‘Because of the tidings, for it comes.’ And every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble, and every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold it comes and it will be done, says the Lord Yahweh.”
So Ezekiel was to audibly sigh. The ‘breaking of the loins’ represents deep emotions and fear (Psalm 69.23; Nahum 2.10). The ‘bitterness’ reveals his heartbreaking concern. This will then raise questions in his hearers (by now anything that Ezekiel did raised questions), and when they ask for its reason he will reply that it is because of the coming bad tidings, tidings which result in great dismay and regret, so that even the strong are made weak, and all suffer emotional collapse. The hands will be feeble, every spirit will be faint, the legs will be weak as water. They could hardly doubt that he was referring to the final destruction of Jerusalem and the collapse of all their hopes.
‘Behold it comes and it will be done, says the Lord Yahweh.’ God wants them to know that it will all happen at His will. There is nothing accidental about it. In our modern day we can so emphasise that God is love that we forget this side of Him, that God is also light and hates sin totally.
The Song of the Sword.
This song is intermingled with comments in prose and therefore its original form is difficult to work out. It may well originally have accompanied preparation for and march into battle.
21.8-10a ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Say,
This fearsome warsong was a reminder that Yahweh of hosts was leading the warfare against His people. It reminds us of an earlier day when with His sword drawn He had led the way against Canaan (Joshua 5.13) once its iniquities had reached their full allowance (Genesis 15.16). Now it was Judah-Israel who must experience the same.
21.10b “Should we then make mirth? The rod of my son it condemns every tree.”
Having revealed the warlike picture God now challenged Israel. In spite of the warnings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel they continued to enjoy life and make mirth, confident in their security as though they had no care in the world. But what was about to happen would make neither them nor God laugh. For God has chosen ‘His son’ (Nebuchadnezzar -compare Cyrus as ‘His anointed’ - Isaiah 45.1) whose kingly authority (or rod of punishment) has already condemned them all to slaughter (compare here Isaiah 10.5 - ‘Assyria, the rod of my anger’). For men as ‘trees’ see 20.47.
The depicting of Nebuchadnezzar as ‘His son’ is particularly telling in view of the fact that he was dealing with those He had once called ‘My son, My firstborn’ (Exodus 4.22). Now they were displaced (temporarily) by a foreigner. God can use any instrument in His purposes.
The exultant warsong goes on. The purpose in sharpening and polishing it is so that it might be handled, used in the hand of the slayer. God’s final war on His erstwhile people in Jerusalem and Judah is beginning.
21.12-13 “Cry and howl, son of man, for it (the sword) is against my people, it is against all the princes of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with my people. Smite therefore on your thigh. For there is a trial. And what if it condemn even the rod? It will be no more, (or alternately ‘what if even the rod that condemns shall be no more?’), says the Lord Yahweh.”
Ezekiel is not to exult in God’s judgment. Rather he is to cry aloud and wail like a mourner. For it would be God’s erstwhile people in Jerusalem/Judah, and their princes, who would be smitten, for they are undergoing trial. And that period will also result in the rod itself being condemned so that ‘it will be no more’. The puzzle of how Nebuchadnezzar could be used as God’s ‘son’ is solved, for having condemned others he will then himself be condemned.
‘Smiting on the thigh’ was presenting a picture of grief and despair. For this whole idea of God using such an instrument see Habakkuk.
A Vivid Picture of the Severity of the Judgment.
21.14-16 “You therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite your hands together, and let the sword be doubled the third time (or ‘be doubled, yes tripled’), the sword for those to be mortally wounded. It is the sword of the great one for those to be mortally wounded which enters into their chambers. I have set the point of the sword against all their gates that their heart may melt and that their stumblings may be multiplied. Ah, it is made like lightning, it is pointed for slaughter. Make yourself one (or ‘gather yourself’), go to the right, set yourself in array, go to the left, wherever your face is set.”
The slight differences in translation of this complicated Hebrew (complicated to us rather than necessarily to the early readers of Ezekiel) make little difference to the overall sense.
This is a vivid picture of the final slaughter, as the sword sent by Yahweh does its work, and the prophet is to smite his hands to reveal his intensity, because it is bringing about the fulfilling of God’s purposes. The picture is intended to amplify the impact of the passage. While God’s people grieve, as Ezekiel did (verse 12), at the need for such judgments, they must be filled with fierce joy that God’s purposes are being carried into effect.
The sword is to be multiplied because of the intensity of the judgment, the sword that will mortally wound. The ‘great one’ may be Yahweh Himself, or it may refer to the Babylonian king or army, but the sword will enter into their very houses in which they will be slain. It is set by God against their gates so that they have no effective defences and will be thrown into panic and disarray. It is invincible, made like lightning and with a sharpened point (compare the sword in Genesis 3.24). There will be no escape.
‘Make yourself one (or ‘gather yourself’), go to the right, set yourself in array, go to the left, wherever your face is set.’
The command may have been to Ezekiel as he portrayed in vivid mime the use of the sword, or it may be a general command to the wielders of the sword. But in either case the thought is that the handler of the sword would prepare himself and slay on all sides, right and left. There would be no avoiding it.
21.17 “I also will smite my hands together, and I will satisfy my fury, I Yahweh have spoken it.”
In verse 14 it was Ezekiel who smote his hands at what was to be. Here it is Yahweh Himself. For the set purposes of God were going forward and in the light of His final purposes His true people must feel along with Him. God’s anger (His righteous abhorrence of sin) at the sinfulness of His people has long been delayed but now it must be satisfied. God has spoken! It is His final word.
The Sword of the King of Babylon.
21.18-19 ‘The word of Yahweh came to me again, saying, “Also you son of man, appoint two ways that the sword of the king of Babylon may come. Those two shall come forth out of one land. And mark out a place, mark it out at the head of the way to the city.” ’
The theme of the sword continues, although the prophesy is a separate one and not directly linked with what has gone before, for it is a new word from Yahweh.
Ezekiel is instructed to depict the advance of the king of Babylon, possibly by means of marks on the ground or on a tablet. He is to depict two possible routes that the king may take after leaving Babylon when he comes to a fork which offers him two ways. He is to draw special attention to this point at which the road divides, where the final decision as to what city is to be first advanced on is determined. It is the head of the way that leads to ‘the city’, Jerusalem (and of the way that leads to Rabbah in Ammon).
21.20 “You will appoint a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and to Judah, to Jerusalem the defenced.”
The watchers wait in suspense as they see what has been mapped out before them, and are aware of the decision that has to be made as to which rebel city will be advanced on first. What is the decision going to be? One way will take the sword to Rabbah in Ammon, the other will take it to Judah and Jerusalem waiting in fearful anticipation with its defences bristling. Both will of course eventually be involved (see verse 28).
21.21a “For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination.”
Ezekiel slowly and deliberately depicts the king of Babylon as reaching the fork in the road and then stopping to determine by divination which route he would take. Every watcher must have had his heart in his mouth.
21.21b “He shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver.”
These were three ways of determining the will of the gods. The shaking up of arrows in their quiver (belomancy), in this case probably with the names of the cities on, and then drawing one out with suitable ritual (this was also a common practise among Arabs); consulting the teraphim, household cult objects used for divination (see 2 Kings 23.24); and examining the marks on the liver of a sacrificed animal (hepatoscopy), for which procedures were well known which were taught to the initiated, probably firstly by the use of clay models of which we have discovered examples.
Ezekiel no doubt in some way mimed each of these actions as the tension grew.
21.22 “In his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth for the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounts, to build forts.”
Ezekiel drew attention to the divination ‘in his right hand’ (which probably meant that it had been selected), that for Jerusalem, with all it portended. When it was followed it would result in the whole paraphernalia of warfare being applied against Jerusalem, the battering rams, the shouts for slaughter, the battlecries that chilled the blood, the casting up of mounts and the building of forts, all methods depicted in inscriptions. The second reference to battering rams amplifies the picture by depicting the attack on the gates, the vulnerable point of any city. Jerusalem was doomed.
21.23 “And it will be to them as vain divination in their sight, who have sworn solemn oaths to them (literally ‘oaths of oaths to them’). But he brings iniquity to remembrance that they might be taken.”
The point here would seem to be that the waiters and watchers in Jerusalem would dismiss what was happening as vain divination. They would not be in suspense. They would be confident that they were well able to resist, for they were full of confidence, having sworn solemn oaths with each other, and with others such as Ammon, and were at the ready, and probably because they also counted on a solemn treaty with Egypt for assistance (which came and then melted away).
‘Oath of oaths to them’ may possible be alternately translated ‘seven sevens to them’, and may indicate that they considered that there was plenty of time until victory was finally ensured at jubile - the fiftieth year. (Compare the seven sevens of Daniel 9.25 where the hope that victory would follow the seven sevens was dashed. Rather there would be seventy sevens).
Their hopes however would be in vain, because God would call to mind their iniquity with the result that only certain judgment awaited. They would be ‘taken’, that is defeated, and slain or made captive.
21.24 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins appear, because you are come to remembrance you will be taken with the hand.”
The brief statement at the end of verse 23 is amplified and it is made clear why the judgment of God is so severe. Their sins are speaking out clearly and loudly. By their sinful behaviour they have forced God’s attention on what they are. Their transgressions are made openly apparent (there is no shame). In everything they do their sin appears. Thus they constantly come to His remembrance, and will be suitably dealt with.
21.25-27 “And you, Oh wicked one marked for death (literally ‘Oh slain wicked one’), the prince of Israel whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end, thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Remove the turban, and take off the crown, things will not be the same, exalt what is low and abase what is high. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I will make it. This also will be no more until he come whose right it is. And I will give it to him.”
What is about to come will bring a total upheaval of society. The words are addressed to Zedekiah, ‘the prince of Israel’. He is depicted as ‘slain’, the overall meaning of the Hebrew word, and thus a marked man. In some contexts the word signifies disqualified because of some taint (Leviticus 21.7, 14). Thus some translate ‘unhallowed’. His day has come in this time of final punishment for sin. Thus he is to decrown himself and put aside his insignia of office, for things are about to be turned upside down. Nothing will be the same again. What is low is to be exalted, what is exalted is to be abased. All they have prided themselves in will become a ruin.
The threefold repetition of ‘a ruin’ stresses the emphasis on the overturning of society. Nothing will be the same again until ‘he comes whose right it is’ (see Genesis 49.10). To him it will be given.
So Zedekiah is finally rejected. The people cannot hope in him. He is not the expected ‘coming one’ of Genesis 49.10, and what he has built up will be destroyed. We discover here the expectancy that the people already had that a coming son of David and of Judah would arise who would put all to rights. Until He comes full restoration cannot take place, but when He does come God will set all to rights. He will have the crown.
God’s Judgment on Ammon Because of Their Behaviour.
Originally Ammon had sided with Babylon and had aided them in the invasion of Judah (2 Kings 24.2). Then they had allied themselves with Judah along with others (Jeremiah 27.2), which was why they were included in Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion plans (verse 20). After the fall of Jerusalem they would exploit the situation to their advantage and deride Jerusalem (see 25.1-7a). Thus they were uncomfortable allies.
This prophecy, added in here to connect with verse 20, probably refers to a slightly later period after the destruction of Jerusalem (25.1-7a) when Ammon, possibly smarting from her own defeat, will pour out reproaches on Judah and Jerusalem, and intend to take positive acquisitive action as well, for Jerusalem had borne the brunt of Nebuchadnezzar’s activities. But while God would bring His own judgment on Jerusalem, it was not open to others to do the same, and for it they would be condemned.
Its importance here cannot be overemphasised. It is another way of indicating that while Israel has been justly punished, it has not been forgotten before God.
21.28a “And you, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh concerning the children of Ammon, and concerning their reproach.”
God now turns His attention on the children of Ammon and the way they will reproach and deride defeated Jerusalem, and plan to inflict misery on them. They too will suffer disaster. Between these small nations there was a continual love-hate relationship.
21.28b “And say,
Once again we have a warsong, this time depicted as sung by Ammon, for the command comes for them to sheathe their sword (verse 30a) to await God’s judgment.
21.29 “While they portend (‘see’) vain things for you, while they divine lies to you, to lay you on the necks of the wicked who are mortally wounded, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end.”
The Ammonites have resorted to divination and have ‘seen’ lying prophecies and false visions which portend misery and destruction on the remnants of Jerusalem, the idea then being that they themselves have to fulfil it. In other words it is their intention to benefit by the situation. Thus they plan to pile up the survivors on the necks of those already slaughtered, ‘the wicked who are mortally wounded, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end’ (verse 25). This latter quotation stresses the finality of the misery that has come on Jerusalem, and God sees it as enough. The Ammonites have no right therefore to inflict further misery on them. They are still under God’s eye.
21.30-32 “Cause it to return to its sheath. In the place where you were created, in the land of your birth, I will judge you. And I will pour out my indignation on you, and I will blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver you into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy. You will be for fuel for the fire. Your blood will be in the midst of the land. You will be no more remembered. For I Yahweh have spoken it.”
Their vindictiveness has brought them also under God’s judgment, and they must desist. Indeed they have determined their own fate. Only that judgment now awaits them, and it will come on them in their own native land where they were first established as a nation, where God had watched over them too (Deuteronomy 2.19).
It is depicted in severe terms. God’s indignation, the fire of His wrath, being subjected to the hands of brutish war-skilled men, fuel for the fire, their land covered in blood, a nation destroyed. And in the end oblivion, to become a forgotten people, to the ancient the worst of all fates. And it is God Who has said it.
So while Jerusalem has faced the awful and seemingly final judgment of God there is here the recognition that there is hope for the future, for God has not taken His eye off them, and those who take advantage of them will themselves be destroyed.
Chapter 22 God’s Indictment on Jerusalem
This chapter consists of three oracles spoken against Jerusalem possibly at different times (verses 1, 17, 23). They are united by their message as they depict the extreme sinfulness of Jerusalem. They also act as a warning to others of what happens to those who behave in such a way.
Jerusalem, the City of Blood.
22.1-2 ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge, the bloody city? Then cause her to know all her abominations.” ’
Ezekiel continues in his silent vigil, speaking only when the word of Yahweh comes to him. God asks him whether he is prepared to pass act as prosecutor to a city filled with the spilling of blood. For the double rendering which intensifies the question compare 20.4.
‘The bloody city.’ This section repeats the word blood a number of times (verses 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 13). Its streets were stained with blood. ‘Blood’ often indicates physical violence and deliberate harm, and vileness, as well as death.
22.3-5 ‘And you will say, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, A city that sheds blood in the midst of her, that her time may come, and that makes idols against herself to defile her. You are become guilty in your blood that you have shed, and are defiled in your idols that you have made, and you have caused your days to draw near, and are come even to your years. Therefore have I made you a reproach to the nations, and a mocking to all the countries. Those that are near, and those that are far from you, will mock you, you who are defiled of name (and therefore ‘infamous’) and full of tumult.”
Ezekiel’s charge against Jerusalem is to be that they continue to shed blood freely, and to make the idols that defile her, bringing the time of their judgment on themselves. It was clearly a violent time. Blood was shed in the offering of their sons to Molech, and in courts that were prejudiced and hostile against those who were not in favour of the regime. Charges were probably brought against innocent men, and accepted, simply for political reasons or to destroy their influence and obtain their wealth (compare 1 Kings 21.1-16; 2 Kings 21.16; 24.4). Even Jeremiah found himself in danger of such a death (Jeremiah 38.4, 6). There was probably a split in views between those who followed Jeremiah in his teaching that they should submit to Nebuchadnezzar, and those who favoured the rebellion. When such ideas become white hot, violence always results. Thus were they guilty.
Furthermore the intensity of feeling multiplied idol worship, and probably also child sacrifice. They were desperate to obtain victory from the gods. What better way than to offer their dearest possessions? Possibly it had been introduced into the city from the valley of Hinnom, although that valley could be seen as part of ‘Jerusalem’. If so their idols had polluted the city even more than before. Thus were they even more defiled.
So by their behaviour they had ‘caused their days to draw near’, the days when they had to give account, and had ‘come to their years’, the time when they would have judgment passed on them. Both had been hastened by their evil behaviour. They had no one to blame but themselves. And that is why God was making them a reproach in the eyes of the nations, a mockery to many countries, for these would mock at the desolation of Jerusalem and of Judah. Countries both near and far would mock because she had defiled her name and was full of violence and tumult, and had brought judgment on herself.
22.6-8 “Behold the princes of Israel, every one according to his power, have been in you to shed blood. In you have they treated dismissively the authority of father and mother. In the midst of you they have dealt with the stranger by oppression. In you they have wronged the fatherless and the widow. You have despised my holy things and have profaned my sabbaths.”
Notice the ‘in you’ which is continually repeated in the following verses. God is speaking to Jerusalem and depicting why it is a condemned city because it shares in the sins of its inhabitants.
In it God’s commandments have been set at nought, and God’s law in Leviticus ignored. Murder was rife, with even their princes vying to demonstrate the level of their authority in terms of blood shed. The authority of parents (Exodus 20.12; Leviticus 19.3; 20.9), advocating restraint, has been set aside. Those on whom God called special favour, the stranger (Leviticus 19.33-34), the widows and the orphans (Exodus 22.21-24), the defenceless, have been wronged and ill-treated. God’s holy things have been despised and treated as of little account. The sabbaths have been neglected and profaned (compare Leviticus 19.3). This was the condition of Jerusalem egged on by their leaders. No wonder it was ripe for judgment.
22.9-11 “Slanderous men have been in you to shed blood, and in you they have eaten on the mountains. In the midst of you they have committed lewdness. In you they have discovered their fathers’ nakedness, in you they have humbled her who was unclean in her separation. And one has committed abomination with his neighbour’s wife, and another has lewdly defiled his daughter in law, and another in you has humbled his sister, his father’s daughter.”
The catalogue of sins continues. And this was in what they called ‘the holy city’. Men had brought about the deaths of others by slander and lies (see Exodus 20.16; Leviticus 19.16); idolatrous, licentious feasts had been celebrated within the city on its mountains; and sexual misbehaviour which it is even a shame to speak about had been practised widely (see Leviticus 18.7, 19, 20; 20.10, 12.17).
22.12 “In you have they taken bribes to shed blood, you have taken usury and increase, and you have greedily gained from your neighbours by oppression, and have forgotten me, says the Lord Yahweh.”
In Jerusalem the love of money has made men forget God, a common problem through the ages. Here men take bribes so as to bring about another’s death (compare Exodus 23.8; Isaiah 1.23; Amos 5.12; Micah 3.11), they take high interest from the poor, they take a high percentage of what the poor earn to cover their own loans, they oppress others so as to gain from them (Exodus 22.21-24; 23.9; Leviticus 19.33; Deuteronomy 24.17), and all because they have forgotten God. We must all remember that the way we live ever demonstrates whether we remember God or not.
They would, of course, have protested that they had not forgotten God. That the daily sacrifices were still offered, that they still gave some recognition to the God of Israel. But God’s point was that they had not remembered Him as He was, a holy and righteous God. The Yahweh they ‘worshipped’ was but a pale, undemanding shadow of what He really was. And that applied to Ezekiel’s listeners as well.
22.13 “Behold therefore I have smitten my hand at your dishonest gain which you have made, and at your blood which has been in the midst of you.”
What has happened in Jerusalem has made God ‘smite his hand’, in anger and determination to do something. Two sins stand out, those of dishonest business dealings and especially of treating the poor and defenceless dishonestly, and that of murder by various means. both violent and judicial.
22.14 “Can your heart endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I will deal with you? I, Yahweh, have spoken it and will do it.”
God’s warning comes loud and clear. Those who disobey His commandments will have to face His judgment. And do they think that they will then be able to endure or be strong in the face of God’s enmity and anger? And they can be sure that it will happen, because God has said it.
22.15-16 “And I will scatter you among the nations, and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your filthiness out of you, and you will be profaned in yourself in the sight of the nations, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
God will deal with them by scattering them among the nations and dispersing them through many countries. They knew what this would involve, either being led in chains to a foreign land, or fleeing as refugees to places where life would be hard and they might well find themselves unwelcome. Their wealth, such as it was, would be eaten up, and they would often face degradation. Furthermore it would tend to destroy their identity, and to make them a byword to those among whom they settled. And they would be away from the land of their inheritance.
But the purpose of all this was so as to make them face up to their sinfulness, was so that their filthiness might be taken out of them, burned out by their humiliating experiences, and so that they might recognise by what they underwent that they had diminished themselves by ceasing to be what God had intended for them, to be witnesses to the nations, they had ‘profaned’ themselves, thus hopefully bringing them to consider how they could restore themselves to their proper purpose as they came to recognise Who and What Yahweh really was.
‘And you will know that I am Yahweh.’ This is a constant theme in Ezekiel. This in the end was God’s purpose.
The House of Israel Who Are Full of Impurity.
22.17-18 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, the house of Israel is become dross to me, all of them are brass and tin and iron and lead in the midst of the furnace. They are the dross of silver.”
In this second oracle ‘the house of Israel’ are described as dross, the impurities that are left when the silver is purified. And while the main idea is of ‘the house of Israel’ in Jerusalem and Judah, there is an implication in the use of the term that it also includes much of Israel far and wide. They are impure and unworthy.
We may here see it as meaning that brass, tin, iron and lead, which were of a lesser value in themselves, were to silver as comparative dross, for Ezekiel is not speaking as a metallurgist. To him compared with silver they are nothing. They are equal to the dross of silver. On the other hand some see it as meaning that Israel are as the dross of all these impure metals when they are refined.
It is important to see that, unlike other Old Testament passages, the idea here is not that they will be refined, but that they will be destroyed as worthless dross.
22.19-20 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Because you are all become dross, behold therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem, as they gather silver and brass and iron and lead and tin into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire on it to melt it. So will I gather you in my anger and in my fury, and I will lay you there and melt you.”
Ezekiel as a non-expert had no doubt witnessed the pouring of all these metals in their impure form into the furnace where the bellows blew them to white heat and they melted, and there they turned into purified metal and into dross. God showed him in it a picture of His wrath revealed against Jerusalem/Judah removing anything pure and leaving them as dross.
The gathering of them all ‘into the midst of Jerusalem’ was itself a vivid picture. As the invading armies drew nearer the defenceless people would stream into Jerusalem to take advantage of her strong walls. But they would not realise, until Ezekiel revealed it, that they were being gathered into a furnace where they would be melted down and revealed as dross in the light of God’s anger.
22.21-22 “Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you will be melted in its midst. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so will you be melted in its midst. And you will know that I Yahweh have poured out my fury on you.”
It is now reiterated and emphasised that the house of Israel in Jerusalem/Judah are like the dross of metals in the midst of the furnace where the silver is purified. Ezekiel is thinking of them as impure, unrefined silver ore, indeed the dross within that silver.
All Levels of People Are Included in Jerusalem’s Condemnation.
In this oracle prophets, priests, princes and the people of the land are all indicted for their evil behaviour.
22.23 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed nor rained on in the day of indignation.” ’
Ezekiel now declares his third oracle. It concentrates on the infiltration of evil into the whole of society. Its first warning is that there will be no renewal of the land by rain because of God’s anger against them.
In it God gives warning that the rains which were the lifeblood of the land will fail in ‘the day of indignation’, the day of His anger (compare Isaiah 5.6; Zechariah 14.17). Notice the comparison of the falling of rain with the cleansing of the land. This will be taken up in 36.25. As the rain fell and life was renewed it was seen as a purification and a regeneration. (This would later be central in the teaching of John the Baptiser). But for this land in its evil there was to be no purification, no regeneration. It is in direct contrast with the ‘showers of blessing’ in 34.26 producing great fruitfulness.
(There is absolutely no reason for changing the Hebrew text from ‘cleansed’ to ‘rained on’. LXX, which does so, may well have been by interpretative translation rather than as indication of a different text and 36.25 demonstrates that Ezekiel links cleansing with rain).
22.25 “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst of her, like a roaring lion ravening the prey. They have devoured people. They take treasure and precious things. They have made her widows many in her midst.”
As the text stands it declares that the prophets, who should have been such a force for good as they brought the word of Yahweh to His people, had instead become like ravening lions, using their position to ‘raven their prey’. The word ‘conspiracy’ is telling. This must signify that they had formed a conspiracy together to prophesy to the leaders, in Yahweh’s name, what they wanted to hear, enabling them ‘in His name’ to ‘devour people’, steal their possessions, and dispose of many who got in their way, leaving their distressed widows behind (compare Jeremiah 15.8). It was an ungodly combination of false preachers and evil leadership.
It is possible, however, that we are to read here rather ‘whose princes in the midst of her’ (which would be ’aser nesi’eha) as in LXX rather than ‘a conspiracy of her prophets (qeser nebi’eha). I never like altering the text without very solid reasons but this change could be supported by two factors. It would mean that we have five separate classes condemned, royal princes (nasi), priests, prophets, aristocracy (sarim) and landed gentry (people of the land, which would include all full citizens), rather than prophets being mentioned twice (verse 28). Furthermore the activities mentioned fit better with princes than with prophets.
But against this change is the question as to how such a distinctive change would take place and not be spotted. The fact is that God may have had the princes in mind but have been more angry that His prophets had misused their status in assisting them by prophesying falsely in their favour. LXX may again have been interpretative rather than literal. And it is difficult to see why the Hebrew text would have been changed in this way by a scribe, even by accident.
But in either case we are to see here the leadership, possibly assisted by the official prophets, misusing their authority and status for selfish and evil purposes, like roaring lions devouring the weak, by dispossessing people, by heavy taxes, by wrong confiscation of goods, by false penalties and by general dishonesty.
22.26 “Her priests have done violence to my law, and have profaned my holy things. They have put no difference between the holy and the common, nor have they caused men to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, and they have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.”
The priests also come under heavy criticism. Doing violence to the Law may suggest that they have distorted it in their teaching (as the Pharisees would later) or it may signify that that they have done violence to it by repressing it and not teaching it at all. The profaning of holy things suggests carelessness in their approach to them, and a tendency to treat them lightly. This is amplified by pointing out that they did not distinguish what was holy according to the Law from what was common, and that they failed to teach the people what was ritually ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’. This failure would go along with idol worship.
They failed further in not teaching and requiring the keeping of sabbaths, even ignoring the requirements themselves. Thus God Himself was (from their point of view, and from Ezekiel’s) being ‘profaned’ by ‘contact’ with the unclean and by having His feasts ignored. God’s demands were no longer being considered as important. It all went with the lax attitude towards His commandments.
23.27 “Her nobles in her midst are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood and to destroy people, that they may get dishonest gain.”
This confirms that the royal princes were in mind in 25, for they were like lions whereas the nobles here are like wolves. But they too are just as rapacious and treat people as prey, shed blood, destroy people, and use every means to obtain dishonest gain.
23.28 “And her prophets have daubed for them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity and divining lies to them, saying ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh’ when Yahweh has not spoken.”
As with the royal masters, so with the aristocrats, the prophets had become their tools. They had ‘covered them with whitewash’ to hide their deficiencies, using unfit mortar to repair what was broken down, so that it finished up no better than it was. They had used false means and ‘revealed’ what was in fact vain, indeed whatever vanity their aristocratic masters desired. By divination they had falsely divined what was untrue. And they have had the presumption to put their words into the mouth of Yahweh, even though Yahweh had not spoken them. Popular false teachers and preachers are plentiful in every age.
23.29 “The people of the land have used oppression and exercised robbery, yes they have vexed the poor and needy, and have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.”
The ‘worthy citizens’ of the land had been no better. In their turn they had oppressed and swindled those beneath them. The people of the land were the landed gentry, and the full citizens, men of worth and repute. But they deserved to be called neither for they took advantage of the poor and needy, grabbed their land, made them bondsmen, and took advantage of aliens in their midst.
Under all these pressures life was hard for those at the bottom of the ladder, princes no doubt oppressed nobles, and nobles some of the landed gentry, but the poor suffered under them all. And God had noted it and was angry.
23.30 “And I sought for a man among them who would make up the fence and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, and I found none.”
This was the final dreadful fact that when God sought for one man from all these described who could stand up and plead for the land with God, who could stand between Him and those who were to be judged, there was not one. In general the land was empty of righteous men. True there was Jeremiah His prophet. True there were those who assisted him and sought to protect him, and there were as ever the remnant of the righteous. But of the total recognised leadership, with the recognised status to act, none was fit or ready. There was none who was influential enough to stand in the gap, intercede for the people and bring them with him as Moses had once done (Numbers 16.45-48; Exodus 32.31-32).
This suggestion does not contradict His words in 14.12-23. There the argument was that the people were so wicked that even those three righteous men present among them would not stem God’s judgment. Here He is saying the same thing in another way, that in fact there was not one who was fit to act as an intercessor. (He is not saying that one could have succeeded, but that there was not even one who could try. Compare 13.5).
22.31 “Therefore have I poured out my indignation on them, I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. Their own way have I brought on their heads, says the Lord Yahweh.”
It was because of this total lack of worthiness among the ‘cream’ of the land that God brought on them His final judgment. Here He sees it as though it were already fulfilled. He has now purposed it, the future will outwork those purposes.
Chapter 23 A Parable Concerning Israel and Judah.
The final judgment of Jerusalem was fast approaching, and in this parable is provided the justification for it. It depicts in its intensity the depths to which God’s people had fallen and shows why they had to be judged. Yet it does not hide from the fact that they were like that from the very beginning. There had never been a long period when they had been worthy. However, God had been gracious to them in their unworthiness, but now their sinfulness has come to fruition. Their iniquity was now full. The chapter is difficult to commentate on in depth because it is so sordid, for it is seeking to bring out the disgusting state of the people. But where God has spoken we must seek to understand. (For the whole compare chapter 16 and Jeremiah 3.6-11).
The Two Daughters.
23.1-4 “The word of Yahweh came again to me saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. And they committed whoredoms in Egypt. They committed whoredoms in their youth. There were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity. And the names of them were Oholah, the eldest, and Oholibah her sister. And they became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem Oholoibah.”
The theme of two daughters occurs simply because it was a fact of history. God’s people had divided into two nations after the death of Solomon. There is no need to seek any further antecedents to the idea. Israel was the mother, Samaria and Jerusalem, capital cities of north (Israel) and south (Judah) as representing the two nations that came from her, were the daughters.
Their nationhood had begun in Egypt, and it had been an unhappy beginning. The picture of Israel in Egypt was not a pleasant one. They had worshipped a selection of foreign gods, and that worship had led them into sexual perversion and evil living. They had allowed themselves to be manhandled by what was unworthy. They had fallen not only into slavery but into degradation and idolatry.
‘And they became mine, and they bore sons and daughters.’ Their deliverance is mentioned in the briefest of terms, but it is full of glory none-the-less. ‘They became Yahweh’s.’ He delivered them and as it were entered into a marriage covenant with them at Sinai. And from then on they were clean from their degradation because they were His and He had provided for their cleansing. The result was that ‘they bore sons and daughters’. This may refer to the fact that they multiplied and grew, or it may have reference to those of other nations who joined with them in their intimacy with Yahweh e.g. Exodus 12.38), or in fact to both. Things had begun to look promising for a wonderful family life.
The names Oholah and Oholibah mean ‘her tent’ and ‘my tent is in her’. Compare Esau’s wife Oholibamah, ‘tent of the high place’ (Genesis 36.2). Thus the tents are cultic. Samaria had established her own sanctuary, but Jerusalem’s contained the true Tabernacle of Yahweh. Yet both could have been acceptable if the people had proved worthy. (God had demonstrated this by sending prophets to both). The way ahead had seemed rosy.
The Fall of Oholah (of Samaria).
23.5a “And Oholah played the prostitute when she was mine.”
Here was the first downfall after the restoration. Oholah had proved false. She had been Yahweh’s own, but she had turned from the pure worship of Yahweh to other lovers, and her behaviour had followed suit.
23.5b-6 “And she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbours, who were clothed with blue, governors and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. And she bestowed her whoredoms on them, the choicest men of Assyria, all of them. And on whoever she doted, she defiled herself with all their idols.”
This is to be seen as very much a potted summary of her history. Assyria were the most prominent of those whom she looked to, and were the ones who in the end brought about her downfall. She saw them, and was dazzled by them, and responded to them, welcoming their gods with open arms, as she had those before Assyria such as Baal Melkart. They were such as would be attractive to any woman, clothed in blue (possibly a sumptuous violet blue), people of authority (the terms are Akkadian loan words meaning district governors and satraps) , young and desirable, riding proudly on horseback. And she gave herself to them and doted on their idols.
History tells us how they subjected themselves to Assyria by paying tribute with its accompanying subjection. The Black Obelisk of Shamaneser III depicts Jehu prostrating himself before the king of Assyria and offering tribute (about 840 BC), seeking his assistance against his enemies. Adad Nirari III also speaks of receiving tribute ‘from the territory of Omri’, a synonym for Israel. (Omri had been a great Israelite king admired by Assyria). See also 2 Kings 15.19-20; 17.3; Hosea 3.1; 7.11; 8.9; 12.1.
So she who should have been gazing at Yahweh and should have been faithful to Him alone, rather turned her gaze on the splendour and power of the world outside and made them the object of her love, as Israel had previously done in Egypt, and that led on to rampant idolatry with all that that involved.
‘Her neighbours.’ Some have cavilled at the idea that Assyria could be called Israel’s ‘neighbour’ (qarob), one who is near. But by the time of Ezekiel the Mesopotamian world and the Egyptian world were the prominent friend/enemy (alternately) of the north and south, and would thus be seen as near in comparison with the further unknown world which was a mystery. They were near enough to be called on for military assistance.
Alternatives suggested have been to relate qarob to a late Hebrew word for ‘war’ (qerab), giving the meaning of ‘warrior’, a small emendation to the text to make the word mean ‘warriors’ based on the Assyrian quradu, or a connection with the qurbutu, an Assyrian officer close to the king and used in intelligence missions and discreet contact.
23.8-10 “Neither has she left her whoredoms since the days of Egypt, for in her youth they lay with her, and they bruised the teats of her virginity, and they poured out their whoredoms on her. This is why I delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians on whom she doted. These discovered her nakedness. They took her sons and her daughters, and her they slew with the sword and she became a byword among women , for they executed judgments on her.”
Since the days of Egypt Israel had never known a period of pure innocence. She had been sinful and unfaithful to God in Egypt, she was sinful and unfaithful in the wilderness, she continued sinful and unfaithful through the Book of Judges, and she had continued so to the end. She had constantly given herself to idolatry and all the evils that accompanied it, and that was why Yahweh had allowed her to become the plaything of the Assyrians. These treated her as badly as men treat low prostitutes. They took everything from her, her land, her people, her villages. She herself was put to the sword and she became the laughingstock of the nations because of what she suffered. Indeed her name became a byword.
The Fall of Oholibah, of Jerusalem.
23.11 “And her sister Oholibah saw this, yet she was more corrupt in her doting than she, and in her whoredoms which were more than the whoredoms of her sister.”
Jerusalem-Judah was even worse than her sister, for she sought not only to Assyria but to Babylon, and she did it by choice.
23.12-13 “She doted on the Assyrians, governors and rulers, her neighbours, clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. And I saw that she was defiled. They both took one way.”
Her first ‘affair’ was with the Assyrians. This probably has in mind the approach of Ahaz to Assyria for assistance (2 Kings 16.8), which necessarily resulted in having to pay tribute and make submission. Isaiah (7.7-13) made clear that this approach was not necessary, and was indeed sinful, based on a lack of trust in Yahweh. Again the picture is of seeking the most desirable and prestigious of men, for which compare on verses 5-6. The result was that she was defiled (ravished).
‘They both took one way.’ Both Oholah and Oholibah behaved similarly.
23.14-15 “And she increased her whoredoms, for she saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, belted with belts on their loins, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them officers to look on, after the likeness of the Babylonians in Chaldea, the land of their birth.”
These gorgeous cultic pictures painted on Babylonian walls had become familiar to Ezekiel since coming to Babylonia, and may possibly have been reproduced in some small way, through Babylonian influence, in Jerusalem. They were a vivid means of portraying the way that Jerusalem had been seduced by Babylonian sophistication and had become wrapped up in Babylon, like young women falling in love with a photograph of a uniformed officer.
‘Vermilion (shashar).’ This refers to a lead or iron oxide yielding a bright red pigment suitable for wall painting.
23.16 “And as soon as she saw them she doted on them, and sent messages to them to Chaldea.”
This possibly has in mind the action of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39.1-8; 2 Kings 20.12-19), depicted in terms of a lovesick girl writing to someone whose photograph (depicted likeness) she has seen. But the idea is also more general. The flirtation was a continuous one.
23.17 “And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love. And they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her soul was alienated from them.”
The relationship had developed into an adulterous one. Jerusalem became wrapped up in Babylonian culture and religion and was thus further defiled. The point here is that Jerusalem had not been dragged screaming into dependence on Babylon but had openly embraced it. They had no one to blame but themselves. But the demands made also became excessive and resulted in alienation. It was a love-hate relationship. It was this alienation that would eventually destroy her.
23.18 “So she openly carried on her whoredoms and flaunted her nakedness. Then my soul was alienated from her in the same way as my soul was alienated from her sister.”
God was so disgusted at her behaviour that He turned from her like a disgusted husband, as He had previously done from Samaria. He had put up with as much as He could take. Both had chosen their own fate.
23.19-20 “Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, remembering the days of her youth in which she had played the harlot in Egypt, and she doted on their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.”
Through all the centuries Israel had not changed. She behaved now as she had in Egypt before God had delivered her. Israel’s heart had never really become free from idolatry, and the licentiousness and evil behaviour that went with it. She delighted in all that was offered to her by these sophisticated and depraved nations and took it to her heart, filled with admiration at what they could offer, and not recognising how it degraded her. Asses and horses were highly prized, and were proverbial for their strong sexual drive (compare Jeremiah 2.24; 5.8; 13.27), and the picture is one of admiration and appreciation.
The reference to Egypt may have had in mind the current attempts at alliance (Jeremiah 37.5), but is mainly to emphasise that Israel’s behaviour had an essential part of her from the beginning. The concentration, however, is on Babylon (verse 23). Babylon, and all the evil and worldliness that it represented, was in her heart.
It was a Babylonish garment which was one of the prized possessions that tempted Achan to sin (Joshua 7.21), and it was Babylon that was ‘the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride’ (Isaiah 13.19). It was Babel where man’s arrogance was displayed (Genesis 11.1-9). ‘Babylon the Great’ was the symbol of all that stood against God (Daniel 4.30; Revelation 17.5).
23.21 “Thus you called to mind the lewdness of your youth, in the bruising of your teats by the Egyptians because of your youthful breasts.”
They are pictured as looking back with longing to when their breasts were admired and were heavily fondled. They want this to happen again. Their concentration is on the sensual rather than the spiritual.
The Judgments of God on Oholibah (Jerusalem) Through Her Lovers Because of Her Evil Ways In Order To Purify Her.
23.22-23 ‘Therefore, Oh Oholibah, thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will raise up your lovers against you, from whom your soul is alienated, and I will bring them against you on every side, the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and rulers all of them, princes and those proclaimed, all of them riding on horses.”
Her loves had proved unfaithful and not lasting, for now she was alienated from them, for there is only pleasure in sin for a season. So these erstwhile lovers will now gather against her, their splendour now only making her realise the certainty of her fate.
Her lovers are listed. Babylonians and Chaldeans had become almost synonymous, but the distinction looks back to their earlier origins. The Chaldeans came from southern Babylonia, the result of Aramaean infiltration from the Syrian desert. Pekod, Shoa and Koa were also possibly the Aramaean tribes east of the River Tigris known in inscriptions as Puqudu, Sutu and Qutu. So the list reveals a knowledge of Babylonian background and describes a multiplicity of lovers. Note the inclusion of the Assyrians. They had been absorbed into the Babylonian empire and were remembered because of their past associations with Israel. They had destroyed Oholah and Ezekiel wants to include them in the destruction of Oholibah.
But they are to see that it is finally Yahweh Who has brought them against her. They are the instruments of divine judgment. In the final analysis all is from the hand of Yahweh.
23.24 “And they will come against you with weapons, chariots and wagons and a gathering of peoples. They will set themselves against you with buckler and shield and helmet on every side (‘round about’), and I will commit the judgment to them, and they will judge you according to their judgments.”
The meaning of the word translated here ‘weapons’ is unknown. LXX translates ‘from the north’. It is probably based on an Akkadian term and weapons is a reasonable possibility. ‘Wagons’ is literally ‘rolling things’. But the meaning of the overall verse is clear, they are to be surrounded with instruments and messengers of destruction, subjected to every instrument of death. They will be judged by Babylonian standards, for God will hand their judgment over to them. It was David who earlier said that this was the worst of all fates, to be handed over to the tender mercies of men (2 Samuel 24.14).
23.25-26 “And I will set my jealousy against you, and they will deal with you in fury. They will take away your nose and your ears, and your residue will fall by the sword. They will take away your sons and your daughters and your residue will be devoured by the fire. They will also strip you of your clothes, and take away your fair jewels.”
The punishment is portrayed as occurring because of Yahweh’s jealousy over their following other gods, but is dreadful, following Babylonian patterns (so its dreadfulness is by the design of men). As David said, they would have been better to have fallen directly into the hand of God. The cutting off of the nose and ears was a punishment for adulterous women, for they were the parts flaunted by her nose and ear rings, and also for captured prisoners of war, so that the picture is doubly applicable. It is apt. She had flaunted her beauty to her lovers, and now her lovers take it away from her. In other words she would lose her beauty. The taking away of sons and daughters was also a punishment that could happen to a disgraced woman. She loses all that is precious in life. But it was also a picture of the final exile of the people.
These two illustrations are then paralleled with their actual fulfilment in their falling by the sword and their suffering in the burning of their city (see 2 Kings 24.10-16; 25.11; Daniel 1.1; 2 Kings 25.18-21). That is, all who remain after the terrible things that will come on her. Ezekiel then returns to the parable picturing it all in terms of the stripping away of her beautiful clothing and her prized jewels. All the glories and luxuries she had enjoyed from Babylon, and the wealth that she had built up, would be stripped away. Her unfaithfulness will have brought her nothing. This may partly have in mind the loss of the Temple treasures (2 Kings 25.13-17; 2 Chronicles 36.18).
23.27 “Thus will I make your lewdness to cease from you, and your whoredom, brought with you from the land of Egypt, so that you will not lift up your eyes to them, nor remember Egypt any more.”
Yet God’s final purpose is merciful. It should be noted that after his depiction of severe judgments Ezekiel constantly comes back to future hope. Here the lessons learned will result in their putting aside idolatry and the influence of Egypt once and for all. They will cease their licentious behaviour and their following after strange and corrupt gods. Their minds will no longer hanker back to Egypt. The root which was in her from her earliest days in Egypt will be removed for ever. They will look only to Yahweh.
Oholibah (Jerusalem) Will Drink of The Cup of Suffering and Desolation.
23.28-29 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Behold I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hand of those from whom your soul is alienated. And they will deal with you in hatred, and will take away all your labour, and will leave you naked and bare. And the nakedness of your whoredoms will be discovered, both your lewdness and your whoredoms.”
Now the relationship between her and her ex-lovers is one of unadulterated hatred. All that she had hoped to gain from it will be lost, for she will be stripped of all that she has. What she has worked and toiled for, the fruit of her labour, will be taken away. But most of all she will be openly revealed as what she is in the multiplicity of her sins. She will be an object of disgust and contempt.
When those who have once professed to know and serve God turn away from Him at the enticement of other things, their way is far worse even than that of those who have never known. They lose on every count.
23.30 “These things will be done to you, for you have gone a-whoring after the heathen, and because you are polluted with their idols.”
And all this was to come on her because she had turned her back on her faithful Protector and had looked to other less worthy objects of desire, and given them her love and devotion. They had become polluted with their idols.
23.31 “You have walked in the way of your sister, therefore I will give her cup into your hand.”
All could remember the stories of that terrible day when Samaria had been ravaged and her people taken away by the Assyrians into captivity. It was a lesson deeply imprinted on their minds. But it was an unlearned lesson, for their behaviour had paralleled that of Samaria. And now it was to happen to them in the same way. They must drink of the same cup, put into their hands by the hand of Yahweh.
The picture of hard human experience as the drinking of a cup is a fairly common one. See Psalm 11.6; 60.3; 75.8; Isaiah 51.17; 51.22; Jeremiah 25.15-29; 49.12-13; 51.7; Lamentations 4.21; Habakkuk 2.16; Zechariah 12.2. Compare also the cup of scorn in the Ugaritic literature. Men were used to seeing the effects of heavy drinking of wine, the reeling, the light-headedness, the vomiting, the uncontrolled behaviour, the collapse. To ‘drink’ was to experience fully, to receive to the full until they were sated.
23.32-34 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh:
For I have spoken, the word of the Lord Yahweh.”
This vivid poem in a three-two metre brings home God’s message to Jerusalem and its awful consequences. She is likened to someone drinking deeply from a large cup so that she loses all control over herself. And the wine she drinks is of sorrow, waste and desolation. All will laugh at her drunken behaviour once she has drunk, and when she has broken the cup she will gnaw at the broken pieces in her drunkenness, it is all that is now left to her, and she will tear at her breasts in anguish. And the cup she will drink will be the same as that drunk by her sister Samaria. She is to share the same fate. And it is doubly stressed that this is the word of Yahweh. She, as it were, drinks the cup at His hand.
As ever we must not overpress the parable. The stress of the song is on the fact that she will drink, not on who gave her the cup. The point of the song is that she is drinking what she has brought on herself, and drinking deeply to the derision of others, and will thus end up in pathetic need and despair. her end will be in desperation. Those who keep bad company will reap the consequences.
A Final Verdict.
23.35 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh. Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, therefore bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution.”
Here is God’s final verdict. Jerusalem has turned its back on God in order to enjoy illicit pleasure with others. It must therefore now bear the consequences of its extreme behaviour. It is true for all. What we sow we will in the end reap.
God’s Charge to Ezekiel to Press on Samaria and Jerusalem Their Sins.
This whole passage is impressionable because it seeks to bring out God’s deep emotion at the behaviour of His people Israel, both of Samaria and Jerusalem. It reveals that God sees history as one whole. It begins with Him calling on Ezekiel to bring charges against both cities, and then, as though He is so angry that He cannot restrain Himself, it continues with Him speaking directly to Samaria and Jerusalem about their unforgivable behaviour. Then He returns to speaking to Ezekiel.
The Charges Ezekiel is to Bring against Samaria and Jerusalem.
23.36-37 ‘Moreover Yahweh said to me, “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations, for they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and they have committed adultery with their idols. And they have also caused their sons, whom they bore to me, to pass through the fire to them to be devoured.” ’
The question was not really intended to give Ezekiel an option. Rather it was a way of introducing the charges. Four main charges were to be laid against both Samaria and Jerusalem by Ezekiel. Sexual misbehaviour, violence, idolatry and child sacrifice. Spiritual adultery was also included in the idea. It should be noted that the first two sins of practical adultery and violence, a result of their ignoring Yahweh’s covenant and following idols, are paralleled in the second two sins, spiritual adultery and spiritual violence. They were behaving as they thought the gods behaved, and doing what they thought the gods expected. Misbehaviour regularly follows wrong belief.
‘Their sons, whom they bore to me.’ They are doubly guilty in that they offered to these gods what was essentially Yahweh’s. Their sons had been dedicated to Yahweh and to the covenant by circumcision and sacrifice. Now they offered them to Molech. So this added spiritual theft to their crimes.
23.38-39 “Moreover they have done this to me. They have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, they then came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it. And lo, thus have they done in the midst of my house.”
Guilt piled on guilt. Not only had they offered their children to Molech, they had done it on the sabbath and had then gone to God’s sanctuary as though they had done nothing wrong, indeed no doubt feeling how holy they had been. This was syncretism with a vengeance, for they were so far wrong that they no doubt expected Yahweh to be pleased with what they had done. So can superstition destroy true religion. But God was far from pleased. He was furiously angry. All that He had patiently taught them had been thrown aside. Northern Israel was involved in the defiling of the sanctuary because what remained of them had now found refuge in Judah and they were equally guilty.
In His Anger God Then Speaks Directly to Samaria and Jerusalem.
23.40-41 “And furthermore you sent for men who came from far, to whom a messenger was sent, and lo, they came. For whom you washed yourself, and painted your eyes, and decked yourselves with ornaments, and sat on a stately bed with a table prepared before it, on which you set my incense and my oil.”
Their actions had been deliberate and voluntary. In the first case these ‘men’ had not come unwanted, they had been invited. They had sent messengers to them, like a prostitute might send messages to her lovers, as they entered into alliances with other nations. It had begun with Solomon in his later years, for the number of his wives indicated matches made for treaty purposes (1 Kings 11.1-8). It continued when Asa sought aid from the king of Syria (1 Kings 15.18-20), and when Ahab entered into marriage treaty with Zidon (1 Kings 16.31-33). We know from the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III that Jehu of Israel was tributary to Assyria, and 2 Kings 16.7; 2 Chronicles 28.16 also describe the first contact of Ahaz of Judah with Assyria, when he sought Assyria’s assistance. From then on Judah was officially tributary to Assyria. Hezekiah also foolishly accepted the messengers from Babylon (2 Kings 20.12-13), whether he had sought them we do not know, but it is likely. They would not have come without some invitation. So their invitations had voluntarily gone out.
These earlier involvements then resulted in necessary later treaties. Manasseh’s behaviour suggests treaty obligation to Assyria (2 Kings 21.3-5). Jehoiakin made a treaty with Pharaoh and Egypt (2 Kings 23.35), and then with Babylon (2 Kings 24.1). And all these treaties also resulted in involvement with those nation’s gods (1 Kings 11.4-5; 16.32; 2 Kings 16.10-15; 21.3-5). (For other treaty situations see also 2 Kings 15.19; 16.5; 17.3, 4).
And they had prepared themselves so that they would appear attractive and desirable, with the offer of gifts and pleasure to those who came. They had taken what was God’s and dispensed it to them and to their idols. The incense and oil of the sanctuary were especially sacred but they had been offered to other gods. All done because they were seeking their aid and their friendship when they should have looked to God. They had prostituted themselves to the nations.
The sudden change from plural ‘you’ to the singular indicates that God is now speaking to each ‘woman’ as individual (a return to the plural occurs in verses 42 and 44) to emphasise that each chose their own way.
23.42 “And the voice of a partying crowd (a multitude being at ease) was with her, and with men of a common sort were brought drunkards from the wilderness. And they put bracelets on their hands and beautiful crown on their heads.”
Treaties were not only made with the larger nations. Necessity produced strange bedfellows, and they both proved willing to ally themselves with any who they felt could help them. Their companions had slowly sunk from the desirable young men of verses 6, 12 and 23 to common men and desert-dwellers, and wilderness drunkards, such as Arabians, Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites. But these too were willing to bring them gifts and pamper them. Their downward descent reflects what was often the lot of the prostitute as she lost her beauty, bedfellows who were less and less pleasant.
23.43-44 “Then I said of her who was old in adulteries, ‘Now will they commit whoredoms with her, and she with them’. And they went in to her as they go into a prostitute, so they went in to Oholah and Oholibah, the lewd women.
The sad picture of an aged prostitute depicts the depths to which Samaria and Jerusalem had fallen. But they had still refused to turn back to God, indeed they had become more and more involved in widespread idolatry as we have seen earlier (see for example chapter 8).
23.45 “And righteous men, they will judge them with the judgment of adulteresses and with the judgment of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses and blood is in their hands.”
God now appeals to all who are righteous to pass judgment on them. All who think truly will join with Him in condemning them as guilty of adultery and blood guiltiness, for they have clearly shown themselves to be guilty. Some see this as referring to the righteous remnant of Israel, but it may equally apply to all righteous men, of all truly moral men.
Their Final Fate Is Sealed.
23.46 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will bring up a gathering (of men) against them and give them to be tossed to and fro and spoiled.”
Men can be very unpleasant when they get together in drunken mood and egg each other on, and the picture here is of the fallen women being tossed about and humiliated and degraded in a gathering of drunkards. It is the final depiction of their degradation which will be followed by their punishment.
23.47 “And the gathering (of men) will stone them with stones, and despatch them with swords. They will slay their sons and their daughters and burn their houses with fire.”
The gathering of men turn out to be the approaching enemy. Their end is near. There is a multiple implication here. Stoning with stones was the fate decreed for an adulteress (Deuteronomy 22.21-24). and for an idolater (Deuteronomy 13.10; 17.5; Leviticus 20.2; Numbers 14.10). It was also the means by which a besieged city was attacked with missiles. All three applied to Samaria and Jerusalem. The despatching with swords then follows the missile attacks, followed by slaughter and destructive fire. The ‘sons and daughters’ refer to the people of Jerusalem and Samaria and the attached villages. It had already happened to Samaria, now it would happen to Jerusalem.
23.48 “Thus will I cause lewdness to cease out of the land, that all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness.”
This destruction will be a lesson to all women not to indulge in immoral practises. It will also rid the land of such behaviour once and for all. As the next verse demonstrates this suggestion of lewdness also includes idolatry, but it must not simply be seen as referring to that, as the reference to its applicability especially to women makes clear. It refers to all lewd behaviour. However lewdness and idolatry often went together.
23.49 “And they will recompense your lewdness on you, and you will bear the sins of your idols. And you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.”
The enemy will carry out God’s judgment. They will punish Jerusalem and Samaria for their behaviour. And God’s erstwhile people will receive the punishment that they deserve for their idolatry. Thus will they be made to recognise Who and What Yahweh really is, that He is the covenant God and requires full obedience to His covenant.
Chapter 24 The Destruction of Jerusalem Comes At Last!
Some of those who had listened to Ezekiel must have thought, as time went by and nothing happened, that he was being proved to be a false prophet, but then the news came through that Jerusalem was under siege, and they immediately had to recognise that his prophecy was possibly coming about. At such news all must have been suddenly awakened from their scepticism. Perhaps what he was saying really was from God after all. So they came to hear what he had to say, and he confirmed that there was indeed no hope for Jerusalem. It was doomed as he had foretold.
The Allegory of the Cauldron.
24.1-2 ‘Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, write down yourself the name of the day, even of this selfsame day. The king of Babylon drew close to Jerusalem this selfsame day.” ’
This day was a momentous day, and Ezekiel was told to write it down so that it would be remembered. It was the day when the forces of Nebuchadnezzar appeared before Jerusalem and the long siege was began that would end in its destruction (33.21). It was in January 588 BC, in the ninth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity. Compare for this 2 Kings 25.1; Jeremiah 52.4.
Some cavil at the idea that Ezekiel could have this so clearly revealed to him when he was so far away, but such telepathic communication is well testified to elsewhere, and Ezekiel was particularly receptive to such revelations from God. When my uncle was in the trenches during the first world war my aunt (not his wife, he was only seventeen) woke the family, my mother among them, to say, ‘Jimmy’s dead’. And the telegram arrived shortly afterwards to say that he had been blown up that very night. Something within her had told her the tragic fact. And similar incidents have certainly been repeated again and again. How much more then could such a man, full of the Spirit of God, be aware of events happening far away.
When he informed those who came to hear him there would certainly be some doubt, but eventually messengers would arrive who would confirm the grim news. Then they knew that this man indeed spoke from God.
24.3-5 “And utter a parable to the rebellious house, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, set on the cauldron, set it on, and also pour water into it. Gather its pieces into it, even every good piece, the thigh and the shoulder. Fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock, and pile also the bones under it. Make it boil well. Yes, let its bones be seethed in the midst of it.’ ”
The idea of the cauldron has already been used by Ezekiel (11.1-13). (Compare Jeremiah 1.13). There we learned that the city of Jerusalem was the cauldron and its people the flesh within.
So the setting on of the cauldron with the stew being cooked within it was his way of indicating to his hearers that the final events were taking place. All the ‘choice’ people were gathered into it and the pot had begun to boil.
Note the continued use of ‘rebellious house’ for Ezekiel’s hearers. It was not only Jerusalem that was in rebellion against God but almost the whole house of Israel. If they did not hear and repent they would share the fate of Jerusalem.
24.6 ‘Wherefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Woe to the blood-filled city, to the cauldron whose rust is in it, and whose rust has not gone out of it. Bring it out piece by piece. No lot has fallen on it.” ’
But the city was like a copper cauldron (verse 11) which was rusty. And its rust had not been removed from it. It was not fit for its purpose, and the rusty scum would form, the scum which represented the blood-guiltiness of Jerusalem with its violence and its child sacrifices (22.1-16). Thus the rust affected pieces of flesh must be brought out piece by piece as the city was slowly taken. ‘No lot has fallen on it’. The removal is to be indiscriminate and not by selection. Fate cannot be manoeuvred, they can only helplessly submit to it.
24.7-8 “For her blood is in the midst of her. She set it on the bare rock. She did not pour it on the ground to cover it with dust. That it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance I have set her blood on the bare rock that it should not be covered.”
The people of Jerusalem were totally unashamed of their sins. The blood they had spilled was not hidden but displayed for all to see, both the blood of violence and the blood of child sacrifice. Like the blood of Abel it cried to God for vengeance (Genesis 4.10 compare Job 16.18). Had it been blood which was rightly shed they would have covered it with dust (Leviticus 17.13), although in fact had they done so it would not have remained covered, for it was unrighteously shed and would still not have been hidden (Isaiah 26.21).
Ezekiel’s priestly way of thinking comes out here. The blood displayed on the rock was against all the tenets of the Law, it was wrongly dealt with and therefore brought further defilement, which brought out the guiltiness of those involved. It doubly proved that they were not righteous men, but were men of blood.
With a sudden turn in thought we then learn that this was Yahweh’s doing. He would not let the blood be covered up, for it was His purpose to exact vengeance for it.
But it was not enough just to deal with the inhabitants, Jerusalem itself must be destroyed, all the filth along with the flesh.
24.9-11 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Woe to the blood-filled city. I will also make the pile great. Heap on the wood, make the fire hot, boil well the flesh, and make the broth thick and let the bones be burned. Then set it empty on its coals, that it may be red hot and its copper burn, and that its filthiness may be molten in it, that its rust may be consumed.”
This cauldron, the blood-filled city, with its contents is doomed. God Himself will make of it a great burnt up pile. So the command comes to heap on wood, blow on the fire to make it burning hot, and then to overcook the flesh and the broth until it is spoiled and to burn the bones. Then once the spoiled flesh and broth are removed the cauldron is to remain on the fire as it grows hotter and hotter, until the copper is red hot, the filth within it becomes molten, and its rust is consumed. It is a picture of total destruction.
24.12 “She has wearied with toil, yet her great rust does not go out of her, her rust does not go out by fire.”
‘She has wearied with toil.’ Jerusalem is seen as having contributed to her own destruction and cleansing, as having become weary in the extremes of her behaviour. She has brought the invasion on herself and is exhausted by it, but it has not cleansed her.
Some would, however, read it as ‘she has wearied (me) with her toil’ referring to Yahweh as being wearied with her behaviour, but still unable to do anything because she is so sinful.
‘Yet her great rust does not go out of her, her rust does not go out by fire.’ With all the effort the filth is not removed. It is so deeply ingrained that it is fire-resistant. That is why this time there is no hope for Jerusalem. Its sin is too great and too deeply imbedded.
24.13 “In your filthiness is lewdness (i.e. your rust represents your lewdness). Because I have purged you and you were not purged, you will not be purged from your filthiness any more until I have satisfied my fury on you.”
The rust and filthiness in the cauldron represents the lewdness of Jerusalem/Judah. God had attempted to purge her again and again (for example through the prophets and through the defeats and deportations in 605 and 597 BC), but she was still not purged. Now God recognised that every effort would only fail until He had exacted full judgment on them, until He had shown them the fullness of His anger by the total destruction of Jerusalem and a period in exile away from their land when hope will seem almost to be gone.
24.14 “I, Yahweh, have spoken it. It will come about and I will do it. I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent. According to your ways, and according to your doings, will they judge you, says the Lord Yahweh.”
God added His seal to what was to happen. Now nothing could prevent it for He had determined it. He had spoken, and so it would come about (Isaiah 55.11). He stressed that this time there would be no alteration in His purpose. He would not go back to how things were before, or withdraw from His purpose, He would not spare, He would not have a change of mind. He would act towards them exactly as they deserved. They would receive what their behaviour merited.
The same warning comes to us all. God is gracious and longsuffering, but if we continue in disobeying Him and rejecting His commandments, His patience will come to an end. And then there can be only judgment.
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife.
24.15-17 ‘Also the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, behold I am taking from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke. Yet you will neither mourn, nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud. Make no mourning for the dead. Bind your turban on you, and put your shoes on your feet, and do not cover your lips (moustache), and do not eat the bread of men.”
God tells Ezekiel that his wife is about to die and that he is to use it as a sign to Israel of what is coming. It is not necessary to see in this a sudden striking down from total health. She may well have been ill for some time (and it could not have been easy being the prophet’s wife). It is not her death that is the sign but Ezekiel’s reaction to it.
That she is called ‘the desire of your eyes’ brings out his feelings for her, and we here learn that on top of all the other burdens that he had had to bear was his beloved wife’s illness. We should not be surprised when all of life seems to be toppling on to us. God does so work in those He loves, that we may learn more to look to Him.
But her description as ‘the desire of your eyes’ is also given because she is to be compared with God’s sanctuary (verse 21), the place where Yahweh met with His people, the place which men ‘loved’. The desire of their eyes was also about to be destroyed.
So Ezekiel was to abjure all the normal signs of mourning. He was not to wail loudly (Micah 1.8 see also Mark 5.38). He was not to begin a period of official mourning. He was to continue to wear his priestly turban (44.18; Exodus 39.28), although in periods of deep distress that would normally be removed and the head covered in dust and ashes (compare Joshua 7.6; 1 Samuel 4.12; Job 2.12). He was not to take off his sandals (compare 2 Samuel 15.30; Isaiah 20.2). He was not to cover his lips (veil the lower part of his face - compare Micah 3.7; Leviticus 13.45 of a leper). He was not to take part in a mourning feast, a wake (Jeremiah 16.7). He was not to show signs of mourning.
‘The bread of men’, that is ordinary bread such as would normally be eaten at a wake.
24.18 ‘So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. And I did in the morning as I was commanded.’
Ezekiel was totally obedient. In the morning he spoke to the people as though everything was normal, and when in the evening his wife died, he continued without mourning, so that the people were amazed and recognised that this had some great significance (compare Jeremiah 16.5-13).
Note the way the procedure is described so as to indicate that he continued normal life. ‘In the morning I -- in the evening my wife died -- in the morning I --’. His life just went on as normal.
24.19 ‘And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things are to us that you do?” ’
The people recognised that what he was doing was symbolic. And they asked what message and significance it had for them.
24.20-24 ‘Then I said to them, “The word of Yahweh came to me saying, Speak to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you have left behind will fall by the sword, and you will do as I have done, you will not cover your lips nor eat the bread of men, and your headgear shall be on your heads, and your shoes on your feet. You shall not mourn nor weep, but you will pine away in your iniquity, and moan one towards another. Thus shall Ezekiel be a sign to you. According to all that he has done, so shall you do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.’ ” ’
The sign is explained. His dying wife represents the sanctuary of God in Jerusalem which will also be suddenly destroyed, and it will be in such circumstances that mourning and weeping will not be appropriate. Indeed men are not to weep for it, in spite of what it means to them, because it is fitting that it be destroyed. God will profane it because it has already been profaned. Thus must they recognise this and not weep for it, but rather they must mourn for their own sins which have brought it all about.
‘My sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, the yearning of your soul.’ The significance of the sanctuary to the exiled, and to all Israel, is brought out. It was their pride and joy when they were at their most powerful, it was the place to which their eyes turned in longing, it was the place their soul yearned for. But it was to be so no more, for it had become a defiled sanctuary, a place where many gods were worshipped. And yet it had been and should have been His!
And they were not to mourn for it, nor for their sons and daughters who would be slain by the sword, rather were they to mourn for their sins which have brought it about. Their moanings must be because of their iniquities, not because of the lost temple and the destruction of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
We probably cannot even begin to conceive what the temple in Jerusalem meant to the people of Israel. It depicted all their past, it was their present, it represented all their hopes for the future. It was the one thing that stood firm in an uncertain world, the one ‘guarantee’ of such a future. It was the one permanency when all else was changing. But although they had clung to the temple of Yahweh, they had not clung to Yahweh, they had allowed Him to be submerged under a multiplicity of gods. And so now the temple was to go. And they were not to mourn for it. (But as Ezekiel will later point out, it will be replaced by a new temple, a better temple, a pure temple from which will come out the River of God - chapter 47 - clearly a symbolic picture. This would be a heavenly temple).
‘But you will pine away in your iniquity, and moan one towards another.’ There would be mourning, but it would not be for the temple, it would be for themselves. The future held a period of rethinking, in which their eyes would not be turned on a building which was no longer significant, but on the void that it left and the sinfulness of their own souls. And hopefully they would turn fully to Yahweh.
‘Thus shall Ezekiel be a sign to you. According to all that he has done, so shall you do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.’
So Ezekiel, and his reaction to his wife’s death, was to be a sign to them of what was to be, and an example to be followed. Interestingly this is the first time that God has spoken of him as ‘Ezekiel’ which brings out the importance of this moment. The reference to himself in the third person also brings out how much Ezekiel desired simply to be seen as the mouthpiece of Yahweh.
All this would reveal that God was really what He had always shown Himself to be, the supreme Lord, the Lord Yahweh, the One Who is what He is, the One Who will be what He will be, the One Who will cause to be what He causes to be.
Ezekiel Is Once Again To Be Able To Speak Freely Once Jerusalem Is Destroyed.
24.25-27 “And you son of man, will it not be that in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and the yearning of their soul, their sons and their daughters, that in that day he who escapes (‘the fugitive’) will come to you to cause you to hear it with your ears. In that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped, and you will speak and no more be dumb. So will you be a sign to them, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
Here ‘the day’ is being used in the same way as in the phrase ‘the day of Yahweh’. It signifies ‘that time when’, so covering a period of time. So we do not have to see everything as occurring on the same literal day. (Although if we do wish to take it literally it need not all be on the same day. The first two references could be to the day of final destruction, when the messenger begins his ‘coming’ to Ezekiel, while the third could refer to that day when the messenger finishes his journey. But it is far more sensible, and in accord with the biblical use of yom (day), to see it as signifying a certain period of time of unspecific length in which things happen, like the ‘day’ in which Yahweh God made earth and heaven - Genesis 2.4).
These verses signal a very important moment in the ministry of Ezekiel. Ever since 3.26 Ezekiel had only spoken to Israel when he had a word from Yahweh, otherwise he had been dumb. But now that the siege of Jerusalem had begun, and the date of it written down, there would be no further word from Yahweh until its destruction was communicated to Ezekiel. at which point he would be free to speak to Israel again with a new message as pastor to his people. Until then he was to be silent towards them.
‘That day’ which is coming will firstly be the time when God ‘takes from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and the yearning of their soul, their sons and their daughters.’ The day when they lose everything.
This can be taken in two ways. RSV adds ‘and’ before ‘your sons and your daughters’ to parallel verse 21. Thus it interprets the first phrases as referring again to the temple, with the sons and daughters an added extra. This is possible.
But the Hebrew has no conjunction and it may be that the inference is that it is their sons and daughters who were now to be seen as their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and the yearning of their soul, because the temple had been profaned. But they too would be taken away.
Either way the point is the same. All that they looked to, and that they treasured, was being taken away from them.
But at that time (‘in that day’) a messenger will escape from the disastrous situation and make his way to the exiles and to Ezekiel, and will give Ezekiel eyewitness confirmation of the situation. And that will then give him a new beginning and a new message for his people.
But he will not be wholly silent meanwhile. There would yet be three years before the final end. Meanwhile he will have prophecies to give to the nations, and as he proclaims them in the direction of the various countries his awed watchers will hear and understand. They will understand firstly that there was now no word of Yahweh for Jerusalem. All that could be said had been said, and God had no further message for them. It would be a pregnant silence. But they would also receive a hint of hope. For the fact that God was acting against those countries that took advantage of Israel’s misfortune would demonstrate that God was not totally finished with Israel and had not totally forgotten them. Thus the silence was both pregnant and awesome, but it was not final.
This demonstrates that the messages to the nations have not just been fitted in here in order to find a place for them. Rather they are an essential indication of the fact that while there was no further word for Israel, in the midst of their current misfortunes they had not just been forgotten. He was still watching over their concerns. God’s judgment may be severe, and would be final for Jerusalem, but it was not to be final for the whole of Israel. God still had further purposes towards them, which the remainder of the book will deal with.
‘In that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped, and you will speak and no more be dumb. So will you be a sign to them, and they will know that I am Yahweh.’ That is, ‘at that time’, or ‘in that day’ of the messenger’s arrival. Then will Ezekiel’s mouth be once more open to speak freely. His enforced silence, except when Yahweh spoke through him, will be over, and he will be able to speak with the messenger. This will be a sign to all, for they will recognise that his dumbness had been of Yahweh, and thus that his prophecies too had been of Yahweh, and as the destruction of Jerusalem will have confirmed, they will recognise how truly he had spoken. Now indeed would they be willing to listen to what he had to say.
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