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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Ezekiel 11

Verse 16


‘I will be to them as a little sanctuary’

Ezekiel 11:16

Our Authorised Version reads thus: ‘Although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.’ The Revised Version makes one slight but noticeable change; it reads, ‘I will be to them a sanctuary for a little while.’

I. The words are the Lord’s message by His servant to a certain group of the Hebrew captives, those of whom Ezekiel was one, a group transported to the Babylonian realm earlier than the mass of the people. The people who were as yet undisturbed in Jerusalem seem to have sent a strange message of contempt and rejection to this banished company ( Ezekiel 11:15). As a fact their banishment seems to have begun already to work for their spiritual good, and the Lord takes their part in this gracious promise of our text. Let the proud, blind citizens of the capital say what they would. Let them dream that their nearness to Jehovah’s Temple kept them near to Jehovah, while their far-off brethren were ‘far from the Lord.’ His mind is otherwise. He will Himself supply to them the place of His own shrine, and altar, and sacrifices, and incense. He will be their sanctuary. Only for ‘a little while’ shall there be need of the promise in that form; for ‘the calamity’ shall be ‘overpast’ ere very long. But while they need the promise, it is theirs. ‘I will be their sanctuary.’

II. What says this passage to us, in view of missionary work?—It suggests a special line of prayer for our missionaries ‘in the countries where they shall come.’ It gives us a ground and plea for our believing claim for them, from the faithful Promiser, that His most special presence shall surround them, and be a sanctuary to them, in ‘the little while’ of their exile for His Name’s sake.

May we not apply the words to their case with a strong, confident, loving expectation? If the Lord had a special sanctuary-promise for the exiles of Ezekiel’s company, has He not much more such a promise for those who have, ‘for the Name’s sake, gone forth, taking nothing of the heathen’ ( 3 John 1:7), but giving their whole selves to them? Those Jewish exiles were self-banished for their sins. Our missionary brethren and sisters are Christ-banished for His glory. He will not care less for them!

III. Think, then, of the reality of their need of a special sanctuary-promise.—To be sure, their circumstances widely differ. There are missionaries who are indeed ‘remote, unfriended.’ Think of a Paton on the isle of Tanna, a Mackay, a C. T. Wilson, quite alone in Uganda, a Gobat in Abyssinia, a Henry Martyn in the solitude of his last journey, to be terminated in the grave at Tokat. On the other hand, there are missionaries who are grouped together in little companies, a miniature Christian Church in themselves. Sometimes too, they are placed, as at some treaty-port in China, or some Indian city, or in old Jerusalem itself, where a certain fragment of ‘Christendom’ surrounds them, a community not missionary perhaps, yet nominally Christian, and in many of its members really so. Yet in all these varying cases there is this likeness, that at the very best it is but a fragment of Christendom. There may be an oasis. But the vast desert is around it. They have to look face to face, day by day, on a mighty world, rolling around their lives, which in the most literal sense ‘knows not the Lord.’

Have we never heard any of these servants of God telling us what the trial of all this is? Nothing has impressed me more in talking with missionaries, than their allusions, often from the depths of a burdened heart, to the awful trials of a life lived ‘where Satan’s seat is.’

Here is a line for the prayers of us at home who try ‘to hold the rope.’ Here in England we, many of us, are almost spoilt with spiritual privileges. The abundant worship of the Lord’s Day, the frequent meetings for prayer and Bible-study, Conferences, Conventions—what have we not? And around all this is the large fact of a general society which, with all its grave faults, has Christian leaven in it everywhere. Our dear devoted brethren and sisters ‘in the field’ have to do without our ‘sanctuaries.’

So we will fall back for them upon this peculiarly tender promise of their Lord and ours. Be Thou, Lord, their sanctuary! So manifest to them Thy covenant presence that it shall surround them as with a better privacy than even the veil of the Temple could give the High Priest of old. For the ‘little while’ of their need more than supply to them all holy aids with Thy manifested Self.


