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C. Yahweh’s reply to the invalid hopes of the Israelites chs. 12-19
"The exiles had not grasped the serious consequences of Ezekiel’s warnings. They still hoped for an early return to Palestine, for they viewed the continued preservation of Jerusalem and Judah as signs of security. After all, Jerusalem was the eternal city. They presented several reasons for their hope and security-as well as their objections to Ezekiel’s warning-in chapters 12-19.
"First, if judgment was to come, it would not be in their lifetime, as Ezekiel had declared (ch. 12). Second, Ezekiel was only one of many prophets. Most prophets and prophetesses announced hope and reasons for optimism. Why should the people listen to Ezekiel (ch. 13)? Third, the leaders in Judah were ultimately responsible. If there were to be any judgment, it would be on them, not the exiles (ch. 14). Fourth, if real danger of judgment should exist, then they would only have to find some righteous man to intercede for them before God. Thus they would be delivered (ch. 14). Fifth, how could Ezekiel possibly believe that God would judge his own chosen people? He would not do that (chs. 15-16). Sixth, it would not be fair for God to judge anyone for his forefathers’ sins. The people thought Ezekiel was saying that God did judge one for his forefather’s sins (ch. 17). Seventh, if judgment was really coming, then there was nothing they could do to stop it; for they would be paying for their fathers’ sins. It would not make any difference if they repented (ch. 18). Eighth, Zedekiah, the contemporary ruler of Judah, could be trusted. He would throw off the yoke of Babylonia (ch. 19).
"Ezekiel patiently, systematically, and adamantly (cf. Ezekiel 3:8-9) challenged the naive reasoning of the exiles, undermining each source of their optimistic rejection to his warnings of judgment. When Ezekiel had finished his challenges, no excuses remained." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 795.]
This series of messages expands and develops the concepts presented in the preceding vision (chs. 8-11). Similarly the messages of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem (chs. 4-7) expounded elements in the vision of Ezekiel’s commission (chs. 1-3). This pattern continues through the book.
"Chapters 4-11 have repeatedly shown the certainty of Jerusalem’s destruction; chapters 12-19 present the necessity for it. The emphasis in these chapters is the moral cause of the exile." [Note: Feinberg, p. 68.]
The Judahites had trusted in the remnant in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 12:1-20), parables (Ezekiel 12:21-28), other prophets (ch. 13), idols (Ezekiel 14:1-11), religious intercessors (Ezekiel 14:12-23), their position as God’s vine (ch. 15), the holy city of Jerusalem (ch. 16), Zedekiah (ch. 17), and God’s justice (ch. 18). [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 669.]
The Lord came to Ezekiel with another message. Because it is not dated, and because the book follows a chronological sequence of events, most commentators believed that this word from the Lord came to Ezekiel shortly after he received the vision in chapters 8-11. God told His servant that the people among whom he lived, the house of Israel, were rebellious against Him (cf. Ezekiel 2:3-8). Their blindness to the things that they saw and their deafness to His words, after over a year of Ezekiel’s ministry, were the result of their rebellious condition (cf. Deuteronomy 29:1-4; Isaiah 6:9-10; Jeremiah 5:21; Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 8:18; John 12:39-40; Acts 28:26-27).
"Sin blinds the heart and mind. Like Samson, who could not see that his chosen path was leading to the loss of his ministry, the sinner does not see the ultimate consequences of sin that produces death and destruction (Judges 13-16; cf. . . . Isaiah 6:9-13; Romans 6:23)." [Note: Cooper, p. 148.]
The sign of the departing deportee 12:1-7
"It is characteristic of the book to follow a vision report, in this case chaps. 8-11, with an account of sign-acts and their interpretation within an oracular setting." [Note: Allen, p. 183.]
1. The dramatic tragedy of exile 12:1-20
This section contains three messages from the Lord all of which deal with the inevitability of another deportation of Jews from Jerusalem and Judah (Ezekiel 12:1-20). Jerusalem would be overthrown and the Jews still there would be taken to Babylon in the very near future. The prophet’s perspective now broadened from the temple (chs. 8-11) to the city (ch. 12).
The Lord instructed Ezekiel to perform another symbolic act. He was to pack his bags during the daylight hours as though he were going into exile. Thus he would probably have packed only the barest necessities. [Note: Greenberg, p. 209.] He was then to leave his present home and depart for another place in the evening, when the other exiles could observe what he was doing. Perhaps this would teach them how rebellious they were. [Note: For ancient pictures of deportees going into exile, see James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East in Pictures, plates 10, 311, 363-64, 366, and 373.]
"’Perhaps’ is God’s sigh, rather than a threat." [Note: Allen, p. 178.]
He was to dig a hole in the sun-dried mud brick wall of his house (Heb. qir), perhaps the wall around the courtyard of his house, as the people watched, and pass through it. This unusual method of departure pictured desperation and secrecy. He should load his baggage on his shoulder and carry it away as night set in. He was also to cover his face so he could not see the land. This may represent the inability of the exiles to see their land any more or his shame at having to depart or his attempt to conceal himself from the enemy. He was to do all this because God was using him as a lesson to the Jews.
Ezekiel did all that the Lord had commanded him. During the day he assembled the few things that a person would take into exile and bound them up for carrying. That evening he dug a hole through his wall with his hands. As night fell, he went out through the hole in the wall as the people watched. Zedekiah and many other Jerusalemites tried to escape from the city at night (Jeremiah 52:7). The fact that Ezekiel went out at night may also represent the dark conditions that would exist for Israel when the final exiles departed from Jerusalem (cf. John 13:30).
