Take thee a barber's razor, etc. The series of symbolic acts is carried further. Recollections of Isaiah and Leviticus mingle strangely in the prophet's mind. The former had made the "razor" the symbol of the devastation wrought by an invading army (Isaiah 7:20). The latter had forbidden its use for the head and beard of the priests (Le Leviticus 19:27; Leviticus 21:5). Once again Ezekiel is commanded to do a forbidden thing as a symbolic act. He is, for the moment, the representative of the people of Jerusalem, and there is to be, as of old, a great destruction of that people as "by a razor that is hired." The word for "barber" (perhaps "hair cutter") does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament, but its use may be noted as showing that then, as now, the "barber" was a recognized institution in every Eastern town. The word for "knife" (Joshua 5:2; 1 Kings 18:28) is used in verse 2, and commonly throughout the Old Testament, for "sword," and is so translated here by the LXX. and Vulgate. The prophet is to take a "sword" and use it as a razor, to make the symbolism more effective.
Thou shalt burn with fire, etc. The symbolism receives its interpretation in Ezekiel 5:12. A third part of the people (we need not expect numerical exactness) was to perish in the city of pestilence and famine, another to fall by the sword in their attempts to escape, yet another third was to be scattered to the far off land of their exile, and even there the sword was to follow them. The words, in the midst of the city, and the days of the siege, find their most natural explanation in Ezekiel 4:1, Ezekiel 4:5, Ezekiel 4:6.
Ezekiel 5:3, Ezekiel 5:4
Thou shalt also take, etc. The words may point
This is Jerusalem, etc. The strange acted parables cease, and we have the unfigurative interpretation. The words that follow point to the central position of Jerusalem in the geography, and therefore in the history, of the ancient East: Egypt to the south, Assyria and Babylon to the north, and in the nearer distance Moabites and Ammonites, and Edomites, and Phoenicians, and Philistines; to all of these Jerusalem might have been as a city set on a hill, as the light of the Gentiles. That had been her ideal position from the first, as in the visions of Micah 4:1 and Isaiah 2:1 it was to be in its ideal future. The words are not without interest, as probably having suggested the thought, prominent in mediaeval geography (Dante, 'Inf.,' 34.115, and the Hereford 'Mappa Mundi'), that Jerusalem was physically the central point of the earth's surface. So Moslems believe Mecca to be the earth's centre, and the Greek word omphalos was applied to Delphi as implying the same belief
She hath changed, etc. To that calling Jerusalem had been unfaithful. Corruptio optimi pessima, and she had sunk to a lower level than the nations round about her. For changed my judgments into wickedness, read, with the Revised Version, hath rebelled against my judgments in doing wickedness. The pronoun refers, not to the nations, but to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and so in the next clause.
Because ye multiplied, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, because ye are turbulent. The vereb is cognate with the noun translated "tumult" in 1 Samuel 4:14; Psalms 65:7; Isaiah 33:3, though it is more commonly rendered "multitude." It is not (as stated by Currey and Gardiner) the verb rendered "rage" in Psalms 2:1. The former meaning fits in fairly here, hot some critics (Smend) suppose that the text is corrupt. A conjectural emendation gives, "ye were counted with the nations." Neither have done according to the judgments; better, with the Revised Version, ordinances. Taking the words as they stand, the words find their explanation in Jeremiah 2:10, Jeremiah 2:11. In doing as the nations (Ezekiel 11:12; Ezekiel 16:47), Jerusalem had not done as they did, for they were at least true to tile gods whom they worshipped, and she had rebelled against her God. Some Hebrew manuscripts and some versions omit the negative, but this is probably a correction made in order to bring about a verbal agreement with Ezekiel 11:12.
Therefore, etc. The conjunction is emphatic. It was because Jerusalem, in her high estate had sinned so conspicuously that her punishment was to be equally conspicuous (comp. Lamentations 4:6; Amos 3:2).
I will do in thee, etc. The like words were spoken by our Lord of the destruction of the city that was then future (Matthew 24:21); but the war, Is of Ezekiel manifestly refer to that which was within the horizon of his vision, and find their parallel in Daniel 9:12; Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:13.
The fathers shall eat their sons, etc. An echo from Le 26:29 and Deuteronomy 28:53. The words of Jeremiah 19:9 and Lamentations 4:10 imply that horrors such as these occurred during the siege of the city by the Chaldeans, as they had occurred before in the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:28, 2 Kings 6:29), and were to occur afterwards in that by the Romans (Josephus, 'Bell Jud.,' 6.4. § 4). The whole remnant, etc. (comp. verse 2).
Because thou hast defiled my sanctuary, etc. For the full account of the nature of the abominations which are thus spoken of, see notes on Ezekiel 8:1-18. This was, after all, the root evil of all other evils. Pollution of worship, the degradation of the highest element in man's nature, passed into pollution and degradation of his whole life. Even in our Lord's acted teaching, in John 2:15, John 2:16 and Matthew 21:12, we have the same principle implied. Therefore will I also diminish thee, etc. The italics show that the last word is not in the Hebrew. The Revised Version margin suggests two other renderings.
A third part of thee, etc. (see note on Ezekiel 5:2). The strange symbolic act is now interpreted. I will draw out a sword, etc. The phrase recurs in Ezekiel 12:14, and is found in Le 26:33—an echo, like so many other passages in Ezekiel, from what seems to have been his favourite storehouse of thought and language (Leviticus 17-26.).
I will cause my fury to rest upon them, etc.; Revised Version, I will satisfy, etc. The phrase meets us again in Ezekiel 16:42; Ezekiel 21:17; Ezekiel 24:13. To "rest" here is to "repose" rather than to "abide." The thought is that a righteous anger, like that of Jehovah, rests (i.e. is quieted) when it has done its work, and that in this sense God is "comforted," either as rejoicing in the punishment of evil for its own sake (as in Deuteronomy 28:63; Isaiah 1:24), or because the punishment does its work in leading men to repentance. Israel may be comforted, because God is comforted as he sees that his judgments have done their work, and that his wrath can find repose. Have spoken in my zeal. The thought implied is that what is spoken in the earnest purpose of "zeal" will assuredly be carried into execution (comp. Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 37:32). Men might deride the prophet's warning as an idle threat. It would prove itself to have come from God.
In the sight of them that pass by. The phrase reminds us of Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:15 : and the latter was probably a conscious reproduction of it. The scorn and mockery of the heathen who rejoiced in her humiliation were to be the keenest pang in the punishment of the guilty city.
A reproach and a taunt, etc. An echo of Deuteronomy 28:37. The accumulation of synonyms in both clauses of the verse is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel's style. Word follows word, like the strokes of a sledge hammer. The word for "instruction" is that which occurs so often in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1:2, Proverbs 1:3, and in twenty-two other passages). In Deuteronomy 11:12; Isaiah 53:5; Jeremiah 30:14, the Authorized Version renders it "chastisement," and that sense is manifestly implied here. Jerusalem was, as it were, to be the great object lesson in God's education of mankind. And the final stroke of all is that the words were not the prophet's own, but "I the Lord have spokes it." The words reappear in Jeremiah 30:17.
The evil arrows of famine, etc. The thought of the "arrows" of God's judgment may have been taken from Deuteronomy 32:23, Deuteronomy 32:42, and occurs frequently also in the Psalms (Psalms 7:13; Psalms 38:2, et al.). Clothed in the language of poetry, the attributes of Jehovah included those of the Far-darter of the Greeks. Which shall be for their destruction, etc.; better, as Revised Version, that are for destruction. Ewald looks on the noun as a personification, like Abaddon, also translated "destruction" in Job 28:22 and Proverbs 15:11, and renders the words, "that are from hell;" but there seems no special reason for assuming such a meaning here. It is noticable that, as in the symbolism of Ezekiel 4:9-17, the laminae is more prominent in Ezekiel's thoughts than the other punishments.
Evil beasts, etc. These appear in like connection in Ezekiel's favourite textbooks (comp. Le Ezekiel 26:6, 22; Deuteronomy 32:24). They reappear in Ezekiel 14:15, Ezekiel 14:21. Historically, we have an example of the suffering thus caused in the lions of 2 Kings 17:25, when towns and villages were deserted, and the unburied carcases of those who had died by famine, or pestilence, or the sword, were everywhere to attract them from afar. This was, of course, the natural and inevitable result. Pestilence and blood, etc. As this is followed by the work of the sword, "blood" probably points to some special form of plague, possibly dysentery (Acts 28:8, Revised Version), or carbuncles, like Hezekiah's boil (Isaiah 38:21). The same combination appears in Ezekiel 14:19; Ezekiel 28:23.
A barber's razor.
The coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem are described under the image of the prophet shaving his head and then disposing of his hair in various ways. The razor stands for the Divine judgment, the hair for the people, the different treatment of the hair for the difference in the doom of the people.
I. DIVINE JUDGMENT IS KEEN AS A RAZOR. Some judgments crush, others cut. The latter do not dispose of their victims at a blow. More is reserved for the hair that has been shaved off; for it is to be burnt, etc. But first of all the head is shorn. Thus judgment is progressive. Now, the first stage throws down pride, breaks up the established order, and casts the miserable sufferers into a state of dismay. This is irresistible. Slender hair cannot resist sharp steel. Feeble man cannot stand up against the penetrating judgment of Heaven.
II. IN PUNISHING A NATION GOD PUNISHES INDIVIDUALS. Each hair is a separate growth, and in shaving the whole head the razor cuts through individual hairs. It is too commonly imagined that burdens can be shifted from the individual to the nation. But if this were universally done there would be no gain, as the tuition is nothing more than the aggregate of the individuals that compose it; and if it were only partially done, injustice would be inflicted on the many for the relief of the few. In Divine judgments there is no escaping on account of the wholesale and national character of what happens. Great general wars lay homesteads desolate, bring mourning to separate households, impoverish private businesses, kill individual men.
III. IN A GENERAL JUDGMENT THERE ARE VARIETIES OF DOOM. The hair is to be divided out, and the several portions are then to be dealt with in different ways. The siege of Jerusalem results in a variety of dreadful calamities. Some of the citizens perish from fire, famine, or disease; some are killed by the sword; some are driven into exile. No doubt there will be varieties of doom in the future world. All will not suffer the same penalties, and yet the just punishment of sin must be unspeakably awful in every instance.
IV. IN THE MOST HEAVY JUDGMENT SOME ARE SPARED. Ezekiel is to take a few hairs and bind them in his skirts. Eight people were saved from the Flood. Three were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Christians who fled to Pella escaped the horrors of the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Thus the doctrine of the "remnant" is repeatedly exemplified. None are so obscure as to be overlooked by God. He is not indiscriminate in his judgment. The faithful are safe in the most overwhelming destruction. Those who are God's true people are well guarded and cared for by him. Such have no occasion to fear any future judgment day.
V. ESCAPE FROM ONE JUDGMENT IS NO ASSURANCE OF FINAL SAFETY. Verse 4 seems to teach that some who escaped from the horrors of the siege would yet be cut off by some later calamity. God's forbearance is no excuse for man's indifference. Judgment deferred is not judgment destroyed. It is possible to turn aside from God in one's later days after serving him truly in one's earlier life, and then the safety of the Fast must give place to peril
A central position.
Jerusalem was in a central position. Palestine was in the wry midst of the nations. The highway between Assyria and Egypt ran through her territory. Seated on the shores of the Mediterranean, she was midway between the great empires of the East and the mysterious world of the West. England is now in a position like that of ancient Palestine, but with a much larger sweep of circumference. This island looks eastward to Europe and Asia, and it is in the highway from the Old World to America. London is the commercial capital of the world. England, more than any other country, has interests and influence in the four quarters of the globe. Then there are individual men in central positions. This is so of all persons in posts of authority. It is also true in a very real sense of everybody. Each man is the centre of his own horizon; the range of his vision and voice extend in a circle all round him. Throw a atone where you will into a pond, and at once it becomes a centre of spreading circles of wavelets. We are all centres of influence. This central position involves great consequences.
I. A HIGH PRIVILEGE. Jerusalem was privileged in her position; so is England today. The products of all the world pone into our markets. The garnered experience of the ages and the wide wealth of thought that grows in many minds are at our disposal. Jerusalem in the days of the prophets had many faults, but narrow mindedness was not one. We see her seated on the great plain of the world's history. In like manner there is a happy richness, a variety and breadth of knowledge, of which we in England today are able to avail ourselves. As individuals, we are in the midst of many enriching sources. Tennyson's Ulysses says, "I am a part of all that I have met." We are able to profit by multitudinous influences from many quarters. We should not stultify these influences by parochial narrowness, but welcome and use all the helps God sends, e.g. in good books, inspiriting lives, wise and good public movements.
II. A UNIQUE POSITION. Jerusalem was in the midst of the nations, yet she was separate from them. She was not to follow the example of her neighbours. She was called to a unique destiny. Alone knowing the true God, she was to serve him in the full blaze of the world, but in separation from the contamination of neighbouring religions. This is the Christian destiny; not to forsake society and cultivate religion in seclusion, but to live in the world, yet free from the spirit of the world—a citizen of heaven residing as God's ambassador on earth.
III. A GREAT MISSION. Jerusalem was planted in the midst of the nations to be a power for good among them. God did not convey his chosen people to some distant "Isles of the Blessed." They were set down in the centre of the great stage of the world's history. They were a separate people, it is true—a sort of Belgium between Egypt and Assyria—the France and Germany of those days. But they had their mission in the end, to give the true religion to all nations. England is most advantageously situated for blessing other nations. We of all peoples should be a missionary nation. The Church of Christ is in the midst of the people, not like Noah's ark, only destined to secure the safety of those shut up inside it, but like leaven put into the, meal to leaven the whole lump. Every Christian Church is in the midst of the people, in a neighbourhood for which it should be a centre of light. So also individual men, according as they are in any sort of central positions, are there for the good they can confer. No life can be pure in its purpose or strong in its strife, and all life not be purer and stronger thereby.
IV. A HEAVY RESPONSIBILITY. Jerusalem is called to account. England will have her day of reckoning. We shall all be judged, especially as to our conduct in places of privilege and influence.
1. We are responsible for our privileges. Assyria was not judged as Judaea; Africa and England will not be measured by the same standard. Much is expected of them to whom much has been given.
2. We are responsible for our influence. The effects of our work, word, and example will come back upon our own heads in blessings or in curses.
V. A SHAMEFUL FAILURE. Jerusalem missed her great mission and fell from her high estate. The fall of favoured Palestine is a warning to favoured England. It is possible to have every advantage and yet to make shipwreck. Then the bigger the ship the greater the wreck. There is something inspiriting in the thought of a mission. It helps one to make the, best use of life. The idea that we are useless will certainly lead to indifference and paralyze our energies. But to accept a place of influence and its privileges and then to fall, is the most culpable of all things.
Opposed by God.
We are more familiar with the idea of our opposition to God than with that of his opposition to us, because he is long suffering and slow to anger, while we are rebellious and self-willed. But there is a point where infinite patience cannot restrain just wrath; where, indeed, without any conflict of Divine attributes, the very love of God must acquiesce in his resistance to our sinful conduct by stern measures. Then God is against us!
I. GOD'S OPPOSITION IS PROVOKED BY MAN'S REBELLION.
1. God is not originally opposed to any of his creatures. "He hateth nothing that he hath made." Nor can we suppose that God turns against his children for reasons of his own apart from their conduct. There is no caprice in the heart of the Immutable. It seems to some men in their deepening adversity, as blow after blow falls upon them, that God has become their enemy. This is a trial to faith; but true faith should survive and cry in the tempest of trouble, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."
2. The cause of God's opposition lies in men alone. Ours is the change, not his. The Israelites in the wilderness "provoked" him to wrath. As he is always graciously inclined, it always lies with us to determine whether he shall be our Friend or our Enemy. It is fearful to make an Enemy of our best Friend. But can we expect that persistent neglect, deepening into disobedience, and disobedience pushed to the extremity of rebellion, should be regarded with indifference by the Lord of heaven and earth?
II. THE OPPOSITION OF GOD IS UNSPEAKABLY DREADFUL. It is dangerous for man to run counter to the will of God; it is fatal for God to rouse himself in opposition to man. The man who falls on the chosen Stone is bruised, but he on whom it falls will be ground to powder (Matthew 21:44). There is in this a Divine activity. The sinner does not suffer only negatively, by privation, by the loss of Divine grace. His doom is more than to be cast into the outer darkness, and to be left there in a God-deserted solitude. That would be bad enough. But it must be remembered that God is active, and is ever making his will felt by his children. If a man swallows arsenic, the poison will work in him by the exercise of its own corrosive properties. In opposing the laws of nature we bring those laws into active play against us. It is like running in face of an express train. The result is incomparably worse than running against a dead wall. The dreadfulness of the Divine opposition thus encountered is only to be measured by the might and energy of God. The very fact that he loves us, instead or mitigating the horror of the opposition, must heighten it, for no plea can soften the blow when love itself acquiesces in it. If a hard master punished we might hope to soften him, but if a God of love is against us there is no further appeal.
III. THE DIVINE OPPOSITION IS A LESSON FOR ALL WHO WITNESS IT. The judgments were to be executed "in the sight of the nations." This would add to the humiliation of the Jews. It would be a shock to the self-complacency that was founded on the notion that for the sake of his own honour among the heathen God would uphold his chosen people. That notion was a delusion. God's honour is not maintained by protecting his people in their sin. It is more manifest in the impartial execution of justice without any rebate on the ground of favouritism. God is not honoured now by the simple security of his Church, but by the purity of it. It is better for the cause of righteousness that fallen Christians should be shamed and cast out, than that they should be petted and spared and their wickedness hushed up. The fall and judgment of the Jews proclaimed to all the world the unbiassed righteousness of God. Certainly, if the chosen people were not spared, no sinners can hope to escape—except by the way of deliverance God has made through Christ.
A unique event.
No doubt the intention of this prophecy is to express the horror of a judgment that is so exceptionally dreadful that history may be searched in vain for a precedent, and futurity will never behold its equal. But the very possibility of such an event suggests truths of wider significance. There are principles involved. in this prediction which the modern reverence for the uniformity of law has led us to pass by too hastily.
I. THERE ARE UNIQUE FACTS AND EVENTS. Many things happen but once. They appear as novelties to surprise us, and they perish without issue. The world is full of singularity, individuality, and consequent variety. There is but one Niagara, one 'Iliad,' one Shakespeare. Innocence can be lost but once; the soul's fall is an event by itself, not to be compared with innumerable subsequent sins. Jesus said, "Ye must be born again"—not many times; for one act of regeneration suffices, though many experiences of forgiveness and purification may follow. "It is appointed unto men once to die." That dread Jordan has to be crossed but once. There is one Christ, and "none other Name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28).
II. THIS UNIQUENESS IS NOT CONTRARY TO THE UNIFORMITY OF LAW NOR TO THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD.
1. Laws may converge to one result. It might be according to regular laws that slowly gathering fires should suddenly burst out into one great final conflagration, or that, after vast ages of slow approach, two worlds should at length rush into violent collision. Such awful occurrences would be unique, but would involve no breach of uniformity.
2. Varying circumstances will bring out new and singular, effects. With changeless laws we see changing events. The novel situation gives a new bearing to the old law.
3. Human wills lead to new conditions. We cannot abrogate any law of nature; but we can change the venu of the forces that surround us, as the steersman may alter the course of the ship by turning the rudder, although he cannot shift the direction of the wind by a point. If, then, God works through uniform laws and so proves to us his eternal constancy, he may yet send novel events without precedent and without following.
III. THIS UNIQUENESS OF FACTS AND EVENTS SHOULD WIDEN OUR CONCEPTION OF THE DIVINE ACTIVITY.
1. It opens a door for miracles. We cannot explain the cause and process of a miracle, but we may see that the most tremendous and unparalleled events might happen by some novel Divine action without any breach of natural laws, perhaps even through the operation of them. It will then be no less of God, forevery act of nature and law is Divine. It will be above nature still, for the very conception of a miracle involves the thought of a specially purposed Divine action. Yet it may be in harmony with law and uniformity of method.
2. This uniqueness warns us against a slavish adherence to the inductive method in theology. It shows that here an induction can never be perfect. There may be facts left out of account. Therefore we cannot in all cases predict what God will do in the future by considering what he has done in the past. Assuredly he will be consistent with himself. But in entirely novel circumstances he may reveal entirely fresh forms of judgment or redemption.
3. This uniqueness should strengthen our faith in special providence. God does not feed his children on fixed rations. To some he may send exceptional chastisement, to others peculiar blessings. Justice does not imply equality; it means fairness. It would not be lair to give the same allowance to all. Here is scope for God's discriminating action, and therefore room for our individual prayer, faith, and hope.
The wicked nation is to be punished by being diminished (i.e. if we accept the Authorized Version, confirmed as it is by the majority of the Revisers).
II. POPULATION IS DIMINISHED. After the exile Palestine was thrown back almost to the condition of a wilderness, and lions came up from the desert to the once thickly peopled country (2 Kings 17:25). But even before the exile, war, famine, and plague reduced the population. Professor Seeley has shown that the chief cause of the overthrow of Rome by the Teutonic invaders was the great depopulating of Italy that took place under the empire. France is now threatened by decreasing population. The strength of a nation is in its people more than in its wealth.
II. GLORY IS DIMINISHED. Instead of the growth of honour and fame among the nations which was seen under Solomon, the Hebrew nation is now to shrink in importance, and so to fall into a position of insignificance. This has happened to Greece, Rome, Spain, Holland. It may happen to England. We have no assurance that our proud British flag shall always float in glory. For our national sins God may permit it to be trampled in the mire.
III. POWER IS DIMINISHED. In regard to national movements this runs parallel with the previous thought, but in individuals it has a wider scope. The final punishment of sin is death. The prior penalties of sin are dying, i.e. a reduction of spiritual life, activity, and power. The once fruitful tree is now barren. He who was most successful in spiritual work now feels himself failing in all he attempts. His influence shrinks into insignificance. Sin has paralyzed his soul.
IV. THE VISION OF TRUTH IS DIMINISHED. Doubts succeed to the formerly growing knowledge of truth. The eyes of the soul become dim. God, who was once near, seems to withdraw himself into the darkness. The whole spiritual world, which had shone on the soul in full-orbed splendors, wanes and fades, and passes in gloom out of sight. The things unseen and eternal, which had been the very universe of existence, melt into vague shadows, and float out of consciousness like the summer clouds that disappear while we gaze at them.
V. THE JOY OF SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE IS DIMINISHED. That joy can only be bright when the soul's life is fresh and strong. A dull apathy comes with the reduced spirituality. A very weariness succeeds to the old earnest gladness of service. The May time of the soul has gone, and a November gloom has taken its place.
CONCLUSION. There is hope still. Diminution is not extinction. The tree is hewn down, but the stump may sprout (Isaiah 6:13). The Jews diminished by Nebuchadnezzar were restored under Cyrus. It is good in some way to feel diminution if pride is thereby also diminished. In the humility of shame the penitent may hope for his restoration to a new and more sound vigour by the merciful Saviour, who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax (Isaiah 42:3).
Ezekiel 5:14, Ezekiel 5:15
The shame of moral shipwreck, and its lessons.
All the nations round about were to be witnesses of the shipwreck of Israel. The eyes of the world are upon the Church. No single Christian man can fall without his ruin being observed by many neighbor's. The city set on a hill cannot be hid in its prosperity and splendour; much less will it be unnoticed when it is wrapped in flames, and even later when its melancholy ruins tell the world a tale of fallen greatness. The spectacle is striking; the thoughts which it suggests should be instructive. Let us note four things about this moral shipwreck.
I. IT IS CULPABLE. The condition of Israel is to be "a reproach," i.e. blame will be attached to it. Nations must stand the chance of war, in which the most just and brave may suffer grievous loss; and yet history rarely, if ever, shows an instance of a people crushed and exterminated without any fault of its own. Moral corruption precedes total national overthrow. This was certainly the case with Israel, which fell in its wickedness, and was scattered for its sin. Misfortune may visit the Church, or an individual good man—such as Job—without guilt on the part of the sufferer, because a wholesome discipline or some other high and distant Divine purpose of love is to be wrought out through this means. But utter shipwreck of life does not come without moral delinquency. Unhappily, the reproach does not cease with the guilty person; it is laid against the cause of Christ, and it brings dishonour on his Name. This new "reproach of Christ" is the greatest hindrance to the progress of the gospel, and far more of a stumbling block than the old shame of the cross.
II. IT IS SHAMEFUL AND DEGRADING. The evil condition of the fallen nation will be "a taunt." Contempt will succeed to the old respect. The Church may expect to meet with opposition from the world, but she is indeed in an evil state when she has earned its contempt. To be despised wrongfully through the pride and superficial judgment of ethers is a fate which brave men can learn to endure. But to merit contempt is to lie in abject wretchedness. When Christian men fall from their pure profession, they sink into this most shocking ignominy. Even godless people can look clown upon them, and taunt them with their high pretensions and boasted attainments and prized privileges.
III. IT IS INSTRUCTIVE. The condition of the people will be "an instruction." As "no man liveth to himself," so also "no man dieth to himself." The ruin of nations is a lesson to the world. History is studded with beacon warnings. The greatest nations have been defeated and destroyed. The prosperity of the Church in one age has been succeeded by corruption and shame in another. Men called "pillars" of the Church have fallen. People praised as "ornaments" of society have left tarnished reputations. Such sights not only warn us against pride and self-assurance; in searching for the explanation of them we may learn many a lesson as to the causes of success and failure, e.g. that secret sin leads to open shame, that past prosperity will not prevent present failure, that a good name is not an impregnable bulwark, that to forsake God is to court ruin.
IV. IT IS ASTONISHING. Israel's state will be "an astonishment."
1. It surprises the sufferers. They never expected such a fall. Living m a fool's paradise, they spent their days at their ease till the crash came. Careless Christians are surprised at their own shipwreck.
2. It surprises the onlookers. It is contrary to expectation founded on previous observation and confident pretensions. Can the long successful nation fall, and the people favoured of Heaven be abandoned to ruin? There will be many surprises in the future judgment, because ignorance of the awful power of moral law and of the just retribution of God destroys men's expectations of the punishment of sin. To some it will come with a shock of amazement, unless they now turn to the redemption of Christ.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Ezekiel 5:5, Ezekiel 5:6
Himself an exile, and far from the city which was the glory of his nation and the seat of the worship of his God, Ezekiel nevertheless felt keenly and bitterly the reproach which was coming upon the metropolis, the ruin which the sins of her kings and her citizens had brought upon her, the forsaking of her God, her abandonment to her foes. Yet he would not question the justice discernible in these calamities. Jerusalem was her own enemy and her own destruction.
I. THE PECULIAR AND PRE-EMINENT ADVANTAGES OF JERUSALEM.
1. Political. "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," was Mount Zion. "In the midst of the nations, and the countries are round about her." The commanding position of the city of the great King strikes every beholder who looks at its walls and towers from the hill of Olivet, over the intervening valley. And whoever studies the map will recognize how central a station Jerusalem occupies: "Egypt to the south, Syria to the north, Assyria to the east, and the isles of the Gentiles in the Great Sea to the west." There were providential purposes in the selection of such a site, and in the consequent contact of the Jewish state, now with one neighbour and anon with another. What lessons Judah might learn from such associations!
2. Religious. In this regard, what nation of antiquity could compare with the Hebrew people? In Jewry God was known; his Name was great in Israel. God dealt not so with any people. In Jerusalem stood the temple, where sacrifices were offered and festivals were celebrated. Here lived and ministered the priests, who maintained the visible intercourse between God and man; the prophets, who now and again spoke as the representatives of Jehovah, especially in critical times, and whose words were often as the fire, and as the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces; the scribes, whose profession it was to preserve and to expound the Law of God for the enlightenment and admonition of the people. Signal were the privileges enjoyed by Jerusalem, and by the people who gloried in Jerusalem as their metropolis.
II. THE ABUSE OF PRIVILEGES WITH WHICH JERUSALEM WAS CHARGEABLE. By his prophet the Lord brought home this fault to the guilty nation. Jerusalem is charged:
1. With rejection of God and of his judgments.
2. With rebellion in doing wickedness.
3. With error from God's ways.
The language is strong, but not too strong for the case, for the circumstances. The Eternal was Israel's King; and his lawful subjects, though distinguished by his favour and exalted to honour by his clemency and condescension, had turned against the Sovereign to whom they owed everything that they possessed and gloried in. In the circumstances, reprobation could not be too severe.
III. COMPARISON WITH OTHER CITIES AND OTHER NATIONS ENHANCED THE GUILT OF JERUSALEM.
1. Their privileges had been inferior in kind and fewer in number. Politically, indeed, they were in several instances great; but religiously they stood upon a distinctly lower level than did the Jews.
2. Their guilt was not so enormous. These nations round about sinned indeed, but they sinned against the light of nature, not against the clearer light of revelation. They did not break the written Law, for they did not possess it; they did not blaspheme Jehovah, for they knew not his Name; they did not despise his prophets, for the prophets were not sent to them. All these comparisons serve to aggravate the heinous guilt of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. When attention is given to the pre-eminent position of Jerusalem in comparison with surrounding cities and countries, the justice of the denunciations of the prophets is unquestionable.
Exalted once on high,
Thou favoured home of God on earth,
Thou heaven beneath the sky!"
IV. GOD'S OBSERVATION OF JERUSALEM'S SIN AND FOLLY, AND HIS PURPOSES OF RETRIBUTION.
1. The Lord represents himself as pained by the contempt with which Jerusalem has treated his distinguishing mercy and favour.
2. He is displeased with those who have shown so little appreciation of all that he has done for their well being.
3. He threatens judgments upon the disobedient, rebellious, and impenitent.—T.
That is a lawless state of society in which every man's hand is against his neighbour. Yet no observer of human life is insensible to the prevalence of enmity, rivalry, opposition of various kinds, among all communities of men. "There are many adversaries" is a complaint which every man has made in his time. Men become accustomed to this, and regard it as a natural accompaniment of social life. But it is something very different when the almighty and righteous Lord addresses a man or a community, and says, "Behold I, even I, am against thee."
I. THE STRANGENESS AND WONDER OF THIS ATTITUDE. That the heathen, who construct the character of their gods upon the lines of their own character, should depict them as hostile, seems natural enough. But that enlightened theists should be surprised at such a representation as that of the text, is a consequence of the conceptions which reason and revelation alike have taught them to form of God. Is not God on our side? Does he not represent himself as favourable to the sons of men—using his power for their protection, their deliverance, their aid? How, then, can a merciful and benevolent God be in any sense against us?
II. THE EXPLANATION AND REASONABLENESS OF THIS ATTITUDE. It is clear that the Creator and Lord of all cannot be expected to alter the principles of his government in order to accommodate himself to the follies and the caprices of his creatures. If a man throws himself into mid-ocean, or into the crater of a burning volcano, nature is against him, and he must perish. If a man by his own action contracts disease, he must suffer. Gravitation is not to be suspended because a foolhardy fanatic flings himself from a tower. Nor are chemical laws to be abolished because one ignorantly swallows poison. In all such cases, we may say with reverence, "God is against those who act in such and such a manner." Similarly in the moral realm. The spiritual universe is so constituted that men cannot violate moral law without suffering, cannot defy God with impunity. Those who sin must sooner or later learn the fact, which no reasoning of theirs can affect, that God is against them.
III. THE IMMEDIATE PURPOSE OF THIS ATTITUDE. It is evident that, if all things were made easy and pleasant for the sinner, if there were no check and no chastisement for his sin, such an arrangement would not be for the sinner's real good. On the contrary, he would be encouraged to persevere in his evil courses. But the sinner, finding that God is against him, is in many cases by this very fact led to consider his ways. His experience "gives him pause." There follows from this consciousness of punishment the state of mind known as "conviction of sin," and conviction of sin may lead to repentance and to submission. Finding that, by setting himself against God, the sinner sets God against him, he may be led to submission; he may ask himself, "Why should I not have God with me instead of against me?" The beginning of the process may partake of a selfish regard for his own interests, but he may be led on to see something better than this—to discern the justice, the propriety, the moral excellence of subjection to and harmony with the will which ever accords with perfect righteousness, wisdom, and love.
IV. THE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE AND RESULT OF THIS ATTITUDE. No one who reflects upon the character of the God of infinite justice and benevolence can suppose that he can take a pleasure in a posture of antagonism and hostility against anything that he has made, far less against man, whom he created in his own likeness, to show forth his own glory. His aim is ever to bring his intelligent and voluntary creatures into harmony with his own nature; to recover and restore, not to overwhelm with destruction; to bring his children to exclaim, "If God be for us, who can be against as?"—T.
Ezekiel 5:14, Ezekiel 5:15
A reproach and a lesson.
The symbolical prediction recorded m this chapter was evidently intended to convey to the minds of the Jews the Divine purpose that their city should be destroyed, and their nation dispersed and politically extinguished. A third part should perish by pestilence and famine, a third part should be slain, and the remaining third part should be scattered throughout the earth. So far, all seems vengeance. There appears, for the present, no ray of light to irradiate the gloom, i.e. so far as the once favoured and now depressed and threatened Hebrew people are concerned. But, however calamity may affect the Jews, the prophet was assured that it should not be in vain with respect to neighbouring nations. They should learn the lesson, whether the scourged and scattered seed of Jacob would hear or forbear, This purpose, at least, the fate of Jerusalem and the calamities of the Jews in their exile and dispersion should not fail to accomplish; a lesson should be taught to the nations of the earth concerning the sinfulness of sin and the justice and truth of God, which should not be forgotten down to the end of time.
I. THE DESOLATION OF JERUSALEM WAS DESIGNED TO BE A REPROACH AND A TAUNT, AND THUS AN EXHIBITION TO ALL THE NATIONS OF THE DIVINE JUSTICE. The attribute of justice has its punitive side; and this was displayed in the fate of the proud and once highly favoured city. If this purpose was answered by the fall of Jerusalem and the calamities which followed, it may surely be acknowledged that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, which followed upon the rejection of the Divine Messiah, and the dispersion of the Jews during the following centuries of history, have constituted a lesson of similar import for the warning of mankind.
II. THE SAME EVENT WAS AN INSTRUCTION AND AN ASTONISHMENT, AND THUS AN INCULCATION UPON THE NATIONS OF THE DIVINE LAW AND AUTHORITY. Justice has its distributive as well as its corrective side. Not only is Law to be vindicated by the sanction of penalty inflicted upon the disobedient; the excellence and glory of the Law has to be displayed as the proper rule for the moral guidance and government of mankind. Thus the nations were not only to wonder and to tremble, when they beheld the just indignation of outraged Divine authority manifest itself in a city's siege, capture, and subjection; they were to learn to inquire into the Law which had been broken, the authority which had been defied. There is an aspect of construction, as well as an aspect of destruction, in the government of the world. It is the part of wisdom, not merely to recognize the power which avenges infraction of Divine decrees, but to admire the holy Law, to submit to the righteous Lawgiver, to forsake evil, and to do good.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The prophetic office involves self-sacrifice.
The prophet in every age has to be himself a sign. It is not so much what he says, not so much what he does, but what he is, that impresses others. In this enterprise character is everything. Ezekiel was a servant of God to the very core. He completely identified himself with the nation. Its misery became his misery. Thus he became a type and symbol of the Saviour; and, in his measure, suffered vicariously for the people.
I. THE SURRENDER OF PERSONAL BEAUTY A SIGN OF NATIONAL DEGRADATION. The hair and beard are man's natural adornments. To be shorn of these, in earlier times, was a signal mark of dishonour. No greater contempt could the King of Ammon have cast upon King David, than to despoil his ambassadors of their beards. But the ornaments of nature may well be sacrificed for moral advantages. It is an act of genuine wisdom to make the body servant to the soul. If bodily mortifications will deepen our sense of sin, sever the roots of pride and worldliness, or impress others with our zeal for righteousness, it is a wise expenditure. To save men from sin, it is worth while to sacrifice much that we hold dear.
II. THE SENSE OF GRIEF WAS DEEPENED BY THE DESTINATION OF HIS HAIR. Every hair had been the workmanship of God, and all the hairs of his head had been numbered by God. They were not lightly to be sacrificed. Every hair was to be a sermon. It declared that God was willing to sacrifice what was of lesser value, if thereby he could save what was incomparably more precious. The various destinations of the prophet's hair were pregnant with moral significance. We cannot too much admire the condescension of God in employing such simple methods for instructing and impressing men. If, to any modern readers, these methods should seem childish, we can only say that other methods would have missed the end. The methods by which God seeks to educate and bless men now may equally seem condescensions to other races of intelligent life. To fire, to the sword, to dispersion, was the bulk of the nation doomed!
III. THE ACCURATE ALLOTMENT OF RIGHTEOUS PENALTY WAS FORESHADOWED. Even amid the hurly-burly of war, there is no miscarriage of Divine justice. With an invisible shield, God covers, in the day of battle, those whom he designs to save. Those who are destined for the flame will not perish by the sword, and those who may escape from Nebuchadnezzar's hand do not escape from the hand of Almighty justice. The eye of man may not be keen enough to detect the exact admeasurements of God's penalties; this matters not. But a clearer eye might discern that there was an accurate weighing out of desert to unrighteousness. In the invisible hand of God there is a balance exquisitely true, absolutely exact; and the day will yet dawn when human intelligence having developed, and human conscience being quickened in its action, men will join in saying, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."
IV. PRESENT PROTECTION DOES NOT SECURE FINAL SAFETY. The prophet was enjoined to deal in a different manner with a few of these hairs. They were to be bound carefully in the skirt of his robe. This would be understood by all to imply that, in the midst of judgment, God would not forget mercy. A remnant should be spared. Yet this was only a temporary and an external privilege. So long as the hearts of the people remained rebellious and obdurate, deliverance was impossible. Prosperity cannot last that does not spring from the root of righteousness. To be spared in the day of general disaster, and then to be overtaken by a worse calamity, is tenfold more grievous. This is equivalent to being first lifted up and then thrown down. Yet the intention was to bless. God will not neglect any possibility of doing good to men. If there be on our part the least disposition to receive, there is on his part the readiest disposition to give. But take heed! To spare now does not secure, of necessity, final salvation!—D.
Abused privilege produces condign punishment.
This doctrine is repeated and emphasized in myriad forms. It is written, not in sand, but on rock, and written with a pen of steel. If the men of England do not read this lesson, the reason is evident—they are wantonly blind.
I. WE HAVE HERE AN INSTANCE OF EMINENT PRIVILEGE. Jerusalem was placed in a most central position. What the heart is to the body, what the sun is to the solar system, Palestine was among ancient empires. Hers was special advantage for getting good and for doing good. She was within easy reach of the civilization of Egypt, the martial power of Babylon, the science and art of Greece, the commercial enterprise of Phoenicia, the law making might of Rome. On every side there were patterns to be imitated, follies to be avoided. Of all the intellectual, moral, and commercial life of primitive man, the Jews occupied a central place. Intercourse between the distant nations passed, in large measure, through Palestine. Hence she had splendid opportunities for diffusing the light of true religion far and wide. Inquirers after God ought to have found at Jerusalem a solution of all their doubts.
II. PRIVILEGE ENTAILS RESPONSIBILITY. Every man lives under the wise and righteous government of God, and every possession he holds he holds in trust. He is a steward, who holds and uses his Master's goods. In proportion to the good he enjoys is the service he is required to render. Forevery faculty of body and of mind, forevery special advantage and gift, he is accountable to his Maker. God has never intended that any donation of his should terminate in the man himself. We receive in order that we may give. The wealthy man has more service to render than the poor man. The sage has more to account for than the fool. A man is not in the same position morally at the close of the sabbath as at the dawn. He must, in the nature of things, be either better or worse forevery advantage he obtains. The tree that does not bear good fruit is something worse than useless. Each man adds something to the piety, or to the impiety, of the age. As God had dowered the Hebrews with special privilege, he rightly expected from them fruitful service.
III. RESPONSIBILITY ABUSED CREATES DEADLY SIN. The sin of the Hebrews was inexcusable. They rebelled against the light—the light of nature, the light of conscience, the light of supernatural revelation.
1. There was base neglect. God had made known to them his infallible wisdom; but they preferred their own foolishness. God had deigned to weigh difficult matters for them, and to give them the benefit of his superior judgment; but they refused to follow. They would, at all risks, fling off restraint, and yield to none but self.
2. There was positive perversion of God's goodness. They changed his judgments into wickedness. They made even religious ordinances an occasion of sin. They transmuted truth into falsehood, the house of prayer into a den of thieves. Better, far better, not to have the sabbath, than to profane its sacred hours. Better not to have a message of kindness than to treat it with scorn.
3. Their guilt was extraordinary. It exceeded that of the nations round about them. While they enjoyed special restraints, they not only went to the same lengths of profane idolatry as other nations, they went beyond them! Although the fact of one spiritual Deity was clearly made known among them, yet they borrowed the idol deities of every adjacent nation, until their Reprover could declare, "According to the number of thy cities are thy idols, O Israel!"
4. Public warnings were lost upon them. That God had spoken by the mouth of prophets was clear, because their predictions had come to pass. That God was uniformly faithful in maintaining his Word, no sane mind could question. His judgments had fallen, like hail, upon all the surrounding empires, and manifestly, because of idolatry; therefore nothing short of sheer insensibility of mind prevented their taking heed. What more could God do for them, to bring them to repentance, than he had done? Every mouth is silent. Their guilt had come to a head, had reached a final climax.
IV. SPECIAL GUILT BEARS ITS PROPER FRUITAGE OF PUNISHMENT. It is not possible that anything can sever the link between sin and punishment. That link has been wrought by Eternal Justice.
1. This punishment should manifestly proceed from God. "They shall know that I the Lord have spoken it," etc. Too often men regard their sufferings as chance effects, misfortunes that have come about in a haphazard way. Not so here. Even those who would not believe that God had done them former kindness, and sent them faithful monitors—even these shall be compelled to feel that this punishment is from God. It shall be so public, so severe, so intimately connected with the sin, so precisely in accordance with prophetic warning, that God shall at length be acknowledged as the righteous Author. So self-willed are some children that nothing but the rod will induce submission.
2. This retribution shall be public. Though the sin be done in secret, the chastisement shall be public. In every age, impartial justice has sought the fullest light for its deeds. Among the ancients, law was administered, and wisely so, in the gate. God has nothing to conceal. To the extent that his creatures have capacity to understand, he is prepared to reveal. It is his intention that the universe shall behold the retributions of guilt and be awed thereby. The destruction of one may thus turn to the salvation of many.
3. This punishment shall be extremely severe. "I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like," etc. Yet, though severe, it was not too severe. It was not more severe than the case required. The cause of justice would not have been satisfied with less. When God holds the scales, punishment will be exact; it will neither be too great nor too lenient. Guilt is proportionate to previous advantage, and retribution is in precise measure with guilt. If we prove unfaithful, the higher we have been lifted up by acts of kindness, the deeper will be our fall. Capernaum and Bethsaida deserve a heavier sentence than Tyre and Sidon. "There are first that shall be last."
4. The guilty are to be the executors of their own fate. "The fathers shall eat the sons … and the sons shall eat their fathers." The famine shall press sore; but this is not the worst feature in the doom. Natural affection shall so decay that the father will not shrink from slaying his own boy, and feeding on the human flesh. Sons shall be so far lost to filial reverence that they will do the like to their fathers. When once love to our heavenly Father is dead, love to our natural kin soon decays. Man, cut off from God, becomes a monster. The beasts of the field never sink so low as man does in his last depravity. It is an impressive fact that guilty men often execute God's judgments upon themselves, while yet they know it not. A heavenly glory emanates from the cross of Jesus Christ, but eternal shame encircles forever the gallows of Judas.—D.
The Divine Remonstrator.
It is clear as daylight that the root sin of the Jews was unbelief. Although the prophets of Jehovah brought incontestable evidence that they spake in God's Name, and spake only words of truth, the people closed their ears, and treated the warning with contempt. They were in love with sin, and were resolved not to part from it. Proofs that God spake through the lips of these prophets were abundant.
I. THERE WAS THE REPEATED ASSERTION OF HONEST MEN THAT GOD SPAKE BY THEM. Ezekiel was known to be a true man. It was known that he had no private interests to serve. It was acknowledged that in all the relations of human life he was honourable and faithful. He was known to be a devout man, a man of prayer. What other explanation, therefore, could men put upon his earnest, heart-stirring appeals than that God spoke by him? If his reproof of sin was true, then God spoke through him. If he made known the might and righteousness of Jehovah, Jehovah spoke through him. If his purpose was to deter from sin and induce repentance, it was evident to every honest mind that it was true, as Ezekiel said, "I the Lord have spoken it!"
II. THE PARTICULARIZATION OF COMING JUDGMENTS PROVED THAT THE MESSENGER SPAKE IN GOD'S NAME. The retribution was not announced in vague, general terms. There was revealed a wise discrimination in dealing out judgment to wrong doers. "A third part shall die with the pestilence;" "A third part shall fall by the sword;" "I will scatter a third part into all the winds." Severe as the threatening was, there was nothing improbable or unnatural in it. Pestilence was a common disaster, and if a hundred families, now and again, were carried off by its virulence, why may not a third of the nation? So with famine; so with the sword. In a time of severe drought, famine and pestilence often went hand in hand. The flower of the nation being destroyed, some martial neighbour would gladly seize the opportunity for invasion. Resistance would end in terrible defeat; and, for the residue, banishment was decreed. Both man and nature are the servants of God; often are they combined to execute his will. If we escape one minister of vengeance, it is only to be overtaken by another.
III. THE REVEALED PURPOSE OF THE RETRIBUTION WAS TO SATISFY GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. "Then shall mine anger be comforted." God accommodates himself, in his speech, to the manners of men. There can be no rest for him so long as guilt stalks abroad unpunished. There is disturbance in his moral universe. There is pain in every loyal angel's breast. Fallen spirits are encouraged in their rebellion. The moral force of law is weakened. His own veracity is at stake while sin is unpunished. Therefore, to maintain the interests of universal justice, to maintain in tranquillity his own throne, to uphold order everywhere, sin must be stamped out. There is disease in the system, and no rest can be enjoyed until health be restored. The principles and attributes of God's nature can only then settle into complete harmony when sin is chastised.
IV. THE EVIDENT INTENTION OF THE REMONSTRANCE PROVED THAT IT WAS FROM GOD. "I the Lord have spoken it." No sane mind could doubt that the motive of such repeated remonstrance was love—wise and far reaching love. The ancient Greeks had a proverb, "The gods have feet of wool." They were supposed to overtake men noiselessly and without warning. Not so Jehovah. In his most severe retributions kindness is yet manifest. Faithful expostulation and tearful warning precede final destruction. The good of his creatures is a superlative motive in his bosom—a motive that reigns side by side with the maintenance of law. If the good of the sinner himself be hopeless, then the good of others is sought. These earnest pleadings with men declare most emphatically his condescension, his patience, his self-sacrificing love. This is not after the manner of men. If offenders against God would only reflect, they would confess that such remonstrance was a remonstrance of eternal Love—the counsel of the living God.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The sword of the Divine judgment.
"And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor," etc. In this paragraph the prophet represents both Jehovah and the people. In taking the sharp sword he represents the former; and in having his hair shaved off, the latter. Notice—
I. THE EXERCISE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. "And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword, as a barber's razor thou shalt take it, and cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard." Here is a picture of She judgment of God upon his sinful people (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41, "If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will Vender vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me"). When God's will has long been set at nought by any people, and his forbearance has long been exercised towards them, and they still persist in rebellion against him, he will arise to the exercise of judgment upon them. There are stern aspects of the Divine character, which we are sometimes in danger of overlooking. God is good and kind; he is also just and terrible. We may see this in nature. We have the beautiful and the beneficent—the warm and brilliant sun, genial airs, lovely flowers, enchanting scenes, and bountiful harvests. We have also the dreary and the destructive—wintry skies, dreadful tempests, devastating floods, engulfing earthquakes, and depopulating famines. If we turn to the providence of God, here also we discover evidences not only of his goodness, but also of his severity. The sword of Divine justice has sharply smitten corrupt nations. Inveterate moral depravity has born quickly succeeded by national ruin. History abounds in examples of the stern exercise of the judgment of God. And his judgments are awful and irresistible. He executes them with a sharp sword. "Thou, even thou, art to be feared; and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" "Who can stand before his indignation?" etc. (Nahum 1:6; Romans 2:2-11).
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. The judgments of the text were to be inflicted upon the house of Israel. The head of the prophet which was to be shaved probably represents Jerusalem; and the hair certainly represents those of the people who yet remained in their own land. Upon them the avenging hand of God was about to descend. If the people of God become obstinate in rebellion against him, he will not fail to send against them the the sword of punishment. "If his children forsake my Law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes" (Psalms 89:30-32). When those who have been exalted in privileges become persistent in wickedness, their exaltation, so far from protecting them from punishment, renders their fall the greater and the doom the more terrible (cf. Matthew 11:20-24). Religious privileges should prove an incentive and aid to holiness of character and usefulness of life, and not an encouragement to presumption and sin.
III. THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. "Then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city," etc. The balances to weigh symbolize the righteousness with which the punishment is allotted (cf. Isaiah 28:17). And as to the three portions into which the hair was divided, the third part which was to be burnt in the midst of the city represents those who perished in Jerusalem during the siege. In those days famine and pestilence claimed many for their prey (Ezekiel 5:12). The second third part, which was to be smitten about by the prophet with the sword, represents those who were slain in fight during the siege, or in the endeavour to escape when the city was taken (Jeremiah 52:5-11). And the last third part, which was to be scattered to the wind, represents those who, after Jerusalem was taken, were dispersed in foreign lands; some of them fled and escaped, and many others were taken as captives by the Chaldeans. Of this part some are represented by a few hairs bound ib the skirts of the prophet's garment. These are they who were left in the land by their conquerors. "Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land for vine dressers and for husbandmen" (Jeremiah 52:16). Over these the King of Babylon made Gedaliah governor. But even of this poor remnant some were to be "cast into the midst of the fire;" i.e. they had yet to pass through severe trials; they had not yet done with the judgment of the Lord. The fulfilment of this is recorded in Jeremiah 40-43; and is thus briefly stated by Dr. Milman: "The miserable remnant of the people were placed under the command of Gedaliah, as a pasha of the great Assyrian monarch; the seat of government was fixed at Mizpeh. Yet ambition could Look with envy even on this eminence. Gedaliah was assassinated by Ishmael, a man of royal blood. Johanan attempted to avenge his death. Ishmael, discomfited, took refuge with the Ammonites; but Johanan and the rest of the Jews, apprehensive lest they should be called in question for the murder of Gedaliah, fled to Egypt, and carried Jeremiah with them." And even they were doomed to sufferings and shame and death (Jeremiah 44:11-14). Now, in this distribution of punishment the Lord acted righteously. The hair was weighed; the triple division was accurately made; and the appropriate retribution assigned to each portion. We cannot always discover the equitableness of the Divine judgments in individual cases. But let us remember that there is much of suffering in this world which is not of the character of judgment or punishment; and in this the good often share as largely, or even more largely, than the wicked. There is also a suffering with others and for others; and in this Christians, like their great Lord and Exemplar, deeply participate. And if there be painful retributions, which involve saint and sinner in one common outward doom, let us give due weight to the precious fact that such outward suffering comes to them with essentially different spiritual significance. And for the rest, we rejoice that though "clouds and darkness are round about the Lord, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." And in the distribution of awards in the great future, God "will render to every man according to his deeds" (Romans 2:6 : cf. Matthew 16:27; Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48; 2 Corinthians 5:10).—W.J.
Pre-eminent privilege, perversity, and punishment.
"Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem," etc. In these and some succeeding verses we have the interpretation of the symbolism of the previous part of the chapter; or "an authoritative commentary on the preceding allegory." The text presents to our notice—
I. A POSITION OF PRE-EMINENT PRIVILEGE. "Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." The position here stated may be viewed:
1. Geographically. We are not to interpret this as asserting that Jerusalem was situated in the centre of the earth. But Palestine really occupied "a central position with regard to that group, or those groups, of nations which to it practically constituted the world." On the north of it was Syria, on the south Egypt, on the east Assyria, on the west Europe. "It stood midway between the two great seats of ancient empire, Babylon and Egypt." And, as Fairbairn observes, "viewing the world as it existed at the time of Israel's settlement in Canaan, and for a thousand years afterwards, we believe it would be impossible to fix upon a single region so admirably fitted, at once to serve as a suitable dwelling place for such a people, and to enable them, as from a central and well chosen vantage ground, to act with success upon the heathenism of the world."
2. Religiously. The Israelites were placed in the midst of the nations, as in a position of honour by their possession of higher and fuller religious privileges. They had been blessed with more illustrious men than other nations; mightier and more wonderful deeds had been done for them than for any other people; a clearer and brighter revelation of God had been given to them; a purer and nobler worship had been instituted amongst them.
3. Influentially. The Israelites had been thus favoured and stationed, in order that they might be a blessing to other nations. Not selfishly were they to enjoy their privileges, but for the benefit of others. Their light was to shine for the illumination of other peoples. They were specially blessed, that others might be blessed through them. With unmistakable clearness is this expressed in the sixty-seventh psalm: "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth," etc. (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5-8; John 4:22). In like manner, Christians are called to be "the salt of the earth," and "the light of the world;" and they are exhorted, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16; cf. 1 Peter 2:9).
II. SINS OF PRE-EMINENT WICKEDNESS.
1. Their rejection of God's commands, "She hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations," etc. (Ezekiel 5:6, Ezekiel 5:7). The word "judgment" is here equivalent to "commands" or "ordinances." Two degrees of rebellion against the Divine will are clearly indicated.
2. Their desecration of God's sanctuary. "Thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations" (Psalms 2:11). Heathen idols, altars, and ceremonies had been introduced into the temple and worship of the Lord Jehovah. We have some account of these abominations in Psalms 8:1-9. and 2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Kings 23:4-14. The favoured Israelites had corrupted their highest and holiest things.
3. Their exceeding even the heathen in wickedness. "She quarrelled with my judgments more wickedly than the (heathen) nations," etc. (2 Kings 23:6); "Ye raged more than the (heathen) nations which are round about you" (2 Kings 23:7). In two ways the house of Israel had exceeded the heathen in wickedness,
III. PUNISHMENT OF PRE-EMINENT SEVERITY. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations," etc.
1. The great Agent in this punishment. Jehovah represents himself as inflicting every form of the dread judgment upon his sinful people. From 2 Kings 23:8 unto the end of the chapter, every verse contains a distinct statement showing that the punishments were to proceed from him. He is the great Agent throughout. The Chaldeans were but instruments unconsciously working out his purposes. How inexpressibly terrible is it when the Lord God declares, "I, even I, am against thee"! When he is against any one, what can profit such a one? When he makes bare his arm for judgment, who can stand against its strokes?
2. The nature of this punishment. It takes three chief forms.
3. The retributionary character of this punishment. We have seen (in 2 Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:7) how resolutely the Israelites had set themselves against the Lord God: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee." He had set them "in the midst of the nations," to be an example unto them of his righteousness and kindness; they had utterly tailed in this respect; therefore he "will execute judgments in the midst of them in the sight of the nations," and they shall be an example of his righteous retributions. Again, they had exceeded the heathen in wickedness, and he would bring upon them judgments exceeding in their severity anything before or after (cf. 2 Kings 23:9; Matthew 24:21). This retributionary character of the Divine dealings is affirmed by the prophets (Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11), by our Lord (Matthew 10:32, Matthew 10:33), and by St. Paul (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:12).
4. The exemplary aspect of this punishment. "I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by," etc. (2 Kings 23:14, 2 Kings 23:15). The design of the Lord in placing his people in the land which he gave unto them was that they should be patterns of excellence to the neighbouring nations; too often they had been the opposite of this; for this reason he would make them, as the bearers of his wrath, a warning (Authorized Version, "instruction") to those nations. They would not be patterns, therefore they shall be beacons. If they who have extraordinary privileges fail to walk in a manner worthy of them, God will probably make them a warning to less-favoured peoples, by reason of the just judgments which overtake them. The punishment which some suffer because of their sins should powerfully admonish others that they sin not.
5. The awful certainty of the punishment. This is stated with great impressiveness. "As I live, saith the Lord God; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary," etc. (2 Kings 23:11). And at the close of the dread announcements of this chapter, we have the solemn asseveration, "I the Lord have spoken it." Thus "God subscribes the threatening with the royal monogram of his Name." By his own existence, and his own Word, the Lord binds himself to fulfil the awful declarations of this chapter. Nothing is more certain than this, that the sinner, unless he forsake his sins, must receive the righteous retribution of them. God's Word declares this; his holiness necessitates it, and human experience confirms it.
CONCLUSION. Our subject is charged with solemn admonition to those who have great privileges. Our advantages involve corresponding obligations; and unless they are faithfully improved, they will be to us the occasion of terrible condemnation (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48).—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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