‘It is the very thing which, in such a world as this, we want. It is not only to be under a kind providence, which is over-ruling for us the outer world—though that is repose—but it is to have something which, in the midst of motion, is always at rest; something which, though all outer things are changing, changeth not; something gathered in from “the wilderness”—purer than the scenes around you: that where we can always turn trustingly and lovingly—where we may be alone with God, and be quite happy. Never go forth to anything till you have first taken your privilege of going in and refreshing yourself, for a little season, in that “little sanctuary.” ’



This text gives the true secret of a happy Sunday in a sick-room. It is a promise to Israel when they could not go to the Temple, and in it God undertakes to supply the wants of Temple services, and to be Himself a little Sanctuary to His scattered people. So that when the sick man cannot go to church to the public worship of God, God comes to him, and is Himself a little Sanctuary to his soul.

Consider what there was in the Sanctuary.

I. There was the candlestick.—There was no window in the tabernacle, and the only light came from the candlestick. This was supplied with oil, typifying the Holy Ghost, and it lighted up the chamber.

Now a sick-room is a dark place, and a sick body is like a dark tabernacle. There is very little of the light of the world there. But even though there is not much power of thinking, God the Holy Ghost can speak to the heart, and shine there with the light of a father’s love.

II. There was the table of shew-bread.—There was always a supply there. He fed Israel in the wilderness, and He can, and will, feed us wherever we are. Other sources of supply fail, but the bread of life never does. The weak body cannot always receive food. But the heart in its hour of deepest weakness, and even when things look dark all round, can quietly feed on Christ and be satisfied.

III. There was the altar of incense.—This was never used for sacrifice. But in certain cases the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on it, and so presented before God. When God is our Sanctuary we may present, or plead, the precious blood of Christ. At other times it was used for the burning of incense. This represented prayer and praise; and prayer and praise are not limited to the day of health and prosperity. They may find their place in the darkened chamber, and even when we are ill, though dull and heavy and unable to think, we may spend our little strength in praising His name.

IV. Behind the Veil there was the Shechinah resting over the Mercy Seat and the Ark of the Covenant.—God was not seen, but He was there. He was there on the mercy seat, there presiding over the Covenant. And so He is with you. He is the little Sanctuary in your room, and He is in the midst of it resting on the mercy seat. So, though you cannot go to the House of God, and though you find it hard to be vigorous at home, you may rest in His arms, and come to Him just as you are, ‘that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’

Canon Edward Hoare.


‘See how prayer prevails with God, and ponder these exquisite promises. If you are unable to go to the house of God, either through sickness or far journeying, ask Him to be Himself your sanctuary. Plead for the united heart, and the new spirit; for the removal of the heart of stone, with its insensibility and obduracy; and for grace that you may walk in His statutes, keep His ordinances and do them, so that you may be His people, and know Him as your God.’

Verse 19


‘I … will give them an heart of flesh.’

Ezekiel 11:19

I. It is God’s doing the genesis and creation of the new heart.—‘I,’ He says, and the pronoun must be read with emphasis and decision, ‘I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.’

II. So here is a grave and serious problem for me to consider, the gravest and most serious to which I can give my thought.—Have I undergone a change in my attitude towards Him which is so deep-reaching, so revolutionary, so far beyond my own powers of accomplishment, that none but He Himself can bring it about? My improvement is not enough, my penitence is not enough, the resolution of my mind to remember and to obey Him whom I have slighted and dishonoured is not enough. Nothing is enough but a superhuman process, as much above me and beyond me as my first entrance into the world was. It is the doing of God the Holy Spirit.

III. My soul, thou art worse than frail and faulty!—There is more required from thee than a greater attention to duty and an increased circumspection. Thou art altogether dead to righteousness and to God, and it is He who must Himself quicken thee into life. But do not, therefore, sit down in fatalistic calm and helpless despair. What says He to thee?—‘Yet for all this I will be enquired of, to do it for thee.’ He gives the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 11". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.