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Ezekiel 6:2, Ezekiel 6:3
Set thy face toward the mountains, etc. The formula is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel. We have had it with a different verb in the Hebrew, in Ezekiel 4:3. It will meet us again in Ezekiel 20:46; Ezekiel 21:2; Ezekiel 25:2; Ezekiel 28:21; Ezekiel 29:2; Ezekiel 35:2; Ezekiel 38:2. In this case it probably implied an outward act, like that of Daniel, when he, with a very different purpose, looked towards Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). In contrast with the widespread plains of Mesopotamia in which Ezekiel found himself, this was the chief characteristic of the land which he had left. The mountains represent the whole country, including the rivers (Revised Version, here and throughout, renders the Hebrew "water courses," to distinguish it from the "river" (nahar) of Ezekiel 1:1, Ezekiel 1:3, et al; and the "river" (nachal) of Ezekiel 47:5. Its strict meaning is that of a "ravine" or "gorge," the wady of modern Arabic, through which a stream rushes in the winter, but is dried up in the summer). All the localities are named as having been alike polluted by the worship of idols For mountains and hills as the scenes of such worship, see Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 17:10, 2 Kings 17:11; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Hosea 4:13; for the ravines and valleys, 2 Kings 23:10 and Jeremiah 7:31 (the Valley of Hinnom); and more generally, Isaiah 57:5, Isaiah 57:6. The same combination meets us in Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 36:5, Isaiah 36:6. In his address to the mountains, Ezekiel follows in the footsteps of Micah 6:2. I will destroy your high places. The words point to the most persistent, though not the worst, of all the idolatries by which the worship of Jehovah as the God of Israel had been overshadowed. The words of Ezekiel are identical with those of Leo, 26:30. The Bamoth, or high places, of Baal, are mentioned in Numbers 22:41 and Joshua 13:17, and are probably identical with the high places of Arnon in Numbers 21:28. There they are named only incidentally, not in the way of prohibition or condemnation. So, in like manner, in Deuteronomy 32:13 and Deuteronomy 33:29, if the technical sense exists at all, it is referred to only as included in the triumph of the worship of Jehovah over the hill fortresses as the sanctuaries of other gods. The absence of the word from the Book of Judges is difficult to explain, as it was precisely in that period of the history of Israel, irregular and unsettled, that we should have expected to find the people adopting the cultus of their neighbours. A probable solution of the problem is that, so long as the tabernacle and the ark were at Shiloh, that was so pre-eminently the centre of the worship of Jehovah, that the people were not tempted to forsake it, or to set up the worship upon the high places side by side with it. When, after the capture of the ark, Shiloh was a deserted sanctuary, we meet for the first time with the worship of the high places, not as a thing forbidden, but as sanctioned by the presence of Samuel, as the judge and prophet of the people (1 Samuel 9:12-14; 1 Samuel 10:5), the "high place" in the last passage being, apparently, the same as "the hill of God." In 2 Samuel 1:19, possibly from the Book of Jashar, we have the elder, less technical sense of Deuteronomy 32:12 and Deuteronomy 33:19. It would seem, accordingly, as if Samuel had acted on a policy like that of the counsel which Gregory I gave Augustine. He found the worship of the high places adopted by the Israelites from the neighbouring nations. He sought to turn them to the worship of Jehovah. So the writer of 1 Kings 3:2 records the fact that "the people sacrificed in high places," because as yet, though the ark had been brought to Jerusalem, "there was no house built unto the Name of Jehovah until those days," and that Solomon himself also "sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places." At the chief of these, the great high place of Gibeon, Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings, and had the memorable vision in which he made choice of wisdom rather than length of days, or riches and honour, returning from it, as though the cultus of the two places stood nearly on an equal footing, to offer other burnt offerings before the ark of God at Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:3-15). With the erection of the temple the state of things was, in some measure, altered, and the temple was the one legitimate sanctuary. When the ten tribes revolted under Jeroboam, they were, of course, cut off from the temple services, and the king accordingly, besides the calves at Bethel and Dan, set up high places, with priests not of the sons of Aaron, in the cities of Samaria (1 Kings 12:31; 1 Kings 13:32). From that time forward the high places are always mentioned by both historians and prophets in a tone of condemnation, whether they were in Israel or Judah (1 Kings 14:4), but they had become so deeply rooted in the reverence of the people that even the better kings of Judah, who warred against open idolatry, like Asa (1 Kings 15:14), Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43), Jehoash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Azariah (2 Kings 15:4), left them undisturbed; while in the history of the northern kingdom the cultus of the Bamoth reigned paramount (2 Kings 17:1-41; passim). It was not till Hezekiah, presumably under Isaiah's influence, removed the "high places" (2 Kings 18:4) that we find any serious attempt to put them down. They had been tolerated, apparently, because, as in Rabshakeh's taunt (2 Kings 18:22), they were nominally connected with the worship of Jehovah. Under the confluent polytheism of Manasseh they naturally reappeared (2 Kings 21:3 : 2 Chronicles 33:3). The reformation of Josiah was more thorough (2 Kings 23:1-37; passim; 2 Chronicles 34:3), and was probably stimulated by Hilkiah and Huldah. The discovery of the book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy), with its condemnations of mountain sanctuaries, though, as we have seen, the Bamoth were not prohibited by name, roused the zeal of the prophets, especially of the priest prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and when the Bamoth-cultus revived, after the death of Josiah, the former was strong in his protests (Jeremiah 7:31, et al.), all the more so because now, as in the earlier stages of their history, they had become high places of Baal (Jeremiah 19:5; Jer 32:1-44 :55), and were associated with abominations like those of the worship of Moloch in the Valley of Hinnom. So it was that Ezekiel, writing on the banks of the Chebar, is now led to place them in the forefront of the sins of his people.
