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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 12

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

Verses 1-28

CHAPTER 12.

THE VISION OF EZEKIEL’S TYPICAL REMOVING AS AN EXILE, AND ACCOMPANYING INSTRUCTIONS.

Ezekiel 12:1 . And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 12:2 . Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of the rebellious house, with those who have eyes to see, and see not; who have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 12:3 . And do thou, son of man, make thee an exile’s implements, (The expression כְּלֵי גוֹלָה does not mean properly “stuff for removing,” but the articles or implements which are proper to a person going as an exile or captive to a distant land; in particular, a staff, a scrip, and a knapsack, with a few supplies of food and clothing. The word הַגוֹלָה , which is so often used by Ezekiel to denote the collected body of the exiles, is so used (as has been shown by Hengstenberg on Zechariah 14:2) by way of personification, the captives being viewed collectively in the light of a female humbled and depressed. The same kind of personification is applied, and carried out at considerable length, in reference to Babylon, in Isa.

47. Hence those who returned to Jerusalem are, in Ezra 8:35, not only said to have” come out of captivity,” but also to be “the children of the captivity,” i.e. of the captives. Denoting properly a captive or exiled state, it may, of course, be understood of any in that state, whether one or many. The same phrase as in our text is used by Jeremiah, Jeremiah 46:19, of Egypt, where the marginal reading in our Bibles is,” make thee instruments of captivity.”) and go into exile before their eyes; and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place before their eyes, if perchance they will see, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 12:4 . And thou shalt bring forth thy implements as an exile’s implements by day before their eyes; and in the evening thou shalt go forth before their eyes as the going forth of the exile.

Ezekiel 12:5 . Before their eyes dig thee through in the wall, and go forth thereby.

Ezekiel 12:6 . Before their eyes bear upon the shoulder, carry out in the dark night; (The expression בָּעֲלָטָה seldom used, that there might be some dubiety as to its exact meaning, were it not for the passage Genesis 15:17, where the word certainly means the thick darkness of night. We may suppose it here to refer to any part of the night, though naturally to the earlier part; but to the night as enveloping the person in a deep shade, and so affording the opportunity of a secret escape.) thou shalt cover thy face, that thou see not the earth; for I have set thee as a portent (Portent seems to come nearer to the import of מוֹפֵת than sign. It is properly a wonder, a miracle, then something extraordinary and ominous here, ominous of evil a portent. What was now done by Ezekiel in vision typically foreshadowed fearful transactions of a like kind in real life.) to the house of Israel.

Ezekiel 12:7 . And I did as I was commanded; I brought forth implements by day as the implements of an exile; and in the evening I dug for me in the wall with the hand; in the darkness of night I brought out upon the shoulder, I bore before their eyes.

8. And the word of Jehovah came to me in the morning, saying,

Ezekiel 12:9 . Son of man, does not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, say to thee, What doest thou?

Ezekiel 12:10 . Say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, The prince is this burden in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel in their midst. (The pouncing at once here on the prince in Jerusalem, as the foremost object in the prophetic burden, is very emphatic; it proclaimed aloud that the man in whom they were trusting for safety was himself to be the chief sufferer in the impending calamities.)

Ezekiel 12:11 . Say, I am a portent to you; according as I have done so shall it be done to you; as exiles, as captives (literally, in exile, in captivity), they shall go forth.

Ezekiel 12:12 . And the prince that is in the midst of them shall bear upon his shoulder in the darkness of night, and shall go forth; through the wall they shall dig to carry forth by it; he shall cover his face, that he see not the earth with his eye.

Ezekiel 12:13 . And I shall spread my net over him,and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans; yet he shall not see it, and there shall he die.

Ezekiel 12:14 . And all that are round about him I will scatter, and all his forces will I scatter to every wind; and will draw out a sword after them.

Ezekiel 12:15 . And they shall know that I am Jehovah, when I scatter them among the nations and disperse them among the countries.

Ezekiel 12:16 . And I shall leave of them a few men (literally, men by number), from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; in order that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen among whom they come; and they shall know that I am Jehovah.

17. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 12:18 . Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness.

Ezekiel 12:19 . And say to the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, towards the land of Israel, They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and their water shall they drink in desolateness, that her land may be made desolate, because of the violence of all that dwell therein.

Ezekiel 12:20 . And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

21. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 12:22 . Son of man, what is that proverb ye have in the land of Egypt, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision fails?

Ezekiel 12:23 . Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the word (viz. in its fulfilment) of every vision.

Ezekiel 12:24 . For there shall be no more any vain vision, nor flattering divination, within the house of Israel.

Ezekiel 12:25 . For I Jehovah will speak whatever word I will speak, and it shall be done; it shall be no more prolonged; for in your days, rebellious house, will I speak the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 12:26 . And the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 12:27 . Son of man, behold the house of Israel say, The vision which he sees is for many days, and he prophesies of the times that are far off.

Ezekiel 12:28 . Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, No longer shall any of my words be prolonged; whatever word I may speak, it shall be done, saith the Lord Jehovah.

THERE is nothing absolutely new in this portion, if viewed simply in regard to the great objects of the tidings it conveys. The burden of some of the preceding visions is again resumed, and several striking particulars added, to confirm the certainty of the coming evil, and beget, if possible, a deeper impression of its fearful nature. The elders, it would seem, had withdrawn, to whom the prophet had communicated the visions already imparted to him respecting the crying abominations and approaching doom of Jerusalem. He is to all appearance alone at the time of the Spirit’s next descent upon him; and indeed, the persons immediately interested in the revelation given were not those around him on the banks of the Chebar, but those still residing in Jerusalem, “the rebellious house,” as they are described in Ezekiel 12:2, in words originally addressed by Moses to their fathers (Deuteronomy 29:4), “who have eyes to see, and see not; and ears to hear, and hear not.” Yet he is spoken of as dwelling in the midst of them, and is commanded to exhibit in his own person a typical representation of what was to happen. “It may be,” said the Lord, “they will see, though they are a rebellious house.”

Two things were to be done by Ezekiel. He was, first, in open day, and in the sight of his neighbours, to provide for himself the articles usually taken by one who was going to flee as for his life, or be dragged as a captive to a foreign land. Then, being thus provided, he was ordered to wait till the evening, and depart” as they that go forth into captivity.” The expression in the original refers properly not to the persons of such as went into exile, but to the period usually chosen for their doing so; it is literally, “as the goings forth of the exile,” viz. amid the darkness and silence of night, when he can most easily effect his escape. If more exactly defined, the period intended would be certainly the earlier part of the night, yet still not simply the evening, nor the twilight, as is improperly given by our translators in Ezekiel 12:6, but rather by night, after it had become dark. When it is said, therefore (in Ezekiel 12:3), that the prophet was to remove “by day before their eyes,” the meaning is, not that he should then actually change his abode, but that he should be employed in the business of removing, so as to give clear evidence to all that this was his object, which he only waited for the shades of evening to carry into effect. Nor was this all; the nocturnal departure was not of itself sufficient to indicate the approaching future; he must also effect his escape through a hole in the wall, as one too closely watched by hostile parties to adventure into the open street, and must cover his face, as too sorrowful or abashed even to look upon the ground.