The morning after Ezekiel had performed this little drama the Lord spoke to him again. He reminded His servant that the Jews had asked him to interpret his symbolic acts.
The explanation of the sign of the departing deportee 12:8-16
Ezekiel was to explain to them that the oracle that he had delivered by his acted parable concerned King Zedekiah and the Jews who were in Jerusalem. Ezekiel regarded King Jehoiachin as the legitimate king of Judah, and he referred to Zedekiah as only a prince (Heb. nasi’, leader) because Nebuchadnezzar had set him on the throne. "Prince," however, was one of Ezekiel’s titles for Judah’s kings. Many of the Jews and the Babylonians also continued to view Jehoiachin as the true king of Judah.
Ezekiel was to explain to his audience that he was a sign to them of others who would go into captivity. He was not representing his fellow exiles who would leave Babylon and return to Judea. He represented what Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem would do. Zedekiah would try to escape under cover of darkness through a hole in a wall with his face covered to make himself unrecognizable (cf. 2 Kings 25:4-6; Jeremiah 39:4-5; Jeremiah 52:7-8).
Nevertheless the Lord would snare Zedekiah like a bird in a net and would bring him to Babylon. Ancient art pictured deities as hunting and snaring their enemies. [Note: See Pritchard, plate 298.] Yet Zedekiah would not see the land of Babylon even though he would die there (cf. 2 Kings 25:5; 2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 39:6-7; Jeremiah 52:8; Jeremiah 52:10-11).
Josephus wrote that Zedekiah heard about this prophecy by Ezekiel but did not believe it because it seemed to contradict Jeremiah’s prophecy about what would happen to him. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10:7:2.] This apparent contradiction was the reason Zedekiah gave for rejecting both prophecies. Both prophecies proved true: the Chaldeans took Zedekiah to Babylon, but he never saw the country because Nebuchadnezzar blinded him at Riblah.
The Lord would also scatter the Jews who accompanied, assisted, and tried to defend Zedekiah in his escape and would pursue them with a sword as they fled to other nations.
Yahweh would allow a few of them to escape so they could tell what had happened, including their sinfulness and God’s dealings with them as a nation.
"The deportations were designed to show the deportees that the Lord was the faithful, loving, and powerful God over Israel they should return to. Lest the foreign nations misunderstand Judah’s dispersion, God had the exiles testify that their abominations precipitated the deportations. In this way the nations would realize that the Lord was holy, righteous, and cared for his people, Israel. He was not one who allowed them to be conquered because he did not care. This latter notion was very common in the ancient Near East. Each nation was uniquely related to its patron deity. If a nation was defeated in battle or decimated by famine and disease, this meant its god was weak and incapable of protecting and caring for its people. To prevent such a misconception, the Lord would send a remnant of Jews among the nations to witness that they were in exile only because of their own iniquity, not because of the Lord’s failure." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 797.]
"What men fail to appreciate in prosperity, they will occasionally learn through adversity." [Note: Taylor, p. 116.]
The Lord also instructed Ezekiel to eat his bread and drink his water while trembling and visibly anxious. The prophet appears to have been eating still the symbolic rations that God had prescribed for him earlier (Ezekiel 4:9-17).
The sign of the anxious eater 12:17-20
He was then to explain to his audience that the Jews in Jerusalem would eat and drink like he had done. The Lord would strip their land of its abundance because the people had committed so much violence contrary to His law. He would also desolate the inhabited cities and the countryside of Judah. Then His people would know that He was the Lord. He loved them enough to discipline them (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11).
The Lord asked Ezekiel about a proverb that the Jews were reciting among themselves. They were saying that the days were long and that every vision failed. They meant that the captivity that the true prophets (including Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) had predicted was a long way off and that the visions they claimed to have would turn out to be unreliable.
The validity of prophecies about Jerusalem’s destruction 12:21-25
2. The present judgment as evidence of divine faithfulness 12:21-28
This section contains two prophecies (Ezekiel 12:21-28). The first one deals with the objection of some of the exiles that the prophecies of Jerusalem’s overthrow would never come to pass. The second addresses the view of some that destruction would come but not for a very long time.
The Lord promised that the people would no longer say such things because He would prove them wrong. Ezekiel was to contradict this proverb and give the people another one that the days of the coming captivity were not far off and that the prophets’ visions would come to pass. The Lord would frustrate the false prophecies and predictions of the future that only flattered the people.
Yahweh promised to bring to pass what He had spoken without delay. What He had said He would do in the days of Ezekiel’s hearers. His word of judgment would go forth, and judgment would follow immediately.
Some of the people were saying that the prophecies about coming judgment were true, but they would not come to pass for a long time.
"Rebelliousness (Ezekiel 12:25) can take many forms, some of them even quite pious (’How do I know which preacher to believe, which church is right?’). In Ezekiel’s day it was ’How do I know which prophet is correct (Ezekiel 12:24), which prophecy applies to me (Ezekiel 12:27)?’" [Note: Stuart, p. 116.]
The imminent fulfillment of prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction 12:26-28
Nevertheless the Lord promised not to delay His promises of coming judgment any longer. He would perform all that He had promised (cf. 2 Peter 3:2-13).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany