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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 3

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

Verses 1-11

CHAPTER 2:1-3:11.


Ezekiel 2:1 . And he said to me, Son of man, (Hävernick, after many leading commentators, both ancient and modern, still lays stress on this expression, “son of man,” so frequently applied to Ezekiel, and regards it as containing a perpetual admonition to him of his own weakness and frailty. It seems rather strange, however, that this prophet alone should be so often plied with such an admonition, and that it should have been conveyed under so general a form. We are rather disposed to concur with Lightfoot: “This expression is of frequent use in Scripture, in the Hebrew Rabbins, but more especially in the Chaldean and Syrian tongues. . . . Why Ezekiel and no other prophet should have been so often styled thus, has been ascribed to different reasons by different commentators. To me, at least, who am much inferior to them all, the principal reason appears to be this, that as his prophecy was written during the Babylonish captivity, he naturally made use of the Chaldean phrase, So of man that is, man. The same phrase was also used by Daniel in Chaldea, Daniel 10:16.” Erubim, chap. 4.) stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee.

Ezekiel 2:2 . And the spirit came into me as he spoke to me, and he set me upon my feet and I heard him speaking to me.

Ezekiel 2:3 . And he said to me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to the rebellious peoples, (It is, literally, to peoples, the rebellious ones Israel being not only called peoples ( גּוֹיִם , the common epithet of the heathen), but with the additional epithet of the rebellious. They were thus virtually put on a level with the heathen, who might be addressed by God as Loammi, not my people; with the additional aggravation, that they had brought themselves into that condition after having been in covenant with God. The Septuagint, with its characteristic laxity, altogether omits the expression.) who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me, unto this very day.

Ezekiel 2:4 . And they are children of a stiff countenance, and an hard heart. I do send thee unto them, and thou shall say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 2:5 . And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear for they are a rebellious house shall yet know that a prophet was among them.

Ezekiel 2:6 . And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words; for nettles (The precise meaning of סָרָבִים is involved in some doubt. The sense of rebellious or refractory has often been ascribed to it, which it bears in the Chaldee; but this would not suit here, being coupled with thorns, and hence that of pricking briers or nettles has been adopted. Gesenius, however, still prefers rebels.) and thorns are with thee, and thou dwellest with scorpions; be not afraid of their words, neither be confounded at their faces, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 2:7 . And thou shalt speak my words to them, whether they shall hear, or whether they shall forbear; for they are rebellious.

Ezekiel 2:8 . And thou, son of man, hear what I say to thee; be not thou rebellious like the rebellious house; open thy mouth, and eat what I give thee.

Ezekiel 2:9 . And I looked, and behold a hand stretched toward me, and behold in it a book-roll.

Ezekiel 2:10 . And he spread it out before me, and it was written within and without; and there was written on it lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

Ezekiel 3:1 . And he said to me, Son of man, that which thou findest, eat; eat this roll, and go speak to the house of Israel.

Ezekiel 3:2 . And I opened my mouth, and he made me eat that roll.

Ezekiel 3:3 . And he said to me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this great roll which I give thee. And I did eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

Ezekiel 3:4 . And he said to me, Son of man, go, get thee to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.

Ezekiel 3:5 . For not to a people of obscure speech and hard language (The expressions are literally, “deep of lip, and heavy of tongue,” which can only mean obscurity of speech, and language hard to be understood a foreign tongue.) art thou sent, to the house of Israel.

Ezekiel 3:6 . Not to many nations of obscure speech and hard language, whose words thou dost not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have listened to thee.

Ezekiel 3:7 . And the house of Israel will not be willing to hearken to thee: for they are not willing to hearken to me; for all the house of Israel are of an hard forehead, and a stiff heart.

Ezekiel 3:8 . Behold, I make thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads.

Ezekiel 3:9 . As an adamant harder than flint I make thy forehead; thou shalt not be afraid of them, nor be confounded at their looks; for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 3:10 . And he said to me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.

Ezekiel 3:11 . And get thee away to the captives, to the children of thy people, and speak to them, and say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.

THE most striking thing in this section is the strong delineation that is given of the backslidden state and confirmed degeneracy of the people. Not only are they compared to such noxious productions as briers and scorpions, but with painful and emphatic reiteration they are declared to be altogether infected with the spirit of rebellion, setting their face, with determined and insolent effrontery, against the will and purpose of Heaven. No doubt the description is to be taken with some limitation, as applicable in its full sense to the greater portion of the captives, though not absolutely to the whole. But that such a general description should have been given of them by the God of truth was a clear indication that they were in a most sunk and degraded condition, and that the remnant who were animated by a better spirit must have been comparatively few.

How distinguished a proof of covenant love and faithfulness in God, that he should condescend to deal with such a people, and send a prophet yet again to instruct them! And for that prophet, with an arduous and vexing enterprise, to prosecute among them the business of a faithful ambassador of Heaven!

But to render him more fully alive to what awaited him in this respect, a symbolical action was added. Looking up, he saw a hand stretched out toward him, and in the hand the roll of a book, written within and without, but written only “with lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” This was significant of the heavy tidings which were to form the chief burden of his communications to the people. For, broken and afflicted as they already were in their condition, they were not yet weaned from their false hopes, nor had they reached the darkest period of their history. Troubles and calamities still more disastrous than those which had yet been experienced were needed to crush their proud refractory spirit; and in such a time of spiritual disorder and corruption, it was only through a season of midnight darkness that light could arise to the people of God. Therefore the prophetic roll delivered into the hands of Ezekiel was necessarily much written with the dark forebodings of tribulation and sorrow. And as God’s representative at such a time, and to such a people, he must eat it (chap. Ezekiel 3:1-2), not of course literally swallow the roll, but so receive and appropriate its unsavoury contents, that these should infuse themselves, as it were, into his very moisture and blood, and imbue his soul with a feeling of their reality and importance. Hence the bitter as well as the sweet which followed in the experience of the prophet (Ezekiel 3:3, Ezekiel 3:14), “sweet as honey in his mouth,” yet afterwards causing him to go “in bitterness, in the heat of his spirit;” bitter indeed, because he had to announce a message and prosecute a work which was to be peculiarly painful and arduous; but sweet notwithstanding, because it was the Lord’s service in which he was to be engaged, and a service which had the full consent and approval of his own mind. It was sweet to be the representative and agent of the Most High, however contrary to flesh and blood might be the special embassy on which he was sent; as Jeremiah also says, Jeremiah 15:16, “I found thy words and ate them; and thy words were to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of Hosts.” “The action denotes that the prophet, being carried in a manner out of himself, entered into the room of God; and divesting himself of carnal affection, rising into the region of pure and spiritual contemplation, whatever the will of God might call him to do for magnifying the justice as well as goodness of God, he was thoroughly to approve in his own mind, and derive pleasure from the words of God, whatever might be the tenor of their announcements.” (Vitringa in Apoc. p. 441, on chap. 10:8-11.) In short, like every true reformer, and every faithful ambassador of Heaven, it must henceforth be his to count God’s glory his own highest good, and to make all subordinate to the one end of fulfilling with joy the ministry he had received from above.

And most nobly did this man of God execute his high commission, proving himself to be an Ezekiel indeed a man strengthened with the might of God a most powerful and effective instrument of Divine working. In the resolute and devoted spirit of his pious ancestry, “he said not unto his father and to his mother, I have seen them; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children, that he might teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law” (Deuteronomy 33:9). How valiantly did his heroic bearing rebuke the general spirit of despondency, and against hope still inspire the hope of better days to come! And even now, when he has so long since rested from his labours, may it not be an instructive and soul-refreshing thing to look back upon the struggle which he so vigorously maintained, to see him lifting his giant form above the deep waters of adversity that were surging around him, and the more the evil prevailed, nerving himself, in God’s name, to a more determined and strenuous resistance against it! In such a spiritual hero we recognise a sign of the ever-during strength and perpetual revirescence of the cause of God, which, like its Divine author, carries in its bosom the element of eternity survives all changes amid all death, lives. If this cause should for a season be found to droop and languish, let us never doubt that it shall again clothe itself with freshness and vigour. Its winters are sure to be succeeded by returning springs. And standing, as it pre-eminently does, in the righteous principles which have a witness and an echo in every bosom, there only needs the consecrated energies of courageous hearts and strenuous arms, like those of Ezekiel, to raise it from the most depressed condition, and infuse into it the warmth of a renovated life. Lord God of Ezekiel, imprint the image of this thy faithful and devoted servant deep upon our hearts! Let the thought of his holy daring and triumphant faith put to shame our cowardice and inaction! And do thou find for thyself, in these days of evil, many who shall be willing, like him, to make Heaven’s cause their own, and shall count nothing so dear to them as its prosperity and progress!

Verses 12-27

CHAPTER 3:12-27.


Ezekiel 3:12 . And the spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of aloud tumultuous noise, “Blessed be the glory of Jehovah from his place.”

Ezekiel 3:13 . And I heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures embracing each other, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and the voice of a loud tumultuous noise.

Ezekiel 3:14 . And the spirit lifted me up, and laid hold of me, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; and the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me.

Ezekiel 3:15 . And I came to the captives at Tel-abib, that were dwelling (or sitting) by the river Chebar, and I beheld them dwelling there; (This clause has from an early period been felt to be a difficulty, and given rise to different modes of solution. The Jewish critics could not find their way to the interpretation, as is evident by their suggesting for וָאֵשֵׁר of the text, the וָאֵשֵׁב which has been adopted by our translators: “And I sat where they sat.” Various conjectures, though not of a satisfactory kind, have been resorted to, with a view of making out a somewhat similar meaning from the text. Rosenmüller, for example, by ascribing to אשר the sense of the Chaldean שרא , and Maurer’s, who would identify it with אסר . Hävernick would take it simply for the relative, and renders the clause, “And those who were settled there,” that is, as he supposes, the older class of settlers, as contradistinguished from the more recent ones, who were mentioned in the preceding clause as sitting down or settling beside the Chebar. But the distinction, it must be confessed, is very faintly marked, if two separate companies were meant, and there is no difference of time noted in the verbs. I incline, on the whole, to agree with Hitzig, that the pointing should be וָאָשֻׁר , from the verb שּׁוּר , to view or behold. (For similar cases he refers to 1 Kings 3:21; Zechariah 6:1; Leviticus 20:23; and for חֵמָח , in the sense of them, Jeremiah 46:5.) The prophet first went to them, then observed their condition, and lastly sat down in pensive solitude, giving vent to his grief; for such the verb שָׁמֵס imports, rather than being astonished. As for the idea of Häv., that the older settlers, whom he supposes to be mentioned here, were the captives of the ten tribes, and that the Habor in 2 Kings 17:6 is but another name for the Chaboras, it is against all probability. The region of the captivity of the ten tribes is said to have been in the “cities of the Medes,” and by “the river Gozan,” viz. the Kissilozan, that runs into the Caspian.) and I sat down there seven days (i.e. in lonely and silent grief) among them.

Ezekiel 3:16 . And it came to pass at the end of the seven days, that the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 3:17 . Son of man, I have set thee a watchman to the house of Israel; and thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.

Ezekiel 3:18 . When I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou dost riot warn him, and dost not speak to warn the wicked away from his wicked way that he may live, he that is wicked shall die in his iniquity, and his blood will I require at thy hand.

Ezekiel 3:19 . And thou, if thou dost warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, and from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; and thou hast delivered thine own soul.

Ezekiel 3:20 . And when a righteous man turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him (i.e. appoint for him an occasion and instrument of rebuke), he shall die; because thou didst not warn him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered, and his blood will I require at thy hand.

Ezekiel 3:21 . And thou, if thou dost warn the righteous that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live; for he was warned, and thou hast delivered thine own soul.

Ezekiel 3:22 . And the hand of Jehovah was upon me there; and he said to me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and there will I speak with thee.

Ezekiel 3:23 . And I arose, and went forth into the plain; and, behold, there the glory of the Lord stood, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar: and I fell on my face.

Ezekiel 3:24 . And the spirit came into me, and made me stand upon my feet, and spake with me, and said to me. Go, shut thyself within thy house.

Ezekiel 3:25 . And thou, son of man, behold, they lay bands upon thee, and bind thee with them, that thou mayest not go forth amongst them.

Ezekiel 3:26 . And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, and thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them for a reprover; for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 3:27 . And when I speak to thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, let him hear that will hear, and let him forbear that will forbear; for they are a rebellious house.

THIS section, which should have formed a separate chapter, records the entrance of Ezekiel on his high vocation, and contains the first message delivered to him respecting it. His former place of abode, it would seem, was not the most advantageously situated for prosecuting with success the work committed to him; and in consequence, he removed to Tel-abib, which is nowhere else mentioned, but was in all probability the best peopled locality, or the chief town of the Jewish colony. When he came and saw the captives dwelling there in a dejected and mournful condition, he sat down among them for seven days continuously sitting being the common attitude of grief (Ezra 9:3; Lamentations 1:1-3), and seven days being the usual period for the manifestation of the heaviest sorrow (Job 2:13). By thus spending, at the outset, so many days of desolation and sadness, he gave proof of his deep fellow-feeling with his exiled brethren in their depressed condition, and showed how entirely he entered into their state. Thus sorrowing in their sorrow, and breathing the tenderness of a sympathizing spirit toward them, he sought to win their confidence and secure a favourable hearing for the words of mercy and of judgment which he was, from time to time, to press upon their notice.

The prophet, however, did not go alone to this mournful field of prophetic agency. He was borne thither under the conscious might of the Spirit of God, and was attended by the symbols of the Divine presence and glory. When he rose to proceed on his course, the whole machinery of the heavenly vision began also to move; and amid the crashing or tumultuous noise which broke upon his spiritual ear, he heard the words, “Blessed be the glory of Jehovah from his (or its) place,” certainly a somewhat peculiar utterance, and one not found in any other part of Scripture; yet not materially different from another in frequent use, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The glory of Jehovah here was that manifested glory which had appeared in vision to the prophet, and which was, in other words, a revelation of his glorious name. To pronounce it blessed from its place was in effect to bless God himself, as thus and there revealing his adorable perfections and Divine will. And as the prophet was going to be the representative and herald of these in a sphere where there was much to damp his spirit and withstand his faithful agency, it was fit that he should go with the solemn word pealing in his ears, from those ideal ministers of heaven, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord;” as much as to say, Let this above all be magnified; whatever is experienced or done, let nothing interfere with that pure and majestic glory of Jehovah, which has now in emblem been exhibited.

In regard to the message communicated to the prophet, after the seven days of sadness had expired, there is also something peculiar in it; for it is only Ezekiel among the prophets who is described as a watchman appointed by God, to give timely and faithful warning to the people. Habakkuk speaks of standing upon his watch-tower (Ezekiel 2:1), but this was only in respect to his eager and anxious outlook for the manifestations he was expecting of Divine power and faithfulness. Ezekiel alone is represented as called to do for others the part of a watchman; and in doing it, he was most strictly charged, on the one hand, to receive all his instructions from God as to the existence of whatever danger there might be in the condition of the people, and, on the other, to sound a loud and solemn alarm when he might perceive it actually besetting them. That such should have been the distinctive character given to his position and calling, manifestly bespoke the very perilous condition of those to whom he was sent. It indicated that he had something else to do than merely to sympathize with them in their afflicted state, and speak soothing words to their downcast and drooping spirits. It was to be his rather to open their eyes to the profounder evils that encompassed them, to break the spell of inveterate and cherished delusions, and raise the cry of danger where none was suspected. So that the very form of the commission given to him was like the deliverance of a strong and impressive testimony to the people of the latent corruptions and imminent perils with which they were beset.

If we look also to the substance of the communication, or to the particular instructions given to the prophet concerning the discharge of his office, we see at once the grand principle disclosed on which the destiny of Israel was to turn. The question, whether life or death, blessing or cursing, was to be their portion, hung upon another, whether they were to make righteousness or sin their choice? Their return to righteousness was the indispensable condition of their restoration to blessing. If in despite of this the wicked should persevere in his evil ways, or even the righteous man should turn aside and practise iniquity, a visitation of wrath must be looked for, the original sentence against sin, to which the language designedly points, that the purpose of God in this respect might be seen to be fixed and unalterable the sentence that he who transgresses “shall surely die,” must take effect; for God is unchangeably the same, and what he appointed at first as the wages of sin must continue to be its wages still.

But while this part of the charge cut off all hope from a backsliding and impenitent people, the other part of it held out ample encouragement to such as remained stedfast in the covenant of God, or repented of their evil ways. The man who continued to love the paths of righteousness, and the man also who, after having forsaken, again returned to them, was to be assured of the blessings of life; these should as surely live as the others should die. For the prophet, as God’s watchman, was to represent the mercy as well as the justice of God’s administration; he was to have a wakeful eye upon the good, not less than the evil, that appeared among the people; and was to stretch out the hand of fellowship, and display the banner of Divine love and protection in behalf of all who might be inclined or moved to cleave to the service of Heaven. Thus were they to know from the outset, that for the people as a whole, and for each individual amongst them, this one path lay open for their return to peace and blessing.

We shall not go into the question too often raised from this representation, as to the possibility of the righteous falling from a state of grace. For it seems to us a misapplication of this passage to introduce it in such a connection. Its direct and immediate bearing bad respect only to the inseparable connection between righteousness and life, sin and death. And certainly by the former is meant a real participation of the Divine likeness and blessing, and by the latter the loss of both. Calvin plainly errs in maintaining the contrary. But whether this loss may ever be sustained by any who have properly enjoyed the good, whether those who have been truly renewed by grace ever fall back again into the corruption and ruin of nature, this is not to be determined by a passage like the present, which being intended only for a direction to the prophet in regard to his public ministrations, of necessity spake of the appearances, rather than the absolute realities of things. Unquestionably there were persons then, as there are persons still, who to all human appearance have lived for a time in the fellowship and favour of God, and yet afterwards turn again to folly. Such are known by their fruits to be not of the true fold of Christ. But it is well that the possibility of what looks so much like a falling from grace should be borne in mind both by pastors and people, that there may be exercised a wakeful jealousy in regard to the vital bond which connects life with righteousness, and death with sin. Even the most established believer is not safe, unless he keep constantly in mind the dangers of his condition, and, with a godly jealousy over himself, perpetually watch and pray lest he fall into evil.

At the very outset, therefore, and by the terms of his Divine commission, the prophet seeks to recall the people to the main point at issue, and urges them to a right settlement of the controversy between them and God. Individually and collectively they must come to be at one with him in respect to the love of righteousness and the hatred of iniquity. This is the grand turning-point on which hangs the destiny that awaits them, as it is also the vital thread that runs through all the prophet’s future ministrations and announcements. Once and again he presses it on their notice in the same terms that he does here, only with more fulness of detail, and greater urgency in the application (Ezekiel 18-33.), while, in one form or another, the subject is perpetually referred to throughout the book of his prophecy. Here also he was reminded of the necessity of this repeated earnestness in the matter, and of the arduous and difficult task that was given him to accomplish in respect to it. For, immediately after he has received his charge, the hand of the Lord was upon him, and he was ordered to go forth into the plain, that the Lord might there talk with him alone (Ezekiel 3:22). And when there, and favoured again with a manifestation of the Divine glory, as at the first, the spirit enters into him, and directs him to go and shut himself up in his house; thus giving him to understand, that in the work he had to do he must look for no sympathy and support from man, but must be alone with his God, reverently hearing his word, and receiving strength from his hand. The reason follows: “And thou, son of man, behold, they lay bands upon thee, and bind thee with them, that thou mayest not go forth amongst them;” that is, their obstinate and wayward disposition shall be felt upon thy spirit like fetters of restraint, repressing the energies of thy soul in its spiritual labours, so that thou shalt need to look for thy encouragement elsewhere than from fellowship with them. For that the imposition of bands must be understood spiritually of the damping effect to be produced upon his soul by the conduct of the people, can admit of no doubt. It is a marked specimen of the strong idealism of our prophet, which clothes everything it handles with the distinctness of flesh and blood. “And I will make thy tongue (it is added) cleave to the roof of thy mouth, and thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them for a reprover; for they are a rebellious house.” So deeply rooted and inveterate is the evil in them, that it shall prevail over thee; thou shalt not prevail over it; after thou hast plied every weapon, thou shalt need to sit down in silence, as one baffled of his purpose; but still not as if the work were altogether in vain, or the cause absolutely hopeless. It is Jehovah’s word that is to be spoken, and this cannot for ever be in vain: “And when I speak to thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Let him hear that will hear, and let him forbear that will forbear; for they are a rebellious house.” The word is true, and must ultimately prevail, because it is Divine; and however those may deal with it to whom it is immediately addressed, it is thine to utter it with unswerving faithfulness as the Lord’s true message.

A salutary lesson is conveyed here to all who are put in trust with souls, as well in regard to the nature of the charge itself, as to the manner in which it ought to be fulfilled. It is emphatically the work of God they have to do, and the instrument to be wielded in the doing of it is his own word. Let this be plied with unwearied diligence, with affectionate tenderness and fervency of spirit; for the work is of infinite importance, and results past reckoning depend on it. Eternal weal or woe grows out of it to all who come within the field of its operations. And for oneself whatever may be the result for others the path of duty is the only path of safety; faithfulness to God must be the supreme rule, and his glory the chief aim. “I have a commission to fulfil, I must deliver my own soul,” let this be the one answer to all counter-solicitations from the flesh or the world; and it will also be the best guarantee of ultimate success. For it is to the labours of those who thus supremely eye and honour God that the harvest of souls is usually given; and the more that any one proves himself to be such a workman, the less shall he need to be ashamed either here or hereafter.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 3". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-3.html.
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