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Moreover the Spirit lifted me up, etc. It is noticeable that the position to which Ezekiel was thus transported in his vision from his place in the inner court (Ezekiel 8:14), was identical with that which he had just seen occupied by the cherub chariot before its departure (Ezekiel 10:19). What he is about to see will throw light on the significance of their departure. The gate is probably, here as there, that of the court of the temple. Five and twenty men. The number at first reminds us of the worshippers of the sun, in Ezekiel 8:16; but that, as we saw, was probably a company of priests. On the other hand, the two who are named are styled princes of the people, which suggests a lay rather than a priestly status, and they are seen in a different locality. Conjectures as to the significance of the number vary.
(1) Two from each tribe of Israel, with the king at their head.
(2) Two from each of the twelve divisions of the army, each containing twenty-four thousand men (1 Chronicles 27:1-15).
(3) Representatives of twelve regions of the city—a kind of municipal council, with their president. Possibly, after all, the number was used more or less vaguely—a "round" number, as we say (Smend). It is probably safe, however, to think of them as representing the lay element of authority. Nothing is known further as to the persons named. Jaazaniah is distinguished by his parentage from his namesake of Ezekiel 8:11 and Jeremiah 35:3. Both were probably familiar to those for whom Ezekiel wrote, as leaders of the party that was "always devising mischief," in opposition, i.e; to Jeremiah and the true prophets. Possibly the meanings of the names Jaazaniah (equivalent to "God hearkens") the son of Azur (equivalent to "The Helper"), Pelatiah (equivalent to "God rescues") the son of Benaiah (equivalent to "God builds"), are chosen as with a grim irony. The name of Azur meets us in Jeremiah 28:1 as that of the father of the false prophet Hananiah. The death of Pelatiah was probably an historical event to which the prophet pointed as a warning to those who, either at Jerusalem or among the exiles, were speaking as he spoke.
It is not near, etc. The words take their place among the popular, half-proverbial sayings of which we have other examples in Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9; and Ezekiel 18:2. As in most proverbs of this kind, the thought is condensed to the very verge of obscurity, and the words have received very different interpretations.
(1) That suggested by the Authorized Version. "It (the judgment of which the true prophets spoke) is not near. Let us build houses, not, as Jeremiah bids (Jeremiah 39:5), in the land of exile, but here in Jerusalem, where we shall remain in safety. Are we threatened with the imagery of the 'seething pot' (Jeremiah 1:13)? Let us remember that the caldron protects the meat in it from the fire. The walls of the city will protect us from the army of the Chaldeans." The temper which clothed itself in this language was that of the self-confident boastful security of Jeremiah 28:3; and the death of Hananiah, the son of Azur, in that history presents a parallel to that of Pelatiah in this.
(2) Grammatically, however, the rendering of the Revised Version is preferable: The time is not near for building houses; probably, as before, with a reference to Jeremiah's advice. "We," they seem to say, "are not come to that plaint yet. We will trust, as in (1), in our interpretation of the caldron."
(3) On the whole, I incline, while adopting the Revised Version rendering, to interpret the words, as Smend takes them, as the defiant utterance of despair: "It is no time for building houses, here or elsewhere. We are doomed. We are destined (I borrow the nearest analogue of modern proverbial speech) 'to stew in our own juice.' Well, let us meet it as we best may."
I find what suggests this view
(1) in the improbability that the thought of the caldron could ever have been received as a message of safety (comp. Ezekiel 24:3, Ezekiel 24:6); and
(2) in the despairing tone of most of the sayings that Ezekiel records (Ezekiel 18:2; Ezekiel 37:11). Probably there were, as in other like crises in the history of nations (say, e.g; in those of the Franco-German War) rapid alternations between the two moods of boastful security and defiant despair—the galgenhumor, the courage of the gallows, as Smend calls it; and the same words might be uttered now in this temper, and now in that. In either case, there was the root element of the absence of repentance and submission.
Ezekiel 11:4, Ezekiel 11:5
The prophet still, we must remember, in his vision, is bidden to do his work as a true prophet, and to rebuke the defiant speech which he had heard. As in Ezekiel 2:2, the Spirit of Jehovah comes upon him, and throws him into the prophetic ecstasy. It is noticeable that here, as in Ezekiel 2:3, his message is not to Judah only, but to the whole house of Israel as represented by those to whom he spoke. I know the things. This, as ever, was one of the notes of a true prophet, that he shared, as was needed for his work, in the knowledge of him from whom no secrets are hid (John 2:24, John 2:25; Matthew 9:4; 1 Corinthians 14:25). Thoughts, as well as words, were laid bare before him, as they were to his Lord (Hebrews 4:12).
They are the flesh, etc. The prophet is led to retort their derisive or defiant words. Not they, but the carcases of their victims, were as the "flesh" in the "caldron." For themselves, there was another fate in reserve. Neither to be protected by the caldron nor to meet their doom in it, but to be brought out of it. Death, by famine, sword, or pestilence (Ezekiel 5:12), might be the doom of some, but for others, perhaps specially for those whom the prophet addresses, there would be captivity first, and death from the sword which they feared, afterwards.
The strangers are, of course, the Chaldean invaders, and the prediction finds its fulfilment in the massacre of the princes of Judah at Ritdah (Jeremiah 52:9, Jeremiah 52:10), which was in Hamath, the northern border of Israel (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:25). Then they should see that their defiant speech as to the "caldron" and "the flesh" would be of no avail. Thus they should know that the prophet had spoken in the name of Jehovah, and that their punishment by the heathen was the righteous retribution for their having walked in the ways of the heathen.
Pelatiah the son of Benaiah. We must remember that this a as part of the vision, but it may be assumed, in the nature of the case, that it represented what then or afterwards was a fact in history. Had Pelatiah died suddenly during a council meeting? Compare the death of Hananiah in Jeremiah 28:17. As it was, even in the vision, the death so startled and horrified the prophet, that he burst out again into a prayer like that of Jeremiah 9:8. Was the "residue," the "remnant" of Israel, represented by one of the chief counsellors of the city, to be thus cut off?
The answer to that question comes as by a new inspiration from the word of the Lord.
The men of thy kindred, etc. The full force of the phrase can hardly be understood without remembering that the word for "kindred" implies the function and office of a goel, the redeemer and avenger of those among his relations who had suffered wrong (Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 25:48; Numbers 5:8), and the point of the revelation is that Ezekiel is to find those who have this claim on him, his true "brethren," not only or chiefly in his natural relations in the priesthood, but in the companions of his exile (the LXX; following a different reading, gives, "the men of the Captivity"), and the whole house of Israel, who were in a like position, who were condemned by those who had been left in Jerusalem. As in Jeremiah's vision (Jeremiah 24:1), they were the "good figs;" those in the city, the vile and worthless. They were the remnant, the residue, for whom there was a hope of better things. They were despised as far off from the Lord. They were really nearer to his presence than those who worshipped in the temple from which Jehovah had departed. Ewald and Smend take the words as indicative: "Ye are far," etc.
Yet will I be unto them as a little sanctuary; better, with the Revised Version, a little while, as marking that the state described was transient and provisional. For a time, Ezekiel and the exiles were to find the presence of Jehovah manifested as in the vision of Chebar (Ezekiel 1:4-28), or felt spiritually, and this would make the spot where they found themselves as fully a holy place as the temple had been. There also they would have a "house of God." But this was not to be their permanent lot. There was to be a restoration to "the land of Israel" (verse 17; Ezekiel 37:21), to the visible sanctuary, to a second temple no longer desecrated by the pollutions that had defiled the first. As with all such prophecies, the words had "springing and germinant accomplishments." In Ezekiel 40-48, we have Ezekiel's ideal vision of their fulfilment. A literal but incomplete fulfilment is formed in the work of restoration achieved by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the hopes then cherished by Haggai and Zechariah. A more complete but less literal fulfilment appears in the Church of Christ as the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), and in the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26). In the fact that in the seer's vision of that heavenly city there is no temple, but the presence of "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb" Revelation 21:22), we find the crowning development of Ezekiel's thought. Intermediate expansions are found
(1) in the gradual substitution of the synagogue for the temple in the religious life of Israel;
(2) in our Lord's words to the woman of Samaria (John 4:21-24); and
(3) in his promise that where two or three are gathered together in his Name, there he would be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). The thought that it is the presence of Jehovah that makes the sanctuary, not the sanctuary that secures the presence, Ezekiel may have learnt from the fate of Shiloh (Psalms 78:60).
I will give you the land of Israel. The marginal references in the Authorized Version show how entirely Ezekiel was following in the footsteps of his master Jeremiah, as he had done in those of Isaiah, in their prophecies of restoration. Here also the law of" springing and germinant accomplishments" finds its application. Ezekiel (47:13-48:35) has his ideal of a new geographical Israel, as of a new local temple, a land from which idolatrous shrines and high places have disappeared. St. Paul (Romans 9-11.) clings to the thought of a restoration of the literal Israel, even while he strips it of Ezekiel's geographical limitations.
I will give them one heart. The LXX; following a different reading, gives "another heart" (as in 1 Samuel 10:9); but the Hebrew, represented by the Authorized and Revised Versions, is, without any doubt, right. As in the symbolic action of the joining of the two sticks in Ezekiel 37:15-22, so here, the hope of the prophet, like that of Isaiah and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:37-39), looked forward to the unity of the restored people. Judah should no longer vex Ephraim, nor Ephraim Judah (Isaiah 11:13). The long standing line of cleavage should disappear. Oneness of purpose and of action would characterize the new Israel of God. So, in our Lord's prayer for his Church, there is the prayer that "they may be one"—made perfect in one (John 17:21-23). Left to itself, Israel tended, as all human communities have tended, to an ever-subdividing individualism, fruitful in sects and parties and schisms. Even the highest of those aspirations has remained as yet without any adequate fulfilment. The ideal unity of the Christian Church is as far distant as that of the Church of Israel. It remains for us to welcome any approximate fulfilments as pledges and earnests of the future unity of the true Israel of God in the heavenly Jerusalem. In the prophet's thoughts that unity was to be brought about by the Divine gift of a "new Spirit," loyal, obedient, unselfish. We note how distinctly, whether consciously or unconsciously, Ezekiel reproduces the thought, almost the very words, of Jeremiah 31:31-33; Jeremiah 32:37-39; how his words are in their turn reproduced in Revelation 21:3-5. The eternal hope asserts itself again and again in spite of all partial failures and disappointments. I will take the stony heart out of their flesh. The thought is, as we have seen, identical with that of Jeremiah 31:31-33, but the form in this instance is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel, and meets us again in Ezekiel 36:26. The "stony heart" is that which is "hardened" (Ezekiel 3:7) against all impressions of repentance, to all natural or spiritual aspirations of the good. So Zechariah 7:12 speaks of those who had made their hearts "harder than an adamant stone." So we may remember, by way of illustration, that Burns says of the sin of impurity that "it hardens a' within," that "it petrifies the feeling." Ezekiel had seen enough of that stoniness in others, perhaps had, at times, felt it in himself.
That they may walk in my statutes, etc. Out of the new spirit there was to grow the new life—a life of righteousness and obedience, as in worship, so also in the acts of man's daily life and his dealings with his neighbours. So, and not otherwise, could the actual relation of Jehovah correspond to the ideal, as it had been declared of old (Exodus 6:7; Le Exodus 26:12; 1 Samuel 12:22; 2 Samuel 7:23). This, for Ezekiel, was the crowning blessedness of all, as it had been that of earlier and contemporary prophets (Hosea 2:23; Jeremiah 24:7). To that thought he returns again and again, as to the anchor of his hope (Ezekiel 14:11; Ezekiel 27:14; Ezekiel 36:28; Ezekiel 37:23, Ezekiel 37:27).
But as for them, etc. We note the peculiar phraseology. The heart of the people walks not simply after their detestable things, but after the heart of those things. There is, as it were, a central unity in the evil to which they unite themselves, just as the heart of man turns to the heart of God when the two are in their ideal relation to each other. For those who did this, whether in Jerusalem or among the exiles, there was the prospect of a righteous retribution. The words close the message which Ezekiel heard in the courts of the temple in his visions, but which he was to deliver (verse 25) to them of the Captivity.
Ezekiel 11:22, Ezekiel 11:23
Another stage of the departure of the Divine glory closes the vision. It had rested over the middle of the city. It now halts over the mountain on the east side of the city, i.e. on the Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15:30; Zechariah 14:4). Currey mentions, but without a reference, a Jewish tradition that the Shechinah, or glory cloud, remained there for three years, calling the people to repentance. What is here recorded may trove suggested the thought of Zechariah 14:4. We may remember that it was from this spot that Christ "beheld the city, and wept over it" (Luke 19:41); that from it He, the true Shechinah, ascended into heaven. Here, perhaps, the dominant thought was that it remained for a time to direct the work of judgment. And so the vision was over, and the prophet was borne back in vision to Chaldea, and made known to the exiles of Tel-Abib the wonderful and terrible things tidal he had seem
The false confidence of unbelief.
Jeremiah told the captives to settle in the land of exile and build houses there, because the Captivity was to last for generations (Jeremiah 29:5). But the frivolous people have rejected that wise counsel, and they declare that such provision for exile is not necessary. "It is not time to build these houses the prophet spoke of," they say; "we will stay in the city, like the flesh in the cauldron."
I. IMPENITENCE CREATES FALSE CONFIDENCE. This is to be expected, just as we see, on the other hand, that a deep sense of guilt brings with it a fear of judgment to come. When we feel and own our sin, we must admit that we deserve punishment, and we must see that the ground of assurance is cut from beneath our feet. What right have we to believe that God will shield us from harm, while we are bidding defiance to his Law? But while a soul is impenitent the ill desert and threatening doom are not perceived. It does not own that it should be punished. It defends itself and shelters itself behind innumerable excuses. Moreover, the moral sense is now blunt, and the faculty of spiritual insight blind. The messenger of God, too, is regarded as an enemy, and therefore little attention is given to his word. Thus arises a meretricious faith, the opposite of true faith, the confidence of unbelief.
II. FALSE CONFIDENCE POSTPONES AND MINIMIZES THE PROSPECT OF CALAMITY.
1. It postpones. Possibly the evil day may lie in the future. This much is tacitly admitted, But it is so far away that we need not give any consideration to it. While the prophet declares that it is at the door, the reckless unbeliever relegates it to a region of dim futurity beyond the horizon of practical considerations.
2. It minimizes. Even if it is admitted that the dreadful day is near, the evil of it is mane little of. "There is no need to build houses," these "Jerusalem sinners" exclaim. The storm may come soon, but it will quickly pass. Thus men make the least of the prospect of future punishment. False confidence first postpones the consideration of it, and then softens its terrors. To the impenitent sinner hell is first a far off possibility; then, though it is a, nearer future, it is not thought to be so unendurable as the preachers declare.
III. THERE IS GREAT DANGER IN FALSE CONFIDENCE. The Jews were simply deceiving themselves. Their very language should have revealed their folly to them. They described the city as a cauldron in which they were as the flesh. Their only application of this metaphor was to represent themselves as well inside the city, and therefore as not needing to build other houses. But the prophet did not have to go far afield to find another very obvious application of the same metaphor. The cauldron is to be set on a fire, and the flesh is only placed in it to be seethed. The cauldron, therefore, symbolizes a very dreadful fate (verse 7). The danger is not the less because we close our eyes to it. Meanwhile a false confidence hinders the impenitent from fleeing from the impending calamity and seeking a place of refuge. Light views of sin and judgment to come lull the careless into a fatal sleep.
God's knowledge of man's thought.
I. THE FACT. We know a few men; God knows all. None are so obscure, or remote, or secretive as to hide from him. We know the exterior life; God knows the life within—every thought, and wish, and dream, and fancy. We know in part and with many obscurities, having to piece together scattered hints, and possibly Falling into great blunders in our estimation of our neighbours. God knows completely and without possibility of error, searching into the deep secrets of the heart, not setting down aught in malice, but also not blinded to sad truths by the partiality of an imperfect love.
1. God knows our ideas. He sees when we are in error, observes the crooked course of our ill-trained thinking, and notes the narrowness of our notions. He also knows the true thought which is not understood by our fellow men.
2. He knows our desires. If he does not grant them, it is not because he is ignorant of them. Before a prayer is out of our lips the wish of it has reached the mind of God. When we cannot find words to express the longing of our souls, those vague, dumb desires are exactly measured and fully comprehended by God. God knows our evil desires, the wicked wishes that have not yet found vent in wicked deeds.
3. He knows our sorrows. Though the heart only knoweth its own bitterness among men, the sympathetic knowledge of God has gauged it to the bottom. No one can say, "My grief is quite beyond comprehension." No one can be utterly misunderstood. Misjudged by man, the martyr is known to God.
4. God knows our sin. There is no secret place where a deed of wrong can be done without the eye of God seeing it. Abel is murdered in the field, but still his blood cries to God for vengeance.
II. ITS CONSEQUENCES.
1. Hypocrisy is a mistake. It only hides our shame from the less important spectators, while the all-seeing eye of God regards it as an addition to the guilt which lurks beneath.
2. Postponement of punishment is no guarantee for escape. The criminal who is not caught red-handed hopes that he will now elude the vigilance of the ministers of justice, and the longer he remains undetected the more confident does he grow in the assurance that he will never be caught, until long years of immunity almost beget a feeling of innocence. But if God knows all, there is no escape from his anger behind the obscuring growth of years.
3. God's long suffering is manifest. The heathen might say, "My God does not strike me, because he has not discovered my offence." But when the omniscience of God is admitted, his forbearance is seen to be a wonder of patience and love. He knows all, and yet he is still ready to pardon, still waiting to be gracious, nay, even still heaping upon his sinful children many favours!
4. There is hope of salvation. If our escape lay only in our concealment of guilt, there would always be a danger of ruin through discovery. The criminal who has no better hope than this is standing on thin ice. But now we see that God knows the worst of us, and yet offers pardon and reconciliation through the gift of his Son, we have the greatest encouragement to accept his grace. Moreover, since he knows our troubles, hopes, fears, aspirations, and difficulties, he can send the exact help we need.
The sanctuary of the exile.
The Jews of Jerusalem boasted themselves in their temple, but with a false confidence, for that splendid edifice was to be razed. On the other hand, the poor exiles of Babylon looked upon their state of separation from Jerusalem as involving a loss of the privileges of the sanctuary. Daniel prayed with his window open towards Jerusalem, as though God were still to be sought in the sacred city (Daniel 6:10). But Ezekiel gives the captives the assurance that God will be their Sanctuary during the short time of exile in the distant land of their captivity.
I. GOD IS THE BEST SANCTUARY. No Solomon can arise by the banks of the Chebar to build a new temple. The splendour of Lebanon and the skill of Hiram, together with the wealth and devotion of the Jewish nation at the height of its glory, produced a wonder of the world, which a feeble band of heartbroken captives could never dream of equalling. Yet the sorrow-stricken remnant of pious Israel were to have something better than gilded walls and cedar pillars. They were to have God as their Sanctuary.
1. God vouchsafes his presence to his people. He does not only give a house of worship; be comes himself.
2. God's presence sanctifies. It is a sanctuary. The place where Moses stood before the burning bush was "holy ground," for God was there (Exodus 3:5). Chaldea was far from the "Holy Land;" yet if God were there he would make light in the centre of heathen darkness. Wherever God visits us he makes a sanctuary. The workshop is a holy place when God is in it.
3. God's presence saves. The temple was regarded with a false confidence and a foolish superstition as a charmed asylum, but the event proved the delusiveness of such an assumption. When God is with us anywhere, however, we are safe; for he is "a Sun and a Shield."
II. THIS SANCTUARY IS TO BE FOUND IN EXILE.
1. In exile from the native land. The colonist far removed from the home and Church of his fathers, may find God in the bush or on the prairie. Though no "place of worship" may he within his reach, he need not feel banished from gracious influences. If his heart turn to God, God will be with him as his Sanctuary.
2. In exile from the old delights. When trouble comes, a man is, as it were, driven from the land flowing with milk and honey out into a waste howling wilderness. But One is with him, and the God who met the poor fugitive Jacob will make a Bethel in the desert of trouble.
3. In exile from heaven. We seek another country. Here we are pilgrims and strangers; our citizenship is in heaven. Nevertheless, God is with us here and now to train and guard and cheer us with the sanctuary of his presence.
4. For a short season. God would be the Sanctuary in exile "for a little time," not because he would soon desert the banished, but because he would bring them home again. If God is with us in trouble, he will bring us out of trouble. He is with us here for a season, that he may lead us to be with him in heaven forever. Christ came into exile from heaven to be with us here on earth that he might bring us back to God. He "tabernacled with us," was our Sanctuary in exile during his earthly ministry. Now he has gone to prepare a place for us in the eternal home.
Restoration and reunion.
I. THE DIVINE PRESENCE SECURES FUTURE SALVATION. The promise that God will be with his children in exile "as a Sanctuary" (Ezekiel 11:16) is immediately followed by the assurance that he will bring them back to their land. It is not for nothing, then, that the poor exiles have the Sanctuary that is better than Solomon's splendid temple—God's very presence. If God is with us, the future is ours. God is not only a Stay and a Comfort today, he holds the key of tomorrow. Therefore God only needs to be a Sanctuary for "a little while." Our light affliction "endureth but for a moment." The presence of God should make the hardship of the moment doubly endurable, first because of its own immediate help, and. secondly on account of the cheering prospects it opens out. The light of such a future should throw back rays of comfort into the darkest experience.
II. THE FUTURE SALVATION IS TO BE A GREAT RFSTORATION. God will bring the exiles home again. This implies two things.
1. Deliverance from evil. The Jews were scattered among heathen peoples whose alien temper and domineering spirit were sources of trouble; e.g. Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Sin plunges us into hurtful conditions. For wholesome discipline God's true people may be thrown into circumstances of persecution and peril. but this will not be forever. If the Son of God is with the three in the furnace, he will deliver them from it.
2. Restoration to the old home. The exiles are to return to Canaan. Souls exiled from the kingdom of heaven by sin will, when pardoned and renewed (see verse 19), be restored to the privileges which were the birthright of all—for all have been children, and "of such is the kingdom of heaven." Further, those who have been thus far restored may well feel the need of a more perfect recovery to the home of God, since this earth is not heaven, and here the people of God are "pilgrims and strangers" seeking "another country, that is, a heavenly." God's perfect restoration includes the bringing of his children home to heaven.
III. THE GREAT RESTORATION INCLUDES PERFECT REUNION. The nation was scattered; the promise is that it shall be reunited. Sin divides; redemption unites. All evil has a disintegrating influence on national and family life. Its root is selfishness, and selfishness implies severance. But love is the source of the better life, and love is the closest bond of union.
1. National reunion. So with the Jew. A nation will be safe against internal strife when Christian principles are followed.
2. The reunion of mankind. War is a vast and hideous fruit of selfish sinful passions and narrow hardheartedness. Christianity, if triumphant, would kill war by miring the nations in brotherhood, thus bringing "peace on earth."
3. The reunion of individuals. In restoration to God we learn patience, sympathy, and charity in regard to our fellow men.
4. The reunion of families. This begins on earth in pure home love. But it will be completed in the great restoration of families when all can meet in the home beyond the grave.
Ezekiel 11:19, Ezekiel 11:20
The heart of flesh.
Two mistakes are commonly made by well meaning social reformers. Too much faith is placed in external improvement, and too much power is credited to man. It is not perceived that the greatest evil is in the heart, and that the only cure can be found in the help of God. but both of these deeper truths are recognized in the passage before us.
I. THE NATURE OF THE GREAT CHANGE. Ezekiel 11:17 had promised an external restoration; now we have the assurance of an internal transformation. It is the heart that is to be changed. The very centre of the being must be renewed. For this David prayed (Psalms 51:10). The need of it was pointed out to Nicodemus by Christ (John 3:3). Note the characteristics of the new heart.
1. Unity. "One heart." The internal discord will cease. A man with divided affections is like a two-hearted monster. But doubtless the unity here referred to is social. Sin having brought quarrels among men, the new state will be one of harmony.
2. Life. The old heart was of stone, and therefore dead. The new heart is of flesh, and living. Sin deadens the soul. The death of sin is the resurrection of the better nature.
3. Susceptibility. The stony heart cannot feel. This is the dangerous result of sin. The conscience is seared. The guilt of sin and its danger are not felt. The appeals of Divine grace are unheeded. Tears are wasted on a marble statue. Rain and sunshine cannot fertilize a granite rock. But the new heart is tender. As when Moses strikes the rock the streams flow, so when God's Word. reaches the stony heart with the power of his Spirit a new feeling is awakened.
4. Naturedness. The new heart is of flesh, not of some rare ethereal substance. The Christian is not to have the heart of an angel, but just a man's true natural heart. The Christian is the true man. Christianity is in harmony with nature. Inhumanity is unnatural. The lack of natural affections is a sign of unspirituality. Cold saintliness is not an effect of God's grace, but a product of man's perversity. God puts a heart of flesh in the flesh. Thus there is harmony, and all is natural.
II. THE SOURCE OF THE GREAT CHANGE. God promises to effect this wonderful transformation. Only he can do it. We can change our clothes, our habitation, our outward manners, but not our hearts. The depth of the change renders it too much for man. So does the previous condition of those on whom it has to be wrought. As the heart is of stone, it is too cold to feel its need, and too dead to strive after a better condition. In this hardness and indifference the hapless condition of the sinner is completed. Even the penitent cannot create in himself a clean heart. But left to himself, man is not likely to become penitent. Now, God promises to do what man can never accomplish for himself. He will take away the old evil—remove the heart of stone. He will give a new nature—the heart of flesh. He will also inspire power into this new nature by putting "a new spirit" in his children. This is done by the gift of his Holy Spirit.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE GREAT CHANGE. This change takes place in the heart; it is inward, and therefore secret. But its consequences cannot be hidden, for out of the heart are "the issues of life." No one can have the heart of flesh and behave like a being of stone—cold, unsympathetic, inactive. Two consequences are noticed.
1. Obedience. The heart of flesh is given that God's people may walk in his statutes and keep his ordinances and do them. We cannot truly obey God till we love him. When the heart is right with God the most natural result is that the conduct should be right also. Yet, be it observed, this is not to be regarded as a merely necessary result of God's action within us, for Ezekiel 11:20 describes a purpose rather than a certain result. God gives a heart of flesh "that" his people "may walk," etc. It is still left with them to exert themselves in the way of obedience.
2. Adoption. "Thy seed shall be my people, and I will be their God." God owns his renewed people as his children; they own him as their Father. The right heart is at one with God.
Preaching to the captives.
I. THE PREACHER MUST START FROM A REVELATION MADE TO HIMSELF. The prophets were seers. The apostles were eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. No preacher can go forth with God's Word unless he has first received that Word. For it is not his business to gather congregations merely to hear his "guesses at truth," nor is he called to set before men his most profound speculations, if those speculations are only wrought out of his own ideas. He is a messenger—therefore he must bear a message; a herald—therefore he must have a gospel to proclaim. Where shall the modern preacher find his Divine word? He cannot pretend to be an Ezekiel at home among the cherubim, to whom the inmost wheels of the Divine mysteries seemed to be revealed. Nevertheless, he has his revelations:
1. In the Bible. Of all men the preacher is called to be a diligent student of this rich storehouse of revelation. The modern preacher does not see Ezekiel's cherubim, but he can read the New Testament, of which Ezekiel knew nothing; and the gospel story of Jesus of Nazareth is a greater revelation than the visions of an Old Testament prophet.
2. In experience. Every preacher must have his own vision of Scripture truth. We can only speak what we have seen and heard. The truth must be interpreted by experience.
II. THE PRIVATE REVELATION OF TRUTH IS GIVEN FOR PUBLIC DECLARATION. Ezekiel might have thought himself a rarely privileged soul, and have considered his visions as choice mysteries to be kept secret, and not to be waisted on unsympathetic ears, like pearls cast before swine, if he had not understood his duty as a prophet of Israel too well to make such a mistake. Freely he had received, freely he must give. All who know God's truth are under sacred obligations to do what in them lies to declare that truth. It is not possible forevery one to be a preacher by word of mouth. Still, in some way missionary enterprise should follow the reception of Divine truth. We who have the gospel are bound to give it to those to whom it is vet an undreamed secret.
1. This declaration is to be unreserved. Ezekiel spoke all the things. Some were obscure; some might cause offence; some might be abused. Yet he was not at liberty to hold hack anything. The preacher must not shun to "declare the whole counsel of God."
2. This declaration is for all. It was given to Ezekiel's neighbours, the captives, without distinction. As there are no esoteric truths in God's revelation, so there is no spiritual aristocracy of the initiated. The only limit is our capacity to receive. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
III. THE DECLARATION OF DIVINE TRUTH IS ESPECIALLY NEEDED BY THOSE WHO ARE IN TROUBLE. Ezekiel "spake unto them of the Captivity."
1. It is a peculiarly Christian duty to bring the consolation of God to the troubled. This is suited to the sorrowful. Lighter thoughts may amuse in hours of ease. But when darkness gathers about the soul, nothing short of the deep verities of God will satisfy. Those verities may not be always pleasant. Much that Ezekiel saw filled him with distress. Still God's truth is all wholesome and healing, and his last words are his best, as Ezekiel's hearers must have found when the prophet concluded with the wonderful promise of the "heart of flesh" (verse 19).
2. The gospel is peculiarly appropriate for those who are spiritually captives, i.e. in bondage to
(3) fear, or
Christ came to proclaim liberty to such captives (Luke 4:15).
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Ezekiel was a true patriot; and it was accordingly to him matter of great distress that his countrymen were misled by ungodly and self-seeking counsellors and princes. "If gold rust, what shall iron do?" If those occupying positions of authority and eminence are unfaithful, what can be expected of the multitude who go as they are led? By whatever name they are called, and to whatever gifts or acquirements they owe their influence, there will always, in every state and in every Church, be men who lead, who guide the thoughts and control and inspire the actions of their fellows and inferiors. It was the prophet's sorrow to see posts of power at Jerusalem occupied by those who led the citizens astray and encouraged them in their rebellion against God. His experience and reflections lead us to think of great men who are at the same time counsellors of evil in the community.
I. THE COUNSELLORS OF A NATION OWE THEIR POSITION AND INFLUENCE TO GIFTS AND ACQUIREMENTS FOR WHICH THEY ARE INDEBTED TO DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
II. SUCH POSITION AND INFLUENCE ARE NECESSARILY ACCOMPANIED BY GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY.
III. THE COUNSELLORS OF A NATION. ABUSE THEIR TRUST WHEN THEY SEEK TO DIRECT PUBLIC POLICY SO AS TO SECURE PERSONAL AND PRIVATE ENDS. That this is often done no student of political philosophy and history, no observer of contemporary politics in any nation, can doubt. Men profess zeal for the public good, and upon such profession are exalted, by the favour of a prince or of the public, to positions of eminence and power. no sooner are they securely in office than they make use of their newly acquired power to gain some ends dear to their own interests, passions, or prejudices. Some by oppression or peculation amass great wealth; some find means to revenge themselves upon their enemies and rivals; some seek to get into their own hands the reins of supreme power; some regard office as the opportunity for advancing their family or their friends to posts of consideration and emolument. In public such persons speak of patriotism, of popular rights, of disinterested devotion to the public good. But in reality they are always scheming to secure some advantage to themselves. So much is this the case in certain communities that among them the "politician" is loathed and despised by all men of integrity and honour.
IV. EVIL COUNSELLORS ARE ACTUATED BY BASE MOTIVES. Politicians are sometimes in the pay of their country's enemies; they are sometimes the instruments of a despot who seeks to rob the people of their rights, and to establish a tyranny; they are sometimes indifferent to their fellow countrymen's sufferings, if only they themselves may profit by their nation's fall. Self is their rule, their impulse, their one consideration. What they do they do not as unto the Lord, but unto men.
V. EVIL COUNSELLORS LEAD A COMMUNITY INTO ERROR AND RUIN. The multitude ever follows the guidance of the few. The uninstructed and ill-informed are at the mercy of their superiors. Old Testament history abounds with instances of misleading by unprincipled rulers. It is mentioned to the condemnation of one and another of the kings that they "caused Israel to sin." And what was true of the "chosen nation" is true of every people; at some epoch or other the pride, the vanity, the ambition, the meanness, or the selfish sloth of those in authority has led the nations into some course of infatuated folly, and the people have suffered for the offences of their leaders.
VI. RETRIBUTION WILL SURELY OVERTAKE SUCH AS BY WICKED COUNSEL LEAD THE PEOPLE ASTRAY. The time must come when the secret purposes of wicked rulers will be brought to light and exposed. Some are hurled by the indignation of the people from the lofty position to which they have been allowed to climb. Some retain their position whilst they live, but their memory is accursed. But of all we are assured upon the highest authority that they shall be brought into judgment, and that their deeds shall not be unpunished.—T.
The evil counsellors of Jerusalem did their worst to counteract the effect of the message which the Lord's prophets were commissioned to communicate. Thus it came to pass that the inhabitants of the city were encouraged to neglect the obvious duties of repentance and supplication; and, when the time of judgment came, were found unprepared. The means by which the devisers of mischief brought about this result are described in this passage. They induced the citizens to believe that, if the threatened judgment were ever to come, it would not be yet, not probably in their time; and encouraged the citizens to build houses, and to live as if no catastrophe were about to befall them. If the ruin of Jerusalem were appointed, at all events that ruin was "not near."
I. THE WAY IN WHICH SINNERS TREAT THE THREATS OF GOD'S AUTHORIZED MINISTERS.
1. It is often the bounden duty of faithful messengers of God to foretell the approach of chastisement and judgment. A painful duty it always is; and it is to be leaped that on this account many shrink from discharging it. Even the tender and gracious Jesus now and again denounced the sins of the self-righteous and hypocritical, and warned such that condemnation awaited them. No one can carry out the office of a minister of righteousness who does not remind the unbelieving and impenitent that "the wages of sin is death."
2. It is observable that such admonitions are often treated with neglect and contempt. It has been thus from the time of Noah, whose warnings were unheeded and ridiculed by his contemporaries. The admonitions of Christ himself in some instances only embittered the hostility of those whom he reproached. Every servant of God has had occasion to exclaim, "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
II. THE ERROR WHICH SINNERS COMMIT IN SO TREATING GOD'S MESSAGE.
1. Many who hear the warnings and threats addressed to them give no credit to what they hear, and do not expect the predictions to be fulfilled. They have more confidence in their own judgment and in their own good fortune than in the Word of the Lord. They do not wish to believe, and they will not bellow.
2. Many who do not absolutely disbelieve and reject the message, nevertheless persuade themselves that its fulfilment will be indefinitely deferred, and indeed is altogether uncertain. Such seems to have been the case with the evil counsellors, whose guidance was accepted in Jerusalem. Their answer to every prediction of calamity was this: "It is not near!" It is with the same excuse that the Word of God is so constantly encountered in our own days; and there are those who may not make this excuse in words, who yet cherish it in their hearts and act upon it in their conduct. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
III. THE FOLLY AND WICKEDNESS OF SUCH TREATMENT OF GOD'S MESSAGE. What shall be said of the attitude of those whose one reply is this: "It is not near"?
1. They must be reminded that time, after all, is of comparatively little importance. The main question for us is this—Is God angry with the wicked? Is his wrath to be revealed against the ungodly? If it is so, then how can we attach great importance to the question—Will this be made manifest this year or next year; now or at some future time?
2. They must be reminded that the judgment foretold may be actually nearer than is supposed or believed. It was so in the case of Jerusalem in the time of Ezekiel. It has often been so. Men have been eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, when sudden destruction has come upon them.
3. They must be reminded that, near or far, the judgment of the Supreme Ruler is inevitable. "Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?"—T.
Among the many elements of that superiority which is distinctive of monotheism over polytheism must be noted the perfect knowledge which the one God possesses of all the creatures whom he has made. Men who believe in the "gods many" of the heathen have not, and cannot have, that constant sense of the Divine omniscience which must exercise so signal an influence for good over the worshipper of the Supreme.
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF THIS DOCTRINE. We attribute to the Deity infinite perfection; and this is not consistent with the limitation of his knowledge. It is absurd to suppose that he who has made the mind of man has lost the power of recognizing the thoughts and intents of the heart which he fashioned by his power and wisdom. There is no part of his universe in which God is not present. Much more evidence is it that the Father of the spirits of all flesh is in possession of every secret of the intellectual and spiritual nature of man.
II. THE FORGETFULNESS OF THIS DOCTRINE. It is evident that the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and especially the false teachers and evil counsellors in the city, lost sight of this great truth. God was not in all their thoughts. It may net have occurred to them, as they pursued their selfish plans and lived their irreligious life, that every purpose and hope was known to the Divine Lord and Judge. "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we haw to do."
III. THE TERROR WHICH THIS DOCTRINE SHOULD HAVE FOR EVIL DOERS WHO ARE REMINDED OF IT. God knows the wicked things that come into men's minds and are encouraged to abide there—the injustice, the covetousness, the falsehood, the impurity, the cruelty, the hatred, the malevolence, which are distinctive of those who depart from God. Such qualities, even before they find expression in word and act, are repugnant to the nature of the just and holy God. And he is not simply an observer; he is a Judge. He disapproves and condemns thoughts, sentiments, and purposes which are in opposition to his own laws, to his own character. He has revealed his intention to bring men into judgment for all their conduct, and forevery secret thing, good or bad. From this reckoning with the Judge of all there is no escape. The prospect may well strike the impenitent sinner with dismay.
IV. THE DISSUASIVE POWER WHICH THIS DOCTRINE SHOULD EXERCISE OVER THOSE WHO ARE HESITATING WHETHER OR NOT TO YIELD TO TEMPTATION. In order to resist temptation to sin, it is not enough to guard our actions, to order aright our circumstances and associations. It is in the mind that the real battle must be fought. And upon this battlefield, what auxiliary is so potent and effectual as the remembrance of the Lord's omniscience? He is with us to assist us in the regulation of our thoughts and desires; for he knows alike the force of temptation, and the sincerity of our endeavour to check and to overcome it.
V. THE WELCOME GIVEN BY GOD'S PEOPLE TO THIS DOCTRINE. The same truth is a joy and consolation to the Christian, which the ungodly man finds an occasion of distress and dread. Why is this? It is because God has in Christ made himself known to his heart as his Friend and Father. Thus openness and confidence and holy intimacy prevail between the Christian and his God. The faithful servant of God knows his infirmities and his faults, and he is grateful to be assured that those are known to his Father in heaven, who will deal leniently and compassionately with them, and will assist him in overcoming them. God knows the aspirations and endeavours of his own children, is interested in every effort to attain to a fuller knowledge of himself, and a more constant and practical subjection to his will. In Psalms 139:1-24, the feelings of the good man, conscious of the Divine omniscience, find a full and most poetical and fervent expression, There is nothing which such a man would wish to hide from such a Friend.—T.
Remonstrance and intercession.
It is remarkable that whilst Ezekiel was commissioned to censure and to denounce the political action of the evil counsellors of Jerusalem, he took no pleasure in the awful practical expression which the righteous Judge saw fit to give to this censure and denunciation. It was the prophet's business to expose the wicked policy of Pelatiah; but this man's death was to Ezekiel a severe shock and sorrow, calling forth from his sympathetic and patriotic heart the words in which he deprecated with all reverence and submission the displeasure of the Lord.
I. THE OCCASION OF REMONSTRANCE AND INTERCESSION. In this passage the occasion was twofold.
1. The pressure of present affliction, in the death of one of the leaders and rulers in the metropolis.
2. The apprehension of future calamity and disaster such as the present affliction foreboded. What had happened to one would, in all likelihood, happen to others. Similarly, every well wisher to his country and his Church is, in times of trial, driven to the throne of grace for merciful forbearance and interposition.
II. THE PRESENTATION OF REMONSTRANCE AND INTERCESSION.
1. There is an identification on the part of the suppliant of himself with his people. After all, whatever might be the errors of any class of his countrymen, Ezekiel was a Hebrew, and he could not but suffer in the sufferings of his country; its misfortunes could not but afflict him; its ruin could not but humiliate and distress him.
2. There is an implicit admission of the justice of the Divine action; the prophet does not complain of what had been wrought by the hand of Divine and judicial authority. No affliction was undeserved.
3. There is supplication that ills apparently impending may be averted. As Abraham pleaded for Sodom, so Ezekiel pleaded for Jerusalem. There is but a remnant: of that remnant shall a full end be made? As if he added, in the language of the patriarch, "That be far from thee, Lord!"
APPLICATION. The Christian cannot fail to be reminded, by this passage, of the intercessory office of Christ. We have an Advocate with the Father, appointed and accepted by that Father's love. Here is our refuge and our hope in the time of calamity and under the fear of judgment. Our High Priest is a powerful and successful Intercessor. Our sins have deserved that "a full end" should be made of humanity. But through Christ mercy is extended, clemency exercised, and salvation assured to those who place themselves under the patronage and protection of the great Mediator and Advocate.—T.
Ezekiel 11:16, Ezekiel 11:17
Exile and restoration.
There is a change in the tone of the prophet. A full end shall not be made of the remnant. The metropolis shall fall, the king shall be led captive. The enemy shall prevail. But the children of the Captivity shall not be forgotten; they shall experience the protection and fellowship of their covenant God; and they shall be brought back to the land of Israel, when Divine purposes are fulfilled, and when the time is ripe.
I. GOD A SANCTUARY FOR A SEASON IN A FOREIGN LAND. This must have been a precious and encouraging assurance to the captives in their banishment. They loved Jerusalem, and they loved the temple. Far from the scene of their national privileges, they were yet not forsaken by the God of their fathers.
1. Every holy place has its true meaning and value from the residence in it of the Eternal. It is not the costly material of which a sanctuary is built, the labour and art with which it is decorated, the robed priesthoods who minister, or the lavish offerings and sacrifices that are presented; it is not these things that make a temple. It is the presence of God himself to receive and bless the worshippers, that endears the building to the enlightened and pious.
2. God may manifest his presence and favour in p!aces where no sacred edifices exist. So Jacob understood, when he awoke from his slumber and his dream, and exclaimed, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not!"
"Where'er they seek thee, thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground."
Those upon the stormy deep, those in the primeval forests, those in the waterless deserts, those in the caverns of the earth, have met with God in the exercises of devotion. And he was a Sanctuary to his banished ones in their captivity in the East, as near to them as he was to those still permitted to resort to the courts of the temple at Jerusalem. "The tabernacle of God is with men."
3. Thus God's spiritual presence may be realized and enjoyed even in a world of sin. Earth is in a sense the scene of exile and of banishment. But for all that, God will be to his people a Sanctuary in the place and during the period of their captivity. His Church is his temple, and from it he never departs.
II. GOD THE RESTORER OF HIS BANISHED ONES.
1. The dispersion and banishment are appointed for a time and for a purpose. There were reasons why the sons of Abraham should be exiled from the land promised to their progenitor, the father of the faithful. It was apparent to the wisdom of God that only thus could they be preserved and delivered from the temptations, especially to idolatry, to which they had so often yielded. The discipline was severe, but it was effectual. The period of exile was not prolonged vindictively.
2. The restoration is as providential as the Captivity. The language of the text is very emphatic upon this Feint: "I will even gather you from the people," etc. "He deviseth means whereby his banished ones may return." It was this prospect which sustained and cheered the Hebrew people amidst disasters at home and exile abroad. The land of their fathers was their land; and in due time they were to enter and possess it.
3. The restoration of the Israelites prefigured the final salvation of all God's people. Their exile shall not last forever. There is a better country, even a heavenly, a Jerusalem above; yonder is the promised inheritance, and the eternal abode of the blessed gathered from every land.—T.
This promise is one of the most precious to be found in the Old Testament Scripture. Relating as it evidently does in this passage to the nation of Israel as a whole, it has generally been taken by Christians as having applicability to all who yield themselves to God, to be dealt with by his renewing and transforming grace.
I. THE NATURE THAT NEEDS TRANSFORMATION. This is characterized by hardness. It is "the stony heart" which Divine grace undertakes to soften and renew. The hard or stony heart is that which is insensible to spiritual realities, upon which neither Law nor gospel makes any impression, which resists every appeal whether of righteousness or of mercy.
II. THE POWER THAT EFFECTS THE TRANSFORMATION. The powerlessness of all human agency and endeavour is apparent. Man's influence can do much; but here is the most difficult of all problems to be solved; here is the necessity for something more than reformation—for actual renewal Hence God, the Almighty, undertakes the work himself. He speaks here with authority, as the Being who needs no counsellor, no helper, who has infinite resources at his disposal, who exercises his own prerogative. It is not here explicitly stated what are the means he employs; but we know that they are means in harmony with the moral nature of man, that his appeal to us is an appeal of truth and love. In the Christian dispensation, the agent of transformation is the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, and perpetually abiding in the Church, and the instrumentality employed is the gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ, appropriated by the faith of the believing hearer of the Word.
III. THE EFFECTS AND EVIDENCES OF THIS TRANSFORMATION.
1. Newness of spirit supersedes the old disposition to disobey and rebel. Every reader of the New Testament knows what stress is laid upon the new covenant, the new birth, the new life, newness of the spirit, etc. In fact, this verse from Ezekiel is peculiarly in harmony with the Christian dispensation and all that belongs to it.
2. Unity of heart is one form of newness; for it comes to supersede the division and opposition which prevail where God's authority is rejected and where God's Word is despised. It is our Lord's prayer concerning the members of his Church, that they "all may be one"—one in him and in the Father, and so one each with the other.
3. Sensitiveness is what is intended by the heart of flesh. The nature which God by his grace renews is a nature which responds to the love of God by gratitude, faith, and consecration. A heart delighting in what pleases God, dreading what offends him; a heart loving all whom God loves, and inspiring a life of scrupulous and hearty obedience;—such is the new heart, the heart of flesh, which is the best gift of God to his children.
"A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My dear Redeemer's throne;
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone."
This language is of frequent occurrence in Scripture, and applies to the relation between Jehovah and his chosen and covenant people Israel. It is ideal, for, as a matter of fact, the descendants of Abraham and of Jacob were constantly in rebellion against God, and alienated from him by their wicked works. Yet it was actually true of an election within the nation. And it remains forever applicable, in strict and literal truth, to all those who receive Divine grace, acknowledge Divine authority, and rejoice in Divine communion.
I. THE OBEDIENT ARE CLAIMED AND OWNED BY GOD AS HIS PEOPLE. "They shall be my people," says the Eternal. They are his:
1. To possess. They are his property, and they bear upon them his mark.
2. To control. They are his servants, yielding themselves to him, and their powers as instruments in his service.
3. To love. God loves his own people, as a father loves his own children, as a husband loves his own wife.
4. To bless. The Lord is mindful of his own. There is nothing that is for their good which he withholds from them.
II. GOD IS CLAIMED AND OWNED BY THE OBEDIENT AS THEIR GOD. On this account:
1. They reverence him. Let others offer their adoration where they will, the Lord, say they, is our God, and him only will we serve.
2. They trust him. His ways may sometimes be dark, and his counsels perplexing; but he is theirs, and therefore they will not withdraw their confidence from him.
8. They glorify him with all their powers. To them there is no limit to their Lord's claims and authority; he has but to say, Go, and they go; Come, and they come; Do this, and it is done.
4. They hope in his promises. He has given them his word that they shall be brought to everlasting salvation; and the assurance, coming from their own covenant God, inspires them with a bright and consolatory hope. "This God is our God forever and ever; … our Guide, even unto death."—T.
The prophetic office.
In these few and simple words we have a declaration of the office and function of the inspired prophet, and in a certain sense of every true religions teacher whom God commissions to be the vehicle and conscious agent in communicating his truth, counsels, admonitions, and encouragements to men.
I. RECEPTION. The prophet and every religious teacher must come mediately or immediately into spiritual communication with the Divine Mind.
1. The Source from which the communication proceeds is none other than God himself.
2. The matter which is received is what is commonly called revelation; the thoughts and commands and purposes of the Supreme are made known to a human spirit.
3. The vision, the hearing, of the prophetic soul are made ready by Divine grace to appreciate the communication.
1. Thus the prophet, the religious teacher, is a mediator, capable on the one side, of fellowship with God, and on the other of correspondence and communion with his fellow men.
2. There are special qualifications, by reason of which he can fulfil the commission received; he should be a man of quick intelligence, of tender sympathy, of dauntless courage, of manifest authority.
3. Yet his chief credentials are simple and moral—truthfulness, conscientiousness, and simplicity of nature and habit.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The summary punishment of official guilt.
As a rule, God is extremely patient towards human rebellion. He reproves and remonstrates and warns long before the executioner appears. Yet sometimes he departs from this course, by a summary act of vengeance. The penalty that follows some crimes is swift and sudden. The Chaldean nobles who laid an impious snare for Daniel were soon overtaken with judgment. When Herod accepted the profane flattery of his courtiers, he was soon consumed with inward disease. Ananias and Sapphira had scarcely completed their falsehood when the sword of the executioner fell upon them. At times God starts out of his secret place, and suddenly vindicates his outraged majesty.
I. MARK THE FLAGRANCY OF SIN IN PRIESTS AND PEOPLE. In all probability these twenty-five men were the heads, or princes, over the twenty-four courses of the priests, while Jaazaniah and Pelatiah may have held a yet higher rank in the temple. It may be that Pelatiah was high priest or ruler of the temple. Certain it is that they were "princes of the people."
1. Their position was one of vast influence. Their opinions would be accepted as the opinions of the people. Their example would be widely imitated. To a large extent, they would influence the life and conduct of the population. As they had the privilege of access to God, and possessed the means of knowing his will, the people would, as a matter of course, look to them for guidance. Profanity or infidelity among the chief priests would speedily infect the Hebrew flock. Hence, for others' sakes, it behoved them to be prudent, devout, and circumspect.
2. Thy had turned Divine warning into ridicule. This seems the only satisfactory way of explaining their boast, "We dwell securely." "This city is the cauldron, and we are the flesh." Jeremiah, who still dwelt in Jerusalem, had seen, in a vision from God, "a seething pot, and its mouth was towards the north." The heads of the priestly order had parodied this, had treated it as an image of self- security, instead of as an omen of danger. As if they had said, "Be it so! This city, with its bastions and gates, impregnable as brass or iron, is a cauldron, and as the flesh is safe in the cauldrons, equally so are we!" They laughed at every intimation of danger. In the teeth of a hundred warnings, in the teeth of a score of defeats and overthrows, they persisted in a conviction of safety. Like fools of other nations, they "made a mock at sin."
3. This senseless hardihood led to aggravated crime. One sin soon breeds a thousand others. They, who had the administration of justice, abused their office, and ruled with a sword of terror. Either by excessive lenity, in not repressing crime; or else by excessive tyranny, human life was held cheaply in the city. Death was a common occurrence, and excited no horror. Civic strifes abounded. The number of the slain increased, and these princes were responsible for the foul deed. They were the persons who "had filled the streets with the slain." The stains of human blood were upon their skirts.
4. The exact measure of their sin was known. Not an item in their evil deeds was unknown nor unregistered. They had tried to conceal their misdeeds, had endeavoured to minimize their offences, were attempting to persuade themselves that Jehovah did not trouble about such matters. But imagine their surprise and confusion when every iota of offence, ay, and every secret evil thought, was fully laid out in the bill of attainder. The amount and degree of each man's guilt is allotted with scrupulous exactness.
II. OBSERVE THE PROPHET'S COMMISSION. Ezekiel was employed by God to convey the last remonstrance to these princes.
1. ,Elevation of mind is needed to fit men for reproving sin. "The Spirit lifted me up." We live, for the most part, on such a low level of spiritual feeling, that we must be "lifted up" in order to see the real wickedness of sin, in order successfully to remonstrate with sinners. Nothing can really "lift us up" to a nobler life but the power of the Holy Ghost.
2. Knowledge is given to men for use. No sooner was it revealed to the prophet who were the ringleaders in the nation's sin, than at once the Spirit said to him, "Prophesy against them, O son of man." Here is work for man which the cherubim cannot do. It is the prerogative of man that he can gain access to the understanding, the judgment, the reason, the feeling, of his fellow man. Therefore God uses men to convey his messages of grace and admonition to guilty men. All the knowledge of Divine things which we have is given us for the advantage of all. "No man liveth unto himself."
3. Divine command and Divine strength are given at one and the same time. When the voice said to Ezekiel, "Speak!" "the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him." Duty and ability
always go together. God has Never given to man a command which he was unable to obey. When God said to Moses, "Go forward!" God knew that the sea would divide at the fitting time. When Jesus said to the man with a withered band, "Stretch it forth!" he knew that along with the effort would be imparted new strength. Some duties may appear formidable to a man who forgets the promised cooperation of Divine grace. But whenever a spirit of faith possesses a man, he can say, like Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." In a very terse prayer did an ancient Father in the Church express this truth, "Give: and then commuted what thou wilt."
4. The plainest reproof is the greatest kindness to men. Every accusation of God is laid by the prophet before these guilty men. It is a false friendship that conceals any part of the truth from our fellows, especially from relatives and kindred. Smooth words are not always the coin of affection. We read of one "whose words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords." Very wisely did David say, "Let the righteous reprove me; it shall be a kindness." It needs an abundance of wisdom, and a deep well spring of love, to speak the whole truth to an erring friend, if we would win him back to paths of virtue and piety. The centrifugal force of duty is often greater than the centripetal force of kindness. Had Eli been more firm and faithful with his sons, he might have saved the ark of God—ay, the whole nation—from disaster. We must "speak the whole truth in love."
III. SEE THE ATTENDANT ENERGY OF GOD. "It came to pass when I prophesied, that Pelatiah died."
1. How foolish is carnal security. Walls that seem made of brass or granite are weaker than paste-board, unless they have God behind them. Foundations built by men are built on nothingness. Belshazzar conceived himself secure because the enormous walls of Babylon were about him; yet "in the selfsame night was Belshazzar slain." God's weapons of offence can penetrate easily all the poor defences of men.
2. Man's opportunity is brief. It is an act of mercy that God allows any opportunity for escape. Such favour is seldom ever shown by an earthly king. Yet sin so blinds men that they imagine the reprieve wilt last forever.]t does not accord with God's wise and gracious plans to announce when the reprieve shall absolutely close. Often it closes when least expected. The day of salvation is the passing moment—the fleeting now.
3. The retribution of God is sometimes summary. Men often persuade themselves that some change of circumstance, some lengthened illness, will precede the final stroke. They lean upon a broken reed, an empty shadow. "God seeth not as man seeth." He had seen that Pelatiah had reached a climax of sin, had received this special messenger with haughty scorn, was hardening his heart under this new reproof of Ezekiel. Hence to lengthen out his day of grace was waste of mercy, was to encourage others in sin. Therefore it was better that the scene of trial should suddenly close. The Lord smote him that he died. "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
IV. MARK THE BENEVOLENT SOLICITUDE OF GOD'S SERVANT. The sudden death of Pelatiah corroborated the truth
that his personal presence was their only security, so now he assures the dispersed of Israel that, if they desired his presence, he would be to them still a "Sanctuary." All that he had been to them aforetime in Jerusalem he could be to them in Babylon. Alter all, their case need not be so deplorable. Better to be in Chaldea along with God, than in Jerusalem without him. They had supposed that God had identified himself with that gorgeous temple in Jerusalem—that he was there in a sense in which he could not be elsewhere. This error must be unlearnt. Having God with us, we may have all real good.
III. SEVEREST DISASTER IS OFTEN THE CRADLE OF BLESSING. Already it began to appear that the defeat and captivity of Israel were needful, yea, were working good in the banished ones. Already the exiles had lost faith in idols, and were ashamed of their past folly. Already they found that if they returned in spirit and prayer to the true God, he would still be their substantial Friend. The faith and courage of Daniel and other young men in Babylon indicate the improvement in religious life which was budding. The presence of Ezekiel as a teacher among them was an omen for good. We have seen how (Ezekiel 8:1-18.) the elders of Judah had sought his presence, and this, doubtless, that they might hear some word from the Lord. The sights of idolatry in that idolatrous land had probably sickened their minds and filled them with disgust. Now they sorrowed over lost privileges and lost opportunities. By the side of Chebar they "hung their harps in the willows," and wept. The sunshine of prosperity had spoilt their simple faith and loyalty; but in the shades of adversity they began to learn wholesome lessons. Here their character shall be re-created, their piety shall be revitalized. Earthly misfortune is heavenly discipline.
IV. THE HIGHEST GOOD IS INTERNAL. Far better to have a fortune within than a fortune outside us. This wealth is durable, abiding, inalienable. No amount of money can purchase honesty, or courage, or tender sensibility, or heart-purity.
1. Regeneration is promised. "I will put, a new spirit within you." The stony heart shall be changed into a heart of flesh. Men are often too blind to appreciate the best possessions; but when our judgment is enlightened, we perceive that this is the richest boon God can give or man receive. This is an inner fountain of blessing—"a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
2. There follows a spirit of filial loyalty. Possessing this new nature, God's Law will become a delight. The sentiment of David is reproduced in them: "Oh, how I love thy Law!" Better still; they learn to say, like Jesus, "I delight to do thy will, O God!" The path of obedience now becomes a fascination—a flowery mead or a fragrant grove. As the stars of heaven observe their proper orbits, so the new-born man spontaneously runs in the statutes of God. Obedience is no longer irksome; it is as natural as breathing, as natural as fruit-bearing.
3. Covenant relationship. "They shall be my people, and I will be their God." This covenant secures for the chosen ones the inalienable favour and protection of God. God obtains, by mutual treaty, a new proprietorship in these people; they, on their part, obtain a proprietorship in God. They have a claim yielded to them by Divine condescension—a claim upon God they did not possess before.
4. National unity. "I will give them one heart." Division had been one source of weakness in the former time. Civic rivalry had been the forerunner of national disaster. Now a better feeling shall prevail. "Judah shall not vex Ephraim, Ephraim shall not envy Judah." Union of the tribes shall be strength.
5. On this shall follow demolition of idolatry. "They shall take away all the detestable things." The more we know God—his Fatherhood, love, and mercy—the more we see the folly and vanity of idols. The baubles that pleased a child are despised when we become men. Our growing love to God will make us intolerant of every rival. As the burnt child dreads the fire, so the restored Hebrews abhorred idols. The man who has a clean heart desires also a clean home. Real reformation begins within—at the centre, and works outward.
V. GOD'S GOVERNMENT DEALS WITH THE INDIVIDUAL MAN. Such is the series of precious donations God engaged to bestow upon his afflicted people in exile; yet their repentance and submission was the pivot on which all good depended. If one here and there still clung to the old idolatry, that one should be excluded from all share in the nation's regeneration. His sin shall bear its proper fruit. The new covenant was to be personal as well as national; for God will not overlook the individual in the crowd. "Each one shall give account of himself unto God." The one among the guests destitute of the wedding garment was in a moment espied by the King. Not a solitary culprit shall escape the scrutiny of God's eye, nor the operation of God's Law. As the light of day penetrates every chink and corner of our globe, so the light of God's righteousness will disclose every sin of man.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The presumptuous security of sinners exhibited and condemned.
"Moreover the Spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the Lord's house," etc.
I. THE PRESUMPTUOUS AND FALSE SECURITY OF SINNERS EXHIBITED. (Ezekiel 11:1-3.) The twenty-live men here mentioned are not the same as those mentioned in Ezekiel 8:16; for already they have been slain in vision. In both places the number is a round one. And in this place it is clear that they were leaders of the people; for they gave counsel unto them, and two princes of the people were in the midst of them. Their conduct shows to us:
1. Sinners boasting their security in defiance of the declarations of the Lord by his prophets. Some of the exiles in Babylon had looked forward to a speedy return to their own land. Jeremiah the prophet sent to them a letter to correct this error, saying, "Build ye houses, and dwell in them;" and assuring them that not until they had accomplished seventy years of exile would they be permitted to return to the land of their fathers (Jeremiah 29:1-14). In the same letter he threatened those that were loft at Jerusalem with "the sword, the famine, and the pestilence." And these five and twenty men, in mockery of the words of the prophet, said, "It is not near to build houses." They encouraged themselves and others in the opinion that, however it might be with the captives in Babylon, they were safe enough in Jerusalem, and need not trouble themselves about building houses. Moreover, Jeremiah had seen in vision a seething pot, or cauldron, with its face toward the north, which symbolized the coming of the kingdoms of the north against Jerusalem and against the cities of Judah, and taking them (Jeremiah 1:13-16). And in derision of this prophecy these twenty-five men said," This is the cauldron, and we a, e the flesh." As the flesh within the cauldron is safe from the surrounding fire, so they regarded themselves as safe within their city wails, whatever forces may rage outside them. They deemed their position a secure one, and would trust to their city walls and defensive arrangements, rather than heed the words of the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In most ages there have been presumptuous and profane scoffers at the threatenings of Divine judgments (cf. 2 Peter 3:3, 2 Peter 3:4). And in our own age there are many who persist in sin, notwithstanding the warnings addressed to them in the sacred Scriptures. And if their own conscience also remonstrates with and warns them, they make light of its admonitions. They seem to think that they can sin on with impunity, that somehow they will escape the natural consequences of their trangressions (cf. Jeremiah 5:12).
2. Sinners in influential positions forming wicked plans and proffering wicked counsel, and so misleading others. "These are the men that devise mischief, and give wicked counsel in this city." They entered into political intrigues, and formed plans of resistance against the enemy in direct opposition to the will of God expressed by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21:8-10; Jeremiah 27:8-18; Jeremiah 38:17-23). By following this course, these five and twenty men had brought calamity and slaughter upon many whom they had misled (verse 6). Sin, mischievous in any one, is especially mischievous in those who, by reason of their position and influence, lead others astray. When leaders in society by evil and perilous examples, or politicians or statesmen by unwise or unrighteous speeches or measures, or authors by injurious books, mislead or corrupt others, it is unspeakably pernicious. Great is the responsibility attached to great influence, and great is the guilt when that influence is exerted for evil.
II. THE PRESUMPTUOUS AND FALSE SECURITY OF SINNERS CONDEMNED. (Verses 4-13.) Notice:
1. The Divine knowledge of their evil designs. "Thus saith the Lord; Thus have ye said, O house of Israel: for I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them;" or, as Hengstenberg translates, "And that which riseth up in your mind I know." To the Omniscient all their thoughts and purposes were fully known (cf. Deuteronomy 31:21; Psalms 139:1-6; John 2:24, John 2:25; Acts 1:24; and see a homily on this verse which appears below).
2. The disastrous consequences of their evil designs. "Ye have multiplied your slain in this city, and ye have filled the streets thereof with the slain." At this time bloodshed and murder were terribly prevalent in Jerusalem, and were amongst the chief crimes mentioned by Ezekiel as calling for the Divine judgment upon the city and its guilty inhabitants (cf. Ezekiel 8:17; Ezekiel 9:9). And in addition, "the slain" includes those who would be killed "by the Chaldeans, already slain from the standpoint taken up in the discourse of God." And they are said to be the slain of" the men that devise mischief," because their deaths were a consequence of their evil counsels. Who can gauge the miseries that arise in every age from the evil counsels of incompetent, unprincipled, or wicked leaders of men?
3. The fatal issue of their evil designs. (Verses 8-13.) Here are several points which call for brief notice.
(1) The utter failure of their boasted security in the city. "I will bring you out of the midst thereof, and deliver you into the hands of strangers, and will execute judgments among you."
(2) Their slaughter in the execution of the just judgment of God. "Ye have feared the sword; and I will bring a sword upon you, saith the Lord God …. Ye shall fall by the sword; I will judge you in the border of Israel." And this prophecy was fulfilled with remarkable fidelity. After they had taken Jerusalem, the Chaldean army made prisoners of many of the chief men; they also captured King Zedekiah as he was endeavouring to escape by flight; and they carried them "to Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, to Ribtah in the land of Hamath," on the northern border of Israel; and there the King of Babylon slew the princes and nobles of Judah, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in chains, to carry him to Babylon (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jeremiah 39:4-7; Jeremiah 52:8).
(3) Their recognition of Jehovah as the true and supreme God when it was too late. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord" (we have noticed these words in Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10). "It is lamentable," says Hengstenberg, "if we must gain the knowledge of God by our own destruction, if he in whom we live, and move, and are, is first recognized by the strokes which break our own head. The knowledge has here, moreover, no moral import. It is a mere passive knowledge, forced upon the ungodly, unconnected with repentance."
(4) The awful earnest of the fulfilment of the words of the prophet. "And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died." In vision Ezekiel beheld the death of Pelatiah; and it seems to us that he died, in fact when this prophecy was made known unto him. "This incident, whose awful character is attested to us by the impression upon Ezekiel, symbolizes prophetically the certainty in actual fact of the judgment of death on the others also (cf. Jeremiah 28:17)" (Schroder). And so the issue of their presumptuous security and wicked counsel was to be their violent and ignominious death. We have in this an illustration of the issue of persistent wickedness. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." "The wages of sin is death." "Sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death."
III. THE SORROW OF A GODLY MAN IN VIEW OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS UPON THE WICKED, "Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah, Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" To Ezekiel the death of Pelatiah was an awful pledge of the death of all the others against whom he had prophesied; and it so deeply affected his spirit as to cause him to cry out thus to God (we have noticed these words on Ezekiel 9:8). "Sudden or great judgments do put the saints and servants of God upon humble, earnest, and argumentative prayer. Humble, 'Then fell! down upon my face;' earnest, 'and cried with a loud voice;' argumentative, 'Ah, Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?'" (Greenhill).
1. The peril of presumption in any course which is opposed to the will of God.
2. The great worth to a people of wise and upright leaders.—W.J.
God's knowledge of our thoughts.
"I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them." Hengstenberg translates, "And that which riseth up in your mind I know." The fact thus stated is—
I. Most REASONABLE.
1. From the nature of God. Grant that God is infinite, and the statement of our text must be true. Nothing can be so great as to overmatch his comprehension; nothing so small as to escape his notice. Our Lord declared the Divine interest in the smallest and lowliest things (Matthew 6:26-30; Matthew 10:29, Matthew 10:30). It is unphilosophical to think that even the smallest thing is in any way unknown to him. It is limiting his knowledge.
2. From the nature of the human mind.
(1) It is the most wonderful creation of God. Man can reflect, reason, anticipate, imagine. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him." We have reason, conscience, affection, adoration. The greatness of the human mind appears very clearly when we consider its achievements. Mention some of them. Its capacity and impulse for progress also indicate its greatness. "It never rests, it has never attained, it is never perfect. Its law is progress. A point which yesterday was invisible is its goal today, and will be its starting post tomorrow."
(2) It is the sphere of the most wonderful operations. We see much of God in his operations in matter; e.g. power, wisdom, constancy. We see more of him in his operations in mind; e.g. more marvellous power, profounder wisdom, richer goodness. In the government of mind the righteousness, truth, and love of God are manifested. We see most of God in his dealings with sinful, disordered minds. The sin of man occasioned the most glorious display of the Divine mind and will. We see the wisdom and love of God in his method of reconciling, saving, lost men as they were never manifested before. I do not wonder, then, that God knows everything that arises in our mind, for our mind is his most wonderful creation, and his most wonderful creation disorganized, ruined; and he is engaged in saving it. How deep must be his interest in it!
II. Most WONDERFUL. Not because of anything in God as a difficulty or hindrance to this vast and minute knowledge; but:
1. Because of the intellectual quality of" the things that come into our mind." How insignificant, trifling, vain, many of them are! How few really great thoughts ever rise in our mind! We know how trying it is to be compelled to listen to the trivial talk of an ill-furnished mind; to hear all the paltry details of matters in which we have no interest or concern. Yet God knows all our petty, trifling, vain thoughts. Not one of them escapes him. How wonderful!
2. Because of the moral quality of "the things that come into our mind." Not only are many of our thoughts insignificant and trifling, many are also mean, corrupt, and sinful. It is painful to become acquainted with the ungenerous or base thoughts and feelings of another's mind and heart. We shrink with loathing from the contemplation of the malicious or cruel designs of any one. In our own selves there is much that we would not that any one should gaze upon, or any mind know, so deeply are we ashamed of it. Yet God knows every dark thought and guilty memory; we can hide nothing from him. He regards all sinful thoughts and feelings with unutterable hatred; yet he knows them every one. But while hating our sin with unappeasable hatred, he loves us with unspeakable love. He looks at our thoughts and weighs them, because they are ours, and he would save us from the vain and sinful ones, and inspire and strengthen within us the wise and good ones. His love for us is as great as his knowledge of us, and leads him to interest himself in all that concerns us.
III. MOST ADMONITORY.
1. No thoughts are unimportant. Since the Lord takes knowledge of, and is so deeply interested in, all that arises in our mind, nothing there can be trivial. You think that your foolish or vain thoughts are of no importance; that they are not like words or actions which affect others: that thoughts influence no one so long as they remain unexpressed. But your thoughts give tone and colour to your mind and character. To a great extent they arise out of your character, and they react upon your character according to your treatment of them. If you foster the impure thought, it will make you more impure; if you entertain the trivial thought, it will increase your triviality. Your mind is God's temple. Should you not take heed how you treat it?
2. All our thoughts should be such as he approves. They should be:
(1) True. He exhorts us to "buy the truth, and sell it not;" to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good." He is himself the "God of truth." Jesus Christ is "the Truth." We should cultivate the true in thought in every department of knowledge and of life. Endeavour to think only those thoughts which accord with the reality of things. Be true.
(2) Pure. Shun with loathing the unchaste desire or impure feeling. You cannot prevent the low or foul suggestion; but you are free to welcome such suggestion, or to shrink from it with repugnance. Welcome it, and it will corrupt you. Resist it, and it cannot contaminate you. If you would be free from impure thoughts, you will gain your end most swiftly and surely by cultivating pure and beautiful ones. If your thoughts be true and pure, God will smile approval, etc. Be pure.
(3) Earnest. Let not your true and holy thoughts be dreamy, visionary, impractical. We are in a world of toil and trial, sin and sorrow, sickness and death, a world that cries for help; and God demands earnest thought with a view to noble life and work.
1. Here is warning to the wicked. God knows all your life and thought. You cannot hide anything from him (cf Job 34:21, Job 34:22; Psalms 139:1-6; Hebrews 4:13). And he who knows us will also judge us. "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin."
2. Here is encouragement to the good. God knows your thoughts, devices, purposes, motives. lie never misunderstands you. If, like Job, you are misjudged by man, you may say with him, "But he knoweth the way that I take." Therefore be encouraged.—W.J.
A suffering people scorned by man and comforted by God.
"Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, thy brethren," etc.
I. A SUFFERING PEOPLE SCORNED BY THEIR BRETHREN WHO THOUGHT THEMSELVES SECURE. (Ezekiel 11:15.) A considerable number of the fellow countrymen of Ezekiel were, like him, suffering the privations and sorrows of exile; and the people that still remained in Jerusalem, instead of pitying the exiles, despised and insulted them. They spake of them:
1. -As rejected of God. "Unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the Lord;" or, "Be ye far from Jehovah." These proud dwellers in Jerusalem thought that the presence of the Lord Jehovah was confined to the temple in that city, that the captives in Babylon were cut off from his presence, and rejected by him. They judged from outward appearances, and concluded that, because they were still in their own land and in the sacred city, while their brethren were in exile, they were the favoured people of God, and their brethren were cast off by him. And they came to this conclusion not sorrowfully because of the privations of their brethren, but with Pharisaic self-complacency and cruel disdain.
2. As having no portion in the land of Israel. The inhabitants of Jerusalem assumed that they who had gone into captivity had forfeited their estates, and that those estates should become the property of those who remained in the country. They said, "Unto us is this land given in possession." That which they unjustly denied to their exiled brethren they claimed for themselves. They arrogated to themselves an exclusive position as a people near unto the Lord, and exclusive possession of the land which he had given unto the whole of the Israelites. By their spirit and conduct these inhabitants of Jerusalem remind us of some in our own age who "profess and call themselves Christians," and who claim that only in their community can salvation be found, that only as administered amongst them are the sacraments valid, and that the Church of which they are members is the only true one. They could heartily join with the self righteous people of Jerusalem in saying, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these." But not they who think themselves holiest and nearest to God, or who have the greatest reputation for religion amongst men, are most highly esteemed by him, but rather "the poor in spirit," the "lowly in heart." "The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit." It was not the proud Pharisee, but the penitent publican, that" went down to his house justified:… forevery one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
II. A SUFFERING PEOPLE VINDICATED AND COMFORTED BY THE LORD GOD. (Verses 16-20.) The despised captives are vindicated and consoled by several gracious and encouraging assurances, which we will briefly notice.
1. That they were the true people of God. "Son of man, thy brethren, thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly." The Prophet Jeremiah had already declared that the Israelites who were in exile were better in the sight of God than those who remained in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 24:1-10.). And now Ezekiel is told that his true brethren, brethren in spirit as well as according to the flesh, are to be found, not in Jerusalem, but among the exiles by the river Chebar. To them, as Hengstenberg points out, the future of the kingdom of God belonged, while "those who remained in Jerusalem, notwithstanding their high pretensions, were doomed to destruction." "All the house of Israel wholly," as contrasted with "the inhabitants of Jerusalem," is to be understood as a general statement, since there was in Jerusalem a godly remnant (Ezekiel 9:4-6). and amongst the exiles there were some who were not faithful to the Lord Jehovah (Ezekiel 14:1-5). But, in the main, the true Israel was to be looked For, not in Jerusalem, but among the exiles in Babylon. How different in this respect was the Divine estimate from that of the Pharisaic dwellers in the sacred city I And may it not be in our day that to him who "seeth not as man seeth," not they who boast their privileges and piety, but the despised and- lowly, are the genuine Israel of God?
2. That they should find in the Lord God ample compensation for their lost privileges. "Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little Sanctuary in the countries where they shall come." It is more correct to translate, "I will be to them a Sanctuary for a little" time or season, referring to the comparatively short period of their captivity. Though they were far removed from their "holy and beautiful house," yet they should have communion with God; for he himself would be present with. them, and the realization of his presence transforms any place into a hallowed temple. The people of Israel were too prone to regard the presence of God as confined to the temple at Jerusalem, or at most to the Holy Land. Under this impression, the Prophet "Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." The Lord God, in assuring them that he would be to them as a sanctuary during their exile, corrects this error, and gives the germ of the precious truth that the devout and humble spirit may offer acceptable worship and hold blessed communion with him anywhere. And in this assurance we have an anticipation of the inspiring declaration of our Lord, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth," etc. (John 4:23, John 4:24). In the presence of God with them as a Sanctuary the exiles would find- compensation for their enforced absence from their homes and from the temple and its ordinances. We have here a test of godly character. When the heart is truly and thoroughly right with God it finds compensation in him forevery privation and loss. The assurance that we have him for our Portion will sustain and satisfy us in time of sorest need, and enable us to sing-
"Jesus, to whom I fly,
Doth all my wishes fill,
What though created streams are dry,
I have the Fountain still
Stripped of mine earthly friends,
I find them all in One;
And peace and joy that never ends,
And heaven in Christ begun."
3. That they should be restored to their country and privileges by the Lord God. "Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel." The inhabitants of Jerusalem said, "Unto us is this land given in possession;" but in answer thereto the Lord says to the exiles, "I will give you the land of Israel." And the promise was fulfilled when "the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus King of Persia" to proclaim permission to them to return to their own land and to rebuild the temple of the Lord Jehovah—a permission of which more than forty thousand availed themselves. "It is well for us," says Matthew Henry, "that men's severe censures cannot cut us off from God's gracious promises. There are many that will be found to have a place in the holy land whom uncharitable men, by their monopolies of it to themselves, have secluded from it."
4. That they should receive from the Lord the highest spiritual favours. (Verses 18-20.) Here is the assurance unto them of four spiritual blessings.
(1) Unity of heart towards God. "I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you." Their heart had long been divided between the true God and idols, but it should be fixed upon him. By means of the discipline of the Captivity, their hearts were united to fear his Name. Such, in fact, has been the case; for since their return from Babylon they have not bowed down to idols.
(2) Tenderness of heart towards God. "And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them an heart of flesh." By resisting his will and Word and by persisting in sin they had hardened their hearts; and he promised to give them a heart "soft and susceptible of the impressions of Divine grace. The promise is essentially Messianic, although a beginning of its fulfilment is already to be recognized in the period immediately after the return from the exile" (Hengstenberg). Resistance of Divine influence and rebellion against Divine commands still harden human hearts. "Take heed … lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." St. Paul speaks of some who have so hardened their heart as to be "past feeling" (Ephesians 4:18, Ephesians 4:19). It is only God by his grace that can change the stone to flesh, and make the hard heart tender in penitence and piety.
(3) Conformity of conduct to the will of God. This follows as a consequence of the change of heart. The renewed heart leads to a reformed life. Their reformation had two chief aspects—the renunciation of their sins, particularly the complete severance of themselves from idolatry (verse 18), and their positive compliance with the holy will of God. This was the end aimed at in putting the new spirit within them: "That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances." The piety of the heart must and will be seen in the practice of the life. If the fountain be purified, the stream will be pure.
(4) Confirmation in the most exalted and blessed relationship. "And they shall be my people, and I will be their God." This follows in natural order what has gone before. By the renewal of their hearts he restores them to himself as his chosen people; and by the obedience of their lives to him they testify that he is their God. This relationship is the richest of all blessings; it comprises all needful good, and crowns every other blessing. If "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want nothing." "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the Strength of my heart, and my Portion forever."—W.J.
God the Sanctuary of his people.
"Yet will I be to them as a little Sanctuary in the countries where they shall come." Instead of "as a little Sanctuary," it is better to translate, "a Sanctuary for a little." The assurance given in the text seems strange at first. The Lord Jehovah will be a Sanctuary to his people. He is the grand Object of worship: how, then, can he be the place of worship? The exiles in Babylon were far removed from all the joyous privileges of public worship; from their temple, with all its precious and sacred associations, they had been ruthlessly sundered. They had long forsaken God, and at length they became a prey to their enemies. And in this idolatrous country, while the inhabitants of Jerusalem were dividing them, and boasting their own security, Jehovah promises the captives that he himself will be to them a Sanctuary, and in himself he would compensate them for the loss of their religious privileges. All those blessings which they had been accustomed to associate with the sanctuary he would bestow upon them.
I. THE SANCTUARY WAS A PLACE OF REFUGE AND SAFETY. Through centuries men had been accustomed to take refuge in sanctuaries from the enemies or persecutors by whom they were pursued, and there every life was held to he inviolably secure. The most implacable foe was compelled to recognize the security afforded by the holy place (cf. 1 Kings 1:50-53). So Jehovah promises to Israel to be to them a sacred and inviolate asylum from all dangers in the land of their captivity (cf. Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 32:2; Psalms 9:9; Psalms 46:1, Psalms 46:7, Psalms 46:11). The Lord was a Sanctuary for his scattered people—a Sanctuary from the storm of persecution, from the oppressions of their conquerors, and from the rage of their enemies. He still sustains this relation to his people. He is still "a Refuge for us." How blessed that in a life so stormy as man's often is, God is a Sanctuary unto him! Let us hide ourselves in him.
II. THE SANCTUARY WAS A PLACE OF COMMUNION WITH GOD. There God manifested himself to his people, and made communications of his will to them (cf. Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89). So that the promise to be a Sanctuary unto his people was a promise of communion with himself; that, though they were driven from the temple of their fatherland, yet in their exile God would still commune with them. This assurance involves more than we sometimes recognize. If we commune with God we mast receive his thoughts. "How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!" etc. Communion with God involves the realization of his gracious presence. In fellowship there is always friendliness. "Henceforth I call you not servants," etc. (John 15:15). How inspiring and blessed it is to feel the friendly presence of God with us! We may always have this sanctuary of communion with the Highest. In all the rush and roar and turmoil of a busy and troubled life we may realize the safety and comfort of the sanctuary of the Divine presence. We may have a Gerizim or a Zion which none can behold but God and the angels. We may have a holy of holies in our poor hearts, which we may carry with us into the Babylon of the world's business and strife.
III. Let us take hold of the principle involved in the text, which we take to be THAT THE LOSS OF EVEN THE MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS IS MADE UP TO US BY GOD OUT OF THE FULNESS WHICH DWELLETH IN HIM, IF HE IS OUR PORTION. The promise of the text involved as much to the exiles in Babylon. If the Lord is our Portion, he will afford us blessed compensations for any privations we may be called to sustain. Let us take illustrations of this. There are times when some of the people of God are subjected to loss of property; their natural comforts are much diminished; many of the enjoyments of life, which they had regarded as essential to their happiness and almost to their life, are taken away; and they have painful misgivings as to how they shall bear these privations in the future. We dread to meet the shock of reduced position and straitened circumstances. But when the shock comes, we find fall compensation in God. His grace sustains us. His peace grows within us. His comforts delight our soul. lie is "the Strength of our heart, and. our Portion forever." We are enabled to say, with St. Paul, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content," etc. (Philippians 4:11-13). The Divine comp nations are also given in painful bereavements. In your home there was a beautiful and beloved child; yon held that child as a most precious gift of God; your very worship of God became more impassioned and devout as you thought of that living and dear revelation of his goodness to you. Your child was to you "a little sanctuary;" through his beloved life you drew nearer to God. Yet God took your child away from you; and oh, the anguish of your desolate heart! Perhaps you were in danger of thinking more of the child than of God, of loving the gift more than the Giver, of prizing the sanctuary more than the God of the sanctuary. And so God took away the child whom you almost idolized. At first you were sorely afflicted, but God said, "I will be to thee a Sanctuary," and gradually the troubled heart became still, and was calmed and comforted. And now by his own love God makes up to you for your great loss. And in coming years, when you imagine you will lack the tender filial ministries you had anticipated from your child, he will more than supply the deficiencies by the arrangements of his own infinite tenderness and care. God also compensates his people for the loss of religious privileges. In his providence he sometimes removes us by sickness from the services of the sanctuary, and we have a season of weary waiting for his restoring hand. We anticipate with sadness the Lord's day, when his people will be worshipping in the courts of his house, and we suffering through the lonely hours at home. But the day arrives, and with it a joyous disappointment. God himself becomes to us a Sanctuary. He compensates us for the loss of psalmody by inspiring diviner music in our heart, for the loss of "common worship" by giving us deeper spiritual communion with himself and with all holy souls, and for the loss of sacred ministrations by the immediate and blessed ministry of his Holy Spirit to our spirit. And so the day we dreaded was rich in present blessing, and bright with gleams of the glory that awaits us in the future. Or in his providence God removes us to a district where we are separated from the influence of a generous and godly friend, or from the ministry of a valued teacher or pastor. Our regret is very keen, our misgivings as to our future progress are serious, and perhaps our dissatisfaction with providential arrangements is in danger of becoming great. But in this also the Lord becomes to us a Sanctuary. To our increased need he gives more of his infinite fulness. And we find that by blessing us with another teacher or pastor, or by means of the devout and earnest study of his holy Word, or by the ministry of good literature, or by the immediate action of his Holy Spirit upon our spirit, he compensates us for all our losses. Herein is one of the great blessednesses of the portion of the godly. As our need grows, God reveals unto us his own infinite sufficiency more and more fully, and out of that sufficiency he giveth more grace. The more loud and fierce the storm, the more closely does he enfold us in his inviolate protection. The more numerous and urgent our requirements, the more abundant and prompt are his supplies. Make him your Portion, and infinite resources are yours (cf. Psalms 84:11; Lamentations 3:24; Matthew 6:33; 1 Timothy 4:8).—W.J.
A united heart the gift of God.
"I will give them one heart." The exiles in Babylon, to whom the text was addressed, had long wandered from God into idolatry. Their heart had not been fixed or united. The promise was fulfilled in their case in this sense—that since their return from captivity they have never lapsed into idolatry.
I. THIS PROMISE IS APPLICABLE TO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Oneness of interest and heart in the welfare of a Church on the part of its members is essential to its prosperity.
1. Oneness of heart in brotherly unity is necessary. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" etc. (Psalms 133:1-3.). To secure this we must exercise mutual forbearance and charity, and cultivate an affectionate regard for each other.
2. Oneness of desire for the prosperity of the work of God is necessary. There is reason to fear that this desire is not very deep on the part of some Church-members, who very often grumble at what others are doing, and do nothing themselves. If we have this desire, we shall take it to God in prayer. We shall "keep not silence, and give him no rest," etc. (Isaiah 62:6, Isaiah 62:7). If we have this desire, it will lead us to personal efforts to attain its fulfilment. To retain this unity of desire we must be prepared to waive personal opinions as to minor methods, keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the grand objects which we are aiming at. Mutual concessions are necessary to abiding unity. In seeking unity in the Church let us trust the promise of the text, and use appropriate means to secure it.
II. THE TEXT IS APPLICABLE TO DIFFERENT CLASSES OF PERSONAL CHARACTER. Examples of hearts divided and purposes unsettled are to be found in every province of life—in business, in mental culture, in religion. Yet everywhere the thing is evil. Division is weakness. "The roiling stone gathers no moss." "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." One-heartedness is essential to progress in anything. The men who have attained marked success in any pursuit have followed it steadily and persistently. Concentration is power. "Unity is strength" everywhere and in everything. Let us specify certain characters to whom the text is applicable.
1. To the insincere. There are persons who are not true, whose thoughts and words do not agree, whose appearance and reality are not harmonious. Our text is a promise for them if they will receive it. The man of renewed heart is honest, true. The mere form of godliness, or profession of discipleship to Christ, will avail us nothing. Unless we have the life and power of Christ, the name of Christian will be worse than worthless to us. The genuine Christian is sincere and upright.
2. To those who are endeavouring to "serve God and mammon." It is impossible to be at once devoted to worldly ends and to God. A worldly spirit is incompatible with real religion. The spirit of the world is opposed to the spirit of Christ. One or other must be supreme in us. We cannot yield ourselves to the pursuit of the pleasures, honours, or riches of this world, and to the service of the Lord Jesus at the same time. It is impressible to combine the two things. God promises to give us one heart—a heart undivided and thoroughly fixed upon himself. Are we willing to receive the blessing, and to receive it now?
3. To those who "halt between two opinions." Many are wavering and undecided as to personal religion. They have not resolved to try to combine the service of" God and mammon;" but they have not elected whom they will serve. They have often been religiously impressed, but never decided. They have often felt the supreme importance of religion, but have not yielded to its claims. They are wavering and undecided. They feel without wisely acting. They have religious emotion, but not religious resolution. They procrastinate the great choice till "a more convenient season." They will not take the decisive step. They are not one-hearted. Now, they may obtain a united heart from God. The hesitation which is so injurious and perilous to them would be banished if they would accept God's promise in the text, and decide by his help to serve him. He would "give them one heart," and sufficient strength to perform their resolution. And then they could sing, with David, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise." Thus the text promises to us unity and thoroughness of heart. Our own weakness we know; and how prone to unsteadiness, change, and division our hearts are. But "God is greater than our heart," and he proffers to us the unity and stability which we need. In the strength of his promise let us pray, "Unite my heart to fear thy Name," and let us consecrate ourselves unreservedly unto him.—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19