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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 6

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

Verses 1-14

CHAPTER 5-6.

THE VISION OF THE SHORN HAIR AND ITS FORESHADOWING DESOLATIONS.

Ezekiel 5:1 . And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword; a barber’s razor shalt thou take to thee, and cause it to pass over thy head, and over thy beard; and take the weighing-balances, and divide them (i.e. the hairs).

Ezekiel 5:2 . A third part thou shalt burn with fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are accomplished; and thou shalt take the third part, to smite with the sword round about it; and the third part (viz. the remaining third part) thou shalt scatter in the wind: and I will draw out a sword after them.

Ezekiel 5:3 . And take of them a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts.

Ezekiel 5:4 . And take of them again, and cast them in the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; from it (i.e. from the fire, emblem of God’s righteous judgment) shall go forth a fire to all the house of Israel.

Ezekiel 5:5 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, This is Jerusalem; in the midst of the nations did I set her, and the countries were round about her.

Ezekiel 5:6 . And she rebelled against my judgments, for wickedness (The Authorized Version, along with some, both ancient and modern, expositors, have rendered this clause, “And hath changed my judgments into wickedness.” But the verb מָרָה never signifies to change; it is always used in the sense of resisting, rebelling against, or something similar, and is often, as here, coupled with the accusative of the object against which the resistance is made, the Lord’s word or statutes, Numbers 20:24; 1 Samuel 12:15; Jeremiah 4:17, etc. The sin of the Israelites lay, not in changing the Lord’s statutes, but, from their prevailing wickedness, setting them aside, and so exceeding the heathen in guilt.) (i.e. to increase their wickedness, to practise it) above the heathen, and against my statutes, more than the countries that were round about her; for they have refused my judgments, and in my statutes they have not walked.

Ezekiel 5:7 . Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because ye have acted more outrageously than the heathen (Probably the precise meaning of הֲמָנְכֶם here is that given by Gesenius in his Thes.: “tumultuamini,” ye tumultuate; and this sense we substantially adopt, though the meaning given in the received translation is entitled to regard, and makes an intelligible sense. The children of Israel had “multiplied,” or heaped up, in the line here referred to by the prophet, above the heathen; that it had outdone them in iniquity. The verb certainly is not found in this sense, but its derivative הָמוֹן is often used for multitude or heaps, only with the collateral idea of noise or turmoil. And as it seems probable that the tendency of a multitude to cause such noise or turmoil was the reason of the noun coming to have the sense of multitude, we rather incline to take the verb in the same sense. It also agrees well with what was said before about their doing the part of rebels; as such they raged, or did outrageously.) which were round about you, have not walked in my statutes, and my judgments have not kept, nor have done according to the judgments of the nations that were round about you;

Ezekiel 5:8 . Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against thee, even I, and I will execute judgments in the midst of thee, in the sight of the heathen.

Ezekiel 5:9 . And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and the like of which I shall not do any more, because of all thine abominations.

Ezekiel 5:10 . Therefore, fathers shall eat their sons in the midst of thee, and sons shall eat their fathers; and I shall execute judgments upon thee, and the whole remnant of thee I will scatter to every wind.

Ezekiel 5:11 . Therefore, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, I also will with draw, (This is the proper meaning of the verb נָּרַע ; and though it may seem here to be used somewhat abruptly, yet if viewed, as it should be, with reference to Deuteronomy 4:2, where the people were forbidden to withdraw anything from God’s statutes, its propriety and force will be manifest. They had now withdrawn from God’s sanctuary all its sacredness, and in return he withdraws from them namely, his favour and protection, life and blessing.) and mine eyes shall not spare, neither also will I have any pity.

Ezekiel 5:12 . A third part of thee shall die of the pestilence, and with famine they shall be consumed in the midst of thee: and the third part shall fall by the sword roundabout thee; and the third part will I scatter to every wind, and will draw out the sword after them.

Ezekiel 5:13 . And mine anger is accomplished, and I will make my fury to rest upon them, and am comforted; and they know that I Jehovah have spoken in my zeal, while I expend my fury upon them.

Ezekiel 5:14 . And I will make thee a desolation, and a reproach among the nations which are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by.

Ezekiel 5:15 . And it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment, to the nations that are round about thee, when I shall have executed in thee judgments in anger, and in fury, and in vehement rebukes I, Jehovah, have spoken it.

Ezekiel 5:16 . When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine which are for their destruction, which I will send to destroy you; and I will increase famine upon you, and will break for you the staff of bread.

Ezekiel 5:17 . And I will send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee I, Jehovah, have spoken it. (Very characteristic, in the latter part of this chapter, of Ezekiel’s style, are the frequent transitions from the objective to the subjective, and inversely, they and you, it and thou, alternating with each other; also the tendency to repeat over and over again the same thought, and even the same expressions, for the sake of deepening the impression.)

Ezekiel 6:1 . And the word of Jehovah came to me saying,

Ezekiel 6:2 . Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophecy against them and say, o. Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Jehovah; thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the mountains and to the hills, to the rivers and to the valleys, Behold I, even I, am bringing a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places;

Ezekiel 6:4 . And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken; and I will make your slain to fall before your idols.

Ezekiel 6:5 . And I will lay the carcases of the children of Israel before their idols, and scatter their bones round about your altars.

Ezekiel 6:6 . In all the places of your abode the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate: that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols be broken and abolished, and your images be cut down, and your works be extirpated,

Ezekiel 6:7 . And the slain shall fall in the midst of you; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

Ezekiel 6:8 . And I will leave a remnant, in that there shall be some escaped to you from the sword among the nations, when ye are scattered among the countries.

Ezekiel 6:9 . And those of you that escape shall remember me among the heathen whither they shall be led captive, whose wanton heart, that departeth from me, I will break, and their eyes that lust after their idols; and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have done in respect to all their abominations.

Ezekiel 6:10 . And they shall know that I, Jehovah, have not in vain declared that I would bring this evil upon them.

Ezekiel 6:11 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, smite with thy hand and stamp with thy foot, and say, Ah! to all the vile abominations of the house of Israel! that they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and the pestilence.

Ezekiel 6:12 . He that is far off shall die by the pestilence, and he that is near shall fall by the sword, and he that remains and is besieged shall die by the famine; and I will accomplish my fury upon them.

Ezekiel 6:13 . And ye shall know that I am Jehovah when their slain shall be among their idols, round about their altars, at every high hill, upon all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak; the place where they offered sweet savour to all their idols.

Ezekiel 6:14 . And I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, and a desolation more than the wilderness toward Diblath, (It is not certain what precise district is referred to by the name of Diblath. We read elsewhere of the cities that had Diblathaim as part of their names (Numbers 33:46; Jeremiah 48:22), but not of any wilderness so designated. It is needless to notice the different conjectures which have been thrown out upon the subject, for no certain result has been attained.) in all the places of their abode; and they shall know that I am Jehovah.

IN the vision of the siege and the iniquity-bearing, a heavy burden of troubles, partly in progress, and partly still impending, had been announced by the prophet as determined against the covenant-people. The afflictions of Egypt and the trials of the wilderness were, in a manner, to pass over them again. But even that was not enough; for as their guilt exceeded the guilt of their forefathers, so the chastisement now to be received from the hand of God was to surpass all that had been experienced in the history of the past. This more severe message is unfolded in the next vision, that recorded in these chapters, in which the prophet is commanded (after having finished the days of the siege, i.e. spent in vision, not in real life, the time during which it was to be prosecuted) to take a sharp sword, and also a razor, to shave off the whole hair of his head and beard, itself a symbol of violent and humiliating treatment. For the priests were enjoined to nourish their hair, and avoid baldness, in token of their peculiar consecration to the Lord (Leviticus 21:5). Therefore, to have this hair, which was at once the natural ornament of the head and the symbol of sacredness, cut off by an instrument of war, plainly bespoke a work of severe and desolating judgment. But the same was still more strikingly indicated by the use to be made of the hair, of which one-third part was to be burned in the fire, another smitten about with a sword, and the last scattered to the winds and pursued by a drawn sword. A few of this last division the prophet was instructed to bind in the skirts of his garment, in token of safe preservation, for even of these, a portion only were to be saved, while others were to be again cast into the fire and burned, a flame issuing from the conflagration which was to “come forth against all the house of Israel.”

In these last words, which form the conclusion of Ezekiel 5:4, the description of the symbol, as sometimes happens in the prophets, passes into the reality, the house of Israel being substituted for the hairs which represented it. This is followed, however, by an express and pointed application of the different parts of the vision to the circumstances and prospects of the covenant-people. Jerusalem, we are again told, was the object of the whole; but Jerusalem, as in the former vision, standing for the people at large, of which it was the proper centre and natural representative. For the prophet presently proceeds to speak of this Jerusalem as a people set in the midst of surrounding heathen; and in the two following chapters, which are merely a continuation and further enlargement of what is contained in Ezekiel 5:0, we find substituted for the name of Jerusalem, “the mountains of Israel,” the “land of Israel,” and “the children of Israel.” There can be no doubt, therefore, that the prophecy has the most extensive bearing, and that we are no more in this case, than in that of the siege, to think of the single city Jerusalem, though, from being the appointed centre of the whole, both the city itself, and that portion of the people more immediately connected with it, might expect their full share in the judgments announced.

The judgments themselves are distributed into three classes, according to the threefold division of the hair: the sword was to devour one-third of the people; famine and pestilence, another; and that which remained was to be scattered among the nations. The strongest language is employed to describe the calamities indicated under these various heads, and everything is introduced that might have the effect of conveying the most appalling idea of the coming future. Amid the horrors to be produced by famine and pestilence, the dreadful words of Moses, that “their fathers should eat their sons in the midst of them,” are reiterated, with the addition of the still darker feature, that “the sons should also eat their fathers” (Ezekiel 5:10). The wild beasts of the field, too, were to embitter by their ravages the calamities produced by the evil arrows of famine; and the sword was to pass through the land in such fury that none should be able to escape, rendering all a desolate wilderness (Ezekiel 6:14), destroying also their idols, and scattering around them the dead carcases of the people, so that the things in which they had foolishly trusted should only in the day of evil prove the witnesses and companions of their ruin (chap. Ezekiel 6:3-6). Finally, in respect to those who should escape the more immediate evils, not only should they be scattered far and wide among the nations, but should there also meet with taunting and reproaches; nay, a sword should be drawn out after them, as had already been predicted by Moses (Ezekiel 5:12; Leviticus 26:33); they too were to be for burning (so also Isaiah 6:13); for the anger of the Lord was still to pursue after them with “furious rebukes,” until he had completely broken their rebellious hearts, and wrought in them a spirit of true contrition for sin and perfect reconciliation of heart with God (Ezekiel 6:9).

Nothing of a definite nature is mentioned as to time and place in this dark outline of revealed judgments. That the doom of evil was by no means to be exhausted by the troubles connected with the Chaldean conquest is manifest; for that portion of the people who were to go into exile and be dispersed among the nations were appointed to other and still future tribulations. There was to be a germinating evil in their destiny, because there would be, as the Lord clearly foresaw, a germinating evil in their character; and so long as this root of bitterness should still be springing up into acts of rebellion against God, it should never cease to be recoiling upon them with strokes of chastisement in providence. In this there was nothing absolutely singular as to the principle on which the Divine government proceeded; only, as God had connected himself with Israel in a manner he never had done with any nation before, nor would with any other again, there should be a certain singularity in their case as to the actual experience of suffering on account of sin. In their history as a people, the footsteps of God’s righteous judgment would leave impressions behind it of unexampled severity, according to the word here uttered: “And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations.”

But there is no caprice in the dealings of God. When he afflicts with the rod of chastisement and rebuke, it is only because the righteous principles of his government demand it; and the fearful burden of evils here suspended over the heads of ancient Israel sounds also a warning note of judgment to all nations and all ages of the world. There have been, it is true, such changes introduced into the outward administration of God’s kingdom as render it, for the most part, impossible to trace the execution of his judgments with the same ease and certainty with which we can mark their course in the history of ancient Israel. But it is not the less certain that the principles which produced such marked effects then are in active operation still; and whenever Israel’s guilt is incurred anew, there will infallibly be experienced a renewal of Israel’s doom. For the gospel has brought no suspension of God’s justice any more than of his mercy. It contains the most glorious exhibition of his grace to sinners, but along with this it contains the most affecting and awful display of his righteous indignation against sin. Both features, indeed, of the Divine character have reached under the gospel a higher stage of development; and so far has the introduction of the new covenant been from laying an arrest on the severity of God, that not till it appeared did the Jews themselves experience the heaviest portion of the evils threatened against them; then only did the wrath begin to fall upon them to the uttermost, and the days of darkness and tribulation come, such as had not hitherto been known. This vision of woe, therefore, extends alike over both dispensations, and speaks to men of every age and clime; it is a mirror in which the justice of God reflects itself for the world at large, with no further alteration for gospel times than such as is implied in the words of the apostle: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Such being the case in respect to the execution of Divine judgment, it becomes the more necessary that we should mark distinctly the nature of the guilt on account of which the judgment was to be executed. We are the rather called to be particular in marking this, as the prophet so emphatically and repeatedly presses the circumstance, that the treatment to be given to Israel in the way of punishment was to be a dealing with them after their own ways, or a meting back to them of their own measure. The passages which more particularly refer to this portion of the subject are the following: “This is Jerusalem: in the midst of the nations I set her, and the countries were round about her. And she rebelled against my judgments, for wickedness above the heathen and against my statutes more than the countries that are round about her,” etc. And again: “Surely because thou hast denied my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also withdraw, neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity.”

The stress laid here upon defilement of the sanctuary is intended to single out this profanation as the very climax of the prevailing iniquity, and the sign that it had now reached the last stage of Heaven-daring wickedness. But the grand charge which the prophet evidently means to bring against them, was the utter discordance which appeared between their conduct and their calling; they had failed to maintain the position and fulfil the ends for which more especially they had been settled in Canaan, and had acted so as to cause the name of God to be blasphemed in them rather than honoured. Let us glance for a little both at what the calling itself was, and at this unfaithfulness in regard to it, that we may thus more clearly perceive the reasonableness of this severity which the Lord exercised toward them, and discern the lessons of instruction which the whole furnishes to future times.

1. In respect to the peculiar calling of the Israelites, the prophet represents them as having been placed by God, with the charge of his statutes and judgments, in the midst of the nations. This is not, certainly, to be understood in the sense adopted by some of the earlier commentators, that Jerusalem stood precisely in the centre of the natural world, and on this account was chosen to be the peculiar dwelling-place of God. But neither is it to be understood, with many later ones, as simply meaning that Israel in Canaan alone possessed as a nation the true knowledge of God, and that the surrounding nations were all plunged in heathenish darkness and corruption. It rather indicates that the land of Canaan did form a kind of centre for the nations of heathen antiquity, and was designed on that account to be a position of power and influence in respect to the knowledge and worship of God. Viewing the world as it existed at the time of Israel’s settlement in Canaan, and for a thousand years afterwards, we believe it would be impossible to fix upon a single region so admirably fitted at once to serve as a suitable dwelling-place for such a people, and to enable them, as from a central and well-chosen vantage-ground, to act with success upon the heathenism of the world. It lay nearly midway between, the oldest and most influential states of antiquity, on the one side Egypt and Ethiopia, with their dependencies; on the other, Babylon, Nineveh, India, the seats of art and civilisation when the rest of the world still lay in comparative barbarism, and to which the much later, but ultimately more powerful, commonwealths of Europe were primarily indebted for their skill, and even their philosophy and religion. Then, in the immediate neighbourhood were the Phoenician mariners, whose sails frequented every harbour of the civilised world; and all around, the Ishmaelite tribes, the great inland traders, who kept up a perpetual and most extensive intercourse among the different communities of southern Asia and northern Africa. So that, isolated as the land of Canaan in some respects was, it was the very reverse of being withdrawn to a corner; and no region in the whole ancient world could have been selected that afforded more obvious and varied facilities for exerting a beneficial and commanding influence on the mind of ancient heathendom.

That the children of Israel, by being appointed to occupy such a central position, were also called to take advantage of it for making known the character and extending the worship of Jehovah, was to be understood of itself from their being the chosen depositories of God’s will, and the peculiar seed “in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed.” The distinguished marks of Divine favour they were to enjoy, and the political ascendancy that was to be granted them, over the nations of the earth, were made expressly to depend upon their remaining stedfast to the covenant of God, and being faithful witnesses of its truth and holiness. “This,” said Moses, in Deuteronomy 4:6, when urging them to fidelity in keeping God’s statutes and judgments, “this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” And again, in Deuteronomy 28:1, he holds out to them the elevated prospect, if they would only keep the commandments of God and walk in his ways, of being “the head only and not the tail, above only and not beneath,” and of causing “all the people of the earth to see that Jehovah had established them to be an holy people to himself, and called them by his name.” How thoroughly David and other pious men in the better periods of Israel’s history understood the high calling they thus held of God, is evident from many passages in the Psalms. For example, in Psalms 9:0: “Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked. . . . Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion, declare among the people his doings.” In Psalms 59:0, perhaps one of the earliest of David’s compositions: “O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen. . . . Consume them (mine enemies) in wrath; consume them that they may not be; and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth.” So again in Psalms 68:0, probably one of his latest, “Because of thy temple in Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee. Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God. Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth,” etc. And in the Psalm immediately before this, the inspired writer, in the name of the true Israel, and in the most enlarged spirit of philanthropy, entreats God to make his face to shine upon them, that so his way might be known upon earth, and his saving health among all nations. He desired an increased manifestation of Divine goodness, not so much for its own sake, as for the ulterior good of which it might be productive: “God shall I, and I shall fear him.” Undoubtedly this wide-spreading effect may, in such cases, have been contemplated as very much a result that was to grow spontaneously out of the good that should appear in Israel, the mere exhibition of God’s rich blessing upon them being expected to prompt and allure the nations of the earth to seek that the same might be realized also in their own experience. But still the personal good for Israel was viewed as strictly subservient to the more general good for the nations; and such desires and expectations toward the world at large could not possibly be cherished without the obligation being recognised and felt to employ every available means for extending the true knowledge of God in the world. So utterly false is the idea the spurious brood of an unscriptural and exclusive Pharisaism that the Israelites were placed in Canaan for their exclusive benefit, and in a sort of unfriendly antagonism to the other nations of the earth! On the contrary, they were placed there as on a high vantage-ground, for acting the part of the world’s benefactors; placed aloft as God’s lights in the earth, that through them the nations around might learn his will, and come to obtain an interest in his blessing.

This calling of Israel in respect to the nations of the world is precisely that which now rests upon the Christian Church. There is no difference between the two in nature, though, in regard to the manner of its execution, the change that has meanwhile entered into the character of God’s kingdom, and the general aspect of the world’s condition, naturally gives rise to corresponding differences. It was necessary that the impulse should be communicated more nationally before, more individually now. And as the religion of God’s ancient people was predominantly of a symbolical, outward, and national character, so, in the manner of its propagation in the world, fleshly weapons, outward prosperity, the visible sunshine of Heaven’s favour and loving-kindness, necessarily played an essential and prominent part. But now, on the other hand, when the discoveries of the gospel have laid open Divine realities themselves to the eye of faith, and thereby given a more spiritual and elevated tone to the true religion, there is greatly less need of those external appliances. The grand element of power now lies in the truth itself; and by means of this, exhibited in the lives of God’s people, and plied on every hand by their instrumentality, is the triumph of righteousness chiefly to be sped forward in the world. With such differences, however, as to the method of working, the obligation itself remains substantially the same. The Christian Church is now, just as Israel was of old, set in the midst of the nations, and charged in all her members to give faithful testimony to the truth, by which she has herself been blessed, that others may come and partake of the blessing. What a noble function! and, as the result of its faithful discharge, what an unspeakable good has to be realized! Nothing less than the possession of the world under Christ as the field which the Lord doth bless! The right to this possession is Christ’s, who has received from the Father the heritage of the earth; and he commits it to his Church, as the instrument of his working, to make good the title. With her people, therefore, lies the weighty responsibility of the world’s regeneration; they are individually and collectively the light of the world; they are the salt of the earth. Happy if they are so in reality! but if not, heavy above all others must be their condemnation.

2. In the case of ancient Israel, it was their misfortune to incur the condemnation. They failed to take advantage of their favourable position for extending the knowledge and glory of God among the nations; but, imbibing the corruptions they should have striven to abolish, they dealt more treacherously toward the true religion than the surrounding nations did toward their false ones. That, in charging them with an excess over these very nations, the prophet meant that they went absolutely beyond them in the practice of abominable idolatries, we can scarcely suppose. But in sinning against such privileges and obligations, their guilt was unquestionably much greater; and in going so readily over to the corruptions of heathenism, they so far did worse than others, that they betrayed a looser attachment to their religion than those heathens did to their respective idolatries. “They have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments, neither have done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you;” neither adhered to the one, nor wholly espoused the other, therefore inferior in point of religious principle to those wretched idolaters who cling with inveterate fondness to their several superstitions. Jeremiah had already called attention to this singular fact, and mourned over the amazing infatuation it displayed: “Pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing: Hath a nation changed her gods, which yet are no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit” (chap. Jeremiah 2:10-11).

There must have been some ground in the nature of things for this apparent anomaly, some very powerful and constraining impulse which so incessantly led Israel, in the face of all remonstrances and warnings in providence, to prefer and fall in with the Gentile superstitions where shall we seek it? Undoubtedly the main and fundamental reason is to be sought in their own prevailing carnality and corruption of heart, which the mere nature-religions of heathenism did nothing to check, but rather fostered and sanctioned. Outward and carnal as the Jewish worship was in its character compared with the Christian, it still was immeasurably less so than the idolatrous religions of Paganism, in which not only every god had its representation in a visible idol, but the gods themselves were precisely such as the natural heart desires, gods “whose attributes were pride, revenge, and lust.” In Judaism, on the contrary, amid all that was outward and showy in its observances, there still was in the bosom of every service a spiritual and holy God as the sole object of veneration, and a conformity to his righteous will as the one great end to be aimed at. Therefore, whenever the people lost the true spirit of piety, they of necessity lost, at the same time, their relish for the pure service of Jehovah; they became at once unfit for its duties and ashamed of its sanctity, and gladly accepted from the hands of their neighbours what might render their religion more palatable to their ungodly dispositions.

Shall we wonder at such behaviour in Israel? We may, indeed, wonder at it when we think of their singular advantages, and the astonishing things which God had done in their behalf; but the same perversity which ran such a career of wickedness in them, lives still in the Christian Church; nor is there a country in Christendom where Israel’s folly is not on a large scale perpetually repeating itself. What are the corruptions of Popery but so many accommodations of the pure spirit of the gospel to the grovelling tendencies of the flesh? And even in Protestant lands, with by far the greater proportion of worshippers, the religion actually embraced is not that of the Bible, but this moulded and shaped into a form more agreeable to the natural heart. It borrows from the thoughts and maxims of the world fully as much as it derives from the gospel; and gathers up from the two such a compound of flesh and spirit, purity and corruption, as the natural man finds little occasion either to quarrel with or to be ashamed of. Hence the spiritual languor, the worldly-mindedness, the numberless forms of vanity and pollution, which are so commonly seen going hand in hand with a religious profession, and which have at once robbed the Church of her power to conquer and bless the world, and miserably curtailed her own inheritance of good. The spiritual adversary who sought in vain to strangle Christianity in her birth has too well succeeded in impeding her progress, by corrupting the purity of her worship, and replenishing her with the means of worldly honour and enjoyment. Nor can she ever fulfil aright her destiny, or be safe from the rod of chastisement and rebuke, till the foul admixtures she has contracted from the world are purged out, and, in the simple spirit of an implicit reliance on the Divine word, and an unswerving adherence to the cause of truth and righteousness, she goes forth to resist and put down whatever is opposed to the will of Heaven.

It may be proper, before closing our remarks on the vision contained in these three chapters, to refer to a style of interpretation which is unhappily too current in the present times, and which is equally remarkable for the groundlessness and the confidence of its assertions. “Look,” says a popular writer, in a discourse on Ezekiel 9:4-6, “into the fifth chapter of Ezekiel, Ezekiel 5:12, and you will see a passage which was not fulfilled in the days of Zedekiah. There it was predicted that a third part of the nation should die by pestilence, that a third part should die by the sword, and that another third part of the nation should be scattered unto all the winds, and a sword sent after them. In the days of Zedekiah no such thing occurred. There was nothing of famine or pestilence; there was no destruction of a third part with the sword; and those that were carried captive, instead of being scattered unto all the winds, were taken into one country, and were kept in one country all the time of their captivity.”

It is not saying too much of this passage, that it contains as many errors as sentences. For, (1) in regard to the threefold destination of the people to the pestilence, the sword, and dispersion, it might be as correct to affirm that no such thing was spoken by Ezekiel of the days of Zedekiah, as that no such thing occurred then. The prophet, as we have already shown, is not here speaking of Jerusalem alone, or even of the people of Judah alone, but of the covenant-people at large, as inhabitants of the land of Canaan; so that we are to take in not simply what happened in the days of Zedekiah, but what all Israel had been suffering, or were still to suffer, by means of the calamities which the Lord sent against them for their sins. (2) It is a rash and utterly groundless affirmation to say, even of those who lived in the days of Zedekiah, that a third part were not destroyed by pestilence, and a third by the sword; for that vast numbers perished by both causes is manifest from the face of the history and where did the author learn that it was less than two-thirds? As for the remaining third being all carried captive to one country, and kept there, we have simply to ask whence, then, came the Jews mentioned in the book of Esther, who were scattered through all the provinces of the Persian empire? Or how should the decree of Cyrus, authorizing their return to Palestine, have been addressed to the seed of Israel throughout the whole kingdom, to “every man in the place where he sojourneth”? Or why should a special curse have been pronounced over Edom, because they sought to cut off, and to some extent did cut off, the miserable fugitives from the land of Israel, who, in the day of their calamity, fled from the face of the adversary? (Obadiah 1:14.) In short, it is a mere assertion, and utterly opposed to the well-known facts of history, to affirm that all who survived the Chaldean desolation were carried to the region of Babylonia and kept there. The larger portion were so, but by no means the whole; there was a scattering to the winds of heaven. (See also Ezekiel 17:21, where the remnant of the people of the very king that Nebuchadnezzar was to carry to Babylon is expressly said to be scattered to all the winds of heaven.) (3) It is quite untenable, and is in fact betraying the truthfulness of the prophet into the enemies hands, to assert, regarding such a vision as this, that the infliction of those calamities, which it marks as presently to be expected, was to be postponed for many centuries, and not to take place till an entirely different state of things had entered. For, in the prophecy, the calamities announced are not merely predicted as events, but threatened as Divine judgments for the sins of that particular period; and if they were not inflicted in connection with that period, they were plainly not inflicted at all; the penalties threatened against the prevailing sinfulness were not enforced; the prophecy, as it stands here, lies unfulfilled. Besides, when the prophet so distinctly indicates a certain series of judgments, and so solemnly and repeatedly declares that the time was close at hand for their taking effect, if, after all, they were not to take effect till seven hundred years had elapsed, and the condition of things in Israel had become so essentially changed that the special characteristics here given the copying after the ways of the heathen, and the erection of many altars were precisely those most carefully avoided at that later period, then it is manifest we must have different rules for interpreting such portions of Scripture from those we would adopt in regard to any other book. The process of interpretation, in short, becomes a matter of caprice, and the manner of fulfilment is simply what the interpreter himself thinks fit, not what the writing itself seems to indicate. If the prophetical scriptures really needed such arbitrariness of interpretation to preserve their conformity with the course of things, sceptics would require nothing more to justify their unbelief. But in the present case it is merely the interpreter, and not the prophetic word, that is at fault. Amid the desolations of long sieges and bloody conquest, produced by the invading hosts of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, beyond all doubt one large portion of the people perished by famine and pestilence, and another large portion by the sword; and that the remaining portion was scattered into many countries, and even amid these was subjected to ever-recurring troubles and calamities, is as certain as anything of which a credible record has been handed down to us from ancient times. To deny this is at once to throw discredit on the plainest utterances of prophecy, and bring into doubt the most unquestionable facts of history.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 6". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-6.html.
 
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