The instructions thus given are reported to have been faithfully complied with by the prophet; and on the morrow the word of the Lord came to him in explanation of the action, telling him, that in all that he had done he was merely foreshadowing, as in a type, what was presently to take place with Zedekiah and his people at Jerusalem. And then he goes on to portray, with an appalling distinctness of vision and minuteness of detail, the disasters that had been prefigured, first and most prominently in the case of Zedekiah, and then in the case of the people at large. In this detail he specifies not only the fact of Jerusalem’s approaching overthrow, but also the king’s hurried and disgraceful flight under cover of night the failure of his attempt to escape his seizure by the Chaldeans his deportation to Babylon, though in a state in which he should not be able to see it the utter prostration of his host the dispersion of his people among the nations and the miserable desolation of the whole land. The variety of particulars mentioned in this prediction, coupled with the confirmation given to them in the subsequent history, as recorded in 2 Kings 25:0 and Jeremiah 52:0, is of a very striking nature, and entitles the prophecy to a place among the more remarkable delineations of coming events in Scripture. Nor can we wonder at the statement made by Josephus (Ant. b. x. c. 7), though we have no other evidence of its truth, that Ezekiel sent a copy of it to Zedekiah. The report carries the more probability with it, as Jeremiah’s letter of sympathy and counsel to the captives on the river Chebar was what instrumentally called forth at first the agency of Ezekiel; and it was no more than might be expected that he should endeavour to strengthen the hands of his spiritual father in the land of Judah, by sending in turn a message to Jerusalem, confirmatory of the warnings already uttered there by Jeremiah. On the supposition of this having been actually done by Ezekiel, the further report of Josephus, as to the effect produced upon Zedekiah by the communication, readily commends itself to our belief. He states that the infatuated prince, instead of simply receiving the word of God, began to compare together the predictions of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and finding that the one declared he should be carried to Babylon, while the other affirmed he should indeed be brought to Babylon, but should not see it, he presently concluded that the two predictions were at variance with each other, and rejected both as false. In this he but showed the captious disposition of superficial inquirers and shallow unbelievers of all ages, who no sooner discover some obvious difficulties on the surface of revelation, than they conclude the whole to be a cunningly devised fable, or treat it as unworthy of their serious consideration. Would they but search a little deeper, and survey, in a spirit of impartiality, the entire field of revelation, they would find that the things which at first stagger their belief disappear on closer inspection, or remain only as difficulties inseparable from communications which bear respect to the character and purposes of Godhead. They would not unfrequently find, what was found by Zedekiah too late for his own good, that the very things which are most apt at first to create a feeling of distrust or suspicion are those which contain the most undoubted evidences of the finger of God. Human sagacity might possibly have foreseen, or by a happy conjecture anticipated, the coming rupture between Zedekiah and the Chaldeans, and the consequent overthrow of the city Jerusalem; but that Zedekiah should endeavour to make his escape from it by night, should be caught in the attempt, should meet face to face with the king of Babylon, should himself be carried to Babylon, though (from his eyes having been meanwhile put out) should not actually behold the place, that such a train of peculiar circumstances should have been delineated beforehand by the hand of a prophet manifestly bespoke the directing agency of that Spirit who sees the end from the beginning.

The circumstance that the burden contained in this Divine communication had direct reference to the king and people of Jerusalem, alone renders it highly probable that the symbolical action here also took place not externally but in vision. So far as the parties immediately interested were concerned, the representation would have been equally significant if confined to that region within which the prophet’s soul properly moved when supernaturally acted on by the Spirit of God, as if exhibited under the form of an outward and ordinary transaction. Indeed, the action is described as proceeding among the very people for whom the instruction was peculiarly intended,” the rebellious people among whom he dwelt,” as if his abode had actually been transferred from Chebar to Jerusalem. So, too, when the action was done, it was still the same “rebellious house, the house of Israel,” who are represented as saying to him, “What doest thou?” Throughout the representation the prophet appears present in the spirit at Jerusalem, and transacting there directly with its people; but how he could be and transact there, while personally resident on the banks of the Chebar, otherwise than in vision, it seems impossible to understand. Besides, if the action had taken place on the territory of real life, how could it have appeared to be other than an incongruous thing for an individual, himself living in exile, to personate, by his removal, the going of his brethren into exile from their proper home in Judea? The action would rather have carried a contrary import would most naturally have signified the return of his fellow-exiles to Judea unless it proceeded on the supposition of his being for the time located, of course as an ideal inhabitant, in his native land. At the same time, holding the action to have taken place in vision, as it certainly bore respect more immediately to the king and people of Jerusalem, we are not to imagine that the instruction was without meaning for the prophet’s fellow-captives in Chaldea. For many of these, probably by much the larger portion of them, were still hanging their hopes upon the fallacious confidence that matters should ere long right themselves with the house of David, so as to admit of their returning again to the land of their fathers. They were but externally dwelling at a distance, for Jerusalem still lived in their hearts; the delusions which were reigning at the one place had found a home also in the other; and, just as in the preceding visions the communications given to the prophet for the behoof of his fellow-captives were fitted also to admonish and warn the people at Jerusalem, so now, inversely, the word received, and most probably sent as soon as received, for the use of the people of Jerusalem, was fraught with wholesome instruction to those among whom he lived and laboured on the Chebar.

If anything could have broken the spell of delusion which lay upon the minds of Zedekiah and his counsellors, or their adherents in Chaldea, one might suppose this instructive action of the prophet would have done it, especially when followed up by such a minute and varied detail of approaching calamities. Nor was it merely the certainty of those calamities being appointed which he thus sought to impress upon them; he was equally explicit in regard to their nearness. For, well knowing how some were ready to treat the message with scorn, and others, though not prepared utterly to despise it, were yet disposed to put away from them the evil day, the Lord spake further in the ears of the prophet, “Son of man, what is that proverb ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision fails? Tell them, therefore, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the word of every vision.” It would seem the class of persons here referred to had succeeded in persuading themselves, that as the evil had so often been threatened and still postponed, the evil itself had no reality; the experience of God’s forbearance had effaced their impressions of his truthfulness; so that on hearing such an unwelcome message as that contained in the earlier part of this chapter, they were ready to dispose of it by the slighting remark, “Ah, we have heard many words like these before, yet matters have not turned out so bad!” They not merely thought much time had still to elapse before the prophetic roll discharged its burden of woe, but a spirit of unbelief had taken possession of their minds regarding the reality of the burden itself; it seemed to them but a dream of the prophet’s own mind. And there were others who simply presumed upon the delay they expected to intervene, and, as is said in Amos 6:3, “put far from them the evil day.” They did not deny that a day of evil was coming, but indulged the hope that it might still be at a considerable distance. They were disposed to say, as Ezekiel himself reports their words in Ezekiel 12:27, “The vision that he sees is for many days to come, and he prophesies of the times that are far off.” But to them also the prophet was commanded to reply, “There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord.”

The incredulous and secure feeling which is here ascribed to the people of Jerusalem, growing as the hour of destruction approached, is in perfect accordance with the testimony recorded in other prophetical scriptures. Thus Zephaniah declares the Lord’s determination” to search Jerusalem, and punish the men that are settled on their lees; that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil” (Ezekiel 1:12). In a spirit of practical atheism, they had grown into the conviction that there should be no special interposition of Heaven at all, and that, whatever the people might do, events would take their natural course. But still more expressly Jeremiah, “Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come now” (Jeremiah 17:15). That this was said in a feeling of scornful disbelief regarding the evil he had so often foretold, is evident from the vindication he immediately presents for himself, protesting before God that “he had not desired the evil day,” but spake only that which God had put into his lips. And again, in Jeremiah 20:0, he describes the anguish of soul he experienced on account of the treatment that was given to the word of God, which had nearly prevailed on him to yield to the temptation of ceasing to utter it any more. “I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach to me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But it was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” No wonder, then, that Ezekiel, in his distant exile, should have sympathized with his afflicted brother in Judah, and should have sought to strengthen him in his conflict with evil, by levelling a word of severe reproof against the vain presumptions and false confidences which were so offensively rearing their head among the people of Jerusalem. The one prophet did for the other the part of a true fellow-labourer in the service of God. He came boldly to his help in the day of blasphemy and rebuke, and gave fresh support to the cause of righteousness and truth, by proclaiming from another watch-tower the faithful, though despised, warning note of danger.

We cannot but think with wonder, when we look back upon the times of these Old Testament prophets, of the obstinate incredulity and measureless content in which so many of the people seem to have shut themselves up, alike in defiance of the most solemn warnings of God, and in spite of several lowring appearances in Providence, which seemed to give no doubtful indications of a coming storm. So too, doubtless, thought the next generation of the Jews themselves, when, in the language of Zechariah, they saw how “God’s words and statutes, which he commanded his servants the prophets, had taken hold of their fathers” (Zechariah 1:6). But it is well for us to bear in mind, that the spirit of unbelief and false security which prevailed so extensively then is ever springing forth anew, and is plainly announced in New Testament Scripture as destined to form a distinguishing characteristic of the last times. It was a significant question of our Lord, and evidently pointed to the great defect in this respect that should discover itself before the consummation of all things, “When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith in the earth?” Such faith, namely, as he had been speaking of, faith realizing in firm confidence the certainty of the Lord’s manifestation to put a final end to the evils that afflict his Church, and in this confidence waiting, hoping, praying to the last. The Apostle Peter also still more distinctly intimates in his second epistle what might be looked for: “There shall come in the last days, scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the world.” It will readily be understood that the danger from this source to this faith of God’s elect will always be the greater, the more the time is lengthened out that is to intervene between the first and second coming of the Lord. For time, which is justly said to try all things, in this respect also tries faith, that it silently impairs in men’s minds the foundation on which faith rests the word of God. In common with other things of meaner value, this, too, seems to wax old as time proceeds, and to become, the longer it is in use, the less in power and value. Even already it is looked upon by many as comparatively antiquated, out of date; the facts of which it testifies are but faintly descried in the distant past; centuries have rolled away since they took place and were put on record; and the record itself has been so long in existence, so frequently handled, and so fully discussed, that with those to whom nothing is interesting but what possesses the freshness of novelty, the sacred volume, so far from being able to nourish and support a living faith, has itself become stale and dead.

Thus it is that natural men judge of God’s word, as if, like their own productions, it were subject to wasting and decay. They know not that this word of God, being the expression of his own eternal nature, has in it what lives and abides for ever, what is as new and fresh to the heart of faith still as the very moment when, ages ago, it proceeded from the lips of those who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Then, along with a prevailing ignorance or forgetfulness of this great truth, there is the fascinating influence which is apt to be wielded over men’s minds by the onward movements of society in knowledge and civilisation. Here they find an attractive contrast to the stationary character of the ground and objects of faith. For everything in this lower field seems constantly in progress, and big with hope for the future. It is deemed incredible that while such vital powers are at work, and such a career of advancement is in prospect, God should lay a sudden arrest on the vast machinery, and wind up the affairs of the world by bringing in the fixed and final issues of eternity. Nay, the belief of a personal God, separate from the workmanship of his own hands, and capable of suddenly introducing a state of things altogether new, is in many quarters fast giving way. In a new and peculiarly subtle form, the old carnal and idolatrous tendencies are reviving, impiously commingling the Divine and human, identifying the creature with the Creator. And judging from present appearances, there is too much reason to conclude that, precisely as before Christ came to execute judgment upon Jerusalem a rage for worldly saviours was one of the reigning delusions of the time, so, as the period draws on for his coming to execute judgment upon the world, a like rage will prevail for a worldly gospel, one that will seek to confound heaven and earth, God and man, and, in a manner possibly even more daring and presumptuous than in the Papacy, will dispose man to “exalt himself in the temple of God, and show himself that he is God.” What need, then, for those who would escape the condemnation of the wicked to look well to the foundation of their faith, and to see that this stands not in the wisdom of man, but in the word of God! How careful should each be to dwell beside the fountain of Israel! For times of trial manifestly are coming, in which they only who are taught of God, and kept by the power of his Spirit, can expect to resist the swelling tide of delusion, and maintain even the appearance of godliness.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 12". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-12.html.
 
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