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(4.) THE CALAMITY THREATENED TO JERUSALEM (Chap. Ezekiel 11:1-13)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The movements of the Glory of the Lord are intermitted for a time. During that interval a new condition is entered into by Ezekiel. Hitherto, notwithstanding the unfolding of so many abominations before his eyes, and by which his heart must have been greatly distressed, his lips have been sealed in regard to any denunciation of them. Now, when the cherubic throne is hovering over the east gate, he is led to that spot and is empowered to utter a severe rebuke against the representatives of Jerusalem, and also to declare promises to the elders who represented the exiled.
Ezekiel 11:1. Ezekiel is placed by the spirit-power at the gate of the temple-court, under the Glory, “and, behold, in the opening of the gate twenty-five men.” This number makes us think of the twenty-five men mentioned in chap. Ezekiel 8:16; but we cannot suppose them, as some do, to be the same. They were worshipping the sun, and we should conclude that they were slain by the watchers with the weapon of destruction. Besides, the standing-place of the twenty-five of chap. 8 indicated that they were priests. That is not indicated here, and we are rather led to believe, from the position of the present twenty-five, and from their characterisation (Ezekiel 11:3), that they represent present civil authorities who were consulting with one another on matters of state; “and I saw in their midst Jaazaniah the son of Azur,” therefore not the elders of Israel he had previously seen (chap. Ezekiel 8:11), “and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.” It is most likely that the two princes named were living in Jerusalem at that time, and noted as being leaders among the dominant party. Or they may have been singled out in order to point to the inconsistency between their names and the course they advocated. The Lord who hears (Jaazaniah) and who helps (Azur): the Lord who delivers (Pelatiah) and builds up (Benaiah); and they were departing from the Lord!
Ezekiel 11:2-3. “These are the men that devise mischief and give evil counsel in this city;” they set up an opposition to God’s messages, and provoke His wrath. The gist of their opposition is stated; but the Hebrew construction does not favour the translation of the A. V. The curtness of the phraseology renders the meaning obscure. “Who say, Not in nearness [is] the building of houses, it [is] the caldron and we [are] the flesh.” Any interpretation must take account of this as the evil counsel, and that it was held to be audaciously iniquitous. It obviously refers to some circumstances of that period, and we may find them indicated in that prophecy of Jeremiah in which he instructed the captive Jews to build houses, &c. (chap. Ezekiel 29:5). These princes scoffed at that message thus, “Those who are far off, in a land of exile, may take, if they please, the prophet’s advice and build houses for themselves there. That does not concern us here—it is too remote a district from ours. Let Jerusalem be a pot, which Jeremiah (chap. Ezekiel 1:13) declares is to smoke and boil by the fury of a hostile invasion from the north, then we shall be the flesh within it; its strong fortifications and sure defences shall preserve us against any flame of war that may kindle around us. We have no occasion to be terrified or succumb to warnings.” So they rejected the ways of the Lord and trusted to their own devices; and would such a defiant spirit, on the part of those who were called to honour Him, be met by the Lord?
Ezekiel 11:5. The impelling might of the Spirit moves Ezekiel to an utterance, “Thus saith the Lord, So ye say, O house of Israel, and what riseth up in your spirit, I know it.” Not only is He cognisant of their overt words and several plottings, but also of the real aims and wishes which underlie their proceedings, and holds them responsible (Ezekiel 11:6) for the consequences resulting therefrom.
Ezekiel 11:7. “Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Your slain, whom ye have placed in the midst of it, they are the flesh and it is the caldron.” Your slain are those who had been cut down through the outrages of the princes themselves (see chap. 24.), and also those who perished because of the wicked counsels whose effect had been to bring the Chaldean army against Jerusalem. “Ezekiel gives them back their own words, as containing an undoubted truth, but in a different sense from that in which they had used them.” There will be flesh protected in the caldron from the fire, but it will represent those who are slain. A grim satire: The dead are the safe! “And one shall bring you forth from its midst;” the princes and their abettors should not be defended in the city. They should be taken out of it to answer for their crimes.
Ezekiel 11:9. “A sword ye have feared, and a sword will I make to come upon you, saith the Lord Jehovah.” They were in apprehension of the war which had been pressed on by the king of Babylon, and, contrary to the urgent representations of Jeremiah, made a coalition-with Egypt; yet, notwithstanding their schemings, “the hand of strangers,” the Chaldean forces, would perpetrate violent deeds under the impact of divine impulses.
Ezekiel 11:11-12. The supposed security would be invaded: the city would not be a caldron for them; taken away from it, “on the frontier of Israel will I judge you;” they would be captives, and taken to the extremity of their land to undergo punishment. Jeremiah narrates (chap. Ezekiel 39:4-5) how this threat was fulfilled in the bloody scenes at Ribla in Hamath on the northern border of Israel, and where, as an Assyrian tablet in the British Museum tells, the headquarters of Nebuchadnezzar were on this expedition. Like all other tribulations, this had for its ulterior end to work the conviction that the Lord was their only real king, “in whose statutes ye walked not, and whose judgments ye did not; but ye did according to the judgments of the nations round about you:” a difference from what was stated in chap. Ezekiel 5:7, as to surrounding nations; but evidently referring here to such corrupt practices of their neighbours as they copied. The materials, out of which proceeded the destruction of the then existing Jewish government, are thus set forth, and, that destruction being so distinctly predicted, the people should learn that it was with the most perfect reason that God claimed for Himself the honour of supreme ruler. “It is lamentable if we must gain the knowledge of God by our own destruction,—if He, in whom we live and move and are, is first recognised by the strokes which break our own head” (Heng.)
Ezekiel 11:13. A portentous event impresses the prophetic words. “And it came to pass that as I was prophesying Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah, died.” Though this incident is still part of Ezekiel’s ecstasy, it is probable that one of the chief advisers of Jerusalem died about the time in some such awfully sudden manner and when surrounded by his fellows in the temple. The effect on the sensitive Seer is great, and suggests bitter and painful thoughts as to the slaughter of his people as happened previously (chap. Ezekiel 9:8): “and I fell on my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord Jehovah, dost Thou make an utter end of the remnant of Israel?” He speaks as if he had forgotten all grounds of hope, and as if the people in the capital were the real representatives of Israel in whose mournful fate all Israel would be overwhelmed and lost. He will learn that it is otherwise.
REFUGES OF LIES BROKEN UP
Under the boastings of its leading men the people of Jerusalem were living in fancied security. They had heard from Jeremiah the prophet announcements of coming woes; but they put far from themselves the evil day, and buoyed themselves up with the expectation that, even if it did come, they would escape its troubles. Theirs is a common state of mind in respect to the truths of God which are wished not to be true, and we need to stand in His light that we may be disabused of our hurtful errors. He aims to help us thereto by a procedure such as is disclosed in this paragraph. He shows that self-constituted refuges—
I. Are based on miscalculations. Men calculate that there is no necessity immediately to renounce past courses: the judge is not standing before the door; the call to watch for the Master’s coming can be trifled with for a while. Thus many vaguely feel, if they do not positively present excuses as to the incidence of a season of searching and decisive trial. They may walk on in darkness till that day overtakes them as a thief. For, as all events are uncertain, to risk the present space given for repentance is, it may be, to risk the building of a house without means to finish it, the being overwhelmed by ruin from which there will be no opportunity to escape. We can use “now” but not “then” to flee.
II. They are abortive before God. He knows all that comes into the heart, the mouth, the hands, and so is able to test the real character of each. The stand made by men in self-defence is untenable. Fancies will not shut out afflictions, spring up when they may. No causes, no secret purposes can be so encrusted that they will elude the penetration of the eyes that are as a flame of fire. To cherish hopes, apart from Christ, that we shall be preserved from future evils, is to cherish hopes on a quicksand over which the tidal wave is beginning to rise Sins make culprits, and the righteous Lord will not let one elude His sentence, whatever the rank, the numbers, the religious privileges be. Search lest thy refuge lie open to the flood of divine condemnation.
III. They are open to dislocations. One is from the word of the Lord. It came by prophets. It has come, in these last days, by a Son. We read, we hear what He hath spoken, and learn that the entire bearing of that word of the living God is to convict of sin and to bring to immediate faith in the Saviour from sin. Again and again were men urged to “Hear the Word of the Lord;” again and again are we urged now, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Another is from the action of human influences. The sword, captivity, spoiling of goods affected the contemporaries of Ezekiel: an ailment, an emigration, a pecuniary loss operate upon us. We shall miss the true reasons for such shakings of our usual affairs, if we do not trace in them the will of the righteous and loving Lord, who would show to us that we have been trusting in that which is of the flesh, who would draw us to plant our feet upon the Rock of ages. “I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil” (Zephaniah 1:12).
Thus are records made that the Lord sets His face against our doings that are not good, and that, whether they are to be classed under unfaithfulness to Him or unbrotherliness to men, He will expose them to utter collapse. No schemes, no confidences will be capable of resisting Him. “The Lord is known by the judgment that He executeth.”
Who will accept the decisions of the Holy One as to their hopes of safety coming storms? Who will forsake all and follow Christ? “If you would not be broken by His judgment, do not break His statutes; if you would secure your lives, walk in His laws.”
A VISION OF SUDDEN DEATH (Ezekiel 11:13)
Painful associations were linked in with the sudden end of Pelatiah’s counsel and boastings. While the consensus of human testimony proves that such an immediate cessation of the activities of life is not considered as always stamped with the brand of punishment, it is always regarded as more or less of a calamity. Even they who know that the hand of the Good Shepherd is leading them into the unseen world, yet shrink from this manner of exit from the present world. The feeling is to be accounted for because of—
I. The general mysteriousness. There are no precise premonitions, no apparently gradual preparations. For though such a death must have been preceded by causes adequate to produce it, those causes, whether physical or mental, have not been credited with the deadly force which they exert. The death appears to be the bursting forth of a new and poignant energy, and our hearts are awed by the sad and startling memento which marks its route. Besides, the selection is utterly incomprehensible. Two men are given equal prominence in the course taken by Jerusalem, yet one expires in a moment, and the other still breathes the vital air. One of a family goes in an instant down to the grave, but all the other members go more or less slowly. We may be surprised at the falling of the lot, but we have no light as to its movements. Only this can we be sure of, that He who gave life takes it away in a method that is at once wise and good. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
II. The utter helplessness. No nursing, no skill can be made the least use of. We may cry for a parting word, a pressure, a look; but we cry with no result. We see the living now, in a moment we see they are not, and we can do nothing for them, we can only look. They pass altogether beyond our aid. They seem still beside us, but they have gone—where?
III. An indescribable contiguity of solemn spiritual conditions. Pelatiah is hearing the word of the Lord by Ezekiel, and in the very sound thereof hears the command of the King of terrors. Mercy and judgment stand hand in hand. The hearer becomes at once a dweller in “the silent land.” What will be learned there? The judgment of the All Holy, unaffected by any ignorance, misconception, shrinking! What if he be impenitent? What if his tongue be still vibrating with words in which he gave counsel against good? What if he has not cleansed his hands from the filth of dishonest gain or the blood of those he has injured? He is struck powerless. He is in face of iniquity at this step, he is confronted with its penalty at the next.
IV. A shock to natural feelings. Fear for oneself and pity for another cannot be restrained. Surprise and awe might have affected Pelatiah’s fellow-counsellors for a time. The effect was transient. They persisted in their wicked devices in the city; they acted in fatal correspondence thereto. Their seasonable impressions, like the morning cloud and early dew, soon vanished away. On the other hand men, with the love to God and man which stirred Ezekiel, pray that such a sudden stroke may not cut down those who are still in their trespasses; they ask for sparing mercy that such persons may be moved to work the works of God before the night cometh in which no man can work. How vain is prayer when the sinners prayed for will go on in evil ways! “How sad it is that the godly should be concerned for the coming doom of transgressors, and yet the transgressors themselves remain unmoved. Let believers imitate Ezekiel, and when judgments descend on some, ‘lift up their prayer for the remnant that is left’ ” (Fausset).
Wert thou this moment to go through the gates of death, wouldst thou go as one who had walked or had not walked thereto in the footprints of Jesus? “Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man cometh.”
(5.) MERCY PROMISED TO THE EXILES, AND CONCLUSION OF THE VISION (Ezekiel 11:14-25)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 11:14-21. Ezekiel receives, for answer to his urgent appeal, an intimation that the doom of Jerusalem is irrevocable, but that the Lord’s people will not be forsaken. Amongst the exiles, who are contemptuously treated by dwellers in the capital, are found tokens of the broken, contrite heart which He does not despise. He will put an end to their captivity, and settle them again in the land of their fathers.
Ezekiel 11:15. The utterance of the Lord must have been unexpected. The prophet supposed that they who remained in Jerusalem were the real representatives of Israel, and his yearning for their deliverance was thus intensified. His mistake springs from a common tendency in regard to the kingdom of God. Men look at its externalities. Those who have antiquity and ritual on their side are counted the chosen to good, while they who suffer and are decried are regarded as of no account. Yet in the latter are the germs of mercy from God laid: “thy brethren, thy brethren,” the twice-told designation emphatically indicating that Ezekiel is to find his true relations in those with whom he is connected as an exile, however unfavourable their condition: “men of thy kindred”—a translation which apparently causes a tautology, for brethren are kindred; but is grounded on the fact that the Hebrew word refers to the duties of the goel,—the blood-relation who took up the responsibilities, poverty, injuries of his kindred (Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:48). Some propose to employ the primary meaning, and translate the phrase, men of thy redemption, those whom thou art bound to ransom, or intercede for to deliver from evil. The ascription of the duties of goel to Ezekiel seems far-fetched and forced; but is defended for the reason that it conveys “a peculiar reproach to the proud Jews who have been so ready to cast off the claims of blood-relationship, and at the same time a hope of restoration to those who have been unduly thrown aside” (Speaker’s Com.) The reading of the LXX is, the men of thy captivity, obviously translating the same Hebrew word that is found in Ezekiel 11:24, and which differs from that read here by a single letter: “and all the house of Israel, all of it,” including in this title all Israel wheresoever they were scattered abroad, and who by the phrase seem counted by God as those who constituted the whole house of Israel, “to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem say, Remove far off from the land; to us the land is given for a possession.” Captivity, in the eyes of the Jerusalemites, was a cutting off from the covenants and promises; but their residence in the city was a participation in them. They concluded that Israel was to be known by external signs. “Thereby they show how inexperienced they are in the ways of God, how far they are from having the heart of true Israelites, how little they deserve that the prophet should take an interest in them” (Heng.)
Ezekiel 11:16. “Therefore,” seeing that the inhabitants of Jerusalem treat the captives as thrust out from the Lord, He causes His prophet to refer to this despisal and say, “Though I have removed them far off among the nations, and though I have scattered them in the lands,” that which their depreciators say is so far true; but the exile is not comfortless and irreversible, “yet I will be to them a sanctuary for a little while:” they are deprived of that which was once My sanctuary, where I manifested My presence, but they shall have one notwithstanding. I Myself will be with them for a season. The A. V., by its translation a little sanctuary, makes it seem as if the Lord would give to the captives, in some minor degree, what He had given in the temple. No doubt this was the case. But there is more involved. The exiles would be comforted with the promise of a far greater boon than that of entering within the walls of an earthly temple, and also with the assurance that the duration of their banishment from the temple would be limited. “Canaan was still the land of the covenant; and the presence of the Lord among His people, at a distance from that land, could be only a temporary thing.” But by this dealing with them the captives were prepared to give weight to the eternal truth that God dwells not in temples made with hands, that they could worship Him acceptably anywhere, and so new advances were taken towards the coming of Him in whose resurrection-body was seen the temple not made with hands, and through whom all men may come to the Father.
“In what way did the Lord prove Himself to be the sanctuary of the people in their captivity? First of all by sending the prophet himself, … a preacher of repentance and salvation, and one so richly endowed.… That which made the temple itself into a temple, the presence of God, dwelt in him. Again, He proved this by the outward protection which He afforded them, … by inward consolations, &c. Every event that transpired,—the elevation of Daniel, the fall of the Babylonian and rise of the Persian power,—pointed to this end. How different was the Babylonian exile from that of the present day! In the latter there are no signs of the presence of God. The nation can do nothing but celebrate memorial feasts and dream of the future” (Heng.)
“The dispersion, besides being a just chastisement on account of sin, and a salutary discipline to lead the heart of the people back to God, had an important end to accomplish as a preparatory movement in providence for opening the way for Messiah’s kingdom. It was very far from being an unmixed evil. It was of great service in diffusing the knowledge of God, and providing materials for the first foundations of the Christian Church. But it was still more important and necessary in spiritualising the views of the Jews, and training to the knowledge and service of God without the help of a material temple. The devout worshipper at Babylon, Alexandria, Rome, found himself a partaker of God’s presence and blessing. What a mighty advance did the kingdom of God thus make toward the possession of the world! And the Lord manifested His power to overrule a present evil for the accomplishment of an ultimate good” (Fairbairn).
Ezekiel 11:17-18. A reply to the assertion of men of Jerusalem that the land was their exclusive possession. “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, and,” besides being a sanctuary, “I will gather you and give to you the territory of Israel; but the restoration will not be to the state of things which existed prior to the exile; “and they,” whom the Lord thus favours, “come thither and take away all its detestable things and all its abominations therefrom;” first of all they cease to do the evil things which had provoked their Almighty King; they no longer halt between the Lord and Baalim. But “that they have eschewed idolatry ever since their return from Babylon,” is a statement to be qualified by the remarks of Hengstenberg. “That Satan should drive out Satan, or a refined system of idolatry (even Jehovah can become an idol) make war upon one of a grosser kind, is a matter of no religious importance. It is also evident that the outward removal of idols, in the period immediately following the restoration and in the time of the Maccabees, is included in the prophecy only so far as God Himself was the principium movens on those occasions. But this can be regarded as only a very small beginning. If the idols had all been banished from the country along with the idolatrous images, the people would have had some ground for charging God with unfaithfulness in not performing His promises. The external removal of the things, by which the land of the Lord had been defiled, was thought of by the prophet only so far as it was the result of the unconditional surrender of the heart to the Lord.”
Ezekiel 11:19-20. “And I give them one heart,” a heart in which will, thought, feeling are in unison, and which finds itself in harmony with other hearts. The method by which this grace will be brought about is the Lord’s; “and a new spirit will I put within you,” “the same for substance, but altered in the frame, renewed in the qualities thereof” (Trapp); “and I will take away the heart of stone from their flesh, and give them an heart of flesh.” “There is generally more said than ought to be said according to God’s word, that ‘in its natural state man’s heart’ is ‘hard as a stone.’ It becomes the heart of stone only by hardening. By nature it is rather ‘an heart of flesh,’ which grace confronts with spirit of Spirit (John 3:6). With the fleshy state of the heart manifold gifts of God are conceivable, as was the case of Israel from their fathers (hereditary blessings). The New Testament interpretation must not, as a matter of course, be put upon Ezekiel 11:19-20. In comparison with the stony heart which God’s judgments broke in pieces, this was to be an heart of flesh; but yet it was merely an heart of flesh. The heart of stone stands in relation to the idols, so the heart of flesh, the new spirit, the one heart, stands in relation to the only true God. The keeping apart of flesh and stone is as important as that of flesh and spirit” (Lange). Israel had gone into a position that was unnatural to it, but was to return, by divine working, into that which was natural, “that they may walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments, and do them,” &c.
Ezekiel 11:21. The promise is accompanied with a dark shadow. Whosoever there be “whose heart goes after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations,” who continue a devotion full of interest in the idols which their evil hearts attach themselves to, they shall reap the fruit of their own ways. If the idols represent merely illusions, yet they exercise a mastering sway over individuals, while the full nature of sin is manifested by their worship. “What power has Mammon now, as a national god, over Jewish minds, although he is in himself a mere shadow!” (Heng.) “The moral bearings of the Lord’s statement fasten on every man his own responsibility for his own conduct. Mercy to a people does not shut off personal agency.” “The promise of a return to Canaan was not given to the exiles as an absolute and unconditional good. And comparing the promise of what should have been, with the record of what actually was, we find that the word received but a partial fulfilment, and Canaan as occupied by the restored remnant was not a region of holiness. Still the promise did not fail; the Lord did provide for Himself a spiritual offspring from the captivity, and plant them anew as a seed of blessing in the land of their fathers—enough to furnish a pledge that the sum of all promise, the work of reconciliation in Christ, would, in due time, be brought to completion” (Fairbairn).
THE APPEAL OF RELIGION TO THE FEELINGS
There had been a general deterioration in the life of the Jewish people. Religion was corrupted into superstition, and all that was purifying and rightening in it got rid of. Then, as a matter of course, their morals became depraved, and then came political degradation and national ruin. In their hopeless plight as exiles, what was it that they really needed?
The answer cannot be far to seek. The spirit of revolt had been stirred up against the power which dominated them. Of what use had that been? If God should intervene by some wonderful “providence,” and with a strong arm bring them out of Chaldea and restore them to their own land, of what avail could even that be? If the same people, animated by the same spirit, had been all reinstated in their properties possessed before, what would have been gained? The one essential thing of all was for the men and women, the young men and maidens, to love and choose right and good—be obedient to God, and righteous and loving toward one another; for, if the inmost character of the people remained unchanged, the same wretched consequences would once more follow. To try this experiment over again would simply have been waste of time and waste of everything. A corrupt and bad nation can never be for long a prosperous nation. Evil still clings to it, and will produce its own fruits of course. So it would have been utterly vain to have shown a false compassion to them and brought them back from captivity just as they were.
The promise of renewed prosperity is here made dependent on renewed rightness. The religious promise is the grand and basal one (Ezekiel 11:20). The people must become a right people, must have a right heart and a new spirit, or prosperity is out of the question. The national character is the main thing to be looked to if a people would enjoy national welfare. “Righteousness exalteth a nation.” If the love of righteousness be general and strong, that will purge the eyesight of a people, and they will see what they ought to do. All those members of a nation who sap the robust righteousness of the people; all those who countenance and promote the neglect of religion, who weaken the faith of others in God, who lessen reverence and piety, by word or deed or by the power of example, are helping to undermine the national well-being. While all who help righteousness, truth, goodness, the fear of God, and the love of men, are doing best for their country’s stability and progress. In order to the accomplishment of such a result, there must be a heart renovated by religion. And so we learn that the very core of this true religion is a power over the heart. As the heart stands principally for the feelings, we may say that religion is chiefly having the feelings right.
Religion is made by many a quite outward affair, one of rites and ceremonies and observances. With others a correct religious creed is everything, and not a few weed their creed of all positive statements and reduce it to negatives—to denying this, and contradicting that, and arguing against the other. These are in great danger of making religion consist in notions, i.e., chiefly a matter of intellect.
The intellect and the feelings are often put in opposition; but it ought not to be so. The use of the intellect in religion is to help the heart. We want both brought into the highest condition of health and vigour. It is ever bad to divorce them, and undesirable to cultivate one at the expense of the other. But if we were obliged to confine ourselves, then there is no question the heart, the feeling, must have the vast pre-eminence. The understanding is addressed in Scripture as the way to the conscience and the heart. Right knowledge is good even for its own sake; but if it be alone, a man may be a devil. Intellect without love is one definition of the devil.
Why are the feelings of this importance in religion?
I. Because they govern the man. A man may love to flatter himself that he is governed by his intellect, by pure reason. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he is governed by his feelings, by his inclinations, by his likings, and then he calls in reason! He employs his intellect to find him useful arguments by which he may vindicate himself to himself and to others!
Which reason coins to justify excess
And passion’s disappointment.”
It was the feelings which impelled John and Peter, Martha and Mary, to Christ; which made Annas and Caiaphas seek His death; it was a certain class of feelings which urged Judas to betray Him. So now. Some men love the Revealer and believe in Him; they find the evidences which they ask for satisfactory, and may be able to give a reason to others. Some do not love that Life which claims to be divine, it rebukes their life too much; they scan the evidences and find them insufficient, and are glad to be able to say so. The feelings are seen to be supreme as the active power in human life. Hence God seeks to enlist them on the side of righteousness, and has so put Truth—embodied it in a person—as to make right affections possible and easy. Therefore, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” &c. “Lovest thou Me?”
II. Because the feelings form a ground common to all men on which religion can act. With many the intellect is very feeble, and only the fewest can have a well-furnished and well-disciplined intellect. But all can have strong feelings, strong likings and dislikings. Ought not religion to be an affair of that on which all classes can stand on pretty equal terms? The feelings enlisted, what is too hard in any rank of life?
III. Because the feelings decide the character. A man is what his chief love or liking is, what his allowed and cherished feelings are. As he thinketh in his heart, so is he. And Christ is the supreme test. For there is, in happiest proportions, all goodness embodied in His life which has special claims on men. If the feelings towards Him are those of indifference, unconcern, to say nothing of opposition, then is the heart a heart of stone indeed; and the one first and great need for such a man is to get rid of his heart of stone and acquire a heart of flesh.
We see how wisely God has made religion to be primarily an affair of the heart and not of the intellect. We recognise the pains He hath taken to win the heart for the right, to awaken and stimulate and direct the feelings. This is to a great extent the rationale of the Gospel, the logic of Christianity. We are interested to see how the promise of one heart was fulfilled to the captives as represented in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Important also to see how the matter bears on us (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 7:1).
Counsel and promise meet here. We are to get the heart of flesh of ourselves; God will give it to us. Both needed. He will give; we must concur. If we prize the promise, we shall do all we can to get rid of one kind of heart and to obtain the other. How many means are found to be provided; how many things, habits, &c., to be sedulously avoided, and others to be sedulously observed. If you will try honestly to make you a heart of flesh, God will command success, will secure the result.—H. H. D.
GOD THE SANCTUARY OF THE AFFLICTED (Ezekiel 11:16)
There is a tendency in nature and providence to keep things in a kind of equality. There are compensations. In what condition can we be found that possesses no advantages? Let us consider from this verse—
I. The calamity. “I have cast them off,” &c. The event serves to display—
1. The agency of God. He asserts His dominion and influence over all the sufferings of nations, families, and individuals. An irreligious mind is detained from God by the persons or events which injure Him. A pious man can say, “It is the Lord.” He acts by the intervention of means. He did not carry away the Jews by miracle, but by the effect of war; and we are not to conclude that God has nothing to do in any work because of the vileness of those who are engaged in it. He makes the very wrath of man to praise Him.
2. Displays the truth of God. The evil had been foretold and threatened by successive prophets, and the calamity was identified with the Divine veracity—“Hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”
3. Displays the holiness of God. The offences of this people were aggravated by their privileges. Sin is not to be judged of by its grossness, but by its guilt. No wonder that He punished the Jews.
4. Displays the wisdom of God. By their dispersion they were in “the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord.”
5. Displays His goodness. He punished not to destroy, but reform. Their captivity was limited in duration, and He did not leave them comfortless in the meantime.
II. The alleviation. “Yet will I be to them,” &c. He engages to be to them a temple, so that He should be found of them, and they would see His power and glory. He compensates them for the want of those very things which seem essential to their welfare.
1. In the loss of outward comforts. He does not require us to be indifferent to substance, health, friends; but as He is the unchangeable and all-sufficient, we have a security independent of the world, diseases, associates. At first we may murmur when affliction comes, but it is to wean us from creatures and draw to trust in the living God. How many can bear witness that He has made that condition comfortable which they once deemed insupportable, and that the joy of salvation and the comforts of the Holy Ghost are effectual substitutes for every deficiency in creature good!
2. In the want of gracious ordinances. God will never countenance the neglect of the means of grace; but He will make up for the want of them. When we cannot follow Him, He can follow us. The superstitious should remember this as well as the afflicted. He can meet with His people in any place, and wherever He holds communion with them the place becomes sacred.
What a place, then, is heaven! What a natural world must that be where there is needed no light of the sun! What a moral world, where we can dispense with Sabbaths, with preaching, with temples! Even religion will cease there, and only the dispositions it formed and the state to which it led remain.
What a being, then, is God! He enables us to live a life of dependence upon Him and communion with Him. No want but He can relieve, no hope but He can accomplish. He is accessible by Christ. Let us come to Him, and say, “I am continually with Thee.” &c. (Jay, abridged.)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 11:22-23. With the promise of good to the exiled Jews the vision immediately draws to its close. The cherubim and their associated wheels (chap. Ezekiel 10:16-17) underneath the divine glory prepare to move away. “And the glory of the Lord rose up from the midst of the city:” it had been resting at the gate opening to the city (chap. Ezekiel 10:4)—considered to be its central point—now it will leave entirely the temple and its precincts, as also the city, “and make a stand over the mount, which is to the east of the city”—the Mount of Olives, commanding an outlook over all Jerusalem. There it waited, betokening that the city was no longer defended by the Lord—a defence was no more upon all the glory—and when Ezekiel had traced thus far its movements, he felt himself withdrawn from any further sight of it. “The rabbis, commenting on this passage, said that the Shechinah retired eastward to the Mount of Olives, and there for three years called in vain to the people with human voice that they should repent” (Speaker’s Com.) On this mount Jesus wept, and predicted the second overthrow of Jerusalem (see Matthew 19:21; Matthew 24:3); from it He went up into heaven (see Ezekiel 24:5; Acts 1:12); and Zechariah prophesied (chap. Ezekiel 14:4) that on it the Lord shall stand to fight against hostile nations, and bring blessings to His own. What Ezekiel saw “was a withdrawal of the divine glory, and yet a continuance of it in the neighbourhood.” Jehovah’s external protection and blessing may have been withdrawn, but still the invisible power of the Spirit will remain near them, and probably manifest itself the more gloriously on that account. It is Ezekiel who has discerned, set forth, and described in the most touching manner the quickening and awakening power of the Spirit of Jehovah on the whole people (see 37.) In a similar way Jesus, in whom the divine glory resides bodily, withdraws Himself from the Jews (John 8:21); but His standing on the Mount of Olives, on the east side of Jerusalem, is a sign that, though invisible, He is still near to bless them (Acts 3:26).—Baumgarten.
Ezekiel 11:24-25. The same force which had rapt the seer away brings him back to a consciousness of the presence of the elders in his house in Chaldea. “And I spake to the exiles all the words of the Lord which He had made me see.” The elders did not see the visionary journey on which Ezekiel had been taken; but probably they had observed an “astonished” appearance, as if he were absent in mind, and so they were the more susceptible to the report he gave of the revelation in a vision, not of his own heart, but in a striking degree from Him with whom all words are acts. Ezekiel had been called to be a prophet to the exiles (chap. Ezekiel 2:5), urged to be an instructor as to right and wrong (Ezekiel 3:17), and under poignant feelings had taken the place of a mediator (Ezekiel 11:15). These several positions had been defined by visions of a glory infinitely surpassing all Levitical symbols, and which assured him that the Lord was not confined to the locality of the temple, or worshipped only by its forms. Thus, though he could not serve as priest in the ritual of the temple at Jerusalem, he could do that which was more than an equivalent; he could be the medium of declaring to the banished Jews that the Holiest would be present with them; maintain intercourse with them without the instituted sacrifices and offerings, notwithstanding that they were in “the wilderness of the nations,” and were sometimes proud and reviling, sometimes cast down and despairing; and prepare them for the future constitution of their life as a community in the land promised to their fathers, so as to accomplish the original and prospective vocation of Israel. The exiles, however, needed much teaching before they could be fit for their destiny, and in that teaching the further prophesying of Ezekiel will hold no little share.
A DEPARTING GOD (Ezekiel 11:22-23)
The movement of the appearance which Ezekiel had the eyes of his understanding opened to see signifies—
I. That God is not bound to any place or form of worship. He would remove from the sacred city to the idolatrous Chaldea; from the prescribed forms of Levitical service to the free forms of hearts prompted by need. There is no land, no denomination, no single church, which has a monopoly of His power and grace. He may have dwelt amongst them so that they beheld His glory; but if they forsake His laws they forfeit His presence. They may retain the name of Christian, keep up cathedrals and chapels, use prayer-book and hymn-book, acknowledge articles, confessions, declarations, and the glory and power have gone from them all; and, alas! many of the people never suspect that so it is.
II. That He does not remove all at once. He may go with His power and glory to another land, denomination, church, regarded as poor and despised, but in which souls humble themselves under His mighty hand, and spread His great goodness. Yet He does not hastily leave the scene where once He had manifested Himself. He goes to the threshold before going out, and when He goes out, He does not go out of sight. He waits near, within reach of a cry, if so be that before the night falls, which results from His departure, men may call and He will answer them.
When God has departed, formality, temptation to go into deeper darkness, reproach to His name, all follow; and what shall the end of these things be? “Let us see that we do not, by a careless and inconsistent walk, provoke Him to withdraw His invisible and spiritual presence from us.” In fear of such a state let us say—
“Take anything Thou wilt away,
But go not Thou away!”
RETURNING FROM THE PRESENCE (Ezekiel 11:24-25)
“The vision that I had seen went up from me.” “Jacob seeth a ladder reaching up to heaven, angels ascending and descending, and the Lord at the top of the ladder, but this was only for a night; Moses saw the Lord in the burning bush, but the sight lasted not; Peter, James, and John saw the transfiguration of Christ, but the vision went up from them.” They who strive faithfully to follow Jesus come into seasons of a clear shining of His face. They may not have gone back from His footprints, they may not have lost a sense of their dependence on Him, and have not failed to recognise His abiding nearness; but seasons arrive in which the vapour and dust hanging over their daily pathway thin exceedingly. More vivid is their consciousness of the grace and glory and truth manifested in God in Christ. Fresh hope, joy, peace, vigour, enter; they realise that there are possibilities of insight for their spiritual life transcending all they ask or think. They would not care to say, “My willing soul would stay in such a frame as this,” &c. They do wish to understand the lessons of such upliftings.
I. They find them variable. The visions are diverse. Always pervaded by Christ, sometimes one of His aspects, sometimes another, is most impressive, yet His glory illuminates one and all.
They are transitory. They are drinks from the brook in the way. The sparkle and coolness go, transmuted into recruited strength and hope. We may often regret that such experiences pass away. Perhaps we charge ourselves with a fault as having occasioned their disappearance. But that may be an error. For our hearts are not framed so as to sustain a prolonged unchanging feeling. That would be insanity. We must calculate on “frames and feelings” reviving and decaying, on our turning from communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ to communing, it may be, with elders or juniors, with fellow-sufferers in the conflicts of life, and still, through all our moods, have our feet set upon a rock and our goings established.
II. They find they have furthered insight. “In Thy light we see light.” The sense of God deepened the sense of sin. The chief who, in days before Christ, exclaimed, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself;” the apostle who, in the presence of Christ, cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord;” the seer who, in days after Christ, fell as one dead at the feet of the manifested living Lord, are examples of the effect of the realised presence of the All Holy upon the heart of mankind. We hear then what we had not expected to hear about evil. We see then the irrefragable penalty inflicted on persistent unrighteousness.
The sense of God inspires hope. His Word declares that He is full of compassion and gracious, that He looks to the man who is of a poor and contrite spirit and trembles at His word, that a Deliverer comes from Him to turn from ungodliness, and that after we have suffered for a while we shall be established, strengthened, settled. A nearer fellowship with the Unseen thus affecting us, we come away lowlier than before, but more confident that God has prepared things unspeakable for them that love Him.
III. They find themselves emboldened to act for God. Men lifted by the Spirit of God see and believe in His thoughts and ways. Then, when their souls are irradiated and strengthened, they are enabled to tell the things of death and life without fear and without reserving one needed truth. Such men will never be feeble servants to their fellow-men. The kind of saplessness manifested by certain professed Christians, and which has given force to the somewhat cynical term “goodiness,” rises out of faulty ways of hearing the voice of the Son of God. Let us be bold for the truth and love of Jesus, and we shall be known as having been “with Jesus.” If truth and love impel us to shatter the hopes of a life, to fling the solemn accusation, “Thou art the man,” to affirm, when the storms of trial are beating down and washing over the sailors on life’s heaving sea, that there is nothing to fear, nothing really evil where Christ manifests Himself to be with us, then we must seek grace for each diverse duty from a clearer sight of the glory and grace of the Christ of God. He will enable us for whatever ministry He calls us to, we shall declare all that He shows to us for others, adding nought, subtracting nought, and be qualified by His presence in a way which no rules and no resolutions are capable of accomplishing.
Let Christians be ready for every approach of the Spirit to carry them to a more conscious apprehension of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus;” then they will make, and only then, good and faithful servants. They will return from His presence “strengthened with all might in the inner man.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter