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Chapter 6. A Prophecy to the Mountains of Israel - God’s Purpose In Their Suffering.
God continues to outline His judgments but explains what He desires them to accomplish (Ezekiel 6:8-10).
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards the mountains of Israel, and prophesy to them, and say, ‘You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Yahweh, Thus says the Lord Yahweh to the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys, “Behold I, even I, will bring a sword on you, and I will destroy your high places, and your altars will become desolate, and your incense altars will be broken, and I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the carcases of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.” ’
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’ This introduces a new passage which is not necessarily directly connected with what has gone before. It indicates the reception of a new prophetic message.
‘Son of man, set your face towards the mountains of Israel, and prophesy to them.’ To set the face meant taking up an attitude of opposition (see also Ezekiel 13:17; Ezekiel 21:2; Ezekiel 25:2; Ezekiel 28:21; Ezekiel 38:2). It may however be that he also did it literally, turning towards Jerusalem. Later pious Jews would turn towards Jerusalem to pray (see Daniel 6:10).
Here Ezekiel had to prophesy to ‘the mountains of Israel’, (a phrase found only in Ezekiel (12 times) apart from Joshua 11:21) but in so doing he spoke to his own people in Babylonia. The mountains were Israel’s strength and protection, and God’s gift to His people. They were the backbone of the land of Israel. They were the inheritance of Yahweh (Isaiah 65:9; Exodus 15:17; Psalms 78:54; Isaiah 57:13). But they were also the site of terrible abominations carried on at the high places, as the context here demonstrates. God’s gift had been bastardised.
‘To the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys.’ The watercourse and the valleys owed their existence to the mountains and hills. Thus in addressing the mountains He was addressing them all.
‘I will bring a sword on you.’ The invading armies would penetrate the mountains and hills and would destroy their high places, their incense altars and their idols, and would slay the worshippers around them and offer them in disdain to their gods who had been able to do nothing for them. These high places were the continual bain of the prophets and of the good kings of Israel and Judah. They had largely been Canaanite shrines and were so popular that few kings dared to touch them (the exceptions were Hezekiah and Josiah. But they were quickly restored once they had died). At them men often professed to worship Yahweh, but they incorporated naturism, and fertility rites, and idolatry, with all their sexual connotations. They represented at their best debased Yahwism and at their worst the full abominations of the Canaanites, including perverted sex and possibly child sacrifices and ancestor worship.
‘And I will lay the carcases of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.’ In pointed irony God likens what will happen, to human sacrifices being offered. Their carcases will be offered ‘before their own idols’ (compare Leviticus 26:30), and with regard to their bones being scattered it was the bones of sacrifices that were scattered around altars. What they have done to their children in sacrificing them will be done to them. But in Israelite terms this scattering of bones would then pollute the altars (Numbers 19:16).
The incense altars (hammanim) are known from excavations and the word actually appears on one found in Palmyra, in Syria. The word rendered ‘idols’ is a contemptuous one (gillulim) expressing Ezekiel’s disdain. It may have been concocted from a word for ‘dung’ (gel, gelalo) whose consonants are similar, interspersed with the vowels of a word which means ‘detestable thing’ (siqqus), or it may be connected with Akkadian galalu which means a stone slab.
Excursus on High Places.
The use of high places by loyal Yahwists before the Temple was built is documented in 1 Samuel 9:13; 1 Samuel 9:19; 1Sa 9:25 ; 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Kings 3:2 (contrast Deuteronomy 12:2-3). They were local shrines, in earliest times established on hills, but later found elsewhere in towns (2 Kings 17:9), and in valleys where child sacrifices were offered (Jeremiah 7:31), possibly to Melek (Molech - the regular recipient of child sacrifices), but see Jeremiah 19:5 where it was said to be to Baal. This may have been the result of syncretism. Gibeon became known as the Great High Place (1 Kings 3:4) and the Tabernacle was at one stage pitched there (1 Chronicles 21:29).
The use of these high places was not approved of by 1 Kings 3:3 which suggests that David did not worship at high places, unless the Tabernacle was there (1 Chronicles 21:29). Such high places might incorporate an altar for sacrifice, an idol, an Asherah image, an incense altar and a small building. No doubt the one used by Samuel had been purified by the removal of unwanted material. The fact that he did use one when the Tabernacle was elsewhere reveals that the central sanctuary was not at that time seen as the only place to offer sacrifices (it may in fact not have been in use, having been dismantled as a result ot he destuction of Shiloh by the Philistines). This may well have been due to ignorance or a softening down of the Law, but it must be considered possible that at the high place used by Samuel there had been a theophany which would legitimise it (Exodus 20:24).
The danger of the high places is apparent. They turned men’s thoughts to the old religion of Canaan and often resulted in the restoration of Canaanite worship with all its perverted sexual tendencies, fertility rites, ancestor worship and idolatry, and even sometimes child sacrifice. For this reason they were condemned by the prophets. Their approval or otherwise became a test of the genuineness of the faith in Yahweh of Judah’s kings.
End of excursus.
“In all your dwelling places 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 may be broken and cease, and your incense altars may be hewn down, and your works may be blotted out, and the slain will fall in the midst of you, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
The reason for the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah is now laid bare. It was in order to destroy the high places, the altars, the idols and the incense altars, and the behaviour that resulted from them. There was no other way. For over four hundred years they had clung to these and refused to give them up. Now the very things that they had given their hearts to would destroy them. For this would necessitate the destruction of their cities and the death of many of their inhabitants.
By all this they would be faced up with the fact of the living God, of Yahweh. And they would know what He really is, a hater of idolatry and the evil that springs from it.
“Yet I will leave a remnant in that you will have some who escape the sword among the nations, when you shall be scattered through the countries. And they who escape of you will remember me among the nations to which they will be carried captives, how that I have been broken with their whorish heart which has departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols. And they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. And they will know that I am Yahweh. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”
God’s mercy still reached through His judgments. There would be those who survived, captives scattered among the countries, and then they would remember Yahweh and recognise what they have done to Him (see also Ezekiel 12:16; Ezekiel 14:22).
‘How that I have been broken with their whorish heart which has departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols.’ These words remind us that God was affected by their evil behaviour. The attitudes of their hearts and the direction of the gaze of their eyes, turned from Him to idols, had ‘broken’ Yahweh. Compare Jeremiah 23:9 where the prophet’s heart was broken because of the behaviour of the people towards God (see also Jeremiah 8:21; Psalms 34:18; Psalms 51:17; Psalms 69:20; Psalms 147:3; Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 34:4; Ezekiel 34:16). The idea is of being shattered or crushed by something. God was not unaffected by their behaviour although we must not interpret it too literally. He pictures Himself as ‘crushed’. It is an anthropomorphism.
The versions alter the words to ‘I have broken’ but that does not fit well with ‘eyes’ and was probably because the translators did not like to think of God as ‘broken’.
‘And they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.’ The result of considering what they had done to Yahweh would make them realise their extreme sinfulness, and they would loathe themselves and how they had behaved (compare Ezekiel 18:13). This indeed was God’s final aim in His judgments. Nothing else would have brought them to their senses (see Ezekiel 14:23).
‘And they will know that I am Yahweh. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.’ It would also bring home to them Who and What Yahweh is, that He is the One Who carries out His purposes and His promises. And that includes His promises of judgment on evil behaviour. They had continued to ignore Him, except perfunctorily, and now they were reaping what they had sown.
As Jesus warned in His day our danger is different, it is of the worship of the great god Mammon. Jesus warned, ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon’ (Matthew 6:24). In many countries today the god Mammon (symbolising a craving for wealth and prosperity), together with his female counterpart Sex, determine people’s lifestyles and behaviour. They worship at their altars, and ignore their Creator and His demands. They too will one day be called to give account, for God’s anger is levelled against them as well. Wealth, prosperity and sex are God given gifts, to be used wisely and rightly, but when they control our lives and solely determine our way of living they become idols (as can sport, music, strong drink, television and pop idols and so on).
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Smite with your hand and stamp with your foot, and say, ‘Alas! because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel’, for they will fall by the sword, by the famine and by pestilence. He who is far off will die of the pestilence, and he who is near will fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged will die of the famine. Thus will I accomplish my fury on them.” ’
Clapping with the hands and stamping with the feet were signs of gladness and rejoicing (Ezekiel 25:6). But the verb here is ‘smite’ not ‘clap’ and may therefore indicate a different emotion. Stamping with the feet can also express delight or disapproval. Thus while many interpret this as the delight that has to be expressed by the prophet at the fulfilling of God’s will in judgment, others see it as conveying deep emotion of regret at what Israel has to suffer. This is supported by the following ‘Alas’, a word which usually signifies distress or despair.
Thus the Alas! has reference to the suffering coming on Israel. While it was God’s will, it was not to be treated lightheartedly. Ezekiel would be right to weep over their sufferings as Jeremiah did before him, even though he recognised their guilt (Jeremiah 9:1). He sorrowed over their abominations that had grieved God, but he also sorrowed over the judgments that they must receive, ‘for they will fall by the sword, by the famine and by pestilence’. This was no delight to him either.
‘He who is far off will die of the pestilence, and he who is near will fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged will die of the famine. Thus will I accomplish my fury on them.’ The three types of judgment, already symbolised by the shaving of his hair and beard (Ezekiel 5:2; Ezekiel 5:12), are again mentioned, but here the pestilence affects those far away from the city, the remnant who have survived. The sword will smite those who defend the city, the famine those besieged in the city, and the pestilence those who escape the slaughter.
‘He who is far off -- and he who is near -- and he who remains --’. This covers everyone. All will be involved in His judgments.
The word translated ‘besieged’ mainly signifies ‘keep watch over, protect, guard’ (thus besieged because kept watch over by the assailants). So alternately the famine may also be seen as following those who are ‘preserved’ (Ezekiel 6:8) and affecting them as well. But ‘besieged’ fits the context well and is an acceptable translation. Either way in the end all will be affected by all three judgments, for sword and famine and pestilence are ever the lot of men wherever they are, especially when they are captives or aliens.
‘Thus will I accomplish my fury on them.’ Again God’s anger at sin is emphasised. He was certainly going to do what He had said. The constant repetition was required because of the hardness of heart of Ezekiel’s listeners. They still found it difficult to believe that God would allow Jerusalem to be destroyed. To them it did not make sense. Jerusalem was His holy city and His temple was there. The high places had been around for centuries and God had not done such a thing. Why should He do it now? So do men reason presumptiously against God. They still do so today. They say, ‘God is love’ and so they feel that they do not need to obey Him. He will let them off. But one day they will stand in the Judgment and then they will realise, too late, the seriousness of sin before a holy God. For they have forgotten that ‘God is light’ as well.
These people forgot that they had had two chances when Hezekiah and Josiah had sought to remove the high places, but they had simply waited for a convenient opportunity and had then reopened the high places. God was not about to give them a third chance. It was clear that it would be of no avail. The time of His judgment on them had come, and He wanted them to know it. For when the actual event happened and Jerusalem was destroyed He wanted them to realise that it was not the end of the world. He wanted them to recognise that Yahweh was still in control and had allowed it in order that they may learn His hatred of sin. And He wanted them to repent.
“And you will know that I am Yahweh when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, on every high hill, in 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. And I will stretch out my hand on them, and make the land desolate and waste, from the wilderness toward Diblah throughout all their habitations. And they shall know that I am Yahweh.”
Had Yahweh protected the city and the temple of a grossly disobedient people He would not have been revealed as Yahweh, God of the covenant Who required obedience. He would have been seen as but a powerful local God Who could be treated lightly and presumptuously. But when they saw their slain among their idols, round their altars, then they would know that He is Yahweh, and that He had done this. Their idols in which they trusted could not protect them, but they would know that Yahweh could have done so, but had chosen not to do it, as He had warned them beforehand. Thus would they know that it was because of their sins and disobedience that this had happened, and they would know that He is a righteous God Who will not endure sin. They would know that He is Yahweh.
The picture of bodies strewn about everywhere is a vivid one. They had blasphemed God everywhere and their dead bodies would lie everywhere.
‘On every high hill, in 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.’ Compare 2 Kings 17:10. High places were so abundant that they could be described as ‘on every hill --- and under every green tree’. They were everywhere. Trees also were seen as containing something of the life of Baal, the one who was raised from the dead at the commencement of the rainy season bringing life to the barren earth and fruit and leaves to the trees. Thus under green trees was also seen as a suitable place for their altars. And so flagrant were they that wherever there was a green tree there they would consider building an altar. ‘Under every green tree’. The exaggeration brings out the enormity of their behaviour. And these were His covenant people Who professed to worship Yahweh.
Ancient oaks were especially used for burial sites (Genesis 35:8; 1 Chronicles 10:11) and favoured for the offering of incense to Baal. Thus many would be buried under them and they may well have been seen as suitable sites for ancestor worship. Their shade also made them attractive. As Hosea describes the situation, ‘they sacrifice on the tops of mountains, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because their shadow is good’ (Ezekiel 4:13). But here ‘good’ may include the idea that they saw their shadows as beneficial because of the presence of the gods.
‘The place where they offered sweet savour to all their idols.’ In the very place whey had offered their sweet savour to idols through sacrifices, this was the place where they would lie slain. So much good had their offerings done them. The offering of sweet savour would include sacrifices and drink offerings, especially the whole burnt offering (Genesis 8:20-21; Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:25; Exodus 29:41; Leviticus & Numbers regularly. See for drink offerings Numbers 15:7; Numbers 15:10).
‘And I will stretch out my hand on them, and make the land desolate and waste, from the wilderness to Diblah throughout all their habitations.’ Diblah is nowhere else mentioned. In view of the similarity in ancient Hebrew between ‘d’ and ‘r’ Riblah has been suggested as an alternative, and there is some manuscript evidence to support it.
Riblah was the place where king Zedekiah and his sons and nobles would be brought before the king of Babylon, and he would be blinded and his sons slain before his eyes (2 Kings 25:6-7; Jeremiah 39:5-6; Jeremiah 52:9-11). Others too would be brought there to be slaughtered after the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jeremiah 52:24-27). It was a staging post on the way back to Babylon where the returning troops mustered. It would be well known to Ezekiel’s compatriots, and thus a very suitable illustration. It was on the River Orontes in Hamath which was seen as the farthest reaches of the land (Amos 6:14). ‘From the wilderness to Riblah’ would then be seen as the whole extent of the land of promise. Thus wherever His rebellious people had lived would be made desolate and waste.
‘Desolate and waste (semama u mesamma)’ This phrase, like tohu wa bohu (waste and empty) in Genesis 1:2 is a combination that depends on similarity of sound so that it is all one thought, a desolated waste.
‘And they shall know that I am Yahweh.’ This is the constant refrain in Ezekiel. This was God’s purpose. That they might know Him for Who and What He was, One Who demanded obedience to His covenant, One Who demanded righteousness and holiness, One Who hated idolatry and what it did to His people, and yet as One Who in the end would show mercy on them, for that was why He had chosen Ezekiel as His prophet.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27