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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 13

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

Verses 1-23

CHAPTER 13.

THE FALSE IN PROPHECY, ITS CHARACTER AND DOOM.

A VERY close connection exists between the subject of this chapter and the one immediately preceding. The former had denounced the false expectations of the people respecting the safety of Jerusalem; this denounces the persons who were the chief instruments in feeding these expectations. And in this case, still more directly than in the other, Ezekiel stretches out the hand to Jeremiah, and comes forward as a second, though perfectly independent witness, to reiterate and confirm the testimony already delivered in substance by his fellow-servant in Judea. One of the sorest trials and, indeed, one of the most baffling difficulties Jeremiah had there to contend with arose from the false pretenders to the prophetical gift, who were constantly delivering, in the name of God, messages which tended only to foster prevailing sins, and to lend the appearance of a Divine sanction to the popular delusions. “Mine heart within me is broken,” he says in Jeremiah 23:9, “because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man.” It is more than probable that most of these false prophets were perfectly conscious of the fraud they were practising upon the people, and laid claim to Divine communications only as a pretext for more readily securing their own selfish though shortsighted purposes. But it seems evident, especially from what is written in Jeremiah, that there were at least some who had become the dupes of their own delusions, and were fully as much fanatics as knaves. A crafty diviner, who plays upon the credulity of others for the sake of his own gain or aggrandizement, will always be careful to make his announcements run in such a strain, that while they obviously tend to feed the desires and prejudices of the persons he addresses, they at the same time furnish no clear and definite grounds for detecting his hypocrisy. And whenever such vain pretenders to a supernatural insight into the Divine will begin to hazard deliverances which admit of being distinctly falsified as well as confirmed by approaching events in Providence, we may be sure that the spirit of fanaticism has risen to the ascendant in their bosoms, and that, if they deceive others, they have themselves already been deceived.

Such, unquestionably, was the case at Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah. Not only were there persons in considerable numbers who prophesied falsely, and gave forth general assurances of continued peace (Jeremiah 5:31, Jeremiah 6:14, Jeremiah 14:13), but there were also those who, in the most confident tone, held out the promise of specific events in the immediate future, and fixed the period of their fulfilment. Thus Hananiah of Gibeon said to Jeremiah in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and of all the people: “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon. And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah that went into Babylon, saith the Lord; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon” (chap. Jeremiah 28:2-4). No man in his senses would have ventured on such a circumstantial prediction, unless he had himself firmly believed it; for he was plainly committing his entire credit as an authorized ambassador of Heaven to contingencies over which he had no control, and which might shortly take a turn that would expose him to reprobation as an arrant impostor. By whatever process the persuasion may have been reached, we cannot doubt that he had become thoroughly persuaded in his own mind of the truth of his prediction before he proclaimed it in the public ear. And we must keep in mind the fact that there were such self-deceived impostors at Jerusalem, a fact, as we shall see, pointedly referred to in this chapter of Ezekiel, both to understand correctly the circumstances of the time, and to derive from them the improvement they are fitted to convey.

It is to be further borne in mind, that while the spirit of false prophesying chiefly prevailed in Judea, it had also extended to the banks of the Chebar. There it no doubt existed in comparative feebleness, having few of the outward stimulants to nurse it into activity and strength which were supplied in abundance by the peculiar position and circumstances of Jerusalem; and it probably did little more than re-echo the utterances which proceeded from its centre of influence in Judea. Yet that there was such a spirit at work also on the banks of the Chebar is manifest alone from the letter addressed by Jeremiah to the captives, in which he charged them “not to be deceived by their prophets and their diviners that were in the midst of them, for they prophesied falsely in the Lord’s name;” and he even mentioned three persons by name, Ahab, Zedekiah, and Shemaiah, who were acting the part of false prophets among them (chap. Jeremiah 29:8-9, Jeremiah 29:21, etc.). So that the evil against which the communication in this chapter is directed was not without its abettors in the immediate neighbourhood of Ezekiel, although, in the rampant and offensive form here delineated, it was to be found only in Jerusalem, and the word, therefore, must be regarded as directly and primarily intended for the use of those who still resided there. For this reason, also, it is that the word of Ezekiel joins itself so closely to similar words previously delivered by Jeremiah on the spot, and, in the very language employed, bears unrnistakeable references especially to the 23d chapter of that prophet’s writings.

But it is time to come to the more particular examination of the passage itself. It naturally falls into two principal parts, the one bearing respect to the false prophets, and the other to the false prophetesses. Each of these again admits of a twofold division, a first part, delineating the operations and symptoms of the false spirit in question, and a second, disclosing the judgment of God upon those who yielded themselves to its sway.

Ezekiel 13:1 . And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 13:2 . Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say unto the prophets out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of Jehovah;

Ezekiel 13:3 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Woe to the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit and have seen nothing.

Ezekiel 13:4 . As foxes in the deserts have been thy prophets, Israel.

Ezekiel 13:5 . Ye have not gone up into the breach, nor have ye drawn a wall around the house of Israel, to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord.

Ezekiel 13:6 . They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, Jehovah saith and Jehovah hath not sent them, and hoped to establish their word. (This last clause is rendered in the authorized version, “and they made others to hope, that they would confirm the word.” But יָחַל with ל , as Hävernick remarks, always means to expect or hope for something. The correct interpretation, therefore, is that which refers the hope to the prophets themselves. Seeker: “They hoped to establish the word.” Michaelis: “They hoped that their words would be fulfilled.” Hitzig’s attempt to change the reference “Jehovah has not sent them, that they should hope for the confirmation of their words” is quite arbitrary, and has been resorted to merely because he thought the prophets could not be so self-deceived. But there are sufficient grounds, as we shall show, for holding that they were so. And such expressions as those in Jeremiah: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken by them, yet the people said,” “They say the burden of the Lord” (chap, 23:21, 34), be token the working of a strong spirit of delusion.)

Ezekiel 13:7 . Have ye not seen a vain vision, and spoken a lying divination? And ye say Jehovah saith, and I have not spoken.

Ezekiel 13:8 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because ye have spoken vanity and seen a lie, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 13:9 . And my hand will come upon the prophets who prophesy vanity and divine falsehood; in the council of my people they shall not be, nor shall they be written in the book of the house of Israel; and unto the land of Israel they shall not come; and ye shall know that I am the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 13:10 . Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace, and there was no peace; and the one (viz. the people) build a wall, and the others (viz. the prophets) plaster it with whitewash. (“Daub with untempered mortar,” is the phrase used for this operation in the authorized version, as in many others, ancient and modern. It partly, however, suggests a false idea. The word תָּפֵּל , when used in a physical sense, is simply coating or whitewash, such as is usually laid on the outside of walls. Jarchi: est terra similis calci. Hitzig renders expressly, and not improperly, chalk. The idea intended is, that the false prophets, countenancing the people in their delusions, sought merely to make the outside fair to give to the fabric the people raised a showy and promising appearance, while still there was no real solidity or inherent strength. Hence St. Paul’s word to the high priest, “Thou whited wall,” Acts 23:3, and the “whited sepulchre” of our Lord in Matthew 23:27.)

Ezekiel 13:11 . Say unto them who plaster it with whitewash, and it shall fall: There is coming a flood of rain, and ye, great hailstones, shall fall, and a stormy wind shall break forth. (The verb בָּקַע commonly signifies to cleave or rend asunder; in the Piel, to cleave, for example, wood, or tear an object like a wild beast. Hence it has here commonly been understood of rending or breaking down the wall. But the object of the rending is not expressed; and in Ezekiel 13:13 it seems plainly to be applied in the casual form to the wind itself: I make it rend or break forth. It is best, therefore, to understand it in the same sense also in Ezekiel 13:11. The Latins use the quite similar phrase, ventus frangit, for a violent gale. In Greek also, ῥήγνυμι is often applied to the breaking forth of storms and showers.)

Ezekiel 13:12 . And lo! the wall falls: shall it not be said to you, Where is the plastering with which ye plastered it?

Ezekiel 13:13 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I cause to break forth a stormy wind in my wrath, and a flood of rain shall come in mine anger, and great hailstones in fury to consume.

Ezekiel 13:14 . And I destroy the wall which ye have plastered with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground; and its foundations rare discovered, and it falls, and ye are consumed in the midst of it; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

Ezekiel 13:15 . And I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that plastered it with whitewash, and will say unto you, The wall is not, and they are not that plastered it:

Ezekiel 13:16 . The prophets of Israel, that prophesy to Jerusalem, and see a vision of peace for her while there is no peace saith the Lord Jehovah.

17. And thou, son of man, set thy face against the daughters of thy people that prophesy out of their own heart, and prophesy against them.

18. And thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Woe to the women that sew cushions (or coverings) upon all the joints of the hands, and make coverings upon the head of every stature, to catch (as a hunter) souls! Will ye catch the souls of my people, and save your own souls alive? (It is scarcely possible to make out with certainty the precise meaning of some of the expressions in this verse, reference being made to customs of which we have no exact description. What is meant by the cushions, or pillows (as it is in the common translation, and in the Rabbins pulvinar longius), was probably some sort of soft covering or tapestry used for purposes of luxury. They are said to have been sewed for “all the joints of the hands” so the words literally mean; referring, probably, to the wrists and elbow-joints. By comparing Jeremiah 38:12; Jeremiah 41:9, we learn that it was used of shoulder or elbow-joints; and in Ezekiel 13:20 here, the articles of dress are spoken of as going to be torn from the arms of the wearers. The headdresses or kerchiefs on every stature seem to be the mantles or coverings with which the women of the East envelop their heads, and which are sometimes made both of large dimensions and of costly workmanship. And as it would certainly be a peculiar expression, “coverings upon the head of every stature,” if by every stature were meant persons of different heights, it is better, perhaps, with Hävernick, to regard “coverings upon the head” as a complex phrase, like “head- coverings,” qualified by the “every stature” or size, to denote the different conditions and ages of persons who had such articles of seduction provided and fitted for them. The persons who are described as doing such things are obviously represented as plying the arts of seduction proper to the most abandoned characters; and in Ezekiel 13:19 are still further assimilated to them by seeking for their reward only “handfuls of barley and pieces of bread,” the smallest pittances.)

Ezekiel 13:19 . And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save alive souls that should not live, by your lying to my people that hearken to lies?

Ezekiel 13:20 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against your cushions, with which ye there catch souls for flying (or making to fly; (I retain the rendering of לְפֹרְחוֹת given in the authorized version; which is that also adopted by Gesenius for this passage, and is supported by the Syriac. It certainly, however, does not yield a very distinct or plain meaning. The sense in which the word is commonly found is that of sprouting or flourishing in which sense it occurs also in Ezekiel at Ezekiel 17:24. Gussetius would retain that sense here, and renders, ut efflorescant, that they may flourish or be prosperous. But it is somewhat incongruous to apply such a term to those who are represented immediately before under the image of snared birds. The Septuagint renders εἰς διασκορπισμόν , for scattering or dispersion probably understanding the sort of flying meant to be that of a forced flight to other and distant regions. Ewald interprets: “as if they were birds of passage;” differing little from the sense given by old Pradus: “with which ye catch souls for birds, i.e. as if they were birds animas volantes” This mode of interpretation, which seems competent, would make the flying an indication of the light and unstable character of the persons so caught. But probably the more natural meaning is, to regard it as pointing to the result, expressed so as to indicate, with a certain degree of irony, the contrariety between what was promised and what actually happened. The souls were caught like silly birds, expecting to get as it were new wings to fly aloft in ample freedom and prosperity; but it was only to fly away from their native home to the land of captivity. Hävernick’s interpretation of diversions (wanton pleasures) is without any proper foundation, and has only certain analogies to support it.) and I will tear them from off your arms, and let the souls go, the souls that ye catch to make to fly.

Ezekiel 13:21 . And I will tear off your coverings (for the head), and will deliver my people out of your hand; and they shall be no more in your hand to be caught; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

Ezekiel 13:22 . Because ye have made sad with lies the heart of the righteous, whom I did not make sad; and have strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should turn from his wicked way that he might live;

Ezekiel 13:23 . Therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations; and I will deliver my people out of your hand, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

I. We look first at the case of the false prophets.

1. These are variously described; and first, in regard to the fundamental distinction that existed betwixt them and the true.” Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto the prophets out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Woe unto the foolish prophets that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing.” A threefold error, first, in regard to the source from which their messages were derived, “their own hearts” (so also in Jeremiah 23:16-17); then in the point aimed at, going “after their own spirit,” or following the bent of their natural inclinations; and finally, in the result attained, “they saw nothing,” and yet spake as if they had seen something. Expressed in philosophical language, the whole was subjective merely without any objective reality hence, but a vision in the air, a baseless and shadowy superstructure. The true prophet differed in each particular from the false one: He prophesied not from his own heart, but from the heart of God; in conceiving and uttering his message, he followed not his own spirit, but the Spirit of God; and consequently, the message he delivered was charged with a Divine reality. There was, first of all, something objective in his experience, something presented to his soul from above, which gave rise to whatever belonged to him of a subjective character at once lighted and fed the flame. Hence the expression we sometimes meet with in the prophets, of their seeing as a vision what they had to utter: “The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, which he saw;” “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see;” and the still more peculiar expression, which is frequently employed, of seeing the Word of the Lord (Isaiah 2:1, Isaiah 13:1; Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1). “The perception of the Word, which God communicated to the prophets, was made by means of the spiritual sense, the apprehension of which is named, in reference to the noblest of the natural senses, a seeing. For what enters into the consciousness of the prophet as such, is not the product of his own natural power of reflection, but an object presented to him by the Spirit of God as from without, and by himself discerned through the opened spiritual eye. The Word itself, indeed, is not seen, inasmuch as it is the body, in a manner, of the thought which has come into the region of his sensible apprehensions. But as the communication of the Divine Word to the prophet is to be conceived of as a purely internal, not a corporeally audible one (unless the contrary is distinctly specified), and the Divine idea presents itself not mediately through the natural sense, but directly to the spirit of the prophet, so the notion of seeing is in its proper place; the prophet perceives that which thereafter forms itself in his soul, as the cover (veil) of the external word.” (Delitzsch, Der Prophet Habakkuk ausgelegt, p. 3.)

Here, then, lay the grand characteristic of the true prophet, as distinguished from the false. There was exhibited objectively to his soul, through the operation of the Spirit of God, a thought or succession of thoughts an action, perhaps, revealing the mind and will of God; and then taking up this in the apprehension of his mind, he went forth to declare it to others, as from his own inward consciousness, clothed in such words as fitly expressed what had been seen within. With the false prophet, on the other hand, even supposing him to be perfectly sincere in what he uttered, all proceeded from the impulse of his own inflated imagination or excited feelings; the whole was from within merely, nothing from without, from above. Yet with this distinction so clearly traced, and traced for the express purpose of drawing the line of demarcation between the true and the false in prophetic utterances, we are still presented with views and theories of inspiration, which, in the case of inspired men generally, prophets as well as evangelists and apostles, if they do not altogether discard the objective, render the subjective alone prominent, make so much account of the internal consciousness or intuitional sense of the subject of inspiration, as necessarily to throw into the background the Divine communication made to him from above. But in the two classes of prophets here presented to our notice, the one could lay claim, as well as the other, to the internal consciousness of some spiritual thought or idea; the only question was, whence came the idea? Did it spring up from within, as of itself? or was it presented there by the Spirit of God? Was the mind’s consciousness of the thoughts and feelings it experienced of its own awakening, or was it awakened by a Divine and formal communication from above? If we lose sight of this important distinction, we virtually make no account of what constitutes the fundamental element of a Divine revelation, and leave ourselves without a fixed landmark between the movements of God’s Spirit and the capricious workings of human fancy. And confounding thus things that essentially differ in regard to the origin of a revelation, we lay ourselves open to the further error of disparaging the value of a revelation when made; we totally change it indeed, and lower its character, and assign it only a kind of higher room among the views and cogitations of men’s own imagining.

The Church of God will do well to watch with the utmost jealousy against any attempts in this direction, from whatever quarter, and under whatever show of reason or piety they may be introduced. How well had it been for Germany had the churches there listened to the warning voice which the learned Bengel in his day lifted against the evil, when it was just beginning to appear among them, though still only in its infancy and breathing the odour of an elevated devotion! “What some,” says he, in his work on the Apocalypse, “are forward to teach about the inward word, is likely to occasion much fearful evil, as soon as philosophy shall officiously take such a subject in hand. Persons who are always dwelling upon that subject are impatient to get possession of the kernel without its fostering shell; every such appurtenance is with them an impertinence; in other words, they would have Christ without the Bible. But notwithstanding this favourite refinement, they are insensibly approximating to an opposite extreme, and they will arrive at it. For as it often happens that extremes meet, so are fanaticism and gross deism found at last to coincide; and mischiefs symptomatic of the one and of the other may already be seen occasionally in one and the same beclouded mind.”

It is only, however, at the commencement of a process of this kind that there is likely to be the appearance of extremes meeting; for the fanatical or hypocritical spirit can never be very long in betraying its essential agreement with the deistical, or, at least, worldly spirit, by its visible distaste for the pure and elevating character of those revelations which come from God. Here also the tree is known by its fruits. The Spirit of God must have a holy vessel for the subject and channel of his Divine communications, even for such as are of a more ordinary kind; but how much more when he comes to put forth his loftier breathings in the soul, and make it, in a peculiar manner, the oracle of Heaven’s counsels! The true prophet, therefore, unlike the false one, who lived and breathed merely in the element of his own corruption, behoved to be in the strictest sense a man of God, one who was accustomed to tread the higher walks of the spiritual life; for thus only could he possess the necessary adaptation for the Spirit’s agency in his soul, the receptive faculty, or, as we may rather call it, the spiritual sympathy to apprehend aright what was communicated from above, and appropriate it as his own. If at any time this spiritual adaptation was wanting, or but imperfectly attained, the agency of the Spirit could not fail to exhibit something fitful and irregular, or even violent, in its working, as we see especially in the case of Balaam, when he was constrained to do the part of a true prophet. Nor could it be otherwise with the inspired writers of the New Testament Scriptures; in their case, the personal adaptation must rather be of a higher, more regular, and equable kind. For the Spirit’s work in them did not so much consist, as formerly in the case of the prophets, in raising them at times with rapt emotion above present objects, and giving them a supernatural insight into particular circumstances and events, as in enabling them to stand upon the elevated platform of the objective realities of the gospel dispensation, and thence to read forth, according to the mind of the Spirit, the manifold views of Christian truth, and obligations, and hope, which spring from those realities as from their common ground. But for this it was plainly necessary that they should habitually live in the region of the Spirit’s presence, and not merely as in a few ecstatic moments, but in the regular tone and temper of their minds, be prepared for entertaining and uttering the thoughts of the Spirit. And if “holy men of old” were needed as instruments of Divine communication to “speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” still more, may we say, were such needed at the beginning of the gospel, to declare with infallible certainty, and in “words which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” the things that are now freely given us of God. The Spirit’s work must reflect itself in the character of the agents he employed, as well as in the nature of the communications they imparted.

But to return to the charge of Ezekiel against the false prophets. Having exposed the hollowness of their pretensions in regard to God, he now unfolds the pernicious results of their course in relation to the people. He compares them to “the foxes in the deserts,” and adds, “Ye have not gone up into the breach, neither have drawn a wall around the house of Israel, to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord.” The description proceeds upon a silent comparison between the covenant-people and a vineyard, a similitude already in established use (Isaiah 5:1-7, Isaiah 27:2; Jeremiah 2:21; Psalms 80:0.). It was the special duty of the prophets to do the part of watchmen and overseers in this spiritual vineyard. By their quick discernment in the fear of the Lord, and their faithfulness in disclosing his mind and will to the people, they should have protected the sacred enclosure against the assaults of the adversaries, repaired the breaches as they arose, and repressed, with holy energy, the first risings of corruption. But the reverse of all this was done by the false prophets, while they consulted merely their own ease, and humoured the perverse inclinations of the people. In respect to the safety and well-being of the commonwealth, they did the part of foxes, “which spoil the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15), nay, foxes in waste or desert places, the most savage and insatiable of their species. Yet no suspicion of this seemed to have crossed their own minds; they looked with the most perfect complacence upon the success of their mission, and “hoped,” as is said in Ezekiel 13:6, “to confirm (or establish) their word.” The subjective existed with them in full vigour, though utterly destitute of everything objective; for, in the just retribution of God, they had been given up to such strong delusion that they came to believe their own lie.

2. The punishment threatened against these false prophets is one exactly suited to the nature of their sin. They had sought, by making high pretensions to communion with Heaven, to become persons of great note and influence among the people, while still the true foundation for such greatness was wanting. Therefore the Lord declared his determination to make their fate answer to their condition; he would unmask their hypocrisy and discover their nothingness, cast them out of his kingdom as empty and worthless creatures, and, as with a destroying and desolating blast, lay all their pretensions and hopes in the dust. Instead of ruling the counsels of the nation, they should not, he tells them (Ezekiel 13:8-9), be so much as found in the assembly of his people; their names should not even be written in the roll of the house of Israel, nor their persons be permitted any more to enter the land of Israel; inheriting the curse of the covenant, “they should be cut off from among their people.” Then, in regard to their work of vanity and delusion, a similar visitation of severe judgment and exterminating ruin is foretold. By that work they had but ministered to the foolish desires and vain confidences of the people; so that while the one was like the builders of a loose and incompact wall, the others were as persons coming after and daubing it over with a thin and showy, but still feeble and unsubstantial covering. Wherefore, it must be assailed with the storm of the Lord’s fury, a storm that is represented as combining the three most destructive agents of the lower heavens wind, rain, and hailstones. Particular stress is laid upon the hailstones, because these were more out of the usual course of nature in those parts of the world, and on that account were sometimes in reality given as tokens, as they are also often poetically referred to as emblems, of the most severe expression of God’s displeasure upon the adversaries (Exodus 9:18; Joshua 10:10; Job 38:22; Psalms 18:12-13, etc.). Here, too, to give the reference to them a more intense form, and render the emblem more strikingly expressive of the unsparing judgment that was to be executed, the prophet employs, instead of the usual epithet for hailstones, what is literally ice or crystal stones. And like one who actually beheld the devastation made by these and the other emblematical instruments of vengeance, lie winds up the whole description by a kind of solemn attestation to the effect produced: “Thus I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that plastered it with whitewash, and say unto you, The wall is not, nor they that plastered it, the prophets of Israel who prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and who see a vision of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord Jehovah.”

II. Such is the interpretation given in this vivid picture of the character and doom of the false prophets; and we turn now to the closely related delineation of the false prophetesses, which occupies the remainder of the chapter.

1. These are plainly represented here as also playing an important part in strengthening the reigning delusions of the time, and lulling the people into a false security. It is somewhat singular that in no other passage are they spoken of in such a connection; probably because the pernicious influence they exerted was more from the seductive courses they pursued than from the false prophecies they uttered. For mention is frequently enough made, both in this prophet and Jeremiah, of the active share the women took at that time in introducing and maintaining the evil practices of idolatry, but only in this place of the guilt they incurred by pretending to supernatural revelations; and here also it is coupled with strong representations of the deceitful and corrupt practices they followed. That they should, however, have made pretensions of this kind, and in such numbers as to call for the special rebuke of Heaven, is itself a convincing proof of the great excitement which prevailed at the period; since it was not in the ordinary course of things, but only in peculiar emergencies, that either the Lord might be expected to bestow on women the gift of prophecy, or that men would be disposed to receive from their lips the revelation of God’s will. There were not wanting instances in the history of the past which warranted the supposition that God might sometimes employ female instruments in making known his purpose to men, such as Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, though the rareness of these instances, and the extraordinary nature of the occasions which gave rise to them, tended considerably to aggravate the guilt of those who falsely pretended to a Divine commission. Like the false prophets, these are also represented as prophesying “out of their own hearts;” and being themselves of one mind and spirit with the people at large, no higher result was achieved, or was aimed at by their prophesyings, than to strengthen and confirm the prevailing delusions.

In the case of these prophetesses, however, the false direction given, assumed, if the common view be correct, a more palpably effeminate and luxurious character; it aimed not only at encouraging the people in their false security, but also at pampering their love of fleshly ease and personal indulgence. They are described as “sewing pillows for all arm-holes,” or making soft cushions for all arm-joints apparently articles of some sort to be used in reclining, so as to give to the person using them the softness of an agreeable repose. Not content with this, they made also “kerchiefs,” or coverings, “upon the head of every stature,” some kind of fashionable and attractive head-dress, fitted to act as a lure in winning others to their corrupt and sinful ways. For the great object they had in view in making such articles of luxury was to “hunt,” or “catch souls;” so that, with their high pretensions to communion with Heaven, the real design and tendency of their arts was no other than that of the profligate characters described in Proverbs 6:7 to ensnare and ruin the unwary. It is possible, however, and indeed, we think, most probable, that the prophet, in his description of the conduct of these women, is not to be understood literally, but that he unfolds the design and tendency of their deceitful ways under the image of gay and luxurious clothing. So was it with his description of the false prophets, when he spoke of them as acting the part of foxes, and whitewashing an unsubstantial wall, that is, ministering to a false security, as the prophetesses here did to a false comfort and delight. In this case, it was their fair speeches and lying divinations which were the cushions and the tapestry mentioned by the prophet. But this makes no alteration on the nature of their conduct: they acted a most wicked part. Therefore the prophet turns on them with a question of fiery indignation and sharp rebuke, “Will ye hunt (catch) the souls of my people, and save your own souls alive? And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley, and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save alive the souls that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear a lie (being of themselves inclined to listen to falsehood)?” Acting the part of soul-destroyers to others, it was vain to expect that they should themselves escape the coming vengeance. And the less so, as it was for so paltry a consideration they were carrying on the infamous traffic of decoying others to destruction. Of course, the largest prospects of personal gain would have been totally insufficient to justify them in such practices; but that they should have been ready to prostitute the name of God, and ply the arts of hypocrisy and deceit for such miserable pittances of present good, showed the grovelling debasement and intense selfishness of their spirits. It stamped them as in the strongest sense “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.”

2. In regard to the punishment threatened, there is nothing peculiar or difficult, so far as the act of Divine retribution is concerned. The Lord simply declares his purpose to defeat the crooked and carnal policy of those false prophetesses, and, by terrible things in righteousness, to put it beyond their power to employ much longer their pernicious arts. He would rend in pieces their articles of luxury, or defeat the corrupt and captivating wiles which they used as gins to ensnare and catch men’s souls, so that these might find an escape from their foils; though still nothing is said as to the particular way in which the retribution was to be effected. But as it had been plainly enough indicated in the case of the false prophets that the work of punishment was to be accomplished by weapons of awful violence and unsparing destruction, it was naturally to be inferred, that these female associates would share the same fate, and that their power to use the seductive arts they had hitherto plied with such fatal success was to cease and determine, because they should themselves be involved in the common ruin, and the vanity of their pretensions would become manifest to all.

It is a part of Satan’s policy to avoid a formal repetition of exploded errors, and to shift and adapt his stratagems as the ever-changing temper of the times may require. We may not, therefore, expect to see exactly the same devices resorted to, and the same scenes enacted over again, which have passed under our review in this chapter. But we may not the less certainly expect that the evils here depicted shall be perpetually recurring, with such modifications in respect to manner and form as may be likely to render them more effectual in their mischievous operation. Our Lord plainly forewarned the Church of false prophets, who should arise and deceive many. And the working of the Antichristian power, of which Paul spake so distinctly, was represented to be “with signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” But, as in all ages, and under all forms alike, the object of Satan is to corrupt and overthrow the truth of God, so it ever remains the sure, as it also is the only effectual, safeguard against his delusions, to hold by that truth in the simplicity and confidence of faith. The danger in such cases is merely, as the apostle intimated, to those who will not believe the truth, and receive it in love. And whether it be in the form of pretended revelations concerning the things of God that the temptation comes, or in the more common but not less dangerous arts of fleshly indulgence and worldly allurement, let there be but an enlightened knowledge of the word of God, and a lively apprehension of its great doctrinal and moral principles, and there will be no material difficulty in distinguishing between the evil and the good. Satan may transform himself for a time into an angel of light; his agents may assume, when prosecuting their work of delusion, the most lamb-like and winning appearance; but there still is one thing too hard for them to accomplish they cannot identify the saving truth of God with falsehood and corruption; and the childlike spirit, the soul that is taught of God and abides in the simplicity of the faith, has a rock beneath its feet which cannot be moved, and a way of peace and safety which no force or stratagem can turn into a pathway of ruin.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 13". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-13.html.
 
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