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The word of the Lord, etc. This formula, so familiar in Isaiah and Jeremiah, appears for the first time in Ezekiel, but occurs repeatedly afterwards, especially in this chapter (verses 8, 17, 21, 26. and again Ezekiel 13:1; Ezekiel 14:2, et al.). The teaching by "the visions of God" ceases, and that of direct message or symbolic acts is resumed. In each case the point aimed at was the same. The people who heard the one or saw the other were to be taught how utterly groundless was the hope that Jerusalem could hold out against its enemies. The interval between the two was probably a short one, and the new teaching, we may conjecture, had its starting point in the prophecies of a speedy deliverance which were current both at Jerusalem and among the exiles at Babylon.
Which have eyes to see, etc. We note the words in their relation both to like utterances in the past (Isaiah 6:9; Isaiah 42:20), and by Ezekiel's contemporary (Jeremiah 5:21), and in the future by our Lord (Matthew 13:13), by St. John (John 12:40), and lastly by St. Paul (Acts 28:27). The thought and phrase were naturally as ever-recurring as the fact.
Prepare thee stuff for removing, etc.; better, equipment for a journey, with the implied thought that it is the journey of one going into exile. "Bag and baggage," all the household goods which an exile could take with him, were to be brought out in broad daylight and piled up opposite his door. Then in the twilight (Revised Version, in the dark, and so in Ezekiel 12:7, Ezekiel 12:12) he was to go forth, not by the door of his house, but by breaking through the wall (with such walls as those of Ezekiel 13:11 the process would not be difficult), as a man might do who was escaping secretly from a city through the gates of which he dared not pass (Ezekiel 12:5), and was to start with his travelling chattels upon his shoulder. Lastly (Ezekiel 12:6), as the strangest feature of all, he was to go forth with his face covered, as one who wished to avoid recognition, as one also who could not see one step of the way before him. This, it is intimated, would startle even the most careless, and in this way he would become, as he had been before in like symbolic acts (Ezekiel 4:1-17; Ezekiel 5:1-17.), as Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:2) had been before him, a sign unto the house of Israel.
Ezekiel 12:8, Ezekiel 12:9
The commands were obeyed, and the prophet waited fur the next inspiration, the next word of the Lord. It would seem as if he had himself done what he was told to do without knowing what it meant. It was not till night had passed to morning that he was able to answer the question which the exiles asked him, What doest thou! At last the answer came.
Ezekiel 12:10, Ezekiel 12:11
This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem; literally, the prince is this burden in Jerusalem. The word "burden," in the sense of "prophecy," so common in Isaiah and Jeremiah and other prophets, as Hosea (Hosea 8:10) and Nahum (Nahum 1:1), is used by Ezekiel here only. Possibly he on the whole avoided it, as having fallen into discredit through its constant use by the false prophets (Jer 23:1-40 :83-38), and preferred the formula of "the word of Jehovah." As interpreted by Jeremiah 39:4 and 2 Kings 25:4, the "prince" is Zedekiah. Possibly Ezekiel avoided the title "king," as seeing in him one who was a ruler de facto, but not a king de jure. The facts related in Jeremiah 39:4 exactly correspond with the symbolic act. Zedekiah and his men of war escape from the city by night, "by the way of the king's garden, by the gate between the two walls," probably enough with faces covered, as David's was in his flight (2 Samuel 15:30), to avoid detection, or as a sign of mourning, and through some freshly made exit from the palace. The further significance of the covered face is found in the fact that Zedekiah was blinded at Riblah by Nebuchadnezzar's orders, and from that time could not see the ground on which he trod. Those who see in every Old Testament prediction nothing but a prophecy ex eventu infer from this that this section of Ezekiel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. I do not take that view, and place it in close connection with the preceding chapters. We note in verse 11 the peculiar phrase," I am your sign." Ezekiel, in what he does in the presence of the exiles, is figuring that which, before long, will come to pass in Jerusalem. They were to go forth into captivity as he had gone. For they shall remove, the Revised. Version gives, they shall go into exile.
For that he see not, read, with the Revised Version, because be shall not see.
My net also will I spread, etc. Compare the same image in Lamentations 1:13. The prediction of Lamentations 1:12 is reiterated with emphasis. Zedekiah shall be in Babylon, yet shall not see. Josephus ('Ant.,' 10. 7.2; 8.2) relates that Ezekiel sent this prophecy to Jerusalem, and that Zedekiah, finding an apparent discrepancy in the words that he should not see Babylon, and those of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:4; Jeremiah 34:3), hardened himself in his unbelief. There is no reason, however, for supposing that Josephus had access to any other records than the books of the two prophets, and his narrative looks rather like an imagined history of what might have been.
Ezekiel 12:14, Ezekiel 12:15
And I will scatter. The capture of the king would naturally be followed by the dispersion of his adherents, some of whom would fall by the sword, while a few (Hebrew, men of number, i.e. easily counted) would escape to some neighbouring country, where they might hope to find a refuge. There they would have to tell their tale of shame, and to let the heathen know that Jehovah was thus punishing their abominations (comp. Ezekiel 14:22, Ezekiel 14:23). The prophecy ends with the familiar formula, They shall knew that I am the Lord.
The opening words, The worn of the Lord came to me, imply an interval of passivity and silence. One conscious burst of inspiration came to an end, and was followed, after a time, by another.
Eat thy bread with quaking, etc. No special stress is to be laid on the fact that only bread and water are named. The prophet is not dwelling now on the scarcity of food in the besieged city, as he had done in Ezekiel 4:9-17, but on the fear and terror which should haunt the lives of the besieged. Here again we can scarcely doubt that, as in Ezekiel 4:11, Ezekiel was a sign to those among whom he lived. Outwardly and visibly he was seen after his strange flitting, cowering in a corner, as one hunted down and dreading pursuit, with every look and gesture of extremest terror. This was to be the portion of those who escaped and whose life was "given them for a prey." The strange act was to be explained to "the people of the land," i.e. the exiles among whom Ezekiel lived. The short prediction ends with the usual formula. There is another interval, and then another inspiration.
What is that proverb, etc.? The words indicate how the previous messages had been received. Like the men of Jerusalem, the exiles could not believe that the judgment was so near. They said, in words that had become proverbial:
(1) The days are prolonged. "Month after month passes" (it is obvious that they had so passed since Ezekiel began his work), "and yet the end comes not." Such throughout the world's history has been the cry of those of little, or of no, faith (Amos 6:3; Isaiah 5:19; Jeremiah 17:15; Matthew 24:48; 2 Peter 3:4).
(2) Every vision faileth. "The prophet is a dreamer of dreams. We have heard of many such visions, yet still all things continue as they were."
The prophet meets the current proverb with a counter proverb of his own: "The days are not far off, but have come near." Compare the language of the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), of our Lord (Matthew 4:17), of St. Paul (Romans 13:11). For the true prophet there is always a near fulfilment, though there may be also an ultimate and more complete reality of which that is the pledge and earnest. The "vision" shall not fail; every word (so in the Hebrew) shall become a reality.
Flattering divination. The word is the same as the "smooth things" of Isaiah 30:10, the "flattering lips" of Psalms 12:2, Psalms 12:3. LXX; μαντευόμενος τὰ πρὸς χάριν; Vulgate, ambigua. The "divinations" (the Hebrew word is found only here and in Ezekiel 13:7, though cognate words are found elsewhere) are so described, not without a touch of scorn in the use of a word which is not applied to the utterance of the true prophets, because they promised a speedy deliverance, even within "two full years" (Jeremiah 28:3).
The thought of verse 93 is reiterated with emphasis. The rebellious house, whether at Tel-Abib or in Jerusalem (probably the word is used with special reference to the former), should see the word of Jehovah fulfilled in their own days. One notes how the prophet dwells on the word prolonged, as though that had specially stirred his indignation. So again—
Ezekiel 12:26, Ezekiel 12:27
The words imply another interval of silence, meditation, and then a fresh utterance to the same effect as before. In this case (Ezekiel 12:27) we trace a slight modification in the language of the gainsayers. They recognize Ezekiel both as a seer and a prophet. They do not say that his vision "faileth." They content themselves with throwing the fulfilment into the distant future. Their thought is that of the proverb which has been ascribed to more than one king or statesman, Apres moi le deluge. To these his answer is nearly in the same terms as before. Still harping on the offensive word, he tells them that nothing that he has spoken shall be "prolonged." The destruction of the temple and the holy city, the departure of the Divine Presence from the sanctuary, these were already within measurable distance
Blind eyes and deaf ears.
I. ALL MEN HAVE ORGANS FOR PERCEIVING SPIRITUAL TRUTH. These blind Jews have eyes and the deaf have ears. Neither class is deformed or mutilated in respect of their organs of sense. Here is the paradox, the surprising situation. It is men with eyes and ears who are blind and deaf. It is no wonder that the lower animals should live without man's religion in a life of brutish appetite. But it is surprising that beings endowed with higher faculties should degrade themselves to such a life. That this is the case with the most hardened and ignorant may be proved by the experience of life.
1. The most brutalized sinner was once a child. Then he had the child's wondering, open-eyed vision of truth.
2. The most degraded have been restored. Then the faculty of spiritual perception has been reawakened. This proves that it was only dormant, not absent.
3. Even in a condition of indifference a degraded, deadened soul may be aroused. The bow drawn at a venture may send an arrow into a joint of the armour of worldly thought and find the natural sensitiveness beneath.
II. SOME MEN HAVE LOST THE POWER. OF PERCEIVING SPIRITUAL TRUTH. Their eyes are blind and their ears deaf. This does not mean merely that they have not the gifts Joel referred to (Joel 2:28). It means that they do not perceive the truth which is declared to them by the messengers of God.
1. The words spoken are not heeded. They are mere sound. Immediately they are spoken in the ear a rush of unsympathetic thoughts sweeps them away. It is like sowing by the wayside. The seed is trampled underfoot.
2. If the words are attended to, the personal significance of them is not grasped. They are mere ideas unrealized. They are not felt to have any relation to life. Thus a biblical scholar may be blind to the truth of God.
III. THIS STATE OF SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS AND DEAFNESS IS CAUSED BY SIN. The people are "a rebellious house," and therefore they cannot perceive the Divine message. We have come upon one of the worst consequences of sin. It deadens the soul against its own guilt and against the messages from God to the sinner. This is very different from intellectual dulness. The will of God is so revealed that "the wayfaring man, though a fool, may not err therein." Indeed, mere intellectual acumen does very little in helping us to perceive spiritual and moral truth. God has hidden from the "wise and prudent" what he has revealed to "babes and sucklings." The preaching of the cross of Christ is foolishness to many of the world's wise men (1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 1:19), because they have not spiritual sympathy with it (1 Corinthians 2:14). Note the blinding and deafening which are sometimes ascribed to God (e.g. Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10)—because it is the abuse of God's action that leads to such a condition, and because it is a condition of Divine judgment—are here brought back to man's guilt.
IV. GOD DOES NOT NEGLECT THE BLIND AND DEAF. Their state is one of guilt—for they brought it on themselves—and also one of danger. But they are not left alone in it. Ezekiel is to proceed to more simple and striking action, in order to extort attention from the indifferent. We must shake the sleeper when his house is on fire. We want more rousing preaching. God has pity on the blind and deaf, and it is according to his mercy that every effort should be made to reach them. Christ gives new sight and hearing (Luke 4:18).
Teaching by example.
The Jews had neglected the words of Ezekiel; the prophet is now to attempt to rouse them by a fresh method, by an illustrative action. They would not attend when he told them that the trouble was coining; he is now to perform before their eyes an action illustrative of that trouble. The inhabitants of Jerusalem refused to admit that they will be sent into captivity, and it would seem that their friends in captivity were in sympathy with them in this respect, and could communicate with them. So Ezekiel packs up his goods and removes his house, as a sign of the approaching removal of the Jews into captivity. This is the most effective method of teaching.
I. WHY TEACHING BY EXAMPLE IS EFFECTIVE.
1. It is lucid. Deeds are more visible than words. Men of various languages can understand the same facts. The bold outlines of an event are more readily grasped than the floating sounds of speech.
2. It is impressive. We are struck by what we see with our own eyes tar more than by what is reported to us by others. The greatest deeds recorded in history do not produce so much impression on us as the much smaller things with which we have had personal contact; but those historic deeds are far more interesting than abstract philosophical principles.
3. It is suggestive. Deeds are more eloquent than words. They are many-sided, and every face; is capable of reflecting some truth. Titus the same illustration may convey various aspects of truth to different persons.
4. It is enduring. The memory of events remains when that of words has faded. Nothing dies so rapidly as the influence of an orator. Facts live forever, while words of preaching vanish almost as soon as they are spoken.
II. WHAT TEACHING BY EXAMPLE IS MOST EFFECTIVE.
1. That which is human. We may take illustrations from nature, and read "sermons in stones, books in the running brooks, and good in everything;" but human life is more lull of instruction—more lucid, impressive, suggestive, and enduring in its lessons. Hence the inestimable value of honest biography.
2. That which is personal to the teacher. It is good to be able to point to great examples in history. But when the preacher himself does some striking deed, his influence is far greater. Ezekiel was himself to remove in illustration of the Captivity. We can teach best by our lives.
3. That which involves self-sacrifice. Ezekiel's action was one of trouble and vexation. If our message costs us little, it may be lightly esteemed. Nothing is so impressive as the evidence of pain and cost in the effort to enlighten others. Self-denial is the most eloquent of persuasive influences. He who thus puts himself to trouble proves his sincerity, and impresses his neighbours with his own earnestness, and with the corresponding weightiness of his message.
Note: All this may be most perfectly illustrated from the gospel of Christ. Here we are taught by the facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Those facts are seen in the personal history of our great Teacher, and pre-eminently in his sacrifice of himself to the truth and for the benefit of the world.
I. GOD SPREADS A NET.
1. God will not leave guilty men free. They have a time of liberty, but there will be a limit to this. Though they have a long tether, some day its end will be reached. Freedom is given to allow scope for choice. If the power of choice is abused, the freedom will be withdrawn.
2. God employs means for restraining the liberty of bad men. He does not lay hold of them with his hand; he uses a net. In the present instance the net was Nebuchadnezzar. That heathen monarch did not know that he was a mere instrument in the hand of God; yet did God so completely hold him in this respect that he called the man "my servant Nebuchadnezzar" (Jeremiah 25:9). Thus God overrules the movements of kings.
3. These means may not be perceived by the unhappy victims. The net is a snare, and "in vain is a snare spread in the sight of any bind." We must not suppose that God really deceives his children. The Jews had been warned. But their eyes were blind and their ears deaf (Ezekiel 12:2). The danger is not the less because men do not perceive it. Just when a man boasts of his greatest triumph the meshes of a Divine judgment may be drawing together about his doomed life.
II. GOD ENSNARES IN HIS NET WHOMSOEVER HE WILL.
1. He designs the net for particular persons. In the verse before us it is spread for one man. There is no element of chance in the judgments of Heaven. God considers the case of each soul, and acts accordingly.
2. All the men caught in God's net are sinners. He has no terrors for the good. He is not like the tempter, who ensnares men into evil. Every man who is caught in God's net of judgment has been first ensnared in the devil's net of sin.
3. The greatest are not beyond the reach of this net. In the present instance the net is spread expressly to catch no less a person than Zedekiah, the King of Jerusalem. Massive battlements and the serried ranks of a mighty army cannot keep off the invisible entanglement of the net of judgment.
III. THERE IS NO EARTHLY MEANS OF ESCAPING FROM GOD'S NET. Its threads may be fine as gossamer, but they are strong as steel. Zedekiah was to be taken in the snare, and brought to Babylon in so helpless a state that he would not even see the place, for, as the event proved, his eyes were to be put out. The king fled by night from Jerusalem, but was caught by the Chaldeans near Jericho. As "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," the course of armies and nations turned against the guilty Jews and their wicked king. There is no hope for the impenitent.
IV. CHRIST HAS SPREAD A NEW NET OF SALVATION. He told his apostles that they should be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19), and he compared the kingdom of heaven to a dragnet (Matthew 13:47). The only way of escaping from the awful net of judgment is to permit one's self to be taken in the saving net of the gospel.
Ezekiel, in conformity with his new, desperate method of rousing the heedless Jews, is now to dramatize Fear in his own person and action, as a sign of the terror that will seize upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the days of its overthrow.
I. FEAR ARISES FROM EVIL CAUSES. The sound and innocent soul in healthy circumstances should not know fear. Observe some of the causes of fear.
1. Ignorance. "Fear always springs from ignorance," says Emerson. There is a sense of the mysterious and uncertain about it. When we perceive an approaching calamity, we may shrink from it and feel the keenest distress; but the peculiar agony of fear ties in the darkness of futurity. This, of course, implies nothing morally defective, for we are necessarily limited. Childish fears naturally haunt childish ignorance. But though not morally wrong, except in the careless and wilful, ignorance is an evil circumstance to be conquered.
2. Weakness. There is a weakness of nerve which belongs to one's bodily condition, and so some are constitutionally timorous. But the worst fear springs from cowardice, i.e. from a culpable laxity of moral fibre.
3. Guilt. Fear followed the Fall. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth." We know that we deserve ill; therefore we cannot be surprised if we are to receive it. This is an intellectual conception; but the moral effect of sin is stronger. The man who is conscious of his sin feels ashamed, smitten with helplessness; and the heavens gather up black thunderclouds over his head.
II. FEAR IS HURTFUL.
1. It is one of the most painful elements of punishment. The murderer suffers infinitely more agony in the condemned cell than he can ever feel on the gallows. "There is but one thing of which I am afraid," says Montaigne, "and that is fear."
2. Fear is a cause of disaster. "The direst foe of courage," says George Macdonald, "is the fear itself, not the object of it; and the man who can overcome his own terror is a hero and more." We are paralyzed by fear. As in dreams the limbs are heavy, like lead, when a terror is approaching, so in waking life we find that the terror which threatens fascinates us into helplessness.
3. Worse than all this, fear is morally degrading. "Fear is cruel and mean," says Emerson. It is a selfish passion, and it lowers our whole tone and character.
III. FEAR MAY BE CONQUERED BY FAITH. Constitutional bravery will exclude the possibility of fear. "Fear!" exclaimed the hero Nelson, when only a boy, to his grandmother, who had asked if he had not met fear when he had lost his way, "what is it like? I have never seen it." Such incapacity for fear is a splendid natural endowment, but it has not the moral character of victory over fear in those who are capable of its pangs. The true antidote to fear is faith. We cannot know everything, and so dispel the ignorance out of which fear springs; nor can we create in ourselves the strength of a hero by a sheer act of will; nor can we deny or repudiate our guilt. But we may trust God's protection in the darkness, lean upon his strength in the hour of need, and rely upon his pardon when we repent of sin and turn to the grace of Christ. So the feeblest can say, "When I am weak, then am I strong;" "I will go in the strength of the Lord God." Moreover, the work of faith will be completed by love, for "perfect love casteth out fear."
Ezekiel 12:22, Ezekiel 12:23
A worthless proverb.
Ezekiel quotes a proverb with which the Jews are comforting themselves, and tells them that it cannot be relied on.
I. A PROVERB IS READILY ACCEPTED.
1. Its aptness of expression attracts us. We are taken by neatness of phrase. A lie may be ably expressed, and a great fallacy may strike us as particularly well put. Thus the form disguises the substance.
2. Its wide use throws us off our guard. We regard it as an embodiment of "the wisdom of the many." What "everybody" says is taken for granted as true. Passing freely in conversational commerce, the question of a familiar proverb's soundness is scarcely raised.
3. Its antiquity makes it venerable. Proverbs are supposed to contain "the wisdom of the ancients."
II. A PROVERB MAY BE FALSE.
1. Aptness of expression is no guarantee of truth. This is only a matter of form. Surely Descartes made a mistake in asserting that seeing a thought clearly was equivalent to an assurance of the truth of it. Lucidity of expression may cover falsity of idea.
2. The mass of men may be in error. The voice of the people is by no means always the voice of God. When one common prejudice seizes many minds, they are all likely to be deluded into a common error.
3. The venerableness of a proverb does not guarantee its truth. It is forgotten that, as Bacon tells us, we are the ancients, and those who lived in the early days belong to the childhood of the race. Other things being equal, the latest saying should be the truest. Certainly no premium is to be set on the knowledge of antiquity.
III. A PROVERB MAY BE MISAPPLIED. This was the case with the Jews to whom Ezekiel referred. They quoted a proverb revealing a startling insight into one remarkable feature of Hebrew prophecy which until lately had been almost lost sight of. The prophet sees the future as though it were present, and he describes it in such a way as to suggest to many that it is nearer than it proves to be. There is little perspective in prophecy. Its horizon often appears to move before us as its predictions are translated into facts of history. But this is not always the case, nor does the postponement of fulfilment mean its never coming. In the present case the proverb of postponement was misapplied, for fulfilment was close at hand. Here is the danger of general phrases. True in one set of circumstances, they may be utterly false in another application.
IV. A PROVERB SHOULD BE TESTED. We should treat our proverbs as uncertain coins, and ring them before using them. Then we shall find that not a few are of as base metal as Hanoverian sovereigns. There is a sort of proverbial orthodoxy constructed out of set theological phrases which has no other stamp upon it than that of preachers' usage. Loyalty to truth compels us to submit this religion's coinage to the test of Scripture, conscience, and experience. The most dangerous proverbial expressions are those that flatter ourselves. With the Jews the favourite proverb was one that postponed the prospect of the evil day and threw doubt on the Divine message. Cynical unbelief is full of sell-assurance. But it is not safe to trust to it simply because it may be clever or prevalent. Every idea that denies the Divine word is sure to prove delusive.
The end of delusions.
The Jews had beer deluding themselves with a false proverb—or at all events, with a proverb falsely applied (see Ezekiel 12:22). Ezekiel tells them that such errors and those of flattering divination will both cease. There is to be an end to error.
I. DELUSIONS WIN A TEMPORARY TRIUMPH. The false prophet has his day of success. Flattering errors easily win their way into popularity. The history of thought is largely made up of the story of errors—their genesis, growth, prevalence, triumph, and decay. This fact should guard us against accepting any motive just because it happens to be triumphant. There are fashions in philosophy and theology. But truth is eternal and abiding, and it is therefore simply foolish to accept the ideas which chance to be in vogue at our own time without further inquiry.
II. THE TRIUMPH OF DELUSIONS IS FRUITLESS. Error is always barren of any solid results. It is darkness, death, negation. Even when at the acme of prosperity it is but as a bubble; it has no substance in it. There came a time when the vain vision and the flattering divination of the Jews were to be put to the test in the siege of Jerusalem. At this moment of trial they were found to be utterly useless. This is the fatal defect of a false idea. We may cherish it for long until we need to use it. But directly we put it into practice it crumbles away.
III. TROUBLE EXPOSES DELUSIONS. So long as Jerusalem prospered the vain visions continued, and the flattering divination was practised without intermission. It was the touch of real trouble that broke the bubble. Many a comfortable soul is living in a fool's paradise or direful error without fear or pain until some real adversity comes. Then the utter delusiveness of the admired notions is suddenly revealed with appalling amazement. If we are able to hold to fatal notions till the end of life, we shall find at last that they are but rotten planks, which will break up when we try to float on them eve, the chill waters of death.
IV. THE EXPOSURE OF DELUSIONS IS A BLESSING. Naturally enough, it first strikes the helpless dupes with dismay as a pure calamity. Why should they not be permitted to dream their lives away on a bed of roses although the volcano should be slumbering beneath? Because even apart from consequences truth is supremely desirable, and error is an evil thing. We ought to be thankful for a painful process which leads us out of darkness into light. But it is not necessary for us to wait for the alarming awakening. The revelation of God in Christ and the truths of inspiration are with us to spare us the terrible method of deliverance from error, and to lead us out of darkness into the light of Christ.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Hope mingled with fear.
If we bear in mind that this language was employed by the Lord in directing Ezekiel how to deal with the house of Israel, we shall see what light it casts upon human liberty and responsibility. The prophet was to make use of certain symbolical means with the view of wakening his countrymen to a sense of their danger, and of inducing them to repent and to turn unto the Lord. Now, believing in the Divine omniscience and foreknowledge, we cannot but be assured that the Eternal foresaw what would be the result of the appeal which was to be made. Yet lie spoke to the prophet as if that result was uncertain. "It may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house." Ezekiel did not and could not know what would be the issue of this ministry with which he was entrusted; and he was to do his work in a perfectly natural and human way, to act as believing in the liberty of those to whom he was sent, and as leaving the responsibility entirely with them. He experienced in his mind a conflict of emotions; hope was mingled with fear.
I. A NATURAL EXPECTATION FOUNDED UPON EXPERIENCE. Ezekiel knew that he was sent to "a rebellious house," to "a stiffnecked people;" he could not possibly be blind to the character and disposition of those whom he knew so well. Every herald and messenger of God is sometimes sent to the unbelieving, the hard-hearted, the apparently unimpressible. Such characters have often been brought into contact with the Divine Word, and have as often spurned it. Judging by experience only, how can any servant of God go to such, taking with him a new message, or the old message with new arguments and persuasions to enforce it, without something of discouragement, something of foreboding? It is not possible. Habits are confirmed as days and years pass on; the hard heart is likely to grow harder instead of softer. Only the hammer can break, only the fire can melt it.
II. A CONTRARY HOPE SPRINGING FROM BENEVOLENCE. Divine kindness addresses the rebellious and impenitent yet once again. "It may he they will consider." If this view is possible to God, surely it is possible to God's human messenger. He knows, perhaps, that his own ignorance has been instructed, his own obduracy has been melted; and he hopes that in this the experience of others may resemble his own. If men will but consider, consideration may lead to repentance. And why should they not consider? Is not the message from God a message that deserves serious and patient attention? The good will which the Lord's servant has towards his fellow men forbids him to despair of their salvation, to abandon labour on their behalf.
III. THE APPOINTED MEANS HAVING BEEN USED BY GOD'S MESSENGER, THE RESPONSIBILITY MUST BE LEFT WITH THOSE ADDRESSED IN GOD'S NAME. The herald of God delivers his message, presents the offers and the requirements of Divine authority; he does this with mingled fear and hope; and he can do no more. The record has always been a record resembling that of Paul's ministry at Rome: "Some believed, and some believed not." The minister of Christ preaches the gospel, whether men will hear or forbear. He delivers his soul. He cannot command results. He can simply repeat the admonition of his Master, "Take heed how ye hear!" And it is well that he should not discharge his ministry in a spirit of dejection and despondency. He must indeed face the possibility that those whose welfare he seeks may refuse to consider; they are free agents, and the competing voices of the world are powerful, attractive. Yet he should not forget that they may consider; and if they will only yield so far, he may reasonably hope that consideration may lead to repentance and to life eternal.—T.
Frequently was the ministry of Ezekiel a ministry of symbolism as well as of language. Very pictorial and effective must some of the prescribed actions of the prophet have appeared to those who witnessed them. On the occasion referred to in this passage he ate his bread and drank his water with trembling, carefulness, and astonishment. Now, in ordinary cases, the daily meals are partaken by good men with cheerfulness and gratitude. The change from Ezekiel's usual demeanour to that evident upon this occasion must certainly have awakened on the part of his companions not a little curiosity and inquiry. There was a typical signification in it, which he himself was ready to explain. There are times when anticipation of evil is justified, when its absence is unreasonable. The terrors, privations, and sufferings of the approaching siege of Jerusalem were pictured beforehand by the figurative, symbolical actium of the prophet.
I. THE OCCASION OF THESE TREMBLING FOREBODINGS. It was the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the land of Israel who were about to suffer. And their sufferings were the just reward of their unfaithfulness and rebelliousness. Threats and warnings had not been spared. The prophet at least believed that these threats were not empty and vain, that the day was approaching when they should be fulfilled. The siege of the rebellious city was at hand.
II. THE SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER OF THESE TREMBLING FOREBODINGS. lake a true minister of God, Ezekiel thought and felt less for himself than for his people. He had personally no special reason for alarm. So far as his own safety was concerned, there was no reason why he should cherish anticipations of evil. But in his own mind he identified himself with Jerusalem, with Israel. He could not separate and isolate himself from those to whom he was bound by ties of kindred and of common indebtedness to the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. If his people suffered, he would suffer with them. Even if they showed a sinful indifference to their state and prospects, he would cherish a just sensitiveness. If disaster were approaching, he would not be content to secure his own safety and to regard their fate with heartless unconcern.
III. THE INTENTION OF THESE TREMBLING FOREBODINGS. Ezekiel was no mere prophet of evil. He did not conceive himself to have accomplished his mission in predicting the coming evil, and then abandoning the people to the consequences of their sin. He warned them in the hope that they would profit by his warning, turn from their evil ways, and seek that national disaster might be averted, or, at all events, in the hope that individuals might repent and flee from the wrath to come. His mission was one of benevolence.
IV. THE JUSTIFICATION FOR THESE TREMBLING FOREBODINGS. The siege which Ezekiel foretold came to pass; the people, in the famine which ensued, ate their bread with carefulness, and drank their water with astonishment; the cities were laid waste, and the land became a desolation. All the predictions of the Lord's prophet were verified. The false security of the people was proved to be false and baseless; their hope of immunity from judgment was frustrated. The righteous judgment of God was vindicated, and that in a most awful manner.
V. THE ULTIMATE ISSUE OF THESE TREMBLING FOREBODINGS. The fear of the prophet, the calamity and terror which overtook the people, had a moral, a religious end, which in large measure was secured. The authority of the God of Israel was asserted. The vanity of rebellion against him was demonstrate. The attention of all concerned was directed to the principles of true religion as the foundation alike of national and of individual well being. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord."—T.
The human proverb and the Divine.
National proverbs embody national thinking, national sentiments, national habits. They sometimes convey counsels of wisdom. But they are sometimes superficial and all but valueless. As in the case here recorded, such frivolous and misleading sayings need to be replaced and substituted by the dictates of inspiration, of infallible wisdom, and undying truth.
I. A SPECIOUS PROVERB OF HUMAN WISDOM.
1. Its import. This was twofold—it asserted the postponement indefinitely of righteous judgment, and the failure of authorized prophecy. No doubt retribution was deferred; but this, which was a sign of Divine forbearance, was interpreted as a proof that judgment there was none, on earth or in heaven. No doubt the warnings were uttered long before the calamity overtook the people; and, in consequence, the threatened, the unbelievers, instead of using the opportunity to repent and reform, abused it to their own condemnation.
2. Its plausibility. It is described as a "flattering divination;" for it was intended to fall in with and to encourage the carelessness, the impenitence, and the unspirituality of men.
3. Its illusiveness. The opponents of the inspired prophet had but a "vain vision" to boast of. Time unmasks all false, deceitful appearances; in a short time it was seen that the proverbial wisdom of the impenitent was utterly baseless, was indeed nothing but folly.
II. A VERACIOUS DECLARATION OF DIVINE COUNSELS. I. The proverb dishonouring to God is exposed and refuted. "I will make this proverb to cease." Events should make its currency impossible. There is a destructive power in truth—it shatters illusions to pieces. Great swelling words of vanity collapse when they encounter the simple but authoritative utterances of Divine truth.
2. The truthfulness of the Lord's prophets is established. Every word is fulfilled. Most unlikely events come to pass in accordance with prophetic utterance. God speaks, and the pride of the haughty is humbled, and things that are not vanquish things that are. The faithful admonitions of the Lord's servants are proved to be just and wise.
3. A new proverb is created by the action of Divine providence. "There shall none of my words be deferred any more." The time came, and came speedily, when this could not be questioned. And what happened in the days of Ezekiel has happened wherever God has spoken. For us it is chiefly of practical concern to notice that he who came from God and went to God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, uttered forth the Divine mind and will with a unique completeness; and that though heaven and earth shall pass away, his words shall not pass away.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The dramatic form of prophecy.
It is of the first moment that men should have right and adequate impressions of the truth. A man's life is properly moulded through his intelligence. His intelligence moulds his tastes, feeds his emotions, inspires his purposes, directs his life. Clear convictions of truth and duty possess unspeakable value.
I. MORAL OBTUSENESS IN MEN IS A GRIEF TO GOD. Eyes have been conferred for the sole reason that men may see; and ears, that they may hear. Yet men often misuse and neglect them. By indulgence in vicious likings they wilfully blind the inner eye and make deaf the inner ear. "None are so blind as those who will not see." "If the eye be evil, the whole body is full of darkness." If the sole channel of truth be choked, the man is the victim of falsehood. This is a grief to God, and he adopts a thousand methods to illumine the dark understanding. He sometimes blinds the eye of sense that the eye of the mind may open. He finds his way into the heart of men through some other avenue hitherto untried; for he who made man will find some method of access to his soul.
II. A NOVEL FORM OF PROPHECY—A DRAMA IN ACTUAL LIFE. Instruction, as a rule, is addressed to the ear; but for the deaf and for infants it is often addressed to the eye. So, in olden times, God often gave to men an object lesson. We have the narrative of such an event in the fourth chapter, where Ezekiel was required to lie on free side of his body during three hundred and ninety days. When Zedekiah the prophet was summoned to the court of Ahab, to give counsel respecting the projected war, Zedekiah entered the king's presence furnished with horns of iron. The appearance of these was to add impressiveness to the prophet's words. So when Paul was journeying for the last time to Jerusalem, Agabus, a prophet, came to him at Caesarea, and, taking Paul's girdle, bound his own hands and feet, then added, "So shall the Jews bind the man that owneth this girdle." This appeal to the eye by living action strengthens conviction in the minds of spectators of the truth and importance of the message. By every possible method God accommodated himself to the necessities of the people for whom he still designed kindness.
III. MEDIATORAL SERVICE BY MAN FOR MEN. The labour of a true prophet is no sinecure. It is the hardest of toil. He must have no care for himself in his solicitude for others. To be a true prophet he must be like-minded with God. The self-forgetful, self sacrificing love of God must flow in his veins. He must be completely devoted to the good of those to whom he is sent. No labour must be accounted arduous, no pain severe, in order to success in his undertaking. Now Ezekiel is required to array himself in an emigrant's attire; provide himself with the usual baggage for foreign travel; take his staff in his hand; carry his equipment on his shoulder; leave his home in the sight of men, yet with face veiled; and dig a hole through the city wall, to secure exit from the city. To do all this in the town of Tel-Abib would excite public attention, surprise, and wonder. The people would consider the prophet mad. Yet this was the very end God had in view, viz. to arrest attention and to produce reflection. This strange action would indicate the strength of Ezekiel's faith, and strong faith awakens faith in others. He was willing, like Paul, "to become all things, so that by any means he might save some."
IV. INQUIRY LEANS TO CLEARER REVELATION OF TRUTH. The knowledge which man gets in response to inquiry is more appreciated and more pondered than that which is given unasked. A great triumph is gained over the sluggishness of our nature when a spirit of inquiry is stirred within. If a man desires knowledge, it is an omen for good; it is the dawn of blessing. Clearer and fuller information can come through the gateway of the ear than through the gateway of the eye. The people to whom Ezekiel addressed himself were those of the Captivity at Tel-Abib. They were fostering a false hope (aided by vain counsels sent from brethren in Jerusalem) that their captivity would be very brief, and that new political combinations would result in speedy restoration to Palestine. Thus their minds would be disturbed; their simple trust was diverted from God, and they were losing the spiritual benefit which the exile was intended to bring. Inquiry after the truth would lead the way to mental tranquillity and submission. The clear fulfilment of prophecy would strengthen faith in God.
V. FOLLY OF ALL EFFORT TO EVADE GOD. In the fourteenth verse we read, "I will scatter toward every wind all that are about to help him, and all his bands." This announcement would embrace the Egyptian host which came to help Zedekiah, as well as his own people. To resist Jehovah is to resist the granite rock. A single word from God ought to suffice in order to obtain our readiest obedience. Patriotism is an excellent virtue in its place, but very often it is only a poor admixture of vanity and selfish ambition. Pious trust and pious obedience are far superior. To be wise we must always be on the side of God. God's will is supreme, and, in the end, is irresistible. Oneness with that will is life and peace.
VI. TO KNOW GOD—THIS IS THE FINAL ISSUE. It is instructive to observe how that this is the frequent refrain: "They shall know that I am the Lord." This was a lesson which the Hebrews would not learn in days of prosperity; therefore they were led into the deep shades of adversity to acquire it. The discipline, though severe, was successful. Experience is an excellent school, though a costly one. It cured them of their foolish belief in idols, and wrought in them the conviction that the unseen Jehovah alone was God. Yet in many persons this knowledge was only intellectual. It did not command their affection, nor draw after it spontaneous service. The knowledge of God which becomes to us salvation, is an experimental knowledge. It is knowledge of God as our God—our reconciled Father. We know him with personal intimacy. We admit him to the inmost chamber of our hearts. He becomes Emmanuel, i.e. God with us—God in us. We grow up into his likeness, We imitate his qualities. We yield to him will and heart and life.—D.
The snare of unbelief.
Faith has the power to make the distant near. It obliterates distance of time and space. But unbelief reverses the effect. It looks in at the wrong end of the telescope, and reduces realities to a mere speck. Unbelief corrupts all blessing; it makes sour the very cream of God's kindness. "Because judgment is not speedily executed," incorrigible rebellion makes a mock of retribution.
I. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF DISTANT JUDGMENT IS GREAT KINDNESS. The ancient Greeks had an adage: "The gods have feet of wool." But this does not describe the character of the living God. Instead of overtaking men hastily, "he is slow to anger." He does not willingly afflict. "The axe is often laid at the root of the tree," and that for a long spell; and if repentance and fruitfulness appear, the sentence is gladly revoked. The aim and purpose of our God are not destruction, but restoration. If it is within the range of possibility to awake the slumbering conscience, and save the man, God will do it. To announce beforehand ordained judgments is kindness infinite.
II. DEFERRED JUDGMENT OFTEN LEADS TO MISPLACED CONFIDENCE. The best blessings, when corrupted, become our direst curses. Neither the bitter experience of sin, though long continued, nor the royal clemency of God, produces any beneficial effect on some men. They seem deaf to every appeal of prudence, insensible to every overture of kindness. All tender feeling appears to have vanished; they have reached already a state of hopeless reprobation. If the severity of justice for a moment should relax, they put it down to cowardice, or weakness, or irresolution. They say, "We shall have peace, though we walk after the imagination of our own hearts." "Give a loose rein to lust," say they; "God doth not regard us."
III. UNBELIEF PUTS FAR OFF THE DAY OF RECKONING. Its shallow line of reasoning is this: "No punishment has fallen upon us as yet. Today will be as yesterday, and tomorrow as today. Probably," say they, "punishment will not come at all; or if it should, it is so far away that for all practical purposes we may disregard it" There is a strong force of inertia in every man's nature. What has been, he thinks, will continue to be. "Where is the promise of his coming?" The wish becomes father to the thought, that punishment is dubious, problematic—a mere ghost of probability. All the evidence of Divine rule and Divine interposition unbelief rejects as hypothetical craze. What cannot be seen and handled and touched unbelief despises as unreal.
IV. THE HOUR OF DOOM AT LENGTH SUDDENLY STRIKES. To men it often seems a sudden event; not so to God. He has seen he elements preparing stage by stage, and "suddenness" forms no part of his experience. So it has been with all the great calamities that have overtaken men. In the period of Noah's deluge, men saw no prognostication of coming danger. "They bought, they sold, they married, they were given in marriage, until the very day that Noah entered into the ark." On the day of Sodom's doom, the sun rose over the eastern hills with his usual splendour and tranquillity; yet before noon the smoke of the devastation rose and smothered in silence the cries of its dying population. "So shall the coming of the Son of man be." When profligate men least expect it the storm shall break upon their heads. Whensoever the long suffering kindness of God is made an occasion of fresh licence, be quite sure that retribution is not far away. "In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh."—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
It parabolic appeal to a rebellious people.
"The word of the Lord also came unto me, saying, Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house," etc. "Now begin the amplifications," says Hengstenberg, "the marginal notes, so to speak, on the great text in ch. 8-11; which extend to Ezekiel 19:1-14; and these terminate in a song, corresponding to the song in the first group in Ezekiel 7:1-27. The approaching catastrophe of Jerusalem forms the central point throughout. The prophet is inexhaustible in the announcement of this, as the false patriotism was inexhaustible in its announcements of salvation." We are not certain whether this parable of Ezekiel's removing was really acted by him or only visional. But we incline to the opinion that it was internal and visional, for the following reasons:
1. This communication (verses 1-16) refers chiefly to the king and the people in Jerusalem, while the prophet dwelt at Tel-Abib. So that so far as the people principally interested in it are concerned, it would be as impressive to them if it took place in the region of the prophet's soul as if it were outwardly enacted in a country far away from them.
2. The prophet is represented as dwelling in the midst of the people to whom this communication chiefly applies, and as doing these things in their sight; but seeing that he actually dwelt at Tel-Abib on the Chebar, we think that his dwelling and acting spoken of in this chapter must have been visional.
3. If it had been an actual and external occurrence it would not, at least in one respect, have well answered the end designed. That end was to set forth the truth that the king and the people in Jerusalem should be carried into captivity. But inasmuch as Ezekiel was already in exile, if he actually went forth thus from his Babylonian residence, the action would more fitly symbolize the return of the exiles to their own land than the carrying of others into exile. Such a return many of the exiles were hoping for and expecting speedily; and the prophet was not likely to be told to do anything that would encourage the vain expectation. Jeremiah had already written to them, exhorting them to build houses and settle peacefully in the land of their captivity, because they should not return to their own land until seventy years of exile were accomplished. For these reasons we incline to the opinion that the doings of verses 3-7 were not external and actual, but internal and visional; but, as we have said above, we are not certain of this. Of this we feel assured, that, if they were visional, they were impressed upon the mind of Ezekiel with all the vividness of actual transactions. But, happily, this question does not affect the permanent and universal teachings of the incident. Notice—
I. THE DEPLORABLE MORAL CONDITION OF REBELLIOUS SINNERS. "Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house," etc.
1. A condition of sad moral obtuseness. "Which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not" (cf. Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10). The will of God was made known unto them, and they had the mental and moral faculties which are necessary for its apprehension, yet they did not apprehend it; they misapprehended or disregarded it. "When men see, hear, and do not profit by their seeing or hearing, then they neither see nor hear in Scripture sense." In this respect how great is the moral insensibility, not only of the openly profane, but of many who attend the public means of grace! They unite in forms of public worship without any spiritual improvement; they hear the ministry of redemptive truth without any saving impression. They "have eyes to see, and see not; they have cars to hear, and hear not."
2. Moral obtuseness arising from persistent wickedness. "For they are a rebellious house." Their moral insensibility was a consequence of their habitual sin. "The cause is all from themselves; the darkness of the understanding is owing to the stubbornness of the will." The practice of sin blunts the spiritual susceptibilities, tends to destroy the capacity for receiving religious impressions or perceiving spiritual truth; and when fully developed it ends in moral sensibility, and makes a man "past feeling."
II. THE PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE OF THE DIVINE EFFORTS FOR THE CONVERSION OF THE WICKED. "Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for removing," etc. (verse 3). Many means had been tried to lead them to repentance, but without a satisfactory result. Still, God does not yet abandon them, but directs that other means shall be tried, saying, "It may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house." The truth must "be set before their eyes," says Hengstenberg, "in rough, palpable, overpowering reality, if it is to find entrance to their minds, and succeed in emancipating them from those dreams of the future which are preventing their repentance ….The greater the weakness of their eyes, the more conspicuous must he the exhibition of the truth." God is unwilling to abandon the wicked to their sin and doom. He has long patience with them, sends to them messenger after messenger, and employs means after means, both various and oft-repeated, in order to lead them to turn from sin to himself. In illustration and confirmation of this, see Ezekiel 33:11; Jeremiah 44:4; Hosea 11:8, Hosea 11:9; Nehemiah 9:26-31; Matthew 21:33-44. And in the incident before us, he not only addresses to them this stirring parable to arrest their attention and awaken their consideration, but he also instructs the prophet to make known to them the interpretation of it, that even the most indifferent and the most insensible might be made acquainted with the truths communicated.
III. THE EXTRAORDINARY DIVINE APPEAL TO THE INCONSIDERATE AND REBELLIOUS PEOPLE. This parable (Matthew 21:3-7) was the Lord's appeal to the insensible and rebellions people. It does not require any exposition from us, as the inspired interpretation is here given (Matthew 21:8-16), and this also is interpreted by its remarkable fulfilment in history. But we may mark the several stages of the mournful history hero predicted, the fulfilment of which is recorded in 2 Kings 25:1-30.; Jeremiah 39:1-10; Jeremiah 52:1-30.
1. Here is a picture of the king and people of Jerusalem going into captivity. (Jeremiah 52:3, Jeremiah 52:4, Jeremiah 52:10, Jeremiah 52:11.) "The stuff for removing," or "baggage of the emigrant" (Jeremiah 52:3, Jeremiah 52:4), "is the equipment made by one who enters on a journey never to return." And "as they that go forth into captivity," or "like the removals of the emigrant" (Jeremiah 52:4), signifies, according to Hengstenberg, "in the costume and with the maimer of emigrants; 'with a bag on the shoulder and a staff in the hand;' 'sad and with drooping head.'" Thus Ezekiel was to typify the departure of prince and people into exile.
2. Here is a picture of going into captivity by sorrowful and stealthy flight. (Verses 5-7, 12.) He is to go forth in the twilight so as to elude the vigilance of the enemies, and with his face covered so as not to see the b loved land which he is leaving. And all the accounts of the flight agree that it was made in fright and furtively under cover of night.
3. Here is a veiled announcement of the king's deprivation of sight and an explicit declaration of his destination as an exile. (Verse 13.) According to Josephus ('Ant.,' 10. 7.2), Ezekiel sent an account of this prophecy to Jerusalem to strengthen the influence of Jeremiah with the king, who was personally considerably disposed to heed the counsel of that prophet. But the king compared the announcements of the two prophets, and finding that while Jeremiah said he should be carried in bonds to Babylon, Ezekiel said he should not see it, he disbelieved both of them. And yet the event showed that both of them were true. The king was carried as a prisoner to Babylon, but he did not see it, for Nebuchadnezzar had put out his eyes at Riblah in the land of Hamath.
4. Here is a declaration that the king should be left without defence or helper. "I will scatter toward every wind all that are about him to help him, and all his bands" (verse 14). And the sacred historian tells us that when the army of the Chaldeans overtook the fleeing king "in the plains of Jericho, all his army were scattered from him."
5. Here is the intention expressed to spare a small remnant for the acknowledgment of the supremacy of Jehovah and the confession of their sins. (Verses 15, 16.) Only "a few men," or "men of number," should be left, i.e. so few that they might be easily counted; and they should be spared in order that they might acknowledge the many aggravated and persistent sins of the people, which had led to these stern judgments, and so vindicate the justice of God in the infliction of them. And by these judgments they would become convinced that Jehovah is the living and the true God. "They shall know that I am the Lord." These words, which "recur as a refrain" in these prophecies, we have already considered (in Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10).
1. The peril of disregarding the Word of the Lord. Such conduct, persisted in, leads to spiritual blindness and deafness.
2. The obligation of the good to put forth persistent efforts for the conversion of the wicked.
3. The importance of employing various means for the conversion of the wicked.—W.J.
Deprivations caused by sin.
"Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking," etc. This paragraph was addressed to Ezekiel's fellow exiles. "Say unto the people of the land;" i.e. of Chaldea. The design was to discourage the false expectations of the captives, who were looking forward to an early season of prosperity for their native land, in which they hoped to share. To this end the prophet shows to them that, in respect to their fellow countrymen in Jerusalem, there would be a cutting off of the physical comforts of life, great anxiety and distress of mind, and sad devastation of both cities and country, and all these things because of the sins of the people, or "for the violence of all who dwell in it." Several things call for attention.
I. SIN DEPRIVING SINNERS OF THE PHYSICAL COMFORTS OF LIFE. "Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness; and say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord God of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel [or, 'in the land of Israel']; They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment." These words point to the cutting off of the comforts of life, and the possession of the mere necessaries thereof. But not always does sin produce consequences such as this. Sin and secular prosperity have often gone hand in hand (cf. Genesis 13:10, Genesis 13:13; Psalms 73:3-12; Luke 12:16-20; Luke 16:19-26). But in these cases the prosperity was precedent to the Divine judgment or to the full development of sin. When that development had taken place, and that judgment was being exercised, there was a striking reversal of circumstances in each case. In the siege of Jerusalem, to which our text points, physical comforts and luxuries disappeared, and long before its close men deemed themselves fortunate if they could secure bread and water. And in our age the wicked may prosper in the world and increase in riches; but in the time of retribution, whenever it arrives, sin will be found injurious to all the true interests of man. Sin often strips the sinner of physical comforts, and even of the bare necessaries of life. Drunkenness, gluttony, indolence, wastefulness, bring many a person and many a family to abject poverty and want (cf. Proverbs 6:9-11; Proverbs 19:15; Proverbs 23:21; Proverbs 24:30-34).
II. SIN DEPRIVING SINNERS OF PEACE AND SERENITY OF SPIRIT. "Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness.… They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment." They would eat even the necessaries of life, not in peace and comfort, but in anxiety and alarm. Their distress may have arisen from tear lest their scanty supplies of food should fail them, and so they ate "their bread with carefulness." And to this was joined terror of their enemies who surrounded them, causing them to take of the sustenance of life "with quaking, trembling, and astonishment." It is of the nature of sin, when it is developed, to destroy peace and calmness of mind, and to produce terror and distress. "The wicked are like the troubled sea," etc. (Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 57:21). Without doubt we may often find the wicked in their sad career untroubled either by guilt or fear; but forevery one the time of awakening comes, and with it security departs and terror arrives. "When the pleasure has been tasted and is gone," says Mr. Froude, "and nothing is left of the crime but the ruin which it has wrought, then the furies take their seats upon the midnight pillow." "The wicked flee when no man pursueth." "The sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth."
III. SIN DESOLATING THE LAND IN WHICH IT WAS COMMITTED. "That her land may be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate." Instead of "That her land may be desolate from all that is therein," the margin reads, "from the fulness thereof." The meaning seems to be that the land would be "stripped of all its inhabitants and of all its wealth." The land of Israel was once fair and fertile—"a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills," etc. (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). In the time of Solomon the Tyrians received large quantities of corn and wine and oil from this fruitful land (1 Kings 5:11; 2 Chronicles 2:10). But what is its condition now? And what has been its condition for ages past? "He turneth a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein." "The plain of Jordan, well watered everywhere, and as the garden of the Lord" (Genesis 13:10) is not the only example of fertility, being changed into barrenness because of the sins of the people. Other lands have had a similar fate, but by a different process. There are sins by which lands are still laid waste. Indolence, effeminacy, self-indulgence, delight in war, and social oppression, in every age produce impoverishment and desolation in any country where they prevail.
IV. DIVINE JUDGMENT BECAUSE OF SIN LEADING SINNERS TO KNOW THAT JEHOVAH IS THE ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord" (see our notes on these words in Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10; Ezekiel 11:10).—W.J.
The word of the Lord discredited and vindicated.
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel?" etc.
I. THE WORD OF THE LORD DISCREDITED.
1. It was discredited in various degrees.
(1) By some it was entirely disbelieved. "Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?" The reference in this proverb is to the predictions of the Divine judgments against Jerusalem and its inhabitants, which had been made by Jeremiah long ago. And the proverb is a jeering expression, indicating the opinion that these predictions had totally failed. These sceptics argued within themselves and amongst themselves, that because the fulfilment of the threatened judgment was delayed, the threatening itself was untrue. "The experience of God's forbearance had destroyed their apprehension of his truthfulness." This sinful misinterpretation of the Divine dealings is not confined to that generation or to that people. We discover the same presumptuous unbelief in Psa 1:1-6 :21, "These things hast thou done; and I kept silence," etc.; in Ecclesiastes 8:11, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily," etc.; and in 2Pe 3:3, 2 Peter 3:4, "There shall come in the last days scoffers," etc. What an abuse is this of the patience of the Lord God! What a base perversion of his forbearance and grace (cf. Romans 2:4-11; 2 Peter 3:9)!
(2) By others the word of the Lord was discredited by indefinitely postponing its fulfilment. "Son of man, behold, the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off." These persons argued that, because the fulfilment of the threatenings of Jeremiah had been delayed so long, that fulfilment was yet far off. They concluded that the prophetic visions would not be realized in their time, and therefore they need not be troubled by them.
2. It was discredited in open expression. "Behold, the house of Israel say, The vision that he sooth is for many days," etc. (verse 27). In the case of those who entirely discredited the word of the Lord by the prophet, the terms in which they expressed their disbelief had become proverbial. "What is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel?" etc. (verse 22). This sentiment, common among the people, "had been expressed in a pointed sentence,… and straightway became popular as a watchword, which was taken up on every occasion against the true prophet." Their disbelief of the message of the Lord by his prophet, and their derision of that prophet, were not veiled, but openly paraded by the people. As Greenhill says, "This wicked speech was become a proverb; it passed through the mouths of all sorts, young, old, great small, learned, ignorant; it was in the city and country, a proverb in the land of Israel." Disbelief had grown daring and defiant.
3. This discredit was plausibly encouraged. False prophets, by means of vain visions and flattering divinations, had fostered disbelief of the stern announcements of Jeremiah, the true prophet of Jehovah (verse 24). These men had prophesied smooth things to the credulous house of Israel—credulous, that is, of such announcements as harmonized with their inclinations. So Ahab believed the smooth-speaking false prophets to his own death, while he hated and imprisoned the faithful Micaiah, the prophet of the Lord Jehovah (1 Kings 22:1-53.). And the false prophets of Jeremiah's age encouraged the presumptuous security of the people until that security was shattered by disaster and ruin.
II. THE WORD OF THE LORD VINDICATED BY HIMSELF.
1. By its continued proclamation. The people of Jerusalem probably thought by their disbelief and derision to put to silence the word of the Lord by Jeremiah his prophet. But God still speaks by him, and by Ezekiel also. "Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord God," etc. (verse 23). "I am the Lord: I will speak," etc. (verse 25). "Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, etc. (verse 28). In this way God speaks again and again to this unbelieving and rebellious people. He will not leave himself without faithful witnesses, who will speak his word even to the most sceptical and stubborn of men (cf. Ezekiel 2:3-7; Ezekiel 3:4-11).
2. By its fall and speedy fulfilment. The Lord here declares that:
(1) His word should be fulfilled speedily. "Say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision …. I will speak, and. the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord God ….There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord God." And, as Hengstenberg says, "the announcement of the prophet has passed into fulfilment in a terrible manner. Scarcely five years elapsed when Jerusalem with its temple lay in ruins; and those who had filled their belly with the east wind of their proud hopes of the future were either lost or envied the dead."
(2) His word should be fulfilled completely. "The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision." The full "contents of every prediction" would be brought to pass. The unbelieving and rebellious people probably thought that even if things came to the worst, they could not be so bad as in the prophetic representations, that Jeremiah had exaggerated the troubles that were coming upon the nation. But "the word of every vision" was at hand. No partial fulfilment was about to take place. Every word of prophetic prediction was to be realized.
3. By putting to silence the also prophets who had discredited it. "There shall no more be any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel." The events that were drawing so near would confound these prophesiers of smooth things. The complete fulfilment of the visions of the true prophet would effectually stop the mouths of the false ones.
CONCLUSION. Our subject presents to us:
1. An assurance of the certainty often fulfilment of the Word of the Lord. (Cf. Numbers 23:19; Psalms 89:34; Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35; Luke 16:17; l Peter Luke 1:23-25.)
2. Warning against unbelief of the Word of the Lord, and against the false security arising therefrom. The punishment denounced against sin will certainly be inflicted unless the sinner turn from his evil way.
3. Encouragement to trust the Word of the Lord. Its promises are true and. reliable. The hopes which it inspires are not delusive. "For how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the Yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us."—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany