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The Prophet now turns himself to the kingdom of Israel, since he had formerly spoken concerning the Jews alone. He says that he was divinely sent to the mountains of Israel. The first question may arise about the time; for the kingdom of Israel had been cut off, and the ten tribes dragged into exile- and the kingdom had come to an end in Ezekiel’s time. The time, therefore, does not seem to accord with the denunciation of the Prophet as to what had happened many years previously. But nothing will appear out of place, if we say that it was partly prophecy and partly doctrine, so that the Israelites might understand why they were driven out of their country, and dispersed among the nations. I say that God’s plans were partly explained to the exiles, that they might know why God had driven them to distant lands: for this punishment would not have been useful had not God convinced them of its cause. But although the kingdom had fallen, it is probable that some of the people were remaining: for the Assyrian did not carry off so many thousand men, and his kingdom would have been burdened by such a multitude. Doubtless he collected the flower of the people, and permitted the commonalty to remain there: for he sent from his own kingdom inhabitants for the deserted soil. But the change was great and ruinous to the king himself, and vexatious to all alike. Although, therefore, the kingdom did not exist any longer — nay, even the name of Israel was almost extinct, because there was no mass of people, and they dwelt in their country like foreigners and guests, yet there was still some portion of them left. Now, we collect from the words of the Prophet that they were obstinate, because they were not induced by either the exile of their brethren, or their own calamity, to leave their own superstitions, and embrace the true and pure worship of God.
Since, therefore, this chastisement did not profit them, hence the Prophet is ordered to preach against them It is ascertained from the first chapter that Ezekiel received this command after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, (Ezekiel 1:1) for he said that he was divinely stirred up in the thirtieth year after the jubilee, and in the fifth year of the captivity of Jechoniah or Joachim. It is evident, therefore, that the Prophet spake against the land of Israel after the ten tribes had been dispersed. Hence we may elicit that there were still many people there, because it would have been difficult for the Assyrians to receive all the people, and those who remained alive in the country went on in their own abominations, so that it became necessary for some other judgment to be denounced against them, on which we are about to enter. Now, therefore, this principle is established, that the Prophet so treats the slaughter of the kingdom of Israel, that he predicts as about to come to pass what those left in the country by no means feared; for they were persuaded that. they were free from all dangers. But the Prophet shows that God’s wrath was not yet complete, but that their former calamities were only a prelude, and that heavier woes were at hand, because they had so hardened themselves against the power of God. The prophecy, too, has greater weight when the Prophet addressed the mountains than when his discourse was directed to men. So that Ezekiel is not ordered to exhort the Israelites to penitence, and to threaten them with the punishment which still remained, but he is ordered to turn his discourse to hills, and mountains, and valleys Thus God obliquely signifies, first, that the Israelites were deaf, and then unworthy of the trouble which Ezekiel would spend in teaching them. Thus the Prophet sent to Jeroboam did not design to address him, but turning to the altar —
“O altar, altar,” says he, “thus saith Jehovah, Behold a son shall be born to the family of David, by name Josiah, and he shall slay upon thee the priests of the high places, and shall burn upon thee the bones of the dead.” (1 Kings 13:2.)
The king was burning incense on the altar, the prophet does not regard him, but as I have just said, directs his discourse to the altar: that was far more vehement than if he had reproved the king sharply. For that was no common reproof, to pass by the king as if he had been only the shadow of a man, and to admonish the dead altar concerning a future event: so also in this place: Son of man, set thy face against the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them The Prophet might object that the mountains had no ears, and hence that it was only child’s play. But he understood God’s intention, and so obeyed cheerfully, because he saw the people despised and rejected by God because they were deaf and incurable, and meanwhile he knew that his labor would not be lost although he addressed the mountains. For we know that the earth was created for the use of man, and hence God proposes to us examples of his wrath in brutes, trees, the atmosphere, and the heavens, that we may know that admonitions belonging to us are engraven there, although in every other way God turns away his eyes and his face. This, therefore, is a sign of his wrath, when God shows his judgments on all sides, and yet is silent towards us, because we gather from this that we are unworthy of any trouble for our improvement, and this was doubtless the Prophet’s conclusion.
Now a clearer expression follows in the third verse: Thou shalt say, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Here an audience is required of the mountains which they could not give, but that has respect to mankind, as I have just said. God, therefore, requires the mountains to listen, so that men may understand that an inanimate thing may be endued with sense, if their stupidity is considered. For at length God enforced his judgments against the mountains of Israel. Although, therefore, they could not hear the Prophet speaking, yet they took up his instruction, because it was efficacious in them, and God at length in reality proved that he had not spoken in vain. The event, therefore, openly made the mountains in some way attentive. Neither could they escape the judgment which had been openly denounced. Now he adds, Thus saith Jehovah to the mountains and the hills Ezekiel now addresses not mountains only, as he had been commanded: hence he seems to exceed the prescribed command, for he had been sent to mountains and hills only, but now he says, hear ye mountains, hear ye hills, hear ye valleys. But we said yesterday that prophets sometimes speak briefly, and sometimes explain more fully what they had uttered but shortly. God, therefore, at the beginning spoke only of mountains, but he doubtless comprehended valleys, and the flowing down of rivers, because the Prophet only explains what he had said in one word: hence he speaks to mountains and hills, and then to the pouring down of waters or torrents Jerome translates it rocks, and the Hebrews call whatever is violent
Hence it appears how greatly obedience pleases God, and how true it is that it is better than sacrifices. (1 Samuel 15:22; 1 Kings 12:0.) For it is certain that the Israelites extolled their own fictions exorbitantly, as if they were worshipping God correctly In the beginning, indeed, Jeroboam cunningly devised those new rites, that he might alienate the ten tribes from the family of David, and at length the error spread, so that they thought that God approved that impious worship. But we see that God abominates them. We should always hold this principle, that although men think that they obey God when they thrust in their own fictions, yet they produce no other effect than to provoke the wrath of God against them. This vengeance, therefore, had not been taken against altars, unless God had been greatly offended with the impious mixture. Your altars, therefore, shall come to ruin and destruction, and then your idols shall be destroyed. Here some understand the idols of the sun, as the noun is taken from heat, which is afterwards repeated: but this divination seems to be too contracted Hence I do not doubt that the idols are so called on account of the mad love with which the worshippers were seized: for throughout the Prophets they are said to be like adulterers, and our Prophet also uses the same language. Idols therefore may very properly derive their name from heat, because their superstitious worshippers inflame themselves with love, and like adulterers run after harlots, as we shall again see. He afterwards uses another word, when he says, I will lay prostrate your slain before your idols: for they call idols
By these words the Prophet signifies that God’s wrath would be manifest, because he impresses certain marks by which it may be judged that the Israelites had provoked his anger; because they had departed from the pure and genuine order of the law. He says, therefore, I will place the carcases of the sons of Israel before their idols, when the carcases were so mingled with the idols, hence it appeared that God was greatly offended. For we know that it was detestable in all sacrifices that either human bones or carcases should be joined with the victims: so that the religion of the Israelites was openly condemned by this sign, so that unless they had been utterly blind, they would acknowledge all their worship to have been abominable. We understand, therefore, the design of God when he says, that he would cast the carcases of the sons of Israel before their idols: as if he had said, I will defile all your rites which seem to you sacred, and I will make them stink even before the unbelievers. But how? for the altar is polluted by contact with a carcase; but the carcases shall be cast there, that the contagion may spread to the altars. And I will sprinkle, says he, your bones around your altars Lastly, he signifies that he would profane those sacred rites which the Israelites had fabricated for themselves with their carcases: by which he understands that they would be doubly disgraced whilst they defiled by their pollutions what they had thought beautiful. The Prophets constantly proclaimed that these rites were folly and an abomination, but still those who were attached to those superstitions pleased themselves. When, therefore, God’s servants effected nothing by their sacred admonitions, at length a real and actual proof was added, when their altars were polluted, and that, too, with their own defilement. For in this God’s remarkable vengeance appeared, as I have formerly said.
In other words, the Prophet signifies that God would take vengeance on the superstitions of the ten tribes in all places; whence it is clear, that no corner was free from corruption. For, while he names all habitations, he means that they had defiled every habitable place. Wheresoever they dwelt they had erected their altars and strange worship, as another Prophet reproves them; according to the number of your cities were your Gods. (Jeremiah 2:28; Jeremiah 11:13.) He addresses the Jews there, but the meaning is the same. Hence the Prophet signifies, that it was not a single part only that was polluted with their idolatries, but their filth was spread abroad through the whole land wherever there were any inhabitants. In all your habitations, therefore, the cities shall be deserted When he threatens destruction and desolation to the cities, he means what I have just said, that those places were corrupted by impious superstitions. He adds, and thy high places shall be destroyed or made desolate. Here he explains himself more clearly, that the cities should be reduced to solitude, because their religion was corrupt, and the inhabitants were given up to their own fictions and idolatries. He adds therefore high places to cities, that he may point out the reason of the cities perishing. He adds, that they may be desolate or reduced to a desert: it is again the word
At length he adds, and your idols shall be broken up and cease, or be abolished. Again he uses that reproachful word which I have said is taken from the stench of dung. (Luke 16:15.) But it signifies that which is highly esteemed among men is abominated by God, especially when it is worshipped. And your idols, says he, shall be cut off. I have said that this word is derived from heat. It means, that the idols were the cause of their madness, since the Israelites were so corrupted with impure love that they deserted God and looked only at the idols: but he compares the zeal with which idolaters are maddened to impure and brutal lust. At length he adds, your works shall be destroyed. Here he uses a general name, and significantly points out the difference between the pure worship of God and all corruptions. There is no need of a long discussion if we desire to know how God is to be worshipped. For he rejects and excludes our works. If, therefore, we do not obtrude our works, but only follow what God demands, our worship will be pure, but if we add anything of our own, it is an abomination. We see, therefore, that useful instruction can be collected from one word, namely, that all worship is perverse and disapproved by God when men bring anything forward of themselves. For by works he does not here understand idols made of either wood, or stone, or brass, or gold, or silver, but it comprehends likewise whatever men have fashioned, and whatever can be ascribed to them, because they have not taken them from the mouth of God and the commands of his law.
Here the Prophet adds a small clause to his former threats, namely, that God would so consume the whole people with slaughter, that they would be compelled to acknowledge him as Jehovah. The slain, therefore, shall fall in the midst of thee, that is, the enemy shall arise who shall cause slaughter everywhere through the midst of the land. As to the phrase,I am Jehovah, it refers to the prophecy; for the Israelites did not openly deny God, but because they had no faith in the words of the Prophet, hence God appears and confirms and establishes the authority of the prophetic teaching, when he shows that an avenger was at hand if it was despised, as we know it was despised; and this he will soon explain a little more clearly. It follows now —
Yet here another promise is added, which may temper the bitterness of so sorrowful a prophecy. For hitherto God shows that he burns with indignation against the land of Israel, so that he determined to destroy it, since it was polluted everywhere, and at all corners. Nothing could therefore be hoped for, if Ezekiel had spoken precisely; therefore a promise is added in mitigation — I will leave a remnant, says he, that you may have some who escape the sword; that is, that some of you may survive. But how? God does not promise simple pardon, that he may leave the Israelites quiet and safe in the land, but he says that their safety shall be in exile. Hence therefore we collect that they were so depraved that they were unable to obtain pardon, because God says that his patience was their scorn and aversion. Although, therefore, he gives the Israelites some hope of favor, yet he also admonishes them that they could not obtain safety in any other way, except by a kind of death, namely exile. I will leave a remnant, says he, of you, who shall escape the sword; but how? whom shall the enemy have spared so that they do not change their place? nay, he says, when ye shall be dispersed among the Gentiles He promises them life, therefore, but a wretched one, because it was united with exile. But God’s favor cannot be sufficiently estimated from these words, unless what follows immediately is added.
I see that I cannot finish, and I think the time is advancing.
He now mentions the fruit of their repentance, because the Israelites were beginning at length to attribute just honor to his prophecies. For we know that they trifled carelessly while the Prophets were threatening them. Because, therefore, they were in the habit of destroying confidence in all the servants of God, and of reducing as it were their truth to nothing, the Prophet says, that when they repented they would then perceive that God had not spoken in vain. While they were despising his threats, they did not perceive that they ought therefore to be considered despisers of God. For listening only to men, when they heard Jeremiah or Ezekiel, they thought that they were contending with them only, and could do so with impunity against mere mortals. God therefore, in opposition to this, testifies that he was the chief author. For as error springs from error, they proudly rejected whatever the Prophets said, when they treated it as frivolous and vain. God therefore says: They shall then know that I have not spoken in vain, when I bring upon them this evil This knowledge, which is produced by real dissatisfaction with self, is very useful. I have said that it is the fruit of repentance, but at the same time it profits the miserable, to humble themselves seriously before God, and to call to memory their own ingratitude: then they perceive what they had never admitted before, that God is trustworthy as well in his threats as in his promises. Hence it happens that they reverently embrace his word which they had formerly despised. He pronounced the same thing previously concerning the reprobate, who, as we have already said, feel God’s hand without producing fruit. But because he now speaks of those very few whose conversion he had previously praised, he doubtless comprehends the fear of God under recognition or perception of him. For if all God’s threats had been buried, the people could not be thought to have returned into the right way, nor could their conversion have any existence before God. We know that contempt is not free from impious sacrilege, which is now treated of. Therefore, that the sinner may submit himself sincerely to God, this acknowledgment is required, that he should weigh within himself how unworthily and wickedly he had formerly either repudiated or neglected the word of God. In the meantime the Prophet triumphs over the arrogance of those who had wantonly despised the teaching of all God’s servants, when he says, they shall feel (or acknowledge) that I Jehovah have not spoken in vain Since, therefore, the Prophet here depicts as in a painting their late repentance, let us learn to tremble in time at God’s threats. Although indeed God does not yet execute his vengeance upon us, yet let us be sure that he does not speak in vain, and let us be alarmed as soon as he shows any sign of his indignation. God indeed testifies that he would be propitious to the Israelites, although their repentance was tardy; but as far as we are concerned, let us repent in time, as I have already admonished, and as soon as God utters his threats, let it be to us just as if their execution were at hand. It follows —
This confirms what we have formerly seen concerning the slaughter of the ten tribes. The kingdom of Israel had been indeed afflicted, but because those remaining in their own country thought themselves free from further calamity, and gave themselves up to their idolatries more and more, it was on this account necessary that final destruction should be denounced against them. Since, then, words moved them but little, God adds a sign, according to his custom in obstinate cases. He orders the Prophet, by clapping of hands, and by extending his legs and feet, to show that the land was cursed. Divide, therefore, thy feet; for thus men are accustomed to do when they denounce anything gravely, or burn with indignation: they extend their legs in opposite directions; so I have rendered it verbally separate thy feet: the clapping of the hands has the same object. God wishes by this gesture that his word should be confirmed, not for the Prophets sake, but for the sake of the obstinacy of those who were deaf to all words, as we have said. Hence we truly comprehend how great was the stupidity of men, who, when God was thundering from heaven, yet remain secure, and do not cease to follow after their own desires: even when God inspires terror, they do nothing but laugh — this is monstrous. And yet we see it was an old disease, and I wish we of this day were free from what Ezekiel experienced.
Lastly, it is just as if he had been commanded to bring the Israelites into his presence When, therefore, he was commanded to cry alas! or, oh! upon all the abominations of the house of Israel, there is no doubt that his gesture as well as his exclamation ought to be efficacious. The reason also is added — that all shall perish by sword, pestilence, and famine We have said that these three kinds of punishment are always proposed, not because God strikes the despisers of his law with pestilence, the sword, and famine only, but because this method is more known and more common. God has innumerable hidden methods of punishing transgressors; but since, as I have said, this scourge is more used, hence the Prophets more frequently mention it.
The result is, that destruction to the kingdom of Israel was at hand, which they had never thought of; because God avenges the wickedness of his people not only by war, but by pestilence and famine. Sometimes by the figure, a part for the whole, it comprehends other punishments. And we know with how many miseries war is replete; for when once men begin to take up arms, the gate is opened to robberies and rapines, burnings, slaughters, debaucheries, and all violence; and in war all humanity and equity is buried. Then as to famine, we know that it usually renders men ravenous. But in pestilence the husband will desert the wife, every family is invaded by death, orphanhood afflicts one, and widowhood another. Since, therefore, these scourges of God draw with them infinite miseries, it is not to be wondered at if the Prophets use war, pestilence, and famine, for shortness, when they signify that those who provoke God too long shall perish. Now follows a clearer explanation —
Now the Prophet explains himself how the Israelites were to be destroyed by famine, the sword, and pestilence, namely, those who shall be far off shall die by pestilence; that is, after they think themselves hidden in secret places, so that no danger nor inconvenience can overtake them, they shall die there by pestilence. For when they were dragged into distant exile, they thought themselves altogether remote from all harm. But pestilence, he says, shall attack them although the sword shall cease. Then those who shall be at hand, that is, those who remain at home, the sword shall consume. Now the remnant, he says, who had been besieged and hemmed in, shall die by famine. And so he confirms what we formerly saw, that there should be no cause why the Israelites should sleep amidst their sins when God spared them: because if they do not all perish by the sword, God has other means of punishing them; for he has pestilence and famine in his hand, so that he can extinguish those who are far off, since pestilence will pursue them even there; then if any are left, they shall perish — even in the midst of peace — nevertheless, because God will destroy them by famine and want. Then he adds,I will fulfill my burning wrath against them: by which words God signifies that he had borne with that impious people thus far, but if at any time he pleased to exercise rigor, that he had not yet exacted sufficient punishment for their wickedness. Hence God blames them, though he had borne with them thus far, and although he had sometimes stricken them with his rods, yet he was not a rigid judge, but admonishes them as a father to return to the right way. But since they had so obstinately abused God’s forbearance, he here pronounces that his last act was approaching, and for this reason he speaks of the fulfilling of his burning anger: thus the Prophet turns away all envy from God, that the Israelites should not charge him with cruelty; thus he shows them that whatever evils they suffered were only a prelude to a horrible slaughter which was overhanging them, and which they still despised. It follows —
Now he again announces that they shall know what they have long neglected. But here a different knowledge from the former seems to be marked; for he has lately said that they should so remember as to be ashamed, and acknowledge that the slaughters predicted by the Prophets had not been in vain: but here he mentions nothing of this kind, but only speaks of that experimental knowledge which is common to the ungodly. And, in truth, this doctrine seems to be extended promiscuously to all the commonalty. For although for the most part they did not profit by it, yet all perceived that God was a judge, because so clear and conspicuous was the proof of his vengeance, that they were compelled to feel, whether they would or not, that their punishment was just. We may perceive, then, that the Prophet intends the phrase — then ye shall know, etc., in a wide sense, because he addresses all the Israelites without exception, even those who should perish. For, we said, such was the character of that knowledge, that it only frightened them, and did not bend them to humility. And, truly, the words which follow show only the terrible vengeance of God, when they shall be slain, says he, that is, shall fall, near their idols But we have said that they would more clearly acknowledge the vengeance of God from this — that he rendered their false gods an object of ridicule. But, as I have said before, the Prophet uses an opprobrious name when speaking of idols. Since, therefore, they so fell near their idols, under the confidence and protection of which they thought that they would always be safe; and although the idols themselves were thus involved in the condemnation, this made God’s vengeance more manifest. And this is the reason, as I have before suggested, why the Prophet enters into these details. What follows is to the same purpose — by the circuit of all their altars This, then, was profanation of all altars, to be defiled by carcases being drawn over them, and then sprinkled with human blood. But he also points out the places where they worshipped false gods; for we have said that lofty places were chosen for them, but here he puts lofty hills, and then the tops of the mountains But as idol-worshippers heaped to themselves various and numerous games, when they were satiated with their high places, they had shady valleys, for their altars were under trees, where they offered incense. The Prophet therefore pronounces that there was no place which God did not condemn with infamy. When, therefore, he says that the incense had a pleasing smell, the opposite is doubtless intended, since this incense was foul before God: as when an immodest woman desires to please an adulterer, it moves the wrath of her husband, so here God silently complains that he was provoked by that foul incense with which the Israelites wished and desired to gratify their idols.
Ezekiel pursues the same sentiment, but it is necessary to persist with more words in confirmation of his prophecy, because it was somewhat difficult of belief, especially among men so secure, and who had been hardened against God by long habit. This is the reason, then, why he uses so many words about a thing in itself by no means obscure. Now he speaks concerning the extension of God’s hand, which is a Scriptural form of speech sufficiently familiar; for it is said that God extends his hand when he puts forth manifest examples of his wrath. But the phrase is taken from men, who, if they wish to accomplish anything great extend their arm. We know that God accomplishes all things by his nod alone, but because through our sluggishness we do not comprehend his judgment, the Scripture, in compassion to our rudeness represents his hand as extended. But he says, that he will place the land in devastation and stupor The two words,
He says, in all their habitations, that they may know that there would be no corner free from that devastation which he predicts: for it will often happen that some land is partially seized and spoiled, but here the Prophet comprehends all habitations. And they shall know, he says, that I am Jehovah: that is, they shall know that I have spoken by my Prophets. But God announces this with displeasure, because the Prophet’s authority ought to have been sacred and established among the people. For his calling was so marked out that they could not contend against him without being opposed to God. Hence Ezekiel is omitted here, and God comes forward, as if he had spoken himself. They shall know, therefore, he says, both my faithfulness and power. Besides this knowledge is extended to the reprobate who do not profit by God’s chastisements. Although, therefore, experience compels them to acknowledge God as a judge, yet they remain obstinate, as we shall soon see again and again. It follows —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany