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Because God was about to give a command to his servant, he wished to inspire him with fortitude of mind, lest, when he saw that he was consuming his labor in vain, he should withdraw from his course. For we know how severe is that temptation to God’s servants when they speak to the deaf, and not only is their doctrine rejected but even refused with ignominy. They think, therefore, that nothing is better than silence, because where their word is so despised it only exposes the name of God to the reproaches of the impious. Now then we understand for what purpose God admonishes his Prophet about the contumacy of the nation. The Prophet had tried enough, and more than enough, how unmanageable the Israelites were, but God confirms by his judgment what the Prophet had discovered sufficiently in practice. Then we must observe another reason, for God not only commanded his Prophet what to say, but he added an outward symbol, as we shall see. But the Prophet might object, that it would be ridiculous to take a staff, and scrip, and hat, as a traveler about to commence a journey. Nor is it doubtful that the Israelites derided through perverseness what he was doing, as a boyish amusement.
Lest, therefore, the Prophet should think what he was commanded to do absurd, God instructs him, and gives him the reason of his plan. He says, therefore, the house of Israel is rebellious, and then he expresses the greatness of their contumacy, namely, that they are deaf, though endued with ears: that they are blind, and yet do not want eyes God here shows that the Israelites could not defend their error, as if they had sinned without consideration; but he assigns their neither hearing nor seeing to their obstinacy. And this must be diligently remarked, because hypocrites, when convicted, catch as much as possible at this excuse, that they fell through error or ignorance. But God on the contrary here pronounces that the Israelites were blind and deaf, and shows that their blindness was voluntary. When, therefore, unbelievers pretend that they have not been illuminated by the Lord, it may be conceded to them that they are blind and deaf: but we must often proceed beyond this, since their own obstinacy is the fountain of their blindness and deafness: and God blinds them, because they will not admit the light offered them, but stop their ears. In God’s judgments, indeed, the causes do not always appear, for we sometimes see a whole nation Minded without any reason apparent to us; but as far as the ten tribes are concerned, there can be no excuse for their error, since they were brought up from childhood in God’s law, so that their pride and contempt caused God to reject them. Hence they were so stupified that they neither saw with their eyes nor heard with their ears. And this the Prophet expresses significantly, they hear not, says he, since they are a rebellious house; he does not say, because their senses do not penetrate to the secrets of God, are not sufficiently acute, are not endued with such great prudence; but because they are a rebellious house, that is, because they have stupified themselves. Hence it happens that they neither hear nor see. It follows —
Now God instructs his Prophet in what he wishes him to do: he orders him to take vessels for journeying, that is, he orders him to prepare for a long journey, even for exile: for exile is the subject here. But he who is compelled to leave home to go into a foreign land, collects whatever he can carry with him, namely, his clothes, shoes, hat, scrip, and staff, and other things of that kind, if he have even a little money. Therefore the Prophet is advised to gird himself for his journey, by which he represents the character of those who were just about to be dragged into exile. For this reason he is ordered to prepare for himself vessels for traveling The Latins call garments as well as other goods “vessels: ” whence proverbially to collect goods is to remove baggage in a military phrase, or to take away one’s stuff. But he orders this to be done in the day-time, that the Israelites may see what is done.
Then the Prophet is ordered to remove from one place to another As I have said, this might appear puerile. Cicero describes those legal fictions, (246) how those who went to law about a field when called upon to plead, had, so to speak, an imaginary way of going to see it; for since it was too troublesome to the judge to mount his horse and ride over various fields, they retained an ancient and customary ceremony: the plaintiff said, the land which you say is yours, I claim for myself and say is mine, and if you wish to dispute with me legally, I summon you to the spot: the defendant replied, as you summon me there, I in return answer your summons. The judge then arose and moved from his place, and so an imaginary action took place. Cicero derides that by-play, and says it is unworthy of the gravity of a court of law. But such was the action of the Prophet; he took his hat, cloak, staff, and shoes, and other things, and changed his place as if he were moving. But he only went a short distance. But God previously had said, that he was dealing with a perverse nation, and so had need of such assistances. And we must remark the particle, if by chance they should see, because they are a rebellious house For here God as it were suspends the event of his teaching, when he says, if perhaps they should hear And the reason is added, because the hardness of the people was so great, that they could scarcely be turned to obedience by any discourses or signs. Meanwhile let us learn from this place, that we must still go on, although success does not answer to our labor, when we spend our strength for God. And this instruction is peculiarly necessary, because when God imposes on us any duty, we dispute with ourselves as to its result, and thus all energy flags, because we are seldom willing to put forth a finger unless we perceive a prosperous issue. Because, therefore, we are always too attentive to the fruit of our labor, hence this passage should be diligently regarded, when God sends his Prophet and yet adds, if by chance they should listen. Whatever may be the event, we must obey God; if our labor should not profit, yet God wishes us to obey him. It follows —
(246) Orat. pro Murcena , sect. 12, page 129; and Edit. Lond. 1819, tom. 2, page 760. It is needless to quote the passage, as Calvin’s allusion to it is sufficienfiy copious, and the reader will readily perceive how our own obsolete law forms are open to the same objection, and illustrate the text in a similar way.
Ezekiel is verbose in this narration. But in the beginning of the book we said, that because the teacher was sent to men very slow and stupid, he therefore used a rough style. We added also, that he had acquired it partly from the custom of the region in which he dwelt. For the people declined by degrees from the polish of their language, and hence it happens that the Prophet’s diction is not quite pure, but is intermixed with something foreign. As to the subject itself there is no ambiguity, since God repeats that he should dig through a wall, and bring out his vessels by himself before their eyes Here follows another part of the vision, namely, that there should be no free egress but that the Jews would desire to depart by stealth. First, therefore, it is shown to the Prophet, that the Jews who when secure at Jerusalem boasted that all was well with them, should be exiles; then, that it would not be in their power to go forth when they wished, unless perhaps they stealthily escaped the hands of the enemy through their hiding-place, as thieves escape by digging through a wall. Then the application will follow, but yet it was worth while to state what God intended by this vision. Afterwards everything is embraced. In their sight, says he, thou shalt bear upon thy shoulder, that is, thou shalt be prepared and girt for a journey as a traveler, and this shall be done in the day-time: but in darkness, says he, thou shalt bring them forth: after thy vessels have been prepared, wait for the evening: in the darkness afterwards thou shalt go forth. Here he shows what I have already touched upon, when necessity expelled the Jews from their country, that their departure would not be free, because they would be well off if’ they could snatch themselves away from the sight of their enemies in hiding-places and the darkness of the night.
He adds, thou shalt hide thy face, and the clause, neither shalt thou look upon the earth, means the same thing. Anxiety and trembling is marked by this phrase, as when he says, thou shalt hide thy face, it signifies that the Jews should be so perplexed that they should fear every event which happened. For those who fear everything veil their faces, as is well known. But this trembling is better expressed when he says, thou shaft not look upon the earth. For those who are in haste do not dare to bend down their eyes the least in either one direction or another, but are carried along to the place to which they are going, and press forward with their eyes, because they cannot hasten with their feet as quickly as they desire. Hence they seize their way, as it were, with their eyes. This is the reason why God says, thou shalt not look upon the earth, because I have set thee, says he, for a sign to the house of Israel. Here God meets the petulance of those who otherwise would laugh at what the Prophet was doing: what do you mean by that fictitious emigration? why do you not rest at home? why do you here frighten us with an empty spectacle? God, therefore, that the Jews should not obstinately despise what he shows them, adds, that the Prophet was a sign or a wonder to the house of Israel The word wonder is here taken in its genuine sense, though sometimes it has an unfavorable meaning. We say that anything portentous is disagreeable: but a “ portent ” properly designates any sign of the future. When therefore men predict what is hidden, it is called a portent. And this is the meaning of Isaiah, (Isaiah 8:18,) where he says, Behold me, and the children whom God has given me, for signs and wonders. He puts אתות, athoth, “signs,” in the first place, then מופתים, mophthim, “portents.” Here the Prophet speaks in the singular: I have given thee for a wonder. But since Isaiah treats of the rest of the faithful, he then uses signs and portents; since Isaiah seems to imply something more, namely, that the people were so stupid that they so feared and abhorred God’s servants, as if they had met, with a prodigy. Here, therefore, the depravity of the people is to be marked, because when they saw any pious and sincere worshipper of God they turned away their eyes as from a formidable prodigy. But now the Prophet speaks simply, that he had been placed for a prodigy to the house of Israel: because in truth this action was a presage of that future captivity which the Jews did not fear for themselves, and which was also incredible to the Israelites; whence that penitence and weariness of which I have spoken. But I do not object if any think that the Prophet speaks of a portent, because the Israelites were struck with astonishment; but the former sense is far more apposite. In this way then God distinguishes the action of the Prophet from all empty spectacles, and so vindicates his servant from all opprobrium. Meanwhile he signifies that although the Prophet was despised, yet that he would be true, and at the same time the avenger of contempt. It follows —
Here the Prophet relates that he had executed what God had commanded: nor did it escape him that this action would be exposed to many jeers and reproaches. But he esteemed nothing of equal moment with pleasing God: hence we must remark the Prophet’s alacrity in executing God’s commands. For since to ingenuous natures nothing is more distasteful than reproach, he might reject the burden imposed upon him, because it provoked the laughter of all men. But because God was otherwise pleased he did as he was ordered. He says, therefore, that he carried away his vessels, as it were vessels of captivity, or of migration, and that in the day-time: as if he said that he had prepared whatever was necessary for the journey, as if he saw that a long march, even exile was before him. This then was the reason why he prepared his goods in the day-time. Now it follows, at evening he dug through the wall This belongs to the second clause, that the Israelites might understand that all egress was blocked up to the Jews, so that no safety remained but in concealed flight. He says also, by the hand, whence it appears to be done suddenly and tumultuously. He says, that he went out in darkness, and carried things on his shoulder — namely, that he may confirm what we have so often said, that the Jews had no hope of safety except under cover of the night: because they were besieged on every side, and could not move on one side or the other, lest the enemy should seize them. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that he went out in darkness through the wall which had been dug through
We gather from these words of the Prophet, that he was himself derided when he began to migrate: then that he dug through the wall by night secretly, and thus carried away his baggage. For those who think that the Israelites enquired about this, as if it were unknown to them, do not sufficiently consider the Prophet’s words. For the repetition of the epithet rebellious house is not in vain; for if this question had proceeded from mere folly, God would not have called them rebellious. This epithet, then, refers to the present passage, and thus we may determine that the Israelites asked the Prophet deridingly, what does this mean? For he seemed to them to be trifling, and thus they jeered at him; for we know the audacity of the nation in despising their Prophets. It is not, then, to be wondered at, when they obtained a plausible ground for it, if they commented rather freely upon what the Prophet was doing. We said yesterday ‘that this seemed a childish spectacle. Hence the Israelites seemed, not without reason, to reject what the Prophet was doing as a thing of nought. But God does not suffer his servants to be reviled in this way. He now signified to the Prophet that his calling ought to be deservedly held sacred. Since therefore Ezekiel bore certain marks of the prophetic office, although at first sight his conduct could not appear serious, yet the people ought to have enquired modestly. For whatever we know to flow from God should be reverently received without controversy. But if there is any obscurity we may wonder and enquire into it; but as I have said, docility and modesty ought always to precede. But what did the Israelites do? they enquired, indeed, the meaning of the Prophet’s conduct, but only to reject it with ridicule. For this reason God is angry, and announces himself a severe avenger of that audacity, because they persecuted the sacred Prophet. Hence this must be read emphatically — what doest thou? as if they said that the Prophet was foolish, and carried and prepared his goods, and dug through the wall, in vain, since all these things were of no moment. But the answer, when it shows that God is greatly offended with such trifling, sufficiently demonstrates that they did not ask the question through ignorance, or want of thought, but through mere wantonness.
He now says, this prophecy relates to the prince, and the whole house of Israel which is in the midst of them. Without doubt he understands the king, as we shall soon see: nor does he speak of any king indefinitely, but points out Zedekiah, as will be immediately evident from circumstances. He says, therefore, this burden, or this sorrowful prophecy, looks towards the prince, and to the house of Israel, which dwell at Jerusalem. But it is probable that some had fled that they might not fall into the hands of the enemy, since Jerusalem was a safe receptacle for them. The captives thought themselves bad managers, because they had not followed those leaders, since Jerusalem was a safe refuge for them, and hence the greater sorrow at their captivity. Hence God pronounces that the Israelites were comprehended with their king in this prophecy. It is indeed true that this was a common name to all the posterity of Abraham; for the twelve tribes sprung from the patriarch Jacob, but it was then becoming customary for the ten tribes to retain the name of Israel, and for that of Judah to have their own proper and peculiar name. Afterwards he confirms his teaching, that he was as a sign to them. We explained this expression yesterday, showing how the Prophet was placed before them as a sign, so that God represented what was as yet unknown to them; for signs divinely sent are called portents, when they foretell what no one would expect to happen. God, indeed, often shows what he is going’ to do by many, yet ordinary signs; but an extraordinary one, which cannot be considered natural, is called a portent. So therefore the Prophet is ordered to say to the Israelites that he was to them for a wonder, namely, to reprove their obstinacy, which, as we have said, was the cause of their impious contempt. For it was no part of their religion for a Prophet to deride them, so that they should suppose him to be trifling with them, as if frightening children about nothing. God, therefore, that the Israelites might at length be roused up at his own time, pronounces his servant to be a wonder to them. And we gather from the reason which is added, what the name portent meant in yesterday’s lecture. For he says, as I have done, so shall it be done to you; that is, what you now think to be child’s play, shall be seriously fulfilled in yourselves. For the Prophet seemed to act a part, like a player, and on this account was derided. He now declares that it should not be fabulous, since the Israelites, who were left in Judea among the Jews, and the king himself, should not act a part; for God would compel them to collect their baggage, and to take flight by stealth in the darkness of the night, which he follows up through the whole verse. Into banishment and exile, says he, shall they go. When therefore the Prophet was commanded to collect and prepare his goods, he was a sign of the exile of which he now speaks. But the explanation of the second part is added.
We have said that two things were shown, both the people’s exile and their clandestine flight: the Prophet now speaks again about this trembling. He says therefore, that not only the vulgar and the dregs of the people would be so anxious that they would endeavor to escape secretly and carry their own baggage; but the prince himself, that is, their king would be subject to such ignominy: the prince himself, says he, shall carry on his shoulder. Many followed him, as we have seen, and at length he was seized with a great company, as the Prophet will shortly subjoin, and being’ caught in the desert of Jericho, he was dragged by the enemy before their king: but here mention is made of the king alone, because it was almost incredible that the enemy could not be reconciled. For surrender often appeases even the most hostile enemies; it often preserves kings, although an extended carnage may take place; and we know that kings are often preserved on account of their dignity, after they have been led in triumph. What therefore the Prophet pronounces concerning king Zedekiah does not imply any escape of the multitude from similar punishment: but because the king himself, together with his subjects in general, would be compelled to escape by stealth, and would be sure to fall into the hands of the enemy.
Next, the prince who is in the midst of them Here the words, the midst of them, are taken in a different sense from that in which the Israelites were lately said to be in the midst of the people who inhabited Jerusalem, because they had been mixed with the Jews from the time when they had dwelt within their territories. But he says their prince was in the midst in another sense, because in truth the eyes of all were turned towards him, as if when a standard is erected, it is beheld by all, and retains the whole multitude in their ranks, so also the king was in the midst, that the people might not disperse, for a miserable dispersion follows when the head is taken away. But the intention of the Holy Spirit must be observed. For the Jews, as we have formerly seen, were hardened in their wickedness by the false pretense that God would always maintain his dwelling among them. For it had been said of the throne of David, that it should stand as long as the sun and moon should shine in the heavens. (Psalms 89:36.) And hence Jeremiah’s lamentable complaint: the Christ, or anointed of God, in whose breath our life consisted. (Lamentations 4:20.) The Prophet does not speak there after the usual mode, and obtrusively remind God of his promise, as hypocrites do, but he has respect to God’s counsel. For David, since he was a type of Christ, was truly the soul of the people, even among the Gentiles, as he is there reckoned to be. For they not only looked to their king for safety while included within the city walls, but although dispersed among the nations, they still hoped to be safe under their monarch’s shadow. But their confidence was perverse, since they had impiously departed from the true worship of God. Hence the Prophet, to deprive them of that vain source of pride and boasting, says, now their king was in the midst of them: but it would not always be so, for God would drive him out, and even compel him to fly into secret hiding-places.
He afterwards adds, he shall hide his face, that he shall not see the ground with his eyes This also was accomplished, the sacred history narrates. For Zedekiah escaped through the gardens by subterraneous passages: he thought the enemy would be ignorant of his flight, but he was seized. (Genesis 25:4; and Jeremiah 39:4.) We see, then, the meaning of this concealment of his face or countenance, namely, because Zedekiah distrusted any he might meet. But this was very bitter, and also base and disgraceful, for a king so to conceal himself, and not to dare to look upon the ground with his eyes. And now something far more disastrous follows.
That was no slight slaughter, when Zedekiah at length, in his desperation, thought of flight, and thus descended into hidden trenches, as if seeking life in the tomb: thus was he reduced to extremities. But the Prophet now adds, that it would be useless, because notwithstanding this he should be taken by his enemies Besides, what God executed by means of the Chaldeans he properly transfers to himself. The Chaldeans laid their snares when advised of the king’s flight: they knew its direction, and hence they apprehended him. So God announces himself as the author: I, says he, will stretch out my net. This we know, that the Chaldeans did not leave their own country of their own accord, nor carry on the war in their own strength, nor take the king by their own counsel; but the whole affair was under the government of heaven. Men lent their aid, and seemed to carry’ on the work by their own labor; but unless God had provided for the event, all their endeavors had proved fruitless. Hence, as God had stirred up the Chaldeans to exact punishment from the king and the people, so he raised their minds to confidence, then he strengthened them to persist in the siege of the city, and afterwards opened their eyes, and sent persons to disclose the plans of the king, so that he might be seized in a cave, as it really happened. The whole of this was done by the secret providence of God. So diligently ought we to observe those places in which God shows that what seems to be the work of men is really his own. Even likeness does not want its weight; for we seem always to have some refuge in perplexity, and on whatever side we look around, some hope deceives us. But God announces that he has nets spread, by which we are surrounded on every side: hence when we seem to have a way of escape, God has hidden nets in which he encloses us. So that this place compares God to a hunter, and ourselves to wild beasts; for when a huntsman follows wild beasts, they seek for a way of escape and rush out there, but they are caught in nets: so also when we endeavor to elude God’s hands, we are entrapped and held by him: because when we wish to withdraw ourselves from his providence, we deserve that blindness which leads us to rush on our own destruction.
Hence I will spread my net for him, and he shall be taken in my snares, I will lead him away, says he, to Babylon The Prophet shows by degrees how formidably God’s vengeance should alight on Zedekiah and the whole people. It was already most miserable to be taken by the enemy and subjected to their lust and cruelty. If he had been slain, this would have been accomplished in a single moment, but God wished him to be drawn into exile; meanwhile he says that he should die at Babylon, without seeing the city, both of which were accomplished. Zedekiah then wasted away in exile, for he lay even to his death in filth and defilement. And although he was buried, as we saw in Jeremiah, yet this condition was most sorrowful — to fear through one’s whole lifetime some fresh wrath of an enemy. Then he was barbarously and inhumanly treated: his eyes were put out on the journey; and here it is said, he shall not see Babylon, and yet he shall arrive there and die there. Afterwards he saw his sons strangled in his sight: then his eyes were dug out — a spectacle more grievous than death. Now we may reflect on the kind of life a man must spend in exile, in prison, and in chains — since he was bound with chains, as the sacred narrative informs us — there to consume away by a slow death in a foul prison and in total darkness; yet all this happened to Zedekiah. We see then how God thunders against the Israelites, who thought themselves hardly treated in exile, since they might have remained safe at Jerusalem.
He confirms the verse above, and says, that although Zedekiah had many soldiers as a garrison, and accustomed the people to bear arms, yet all this would not profit him, since God would disperse all the guards in whom he trusted. He says then, that he would scatter to every wind all who were around Zedekiah For unbelievers were deceived when they saw the king surrounded by auxiliaries, and the people of the city trained to warfare: and since Zedekiah was so armed for the defense of the city, they thought it could never be taken by the Chaldeans. God, therefore, here first of all teaches that the war was carried on under his auspices, and then that there was no doubt of his taking the city. He does not speak of the Chaldeans, lest unbelievers should institute a comparison — “it is true indeed that the Chaldeans are besieging the city with a strong and numerous army, but the city is impregnable, and besides it is defended with great spirit, and the king has forces sufficiently strong for his defense.” Lest this opinion should foolishly deceive the disbelievers, God comes into the field and turns their attention away from the Chaldeans. For this reason he ascribes to himself the conduct of the enemy: hence we gather that profane nations are in God’s hands, since he not only governs them by the spirit of regeneration, but compels even the impious, who desire to abolish his authority, to obey his commands. God does not draw his sword from heaven, nor do angels openly appear with drawn swords; the Chaldeans do that; but as it is said in Isaiah, (Isaiah 10:15,) Shall the ax boast itself against its owner? Since thus the vigor of the Chaldeans was nothing in itself, God armed them and then afforded them the success which he wished. It follows —
Here God insults both Jews and Israelites who had united themselves. He says that he would so display his power that they should be compelled to acknowledge him, but to their own destruction. Experimental knowledge is sometimes attributed to the faithful; because when we are too slow, God shows us his power by sure proofs. But what is here said ought to be restricted to the reprobate and abandoned, who do not acknowledge God except in death. Yet Zedekiah was not entirely without the fear of God: he reverenced Jeremiah, and the seed of piety was not altogether extinct in his mind. As regards the people, inasmuch as they offered the daily sacrifice, they certainly cherished some opinion of God’s favor, and also of his power. But because they despised the Prophets, they were altogether unsubdued, and made a laughing-stock of their threats, and for this cause they are said not to acknowledge God. And we must diligently notice this. For the impious do not think themselves so stupid as to refuse to God his just honor; but yet when God calls them they turn their backs: when he sets before them his message, even for their own advantage, they are not only deaf and stop their ears, but they are even riotous, and deride all his threats like idle stories. But it is certain that no knowledge of God can flourish when such contempt of his doctrine prevails. For this reason he says now, at length the Jews shall know, because this contempt hindered them from ascribing praise to God for his power; for they had been terrified by even his nod. Jeremiah had assiduously instructed them in God’s word, but they were so hardened that they treated it as a thing of nought. The threat then is most grievous: as if God had said, When I smite you with my hand, you shall feel me to be God. Let us learn then to acknowledge God betimes by faith, because this is the fitting opportunity for salutary knowledge. Let us not abuse his patience while he rages against us with a stretched out hand, and pursues us fiercely. Sometimes, indeed, he chastises his own people for their good, but when it comes to pass that there is no hope of repentance to the reprobate, then he reduces them to nothing. Now it follows —
Some think that God here speaks of the faithful, whom he had determined to preserve in the very midst of death. And certainly there is some mitigation of his former vengeance. But it is not in harmony with the rest to understand the faithful here, for he is speaking of the people in general. But as we have already seen that the slaughter of the city was such that God scattered the remnant to the four winds, and this the Prophet confirms. We must hold, then, first of all, that this promise was not directed peculiarly to the elect or to God’s Church, but rather that God is showing that exile will not be the end of woes to the captives, although they will not be directly cut to pieces. Their condition, indeed, might seem preferable, but God pronounces that he would be inexorable towards them. Although all should not perish by the sword, or famine, or pestilence, and some remnant should be left, that will happen, says he, not because I am going to be reconciled to them, but that I may spread their crimes among the Gentiles. For when he says, that they may narrate, he does not mean that they would be witnesses to their own sins, as the pious are accustomed, as we shall see elsewhere, to extol the mercy of God, and candidly to confess their faults before men. He does not mean that kind of confession which is a sign of repentance, but rather a real speech. (257) For that exile uttered with a loud voice, that those men were abandoned whom God treated with such hostility. He had chosen the people, was the guardian of the city, and would have been their perpetual preserver, if their perverseness had not prevented it. Hence their being destitute of his aid, their being deprived of all their goods, their being treated tyrannically by their enemies, this made their extreme wickedness clearly appear. They narrated, then, not by words but by their actual position, their own sins to the Gentiles.
Now, therefore, we understand the intention of God: although some remained alive and unconcerned by either the sword, or famine, or pestilence, yet they were cursed, since their expulsion to a distance served no other purpose than that of spreading their disgrace and rendering them detestable, so flint the profane Gentiles acknowledged that they deserved vengeance for their wickedness. Therefore they shall narrate among the Gentiles all their abominations, and they shall know that I am Jehovah. Again he repeats that sentiment, that they should know too late what they had despised: since God had acted towards them as a father, and they had not acknowledged his favor; and at length they should be compelled to feel him as their judge, even to their eternal destruction.
(257) “ Realis sermo .” — Calvin. “ Une parole par effect, c’est a dire, reelle.” — Fr.
The Prophet is now ordered to represent the famine which awaited the Jews in both the siege and exile. But this prophecy ought to be especially referred to the time of the siege; for the Jews were in continual fear, and thought that by means of their garrison they would be impregnable. But as the Lord had often removed this trust from them, so he does now: hence therefore that miserable anxiety and fear, so that they never ate their bread but in fear, nor drank their water but in confusion. For a besieged city always fears for itself, and then the enemy so harasses them that fatigue at length compels the besieged to surrender. And it is probable, since the army of the Chaldees could often attempt to take the city with ease and without any great loss, that the Jews would daily be subject to fresh terrors, so that they could neither eat bread nor drink water except in anxiety and confusion. But because simple and unadorned teaching would not have been effective among the ten tribes and the Jews, hence an outward symbol is added. The Prophet therefore is the image of the besieged people, and hence he is ordered to eat his bread with trembling, that the spectacle might the more affect these slow and slothful men. By and bye the application follows, thou shalt say to the people of the land I do not doubt that he here means the ten tribes: hence the land signifies Chaldea, and those regions through which the exiles were dispersed. As we have before seen, it was to their advantage to hear this, because they thought that the Jews remaining at home were treated well, and themselves miserably. Hence not only their complaint but even their outcry against God and his servants, especially Jeremiah. This then is the reason why the Prophet is obliged to utter his discourse to the captives.
But afterwards it follows, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the inhabitants of Jerusalem concerning the land of Israel, that is, those remaining in the land of Israel. We here see that the land of Israel is distinguished from the other land, of which mention was lately made. Those who dwelt at Jerusalem remained quiet in their own inheritance; and hence their condition was esteemed better, because nothing is more sad than exile and captivity. But God pronounces them more miserable than the captives, who had already been relieved from the principal part of their miseries. They shall eat, says he, their bread in pain, or torture, and shall drink their water in desolation: he does not repeat the same words which he had formerly used, but shortly shows that the Jews boasted in vain that they were still in safety: because very soon the enemy will press upon them, so that they should not be able to eat a mouthful of bread in peace. That the land may be reduced, says he, from plenty to devastation: some translate, after its plenty, which is forced and far-fetched; for the Prophet means that the land would be desert and empty through exhaustion: for plenty, as we well know, means an abundance of all things. Judea was then reduced from plenty to want, when the enemies plundered whatever it contained, and so the region was despoiled of its wealth. The reason follows, through the violence of those who dwell in it. Some explain this erroneously of the Chaldees, because they lost the whole land through their rapacity. For the Prophet rather advises that this vengeance of God was just, because in truth all the Jews were given up to violence, cruelty, and rapacity. חמס , chemes, signifies all kinds of injury, but usually means violence and rapine. Hence we understand the Prophet’s intention, namely, that the Jews suffered this slaughter deservedly, because the just reward of their wickedness was measured out to them. And thus Ezekiel represses all complaints, in which they too freely indulged, as if God was treating them too roughly and hardly. Therefore he shortly teaches them that he would not spare them any longer. It follows —
He pursues the same sentiment. He had threatened destruction to Jerusalem and its citizens: he now adds the other cities of Judah which were still inhabited. Lastly, he speaks of the whole land, as if he said that no single corner should suppose itself free from slaughter, since God’s vengeance should attack it as well as the cruelty of enemies through all regions. Jerusalem was the head of the whole nation; Ezekiel predicts its siege, and after that it became easy to overthrow and spoil other cities, so that the whole region was rendered subject to the lust of the enemies. He afterwards adds what we have noticed previously, ye shall know that I am Jehovah They had heard this instruction from the Prophets, they ought to have been imbued with it from their earliest childhood, for God had borne witness by many proofs that he was the true God. For his power had become sufficiently known and understood by the frequent succors by which that wretched people had been snatched from even immediate death. But as their impiety had stupified them, so that they carelessly despised not only the Prophet’s teaching, but the very judgments of God, when he openly punished them, this knowledge is not mentioned without reason. When therefore God puts forth his hand for the last time to chastise them, he says that his power should be so manifest among them, that it should no longer escape them; but yet they were so hardened in their depravity that they almost entirely forgot God. For a contrast is always to be observed between that knowledge which springs from performance and that arising from utterance; for those who had closed their ears when God invites them to himself as servants, must be compelled to feel him to be God when he is silent and is executing his vengeance upon them. It follows —
Here God inveighs against that gross ridicule which prevailed everywhere among the Jews. For when the Prophets had been threatening them so long, this their earnestness was so far from leading them to repentance, that they became more obstinate and callous. Since they persisted in this obstinacy, and boasted in their escape, and through confidence in their freedom from punishment, re-belied more and more against God, the Prophet is ordered to repress this their boasting. It was monstrous indeed for a people who had imbibed from childhood the teaching of the law and the Prophets, thus to break forth against God as if he had spoken falsely by his Prophets. For this was their boasting: Oh! the days are prolonged: therefore every vision has passed away and failed From this delay they argued that they had no cause for fear, since whatever Jeremiah and the rest had predicted had passed away. We perceive then how unbelievers turn the patience of God into material for obduracy and stupidity. God spares them, gives them leisure, and invites them to repentance; but what do they do? They count the days and years, and when they see that God does not immediately, execute the judgment which he had uttered by his servants, they laugh at it, and esteem the Prophet’s words as idle fables. Such, then, was the impiety against which the Prophet inveighs, saying, what is this? The question implies detestation, for God here wonders at the sloth, nay fury of the people, because it dared thus to vomit forth its blasphemies with open mouth:’ for what remains when God is supposed to be false both in his promises and his threatenings? In this way all religion is abolished. Nor is it surprising that God detests so monstrous a thing, while he asks how it can happen that the Israelites break forth into such madness: what, says he, is the meaning of this your proverb? He seems to include his servant among the others, because he was one of the people: hence he participates in that which did not belong to him personally. Moreover, this passage must be diligently noticed, when the impious conclude that they have no occasion to fear, because their days are protracted.
This is, as I have said, a sign of extreme folly, but it is not surprising if they imagine God to be false to his word and his threats to be in vain, because his hand does not instantly appear, since they treat his teaching without the slightest respect. Since, therefore, unbelievers are never afraid unless terrified by the power of God, and are never in the slightest degree moved, it is not surprising that they think it entirely illusory, when they see him at rest while his words still resound in men’s ears. Hence the language of the Apostle should come to mind, that Noah built the ark by faith, because he feared the hidden judgment of God of which he had been admonished, as if the whole deluge was before his eyes, in which he saw the whole world immersed. (Hebrews 11:7.) Although, therefore, God conceals his hand for the time, let us learn so to fear the whole of his instructions that delay may not lead us into such sloth as this.
Now he adds, Thou shalt tell them, therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will make this proverb cease from the land of Israel Here God shows that his anger was more and more inflamed by their contempt. And the impious, by pretending that he is not true to his word, produce the effect of hastening the accomplishment of those judgments which otherwise God was prepared to suspend. Lastly, the impious stimulate God to exercise his vengeance, while they infer that they have escaped through delay, and that the vision was so fleeting and evanescent that they provoke him purposely to a contest. For the confirmation of this sentiment follows directly, that verily the days were approaching. Since time gave the Jews confidence in escape from punishment, God announces that the end was at hand, that they may feel themselves to have been too long blinded while they abused his continued forbearance. The days then approached: also the word of every vision: “the word” is here taken for the “effect.” We know that דבר , deber, is often taken for “thing,” “business,” “result;” but in this place the Prophet takes the word for the effect of the vision, as if he had said, that whatever the Prophets had spoken should be firm and stable. It follows —
Here God deprives the Jews of another source of confidence; for they flattered themselves, and had their own agitators, that is false Prophets, who puffed them up with flatteries: hence when they heard prophecies of sadness they despised them, and afterwards hardened themselves as if the Prophets had frightened them needlessly. Every one was too much inclined to this besotted confidence, but, as I have said, enticements were added, by which the flatterers deceived them. For the false Prophets said, that God would not be so severe, and that those predictions about the destruction of the city and temple were at variance with many promises. We see then that the Prophets were despised by the voluntary contumacy of the people, and also by the perverse acts of the false Prophets. Afterwards God asserted, that the days approached: now he adds, that there should be no more vision of vanity, not that the false Prophets were altogether removed, but because their mouth was stopped, since the event had proved their wickedness. Since then the people were made ashamed by slaughter, in this sense and for this reason it is said, that prophecies of vanity must be taken away: afterwards, divination of flattery from the midst of the house of Israel For in ease and shade they promised themselves a prosperous delivery from their miseries. For when the people were dragged out of the city into exile, some were slain, others spoiled of their fortunes and treated ignominiously, then the character of those Prophets appeared who had nursed the perverse confidence of the people by their vain enticements. Now we understand the Prophet’s genuine sense. It follows —
He confirms the last verse. there is some obscurity in the context of the words, but as to the general sense, the Prophet wishes to teach simply that what even God had spoken should be shortly accomplished, since God wishes to assert his own fidelity by the execution of the vengeance which he had threatened by his servants. The Prophet here means, that it is not right to separate God’s word from its effect, because God who speaks is not divided against himself. Whenever he opens his mouth, he stretches out his hand to fulfill his words. Now we understand the Prophet’s meaning; and hence we may collect the usefulness of this teaching. For, because God’s word seems cold to us and to be dissipated into air, we must always consider his hand. Whenever the Prophets speak, let God come before our eyes, and let him come not merely with bare words, but armed with his power, as if his hand was in some way included in his word. This is the meaning of the whole verse, I Jehovah will utter a word, and whatever I shall utter that will I do: it shall be no lower delayed, but, as I have often said, it shall return, nay in your days, O rebellious house, I will do what I have spoken by my servants. Here he expresses what might yet appear doubtful. For since a thousand years are with God as one day, the time might be thought near, even if the city had not been taken and destroyed with the temple for thirty years. But now God, after the manner of men, defines the time to be near, because those who were then alive should see the accomplishment of the prophecies which they had despised. It follows —
Here indeed such detestable blasphemy as we lately heard is not condemned in the Jews: but oblique ridicule, the tendency of which was first of all to weaken all confidence in Prophecy, and then to get rid of all heavenly doctrine. Those who are now condemned by the Prophet did not dare to bluster against God with swollen cheeks, but when others concluded the Prophecies to be vain and frivolous, because the time was put off, they said — it may happen that God will accomplish what he has denounced against us by his servant: meanwhile let us feast securely as we shall be dead before these things can happen. We see, therefore, that there were two classes of men: some who utterly rejected God’s Prophets, and wantonly derided their threats: this gross impiety has been already exposed. But others neither openly nor distinctly pronounced God to be a liar, but put far away from them the performance of the prophetic announcement. We see that the former were so abandoned, that they all but openly derided God, so as to turn away all fear from their own feelings since God prorogued the time. For Jeremiah had spent his strength in vain for many years in daily summoning them by a loud trumpet to God’s tribunal, and in setting the Chaldeans before their eyes. Since he effected nothing, Ezekiel is chosen, and after he has inveighed against a fouler impudence in despising God, he now attacks the hypocrite who had not yet proceeded so far as to vilify God by the use of words. But as I have just remarked, the gliding down from this security to open contempt of God is easy. Those then who feign themselves quiet and without danger, since God patiently delays his judgments, at length determine him to be content with his own ease, and not to regard human affairs. Let us then be on our guard against the snares of Satan; and not only abhor the foul blasphemy of which the Prophet speaks, but as soon as God threatens us, let us prevent his judgment, and not promise ourselves a long period of escape, which may render us so stupid as to deprive us of all fear.
The house of Israel then said, he prophesies for many days. They did not openly assert that Ezekiel was speaking rashly and arrogating to himself the prophetic name, but they said that he prophesied for many days and a long period. Now he adds, thou shalt say unto them, it shall not be any lower put off Some thus interpret these words — all my discourses shall not be put off. They prefer a change of number, and resolve it thus — each of my words shall not be put. off. But the other view seems to suit the context better: it shall not be put off any lower, for the words which I utter I will execute Here again he confirms what we formerly saw: that God would not speak in vain, since he is not divided in opinion. It belongs to men to lie, and to utter vainly what they cannot perform, and to change their; nothing of the kind ought to be imagined of God, for his hand is always in union with his speech. (271)
(271) The reader may profitably peruse the comment of CEcolampadius on this chapter. He spiritualizes it more than Calvin, and treats it allegorically, thus giving it a personal and practical bearing on ourselves. He says, “ Unica et perpetua allegoria est, propter contemptum verbi Dei instare captivitatem conscientiarum, et alienationem a Jerusalem, a vero Dei cultu, qui est iu spiritu et veritate; unde servilia opera peccatorum in sabbatismo Christi vetantur.” His explanations are always sound, and his practical reflections very instructive.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter