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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 11

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verses 1-25



Ezekiel 11:1 . And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the house of Jehovah that looks toward the east; and behold at the entrance of the gate five and twenty men; and in the midst of them I saw Jaazaniah the son of Azur, and Pelatiah (Heb. Pelatjahu), son of Benaiah (Heb. Binajahu), princes of the people.

Ezekiel 11:2 . And he said to me, Son of man, these are the men that devise mischief, and give evil counsel in this city;

Ezekiel 11:3 . Who say, Not at hand (literally, not in the nearness) is the building of houses; (This is the plain import of the original here, and, as will be shown after wards, gives the best sense. The meaning adopted by Calvin, and followed by the authorized version and many commentators, is,” It is not near (viz. the destruction of the city); let us build houses;” or,” to build houses.” Let us proceed to that, and we can do so with safety. This, as Maurer has justly objected, would have required the inf. absol.; not בְּנוֹת , but בָּנהֹ . Ewald would take the words interrogatively, “Is it not in the nearness to build houses?” I Cannot we do so with perfect safety? Grammatically, the interpretation is admissible; but it does not give a natural sense, nor the one best fitted to explicate the meaning; rather, indeed, the reverse.) this is the caldron, and we are the flesh.

Ezekiel 11:4 . Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy, son of man.

Ezekiel 11:5 . And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, Say: Thus saith Jehovah, Thus have ye said, house of Israel: and whatever has risen up in your mind, I have known it.

Ezekiel 11:6 . Ye have multiplied your slain in this city, and have filled its streets with the slaughtered.

Ezekiel 11:7 . Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Your slain, which ye have laid in the midst of it, these are the flesh, and this city is the caldron: and I will cause you to go forth out of the midst of it.

Ezekiel 11:8 . Ye have feared the sword; and the sword will I bring upon you, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 11:9 . And I will make you go forth from the midst of it, and will give you into the hand of strangers, and will execute judgments against you.

Ezekiel 11:10 . Ye shall fall by the sword: upon the border of Israel (i.e. at the extremity of the land) will I judge you; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

Ezekiel 11:11 . This city shall not be to you for a caldron, nor shall you be in the midst of it as flesh; at the border of Israel will I judge you.

Ezekiel 11:12 . And ye shall know that I am Jehovah; in whose statutes ye did not walk, and whose judgments ye did not execute; but did according to the judgments of the heathen that are round about you.

Ezekiel 11:13 . And it came to pass, that while I was prophesying, Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died: and I fell upon my face and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah, Lord Jehovah! wilt thou make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?

Ezekiel 11:14 . And the word of the Lord came to me saying.

Ezekiel 11:15 . Son of man, thy brethren, thy brethren are the men of thy redemption (thy Goalim thy redemption-men), and all the house of Israel, the whole to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem say, Be ye far from the Lord, to us is given this land for an inheritance.

Ezekiel 11:16 . Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because I have removed them far off among the heathen, and because I have scattered them among the countries, and have been to them for a sanctuary during a little season in the countries whither they have come:

Ezekiel 11:17 . Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will also gather you from the peoples, and will assemble you from the countries whither ye have been scattered, and I will give to you the territory of Israel.

Ezekiel 11:18 . And they come thither, and they take away all its detestable things, and all its abominations out of it.

Ezekiel 11:19 . And I give them one heart, and will put a new spirit within them: and I will take away the heart of stone from their flesh, and give to them an heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 11:20 . In order that they may walk in my statutes, and may keep my judgments, and do them: and may be to me for a people, and I may be a God to them.

Ezekiel 11:21 . And for those whose heart goes after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, their way I bring upon their heads, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 11:22 . And the cherubims lifted up their wings with the wheels at their side; and the glory of the God of Israel over them aloft.

Ezekiel 11:23 . And the glory of Jehovah went up out of the midst of the city, and stood over the mount that is to the east of the city.

Ezekiel 11:24 . And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to Chaldea, to the captives, in a vision by the Spirit of God: and the vision which I had seen went up from me.

Ezekiel 11:25 . And I spake to the captives all the words of Jehovah that he had made me see.

WHEN the prophet was going to witness the new scene of destruction with which this chapter opens, he was made to change his position. For the manifested glory of God had fixed its residence at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house (Ezekiel 10:19), the principal entrance to the temple, as through that the way lay straight into the sanctuary. The Spirit lifted the prophet up, and placed him at that gate, in the immediate presence of the Divine glory. There the first thing that met his eye was a company of twenty-five men, two of whom also are expressly named, and called “princes of the people.” This number naturally leads us to think of the twenty-five mentioned in Ezekiel 8:0., whom we identified with the heads of the twenty-four classes into which the families of the priests were divided, with the high priest as their superior, the natural representatives of the whole priesthood. Nor is there anything in what is said here to prevent us from supposing that the same persons are again brought into notice. That they should be called, not as in Isaiah 43:28, princes of the sanctuary,” or in 2 Chronicles 36:14, “chief (princes) of the priests,” but “princes of the people,” is sufficiently explained from the light in which they are here contemplated, as ringleaders in the general profligacy and corruption. Hence it is immediately added, “These are the men that devise mischief, and give wicked counsel in this city;” for they had taken advantage of their influential position to lead the people astray from God, and infuse perverse counsel into their minds; and on this account might justly be called, though not perhaps without some mixture of irony, “princes of the people.”

This view is also confirmed by the place assigned to these twenty-five men in the vision. Already has the wrath of God come forth with consuming power against the people as represented by the elders, who were then worshipping in the courts of the Lord’s house. Nor only this; but the glory of the Lord has also been seen leaving its proper habitation in the most holy place, and, like the cherubim of old, and the flaming sword in the garden of Eden, has gone forth to occupy the gate that leads into the now deserted sanctuary. Of what use, then, any more the ministrations of an apostate and polluted priesthood in this sanctuary? Nay, is it not time that judgment should alight upon such a priesthood? and that the glory of the Lord should break forth upon them before they are again permitted to enter the sacred precincts? This is precisely what we should expect to take place from the order of the Divine vision, and the point at which things had arrived; and when viewed in connection with what had been previously said of the twenty-five, as to their ministering on peculiarly holy ground, and now of their appearing at the eastern approach to the temple, leaves no proper room to doubt that these were the representatives of the priesthood in Judah.

The two who are named in this representative company of priests appear to have been singled out, as was formerly done in the case of the seventy elders, on account of the peculiar significance of their names, and to mark the contrast that now existed between the idea and the reality. “Jaazaniah (God hears), the son of Azur (help); and Pelatiah (God delivers), the son of Benaiah (God builds).” Such names should have been regarded as perpetual monitors, reminding them where they should have sought, and where also they should have found, their confidence and safety. Had they but remained stedfast in the covenant of God, he would assuredly have heard and helped them in the time of need, delivered them from danger, and built them up. But now it was their very relation to God which proved the source of their greatest danger, and the immediate cause of their overwhelming destruction. For not only the corruptions they had introduced into his service, but also their insolent contempt of his authority, had reached such a height that he could no longer refrain from manifesting his righteousness in their punishment. Setting themselves in direct opposition to the will of God, they had given wicked counsel to the people, and said, “Not in the nearness is the building of houses; this is the caldron, and we are the flesh.”

It is not quite obvious, at first sight, how these words convey so bad a meaning as the connection in which they are introduced leads us to expect; for it is in them, apparently, that the extreme wickedness of the priesthood expresses itself, while the words themselves might seem to imply nothing particularly bad. This alone suggests to us the propriety of seeking for some covert reference in the language, such as might impart to it a peculiar force and intensity of meaning. And the connection between the prophecies of Ezekiel and those of Jeremiah, formerly adverted to, supplies here precisely what we need; for it enables us to perceive, in the short speech here put into the lips of a corrupt priesthood, an insolent and scornful parody of words that had been previously uttered by Jeremiah. In the letter that prophet sent to the captives among whom Ezekiel lived, the very first announcement was “ Build ye houses, and dwell in them” (Jeremiah 29:5); because the time of their sojourn there was not to be, as the great majority of the people thought, for a brief space, but for the long period of seventy years. On the other hand, in regard to the people at Jerusalem, and indicative of the short respite that was to be allowed them there, Jeremiah had seen in a vision a caldron or seething-pot (Jeremiah 1:13), with its mouth towards the north; which was interpreted to mean, that the kingdoms of the north, with Babylon at their head, would come and take possession of Jerusalem. Now it is these two speeches the one bearing respect more immediately to the exiles, the other to the remnant in Judah which the impious and ungodly priesthood are represented here as parodying; they take the words of the Lord’s servant into their mouth, but only for the purpose of showing how they could make light of the most solemn messages: “Those who are far off in the land of exile may, if they please, take the prophet’s advice and set about building houses for themselves; that does not concern us, it is too remote a thing for our needing to be at all careful about it. And as for the pot you have seen, which is ready to smoke and boil under the fury of a hostile invasion from the north, let it be so let Jerusalem be the pot, then we shall be the flesh within it; its strong fortifications and sure defences shall preserve us against any flame of war that may kindle around us. We know our ground, and have no occasion to be terrified with such visions.”

Such plainly appears to have been the spirit in which the words were uttered by the priesthood, and the sense they conveyed. And viewed thus, the language reveals as by a flash of lightning the real state of the priesthood in Jerusalem, showing not only how contemptuously they eyed their brethren in exile (the circumstance which gave rise to the whole of this series of visions), but how completely their heart had departed from the Lord, and gone to rest in fleshly confidences. The threatenings of the Lord’s servant were now bandied about as idle words, or twisted into any shape that might suit their own perverse inclinations. And as if the Lord had indeed forsaken the earth, or was destitute of means to execute his own word, they looked to the bulwarks of their city as amply sufficient to protect them from all the assaults that could be made against it. Nay, they had the presumption to intimate, by the turn they gave to the prophet’s similitude, that the city must stand for their sakes, even as the pot exists for the safety and due preparation of the flesh that is put into it. In like manner, because they must as a matter of necessity continue to abide and flourish, the city cannot but stand them in good stead against the coming evil! (The state of mind implied in the speech here put into the mouth of the priests is vividly represented, and with substantial accuracy, by Calvin. He also perceived a reference to both the passages in Jeremiah above noticed; though, as formerly stated, he gave an untenable view of the first part, and understood it of the security the people now thought they had to build houses in Jerusalem. Various other modes of explanation have been adopted, of which none, certainly, are more ridiculous than one of the last, that of Hitzig, who puts into the mouth of the priesthood the very tame and quite inappropriate sentiment: “War is at hand, we are going to revolt; it is therefore not a time for building houses, but rather for laying in provisions!” That of Hävernick, which we have followed, is the only one which at once gives to the words their proper rendering, and extracts from them a sentiment entirely suited to the occasion.)

It was impossible that a holy God could permit such a presumptuous and scornful degree of impiety to pass unpunished, especially when it appeared in those who stood nearest to God, and held the highest places of influence in the land. Therefore the Divine judgment is immediately announced. As perfectly cognisant of their vain imaginations and their wicked courses, the Lord declares that he is ready to take vengeance on their inventions. Their miserable sophistries and external defences would be equally unavailing in the day of rebuke. Those whom they had cunningly deceived or violently overborne to their ruin, these would really be as the flesh in the midst of the caldron, the hapless victims of destruction; but the treacherous and wicked priesthood would have to answer for their blood, and as an abhorred race would be driven from their imagined sanctuary, and slain by the hands of heathen in the borders of the land, thus finding, as they deserved, a violent death and a polluted grave. (Comp. Jeremiah 39:4-5.)

As soon as the communication was made of this purpose to execute judgment on the corrupt priesthood, Pelatiah (God delivers) fell down dead, a manifest sign that now all hope of a better issue was gone, that their defence was departed from them, and that the doom pronounced was sure of taking effect. The prophet at once perceived the meaning of this sign; and, overwhelmed with the fearful carnage that now burst in prospect upon his view, he again prostrated himself, and exclaimed, “Ah, Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” Shall this be a final and exterminating judgment? Must all perish, and the name Pelatiah henceforth be a lie?

It is this question that brings out the gleam of hope that still lingered amid all those dark and dismal proceedings. But this was not to be found in any mitigation of the purpose to execute judgment upon Jerusalem and to destroy the confidences of those who lived there. There must be, in that respect, a sweeping desolation; and in that very exile, which the priests and princes of Jerusalem affected to look upon with such disdain, it was that the hope of Israel now lay, and from thence was the prospect of better days to begin. “Son of man, thy brethren, thy brethren are the men of thy redemption (thy Goalim redemption-men), and all the house of Israel, the whole to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Be ye far from the Lord: to us is this land given in possession. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God,” etc., Ezekiel 11:15-21.

The full import of the first part of this declaration has been considerably obscured by regarding the Goalim spoken of at the beginning as simply the relations or kindred of the prophet (which the word never properly means), and by mistaking the precise object of the affirmation made respecting them. The prophet, by birth a priest, felt when he saw the priesthood in Jerusalem doomed to destruction, as if his own nearest kinsmen were given up to ruin; so that it behoved him to do for them the part of the Goel, and plead or vindicate their cause. According to the law of Moses, the right of the Goel belonged only to the brother, or, failing him, to the relative who stood nearest in blood, and so might fitly be regarded as the proper advocate, deputy, or avenger of the individual (Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 25:48). Hence it was quite natural for the priest Ezekiel to identify himself with the priesthood in Jerusalem, so far as to feel called upon to espouse their cause, and even to regard his own interest as, in a manner, bound up with theirs. But that natural feeling, the Lord now taught him, must give way to a higher one. “Thy brethren, thy brethren” the repetition of the word indicating, as very commonly in Hebrew, the stress that was intended to be laid upon the relationship “thy proper, thy real brethren, these are no longer the priests in Jerusalem, with whom thou art bound by the natural ties of blood and a common right to serve in the temple; in place of these, doomed to destruction for their incorrigible wickedness, a new brother hood must henceforth become known to thee, a royal priesthood, which the Lord is going to form for himself out of the wreck of the natural community. Look no more to Jerusalem, but to thine expatriated countrymen, thy fellow-exiles on the banks of the Chebar, and the house of Israel generally, the whole of them that survive. And in them, despised as they are by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, see the true brethren, whom the Lord is preparing as a spiritual seed for the glory of his name. Go and do for them the Goel’s part; seek their deliverance.”

The great evangelical principle comes out here, that not those who are most highly esteemed among men, or who may appear to themselves nearest to the kingdom, are those whom God chooses, but rather the poor and despised, and such as, in a sense, are not. A spiritual priesthood, such as the Lord sought, could only be found among the broken hearts of the captivity. Weaned there from their fleshly confidences, hum bled in the dust, nay, melted and fused in the hot furnace of affliction, they were in a condition to receive the riches of Divine grace, and repair anew to God for strength and blessing. And so then, as continually since, “the last were first” for only through tribulation could the kingdom be entered. No door of hope at such a time but in the valley of Achor.

The Lord did not overlook the contrariety which his word to Ezekiel presented to outward appearances, and to the taunts which had been thrown out by the. priest respecting the exiles, as to their being far from the Lord. “Therefore, say to them,” the Lord continued, “because I have cast them far off among the heathen, and because I have scattered them among the countries, and have been to them for a sanctuary during a little season in the countries whither they have come; therefore I also will gather you from the peoples,” etc. As much as to say, It is true, they are in a sense far removed, and miserably scattered; but that by no means necessarily involves their being also in a state of distance from God. They have lost access to the outward temple, where fellowship with God has chiefly been maintained; but God himself has come near to them; he has become their sanctuary; and as his presence can make any place a temple, so it has proved a present sanctuary to them, in the room of that which has become an abomination of desolation at Jerusalem. Therefore these are the true priesthood, and in due time shall be gathered again, and reinstated in the land.

A great truth unfolds itself here for all times, that the Lord is not confined to temples made with hands, and that if there be but the lowly and spiritual heart, he is to be found in the most remote and lonely regions, not less than in the place more especially consecrated to his service and glory. Yea, though it may be their own sins which have conducted them into such regions, and in their very position they can discern too plainly the signs of an offended God, yet, if even then they cry to him, they need not doubt that he is near to give the blessing. But in so particularly unfolding this truth here for the people in exile, it is impossible not to see how the Lord was preparing the way for the better times of the gospel, when the material temple should pass away, and the spiritual alone should rise into view. It was the peculiar temptation of those who lived under the old economy, that even when not chargeable with corrupting the service of God, their minds were apt to contract themselves to the earthly pattern of sacred things exhibited before them, and they could scarcely realize a present God apart from the outward temple and the land of Canaan. So natural and so strong was this tendency, that we find the prophet Jonah attempting to evade the Lord’s presence by endeavouring to withdraw to Tarshish. And if the feeling had been allowed to grow unchecked if some great dispensation in Providence had not been sent in time, to loosen in some degree the tie that bound them to the outward and material, to expand and elevate their conceptions of God, we can easily conceive how alien and repulsive to the views of the most devout worshippers must have been the idea of Christ’s spiritual kingdom and universal Church.

In this respect the dispersion, besides being a just chastisement on account of sin, and a salutary discipline to lead the heart of the people back to God, had an important end to accomplish as a preparatory movement in Providence for opening the way for Messiah’s kingdom. It was very far from being an unmixed evil. As a mere external arrangement, it was destined to be of great service in diffusing the knowledge of God, and providing materials for the first foundations of the Christian Church, by giving the bearers of God’s truth a place and an influence in many of the most commanding positions in the heathen world. But still more important and necessary was the end it had to serve in spiritualizing the views of the better part of the Jews themselves, and training them to the knowledge and service of God, without the help of a material temple and an earthly kingdom. Practically it had the effect of indefinitely widening the bounds of Canaan, or of giving to the world at large somewhat of its distinctive characteristics, since the devout worshipper at Babylon, Alexandria, Rome, or wherever he might be placed, found himself a partaker of God’s presence and blessing as well as in Jerusalem. What a mighty advance did the kingdom of God thus make toward the possession of the world! And in rendering the dispersion of his people instrumental to the attainment of such a result, how strikingly did the Lord manifest his power to overrule a present evil for the accomplishment of an ultimate good! Nor were it, perhaps, too much to say, having respect to the issues of things, that the dispersion of the Israelites among the nations was fraught with as much blessing for the Church and the world, as even their original settlement in Canaan.

At the time, however, of this vision, when the old economy had still ages to run before it could give way to a better, the Lord could not allow the chosen land and the outward temple, with which it was so essentially connected, to lie long in a state of desolation. The separation of the covenant-people from them could only be temporary. And the very circumstance of God’s promising to be a sanctuary to his people in exile ready to meet them there with tokens of his presence with refreshments and gifts of the Spirit was itself an assurance that a restoration could not be far distant. Hence the Lord couples with the promise a limitation in respect to time: he was to be to them a sanctuary for a little not a little sanctuary, as in our common version and many others, which gives a sense derogatory to the majesty of God, and one also unsuited to the connection. The thought expressed is, that God would be to his people in exile, instead of the temple, a sanctuary so long as that exile lasted; but bounds were to be set to it it would not need to continue for a long period, as a return must again be opened up for them to the land of the covenant. Therefore the Lord immediately proceeds to declare his purpose to gather them out of the nations among which they had been scattered; and to do so expressly on the ground that he had been to them for a sanctuary in their dispersed and scattered condition. Their scattering, in one sense, had been in another a gathering; it had driven them to take up their refuge in God, thereby preparing and fitting them for being again restored to the land of their fathers. And so, as their sanctuary, God proceeds to make promise of his grace to renew and sanctify their natures, to change their hearts as from stone to flesh, that when they returned they might put away all the abominations which had brought such floods of judgment on the land. These abominations had rendered it what it originally was when its inhabitants were given up to the curse of Heaven; but, returning to it with a heart utterly opposed to such defilements, they would make it again a holy and blessed habitation. Yet only in the event supposed only if they hearkened to the voice of God, and cherished the spirit of holiness and love he sought to implant within them. If any among them were still bent upon going after the heart of their vile and abominable things, they must reap in bitterness the fruit of their doings, and a threatening to that effect closes the communication.

The promise of a return to Canaan, therefore, was not given to the exiles here, no more than its original possession had been granted, as an absolute and unconditional good. What it should be would still depend upon the spiritual condition of the people themselves, whether they received or frustrated the grace brought to them through such messengers as Ezekiel and Daniel, and the other men of God raised up from time to time among the people. And comparing the promise of what should have been with the record of what actually was, we find that the word received but a partial fulfilment just because the spiritual renovation had been so partially undergone; and Canaan, as occupied by the restored remnant, was not the region of holiness here represented. Still the promise did not fail; the Lord did provide for himself a spiritual offspring from the captivity, and plant them anew as a seed of blessing in the land of their fathers, enough to show that he was mindful of his word, and enough also to furnish a pledge that the sum of all promise the work of reconciliation in Christ, and the inheritance by a redeemed people over his everlasting kingdom would, in due time, be brought to completion.

Thus closes this remarkable series of visions. As soon as the last communication was uttered, the glory of the Lord, with the attendant cherubim, withdrew altogether from the temple and its courts, “leaving the house to them desolate,” and retired even beyond the bounds of the city to the Mount of Olives, there to watch upon the evil that was to befall the city. The prophet is borne back again in spirit to the elders who sat before him, and, descending from his state of ecstasy, reports to them what had passed in vision before the eye of his mind. That report itself formed the message which their present circumstances required; and it certainly contained much that was fitted to cheer them under the gloom that hung around their condition, as well as to awe and solemnize their hearts, by the thought of such appalling judgments ready to be executed against the guilty.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 11". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-11.html.
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