Your images, etc. The "sun images" of the Revised Version shows why these are mentioned as distinct from the "idols." The chammanim were pillars or obelisks identified with the worship of Baal as the sun god, standing on his altars (2 Chronicles 34:4), coupled with the "groves," or Asherim (Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9), and with the "high places" in 2 Chronicles 14:5. I will cast down your slain men before your idols. As in the prophecy against Bethel (1 Kings 13:2), and in Josiah's action (2 Kings 33:16), this was the ne plus ultra of desecration. Where throe had been the sweet savour of incense there should be the sickening odour of the carcases of the slain. The word for "idols" (gillulim), though found elsewhere, notably in Ezekiel's favourite textbooks (Leviticus 26:30; Deuteronomy 29:17), is more prominent in his writings (where it occurs thirty-six times) then in any other book of the Old Testament, and means, primarily, a cairn or heap of stones, which, like the "sun images," came to be associated with Baal. Ezekiel repeats both words in verse 6, with all the emphasis of scorn. He predicts the coming of a time when the work of destruction should be done more thoroughly than even Josiah lind done it. When that time came, the familiar formula, "Ye shall know that I am the Lord," should receive yet another fulfilment.
Yet will I leave a remnant, ere. The thought, though not the word, is that of Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:20; Zephaniah 2:7; Zephaniah 3:13; Jeremiah 43:5. For these, at least, the punishment would, in greater or less measure, do its work; and, in remembering Jehovah, they would find the beginning of conversion.
Because I am broken with their whorish heart. The words have been very differently rendered.
(1) The Revised Version mainly follows the Authorized Version, but gives, they shall remember … how I have been broken, etc. So taken, the words are boldly anthropomorphic, and ascribe to Jehovah the word which implies the strongest form of human distress. The "whorish heart" of the people has made Jehovah himself "broken-hearted."
(2) Most recent critics, however, follow the rendering of the Vulgate (contrivi), and take the verb, which is passive in form, as being like a Greek verb in the middle voice, transitive in form, with an implied reflex force. So we get, as in the margin of the Revised Version, "I have broken their whorish heart." So taken, thought and words are both connected with Psalms 51:17, and the self-loathing that follows has its counterpart in Job 42:6. The thought is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31), and, we may add also, of Leviticus (Le Leviticus 26:39-42).
I have not said in vain, etc. The thought of that self-loathing and repentance reconciles Ezekiel to his work. To "labour in vain" is the great misery of all workers for God. A time will come when he shall see that God has not sent him to such a work "in vain." What before was dark will be made clear unto him (comp. Ezekiel 14:23). Ezekiel's words, "not in vain," are echoed frequently by St. Paul (1Co 15:14, 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Philippians 2:16, et al.). The corresponding phrase, "I have broken their eyes," sounds strange to us; but, after all, the heart is not literally broken more than the eyes, and figuratively the same words may be applied to either, so that there is no need for supposing, with some critics, that a more appropriate verb has been dropped out. Eyes and heart were alike involved in the sin (Ezekiel 20:7, Ezekiel 20:8, Ezekiel 20:24; Numbers 15:39), and both came under the same chastisement that was to lead them to repentance.
Smite with thine hand, etc. The outward gestures were to give a dramatic emphasis to the mingled indignation and sorrow with which the prophet was to utter his woe. A like action meets us in Ezekiel 21:12. Instances of its use for other feelings meet us in Ezekiel 22:13; Numbers 24:10 (anger); Jeremiah 31:19 (shame).
He that is far off, etc. The three forms of judgment named in Ezekiel 6:11 have each their special victims. Pestilence comes chiefly on those who are outside the city, exposed to the weather changes and the taint of unburied corpses (Ezekiel 6:5); the sword of the Chaldeans on those who venture on a sally, or try to escape from the city; famine presses heaviest on those who are besieged within it. None can escape the judgment. The word besieged is the same as in Isaiah 1:8; but it may have the sense, as in Isaiah 49:6, of "kept," or "preserved," for the worst evil of the three.
The thought is the same as in Ezekiel 6:6, but the localities are given in greater detail. The "hills" and "mountains" were naturally the scenes of the worship of the "high places," and these were commonly associated with groves of trees, as in Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Isaiah 57:5. In Hosea 4:13, oaks (or terebinths), poplars, and elms are specifically named (comp. Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 16:4). Where they did offer sweet savour, etc. The phrase is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel as a priest (Ezekiel 16:19; Ezekiel 20:28, Ezekiel 20:41), and is specially prominent in the books which he must have studied. It meets us three times in Exodus, seventeen in Leviticus, seventeen in Numbers, and seldom elsewhere. The crowning sin, from the prophet's point of view, was that the incense which was due to Jehovah had been lavished on the false gods of the nations.
More desolate than the wilderness towards Diblath; better, with the Authorized Version, from the wilderness. The name does not appear elsewhere, and has not been identified. Assuming the Authorized Version rendering, we must think of Ezekiel as naming, as Dante haines the Valdichiana ('Inf.,' 29.47), some specially horrible and desolate region. For such a region the name of Diblah (a cake of figs) does not seem appropriate. Taking the Revised Version translation ("from the wilderness toward Diblah"), we have a phrase analogous to "from Dan to Beersheba," as denoting the extent of the desolation. The "wilderness" is usually applied to the nomad region south of Palestine, and this would lead us to look for Diblah in the north, and so to look elsewhere than to the two places Beth-diblathaim (Jeremiah 48:22) and Almon-diblathaim (Numbers 33:46), both of which are in Moab. The difficulty was solved by Jerome by the conjectural emendation of Riblah, the two Hebrew letters for d and r being often written by copyists for each other. Riblah (it is a suggestive fact that the two chief manuscripts of the LXX. the Alexandrian and the Vatican, have Deblatha, or Deblaa, in 2 Kings 23:33; 2 Kings 25:6) was a fortified town on the north road from Palestine to Babylon, where the Babylonian kings used to take up their position during their invasions of the former. Within a short time after Ezekiel wrote this chapter, it became memorable in its connection with Zedekiah's sufferings. Its probable site is fixed on the banks of the Orontes. The evidence, on the whole, is, I think, in favour of this interpretation. It is adopted by Ewald, Cornill, Smend, Gesenius, and most recent critics. An additional fact in its favour is that Hamath, in the same region, appears as an ideal northern boundary in Ezekiel 47:16.
The doom of the mountains.
After leaving the low flat shores of Egypt, the traveller is struck by a great contrast of scenery as he approaches the Holy Land, and sees the purple mountains rising one behind another from the sandhills of Jaffa in the foreground to the distant uplands of Judah far away in the interior of the country. On landing he finds that travelling in Palestine is a rough experience in mountaineering, for the territory of Israel is a mountain country. Though Ezekiel could not see his native land from the plains of Mesopotamia, he could turn his face westward, and, looking across the great Syrian desert, fix his eyes in imagination on the old familiar beacons—the more memorable from their contrast with his present tame surroundings—and picture to himself his mountain home, with the passion of a highlander banished to the plains. In prophesying against Israel he then denounces a doom on the mountains.
I. THE MOUNTAINS ARE CONSPICUOUS. They were and are to this day the leading features of the Palestine landscape. God's judgment does not fall in obscure corners. He is not confined to secret places. The most public scenes witness his work. He paints his warning pictures on a broad canvas, and lifts them up for all to see.
II. THE MOUNTAINS ARE LOST. Men in high places do not escape the power of God. No position is so exalted as to be above the reach of the Divine government. The waters of the Flood covered the mountains, and drowned the people who vainly expected safety by climbing (Genesis 7:20). Kings are called to God's bar of judgment. Exalted rank, high intelligence, fame, power, influence, all come under the great sweep of God's rule, and may suffer punishment from his just anger.
III. THE MOUNTAINS ARE HISTORIC. They carry memories of many a glorious age. Moriah is sacred to the education of Abraham; the very stones that now lie scattered on the hills of Bethel once shaped themselves in Jacob's dream as a heaven-scaling stairway; Gilboa witnessed the death of Saul; the hills of Judah are fresh with associations of the shepherd-king. The changeless, venerable mountains enshrine the national story. The doom of the mountains is a doom of history. It declares failure and ruin after a glorious past—a splendid day ending with a stormy sunset. Happily there was a new sunrise when these same mountains were trodden by the feet of the Saviour, and upon them the feet of the messengers of peace were seen.
IV. THE MOUNTAINS ARE MASSIVE. They are the bulwarks of Israel. The old Amorites defended themselves in their mountain fastnesses against the Israelite invasion. When Israel was in possession she found these mountains to be natural fortresses. They were also hiding places. Men in danger fled to the mountains for safety. But now the mountains themselves are doomed. The best earthly refuge falls. The curse of sin breaks the soul's stoutest shield.
V. THE MOUNTAINS ARE SACRED. They were "high places" on which old altars have been built. There Abraham sacrified, there Elijah invoked the attesting fire. But the sacred associations were defiled by later idolatrous rites, and the high places became evil places. Then no sacredness could protect them. There is no asylum at a defiled sanctuary. Religion joined to sin does not save the sinner; it only proclaims him a hypocrite, or at best one who sins against light.
VI. THE MOUNTAINS ARE FRUITFUL. Cut into terraces, their slopes were formerly converted into vineyards, but now all round Jerusalem the ragged lines of stone tell the tale of neglected culture and long destroyed productiveness. A blight has fallen on the doomed mountains. The very land has shared in the sufferings of its people. All things external as well as spiritual suffer from the curse of sin. No ancient fruitfulness will stay this curse. Under its ban, the garden of Eden becomes a waste howling wilderness, and the fertile mountain side a desolation.
A ruined civilization.
Palestine is now a land of ruins, and the prophecy before us predicted that condition. But there is more behind. Houses broken down, altars overthrown, streets grass grown, inhabited places made desolate,—these are the outward and visible signs of a decayed and broken civilization. The destruction of the civilization is the real disaster. This happened in Israel when wild beasts came out from the forests and prowled over the once safe and populous country; and it happened in another form in Europe when the hardy barbarians poured over the plains of Italy, and destroyed, not only buildings, but also the whole fabric of ancient society, and so ushered in the gloom and disorder which took possession of the early part of the Middle Ages.
I. CIVILIZATION MAY BE RUINED. It is more tenacious of life than physical existence. Cities may be overthrown, and yet civilization may outlive the shock. Rome, burnt in the days of Nero, rose again in greater splendour; the fire of London swept away wretched tenements and prepared for a nobler city; the great conflagrations of Chicago was followed by the building of a new city in the smouldering ashes. But a widespread desolation affects the sources of intellectual life and the means of social intercourse. Roads are neglected, bridges are broken down, lonely districts are infested with robbers and rendered unsafe for travel; there is neither time nor energy for mental culture. Christian civilization has been lost on the north coast of Africa, where Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine were once shining lights; it has almost vanished from the site of the seven Churches of Asia. Modern Egypt is far below the Egypt of the Pharaohs in civilization: the fellaheen of today build mud hovels; their ancestors forty centuries ago constructed the great Hall of Columns at Karnak—one of the wonders of the world. The ancient civilization of Mexico had entirely vanished before the discovery of South America by the importers of a new Roman Catholic civilization.
II. THE RUIN OF CIVILIZATION IS UNSPEAKABLY DREADFUL. Frightful physical sufferings often accompany it, and gross moral outrages are then rife and go unchecked and unpunished. The refined and delicately nurtured people are put to the most exquisite torture of mind, if not of body. The hideous experiences of the Indian mutiny may give us some idea as to what this means. When such violent methods are not pursued, and a slow decay takes the place of a sudden destruction, the chronic and ever-deepening misery of the more cultivated people must be heart-rending. But apart from the question of suffering, the very act of throwing back the car of progress for some centuries involves a disastrous loss to the world. The Christian civilization that has grown out of the experience of ages and slowly ripened through generations of culture is the most precious heritage we have received from our forefathers. Let us guard and treasure it as a sacred trust.
III. NEVERTHELESS SUCH A RUIN OF CIVILIZATION MAY BECOME A MORAL NECESSITY. While outwardly brilliant, society may be inwardly corrupt. This was the case with the old heathen nations and to a frightful extent. Civilized wickedness means elaborate and inventive wickedness, which bears fruits of evil ten times worse than any that grow on the wild tree of untutored barbarism. This was evidently the case in the histories of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Beneath the glitter of a splendid civilization, and in spite of the high cultivation of art and philosophy, the human character was rotting to death. Something like this was approached by Israel. The very religion was corrupted. Then it was best that the altars should be overthrown, the cities destroyed, and the people scattered. There is no more horrible wickedness in the present day than that of those dwellers in centres of culture who have abandoned themselves to vice. When civilization has become effete, it is a hotbed of moral disease, and it is best for the health of society that it should be broken up and destroyed utterly. We cannot put new wine in old bottles.
The remnant that is to escape in the greatest destruction appears repeatedly in Hebrew prophecy. Its existence is evidently regarded as of deep significance, over and above the value of the individual lives spared, as a ray of light in the otherwise universal gloom, a glimmer of hope amidst the deepening despair.
I. THE REMNANT IS A SIGN OF GOD'S MERCY. He did not utterly destroy his guilty people. Not loving the work of judgment, he spared all whom it was safe to spare. God is never given over to wholesale and indiscriminate wrath. In his darkest hours of anger he makes a way of escape. Perhaps few as yet can avail themselves of it—only a "remnant." Still it is provided by God, since he loves to heal, and hates to destroy.
II. THE REMNANT IS BOUND TO SERVE GOD. All who are saved out of great destruction by the merciful hand of God should consider themselves the redeemed of the Lord, who belong to the God who has delivered them. God does not spare that we may be negligent or indifferent. Every Christian is like a part of this remnant, delivered by God from the doom of a guilty world; therefore every Christian has reason to acknowledge that his life belongs to God, and to spend it in God's service.
III. THE REMNANT IS A SECURITY FOR HISTORICAL CONTINUITY. This remnant treasures up the tradition of the fathers. If all Israel had been cut off, there would have been an end to the development of Hebrew revelation, the Scriptures would have been lost, the line of descent in which the Christ was to appear would have been stopped, and God's great purposes for blessing the world through Israel would have been frustrated. But the thin thread of the "remnant" carries down the ancient tradition, and becomes the invaluable link of connection between the venerable glory of the past and the even greater glory of the future. It thus illustrates the continuity of history, revelation, and religion. This continuity is an essential condition of progress. Had there been no remnant, the Divine education would have needed to begin again de novo. In the dark ages a remnant of the better days before still lingered, and though it was but as a smouldering spark, it was sufficient to be fanned into a new flame by the fresh winds of the Renaissance and the Reformation. It is plainly according to God's purpose that future enterprises for the good of the world should be linked on to the attainments of the past. The danger of a democracy lies in being too blind and self-satisfied to see this Divine method of continuity.
IV. THE REMNANT IS A SEED OF A LARGER FUTURE. It is not to be always only a remnant. The old stamp will sprout and grow into a tree again. The remnant of Israel became a nation mice more in the days of Cyrus. Thus like the "elect," first as a nation and later as a Church, this "remnant" is not favoured exclusively for its own sake, as especially meritorious, or as arbitrarily chosen for a privileged position. Every Divine privilege is given that they who receive it may be the better able to convey the blessing of God to their fellow men. The Church is chosen out of the world that she may labour for the good of the world, and, by bringing the gospel to all men, enlarge her own borders and ultimately share her privileges with all mankind.
The consciousness of God.
To know that God is the Lord, i.e. Jehovah, is very different from knowing that Jehovah is God. In the latter case the true God is distinguished from false gods, as in Elijah's great appeal (1 Kings 18:21, 1 Kings 18:39). But in the former case, though there is no question of what God shall be worshipped, the being and presence of the one true God need to be believed and realized. Jehovah means, "He who is," the Eternal, the one true self-existent Being. When we know that God is Jehovah we are assured of his true, present, living existence.
I. WHAT THINGS HINDER US FROM KNOWING THAT GOD IS THE LORD?
1. His invisibility. "No man hath seen God at any time." We sweep the sky with the telescope, but it reveals no God sitting on the circle of the heavens. His voice is not heard in the crash of the winter storm, or the whispering of the summer leaves. We feel after him in the darkness and silence, but)we cannot touch him. Can he be if no one ever sees, hears, or touches him?
2. The disorder of the world.
(1) Men seem to be free to do as they will, lawless wickedness triumphing over innocence, vice victorious and virtue confounded. If there is a Judge of all the earth, why does he permit such crime against the highest law to go unchecked and unpunished?
(2) Nature is now known to be a battleground of fierce contending selfishness in animal life, the vegetable world a wilderness in which the strongest plant, though the coarsest, kills the weakest though it be the most beautiful. Where is the God of nature?
3. The earthly mindedness of men. Here is the secret of the lost vision of God. "He is not far from any one of us." But "our eyes are holden." A constant traffic with things material darkens our sight of the supersensual. Sin completes the fatal work, and turns the dim vision into total spiritual blindness.
II. WHAT INFLUENCES WILL BRING US TO KNOW THAT GOD IS THE LORD? Ezekiel tells us that this knowledge was to be brought about by the judgment of God on Israel.
1. The fulfilment of prophecy. God had threatened punishment. The Jews had. doubted the warning. When it was fulfilled, they would discover the genuineness of the message, and the real existence of him who sent it. The accomplished prophecies of the Bible show the working mind of God. The life of Christ confirms the presence of God in Messianic prophecy. Christian history verifies Christ's word about the leaven hidden in the meal. Moreover, the present fulfilment of ancient prophecy reveals the existence among us of the same God who inspired the prediction.
2. The exercise of power. The foolish Jews were self confident and boastful. They thought that they were free to choose their own religion. The great invasions and the consequent breakup of the nation humbled them to the dust, and awoke in their hearts an alarmed consciousness of the higher power of God who had sent this doom upon them. We cannot see God, but we can see his work, and in this discern the energy which witnesses to his being.
3. The vindication of righteousness. Sin does not triumph eternally. Our induction is too narrow, our survey is too brief. A wider grasp and a larger patience would teach us that God is in history punishing guilty nations and advancing what is true anti good and great, just as he is in nature raising the type of being through the very struggle for existence which, to the short-sighted gaze of the unthinking spectator, looks as purposeless as it is painful. The grand vindication of righteousness and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven in the advent of the Son of man are to us the greatest proofs that God is the Lord.
The outstretched hand.
We usually picture to ourselves God's hand stretched out to help and heal. Here, however, we see a prediction of the same exertion of Divine energy for a contrary purpose—to smite and make desolate. The prediction suggests certain features of Divine chastisement.
I. IT IS OCCASIONAL. "I will stretch out my hand." This refers to one definite act, not to a perpetual treatment. "He will not always chide." "The mercy of the Lord endureth forever." But his anger and punishing are limited to occasion and necessity. The very fact that men refuse to believe in the wrath of God bears testimony to his long suffering. In life-giving energy God works unceasingly, so that "in him we live, and move, and have our being." It is an eternal truth, not representing a sudden interposition, but the normal order of providence, that "underneath are the everlasting arms." Nevertheless, there are occasions when another mode of action is necessary, and the hand of God must smite in anger.
II. IT BELONGS TO THE FUTURE. God says he will stretch out his hand. It is not yet done. Future punishment will be far worse than any present sufferings of sin. It is impossible for us to measure that punishment by what we now experience, because sentence is not yet executed. But if the punishment is future, there is a possibility of its being averted, or of the sinner finding some means of escape. The warnings of Scripture are not written in order to fix our doom, but for the very opposite purpose, to drive us to the refuge of repentance and pardon.
III. IT IS FAR-REACHING. The hand stretched out signifies God's action at a distance. Though locally close to all, he is spiritually far off from those who have forgotten his presence, forsaken his way, and wandered into remote tracks of sin. Yet God can reach the most distant sinner. He met Jonah on the ocean. It is impossible to flee from God. Our utter neglect of God does not cause his utter neglect of us. The godless will be judged by God. This is a most merciful fact. To be abandoned by God would be worse than to be punished by him. Left alone to our self chosen late, we should perish in the outer darkness. The outstretched hand of God, which extends to the most remote, is their one ground of hope, even though at first it only reaches them to smite.
IV. IT IS WIDE IN ITS GRASP. It is not said that God's finger will touch a distant people, but that his hand will be outstretched. There is breadth and comprehensiveness in the image. It suggests a large sweep of Divine energy. There is to be a national judgment. The greatness of the number of guilty persons will be no safeguard in the day when God comes to judgment. There is, indeed, a sense of security in the consciousness of companionship. But if the many sin, the m.u,y must suffer. On the other hand, the wide grasp will reach those who seek to dude it by subtlety, singularity, and subterfuge. There is no possibility of escaping general punishment by a secret withdrawal from the scenes of ordinary evil to a peculiar region of our own wickedness.
V. IT IS POWERFUL. When God stretches out his hand he is evidently about to exert some mighty energy. He is awake and active in our midst. Then the fertile land may become a desert. This fearful manifestation of God will assuredly prove his present power. Woe to them who wait for such a proof before giving heed to God!
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The idolatry of the land avenged.
Turning from the city of Jerusalem to the land generally, the Prophet Ezekiel addresses himself to Israel, the nation whom God had chosen, and who had rejected God. By a striking figure of speech, he delivers his message to the mountains and hills, the water courses and ravines of Palestine. How dear all these features of the land of his fathers must have been to the prophet, we can easily imagine; national and religious associations must, in the course of centuries, have gathered round every portion of the territory which Jehovah had given to the descendants of Abraham. The apostrophe to the country was at the same time a word to the nation; the people and the land were identified. The artist, the poet, may deal with scenery apart from the living inhabitants who dwell amidst it. But the patriot, the prophet, the preacher, love the land for the people's sake who make it their home. To Ezekiel the land of Israel was—
I. A SCENE OF IDOLATRY. Before its possession by the Israelites, the land of Canaan was a stronghold of idolatry and of idolatrous rites and practices of the foulest and cruellest kind. The commission which the children of Israel received was a commission to extirpate the idolaters, and to purse the land of its heathen abominations. Yet the candid and faithful record of Old Testament Scripture informs us that from the first the chosen people were led away by the example and influence of the ancient dwellers in the land, and learned to practise the abominations they were appointed to repress. One great aim of the seers and prophets was to reproach the nation because of prevailing idolatry and superstition, and to summon them to return to their allegiance, ever due to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is evident that the worship of the deities adored by the surrounding nations was prevalent even among those who were called to a purer faith; and that some of the kings, both of Judah and of Israel, sanctioned and encouraged idolatrous observances and idolatrous priesthoods. Thus the high places and the ravines of Palestine were defiled by the rites of folly, cruelty, and lust. These heathen deities were embodiments in imagination of the lusts which corrupt the human heart.
II. A SCENE OF PROPHETIC PROTEST AND REBUKE. It was a token of Divine mercy and forbearance that the apostate Israelites were not left to the delusions and errors, the defection and rebellion, into which they had suffered themselves to be led. The voice of the Lord's prophets was heard upon the mountains, and throughout the valleys, which had been abandoned to those who practised the fanatical, bloodthirsty, and polluted observances distinctive of Canaanitish and Phoenician idolatry. Impressions were produced upon individuals which resulted in a return to the service of Jehovah. There were temporary reformations, distinguished by penitence and by vows. But the reader of the prophetic Scriptures cannot but admit that there was no great national movement in the right direction. Notwithstanding faithful rebuke, severe denunciation, compassionate promise, the people returned again and again to their former follies. It was as though Israel had resolved that no exhortation and no threat should avail to keep the nation faithful to him who bad exalted, defended, and prospered it, and who bad borne with the manners of the rebellious people, not only in the wilderness, but in the land of promise. It was as though nothing short of captivity and exile, conjoined with the destruction and desolation of the capital, could teach the lesson which it was Israel's vocation first to acquire, and then to communicate to the world around.
III. A SCENE OF DESOLATION AND OF DEATH. The Prophet Ezekiel speaks here with conviction and certainty. There rises before his mind a vision which can only fill his heart with grief and mourning. It is a satisfaction, indeed, to his righteous soul to foresee the high places destroyed, the altars desolate, the images broken, and the works of idolaters abolished. But this is not all. He sees the dead carcases of the children of Israel, the scattered bonus, the slain in the midst of the city, etc. And the vision of the depopulated land, the deserted and silent city, the vanquished and decimated nation, profoundly affects his patriotic and sensitive nature. It is a stern lesson, this which he has to teach; it is a terrible punishment, this which he has to anticipate and to foretell. Yet the lesson and the punishment are the Lord's. It is the word of the Lord which the prophet has to declare, the Lord of Israel who is at the same time the King of righteousness and of judgment. God brings the sword upon his own people; covers his own land with ruin and desolation. For his authority must not be defied, his laws must not be broken; his name must not be dishonoured with impunity. "The way of transgressors is hard." "The wages of sin is death." Until this lesson is learned, there is no place for the publication of clemency, for the proffer of mercy. The Law comes before the gospel; and they who do not honour the Law will not appreciate the gospel. It is in the midst of wrath that God remembers mercy.
1. There is such a thing as national guilt and apostasy. In our own time, individualism is carried to such an extreme that this fact is apt to be overlooked. A nation sins by its collective acts, and a nation suffers the just punishment of its evil doing. History is ever teaching this lesson, which men—good and bad—in their absorption in personal interests, are prone to overlook.
2. The Church has responsibility for witnessing against national errors, for warning the people of the inevitable consequences of apostasy from God, and for uttering clearly and boldly the mind and will of him who is eternal righteousness and eternal love.—T.
It seems at first hearing most extraordinary and unaccountable to be told that the end and issue of such a series of national disasters and judgments as those described in the verses preceding this is that Israel may know. Can the end be regarded as corresponding to the means? Is not such a result one to be secured by lessons less severe and calamitous? But in order to answer such questions we must consider the object of knowledge, which is not by any means of an ordinary kind. The "judgments" were the work of God's providence; and the purpose was to produce a conviction in the mind of the nation, Israel, that God lives and reigns, administers a moral government, and will not endure the disobedience and rebellion of those who are of right his subjects. This lesson must be taught, however distressing the discipline which leads to its acquisition. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord."
I. SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS OF THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL IMPORTANCE. Knowledge of every kind is to an intellectual being desirable, precious, and valuable. Knowledge of great, venerable, noble, or interesting persons, is of all knowledge the most precious; for personality exceeds in interest all that is material. But there is no knowledge which can compare in dignity and value with the knowledge of him "in whom we live, and move, and have our being." The phenomena and laws of nature are of interest to the inquiring intelligence; but their chief interest, to the thoughtful mind, lies in their being a revelation of him who is the Source, the Creator, the Upholder, of all. If God is to be found in nature, how much more manifestly, and less incompletely, in man—the noblest work of the Eternal and Supreme! To know God is to satisfy the intellect, and is to find a centre for the emotions, and a law for the will. No knowledge can compensate the absence of this; all knowledge is completed by it.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS LOST SIGHT OF IN TIMES OF NATIONAL PROSPERITY AND SELF-INDULGENCE. So it was with the inhabitants of Judah and Israel; so has it been in the experience of many nations. This may easily be explained. Man is a compound being, body and soul; he is connected both with the scenes, occupations, and experiences of earth, and with the great realities of eternity. There is much in the world to absorb and engross human attention, interest, and concern. And it is quite in harmony with all we know of human nature, that those whose minds are engaged in the pursuits of time and sense should be forgetful of the higher truths and laws of the eternal prospects, in which they may not deliberately disbelieve. How often has it happened that, when God has satisfied a nation's temporal cravings, he has sent leanness into their souls! Their very blessings, as they deem them, become the occasion of their forgetfulness of the Giver. It is with nations as with individuals—the satisfaction of earthly needs may silence the aspiration for heavenly good.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD MAY BE ACQUIRED IN THE TIME OF RETRIBUTION AND SUFFERING. If there is purpose in Divine providence, what so reasonable as to believe that the corrections administered to individuals and to nations are designed to awaited juster and higher thoughts—thoughts of God's wisdom and righteousness? How many have found that it was good for them to be afflicted; since before they were afflicted they went astray, whilst in affliction they have learned to observe God's Word! It may be objected that the highest and fullest knowledge of God is not thus to be acquired. And this is true; yet this knowledge may be indispensable as a stage to a knowledge yet more precious. It may be that the first lesson to be acquired is a lesson of submission to God's will, of reverence for God's righteousness. Only after the acquisition of this lesson, it may be, does that of the Divine mercy and compassion come within reach. When men have forgotten that the universe is ruled by a just, wise, almighty King, from whose authority none can escape, they must be brought to acknowledge this fact, that they may lay down the arms of rebellion, and may seek forgiveness and find reconciliation.
IV. SUCH KNOWLEDGE SHOULD, AND OFTEN DOES, LEAD TO SINCERE AND ACCEPTABLE PIETY. Custom, tradition, superstition, are a poor and unstable foundation for true religion. Men must know God, must know his character, his mind, his wilt, in order that they may devoutly love him and acceptably serve him. Whilst there is undoubtedly a kind of knowledge, merely speculative, which is compatible with hatred of God and of his Law, there is, on the other hand, a knowledge which leads men to appreciate and adore the Divine attributes, and to seek participation in the Divine nature and in Divine favour.—T.
When the corn is threshed by the flail, or by the teeth of the threshing-implement, as in the literal "tribulation," its bulk is reduced; for the grain is separated from the straw and the husk. It is so with a nation visited by the calamities which came upon the Hebrew people. Pestilence, famine, and sword are the means by which multitudes may perish; yet some may be left, and these are "a remnant."
I. THE CALAMITIES AND JUDGMENTS WHICH LEFT THE FEW AS A REMNANT. These were they who escaped. When the horrors that came upon the land are considered, the wonder is that there were survivors. As he who is saved from a fire looks back upon the sudden and furious conflagration, surveys the smoking ruins from which he has been rescued; as he who is the sole survivor from a shipwreck remembers with shuddering the violence of the tempest by which his comrades were engulfed in the ocean;—so may those who have been spared in time of national calamity profit as they recall the circumstances of peril and terror by which they, with others, were encompassed, from which they, as distinguished from other's, have been delivered. Who is there who, looking back upon the past scenes of even an uneventful life, cannot call to mind many of his early companions who have been the victims of disease, of misfortune, of accident, of temptation, whose earthly probation has been brought to a sudden close, whilst he himself, and a few others with him, are, as it were, "a remnant," and that through no personal merit?
II. THE MERCY THAT SPARES THEM AS A REMNANT. The same inscrutable wisdom which suffers some to be overtaken and overwhelmed, provides that others shall be spared and saved. As Noah and his family were spared, whilst a vast population was engulfed in the Flood; as Lot and his household were spared, whilst the inhabitants of the guilty city were consumed by fire from heaven;—so again and again has the forbearance of God been revealed in providing for the escape of "a remnant," who have remained to witness to Divine justice, and to use aright the opportunity afforded by Divine mercy towards themselves.
III. THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH A REMNANT IS PERMITTED TO SURVIVE. This is only very partially explained in the context. The mind of the prophet was so absorbed with the consideration of the guilt of his idolatrous and rebellious fellow countrymen, and with their impending fate, that for the time he was not able to reflect upon the ultimate ends for which some were spared amidst the awful catastrophe. Yet this was present to his mind as one immediate result of the mingled judgments and mercies of God; those spared from the calamities of the nation should know and acknowledge that Jehovah was the Lord. As a matter of fact, the lesson was learnt; and the remnant who returned to Palestine returned free henceforth from all inclination to idolatry. And if they did not cease to sin, at all events they were henceforth free from sin of this form. They lived to remember for themselves, and to witness to their children, that the nations are ruled by a God of righteousness, and that in subjection to his authority and in obedience to his Law man's true welfare must ever lie. Their song was of mercy and of judgment. If they were few in numbers they were purified and strengthened, and fitted to fulfil the peculiar vocation of the sons of Abraham among the nations of the earth.
APPLICATION. Who is there who has not experienced the sparing mercy and long suffering kindness of the Lord? Who has not been delivered from danger, from calamity, from destruction? Let all who acknowledge themselves to be, as it were, "a remnants" indebted to God's compassion, acknowledge the peculiar obligation under which they have been laid, to witness to the mercy of their heavenly Father, and by their practical loyalty to him to prove that they have not been spared in vain.—T.
This very strong and very remarkable assertion concerning the remnant of Israel that should be spared amid the destruction and desolation about to overtake the nation and its metropolis, is a proof to every thoughtful reader that the mind of the prophet was occupied not so much with the external and political aspects of history as with the moral. In his view supreme importance is attached to the result of experience upon character. So regarded, calamity may be "blessing in disguise." If the chastisement of God awakens repentance and self-loathing, one purpose at all events, and that a most important purpose, has been answered.
I. SELF-LOATHING IS IN CONTRAST WITH FORMER SELF-SATISFACTION AND SELF-COMPLACENCY. It is not natural to men to loathe themselves, however they may be tempted to loathe their fellow men, where there has been infliction of injury or want of sympathy and congeniality. It is too common for men to look at their own character and their own conduct in the most favourable and flattering light; and to speak, or at all events to think, of themselves with approval and admiration. In most cases a great change must come over a man's mind in order that he may regard his character and his life with dissatisfaction, in order that he may hate himself.
II. SELF-LOATHING IS AN INDICATION OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Those who admire and approve themselves are, in many instances, if not in all, the victims of illusion. It is a rude, and yet it may be a wholesome, awakening, which sets a man face to face with his true self. His fancied excellences and virtues are seen to be faults. The blemishes which he has been accustomed to extenuate appear in their real deformity. He wonders how he could have misinterpreted his actions and misunderstood his character. He learns to know himself, not as he has imagined himself to be but as he really is.
III. SELF-LOATHING HAS ABUNDANT JUSTIFICATION IN THE ERRORS AND FOLLIES OF THE PAST. When a man sees himself, in some measure, as God sees him to be, then trivial faults—as they were once deemed—become, in his apprehension serious and culpable. Sin is the abominable thing which God hates; and it is an evidence of true enlightenment when a man loathes his own offences against the laws of God and the dictates of his own conscience. The unspiritual detest deformities of body, defects of manner or of speech; the spiritually minded are more distressed at what is morally evil than at anything of a more external character.
IV. SELF-LOATHING MAY LEAD TO TRUE REPENTANCE, AND SO TO FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE. To remain in a state of mind in which repugnance to evil absorbs the whole nature is to be abandoned to despondency. Sin is to be loathed in order that it may be forsaken; and that it may be forsaken it must be forgiven. The Scriptures abound in denunciations of sin, but they abound also in invitations to repentance and in promises of forgiveness. "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. Reconciliation and purity are by the gospel assured to every penitent and believing sinner.
V. THUS SELF-LOATHING MAY BE A MEANS TOWARDS THE REMOVAL OF WHAT OCCASIONED IT, AND OF THE SUBSTITUTION OF WHAT CAN BE REGARDED WITH THANKFULNESS AND DELIGHT. It may be said thus to work its own cure. Or, more properly, it may induce the repenting sinner to apply to the great Physician, by whose remedial treatment the unsoundness may be removed, and spiritual health, vigour, and happiness may be restored.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The land involved in man's punishment.
We have here a dramatic appeal to the stony hills of Palestine. Canaan is emphatically a mountainous country; and Ezekiel, speaking as the mouthpiece of God, addresses himself to the high places of Canaan, as the scenes of flagrant idolatry. From his residence by the banks of Chebar he could not see with his bodily eye these renowned, but now desecrated, hills; yet he sees them with the clear eye of imagination. His fervid appeal to these loved hills would naturally produce a new and wholesome impression on the minds of his hearers. The very mountains and rivers of the sacred land were stained with the people's sin and cursed with their curse. This dramatic address—
I. INDICATES MAN'S VAST RESPONSIBILITIES. Constituted as man is, the sovereign lord of this material globe, the fortunes of the land are indissolubly linked with the fortunes of its ruler. If man prospers, the fields smile with beauty and plentifulness; in man's curse, the hills and valleys participate. Guilty man cannot circumscribe the limits within which his misdeeds shall fall. Obedience makes oar earth a paradise; transgression blasts it with barrenness and desolation.
II. THIS APPEAL IS A HUMILIATION TO THE PEOPLE. It implies that appeal to the stony ears of men is useless; appeal to the unconscious hills is more likely to succeed. When trees shall intelligently listen, and granite rocks shed tears of penitence, then may the expectation arise that the stolid hearts of the Hebrews will respond. When God speaks to the material elements, they do respond in their own proper way; but the corrupt nature of men resists all Divine appeals. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know" (Isaiah 1:3). If God shed his sunshine on grass and flowers, fragrant incense spontaneously flows forth; yet, though Divinest love shines on every part of man, no effect is seen.
III. THIS APPEAL IS A MEASURE OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE. Wherever, in God's universe, there is a mark of sin, there shall be a mark of Divine displeasure. If the stones which God's hand has fashioned be employed in the service of idolatry, they shall be desecrated; they shall be stained with human blood; they shall bear a lasting mark of dishonour. The hill tops and forest groves, which have been forced by man into this unholy alliance with idols, shall be marked by the symbols of death—shall be devoted to oblivion and to lizards. Becoming a scene of dead men's bones, they shall be associated, in the minds of the living, with slaughter, defeat, and ruin. Nothing shall last that does not bear the seal of God's favour. "The idols shall cease." And ceased they have! Where now is Moloch, and Dagon, and Baal, and Jupiter?
IV. THIS APPEAL DEMONSTRATES THE VANITY OF IDOLS. It was clear as the sun in the heavens that Israel's chosen idols had not protected them from famine and invasion. So long as the idols were preferred to Jehovah, there was safety nowhere. The temples and the altars of the gods had always been regarded as a sanctuary, fleeing to which human life was secure. But this custom was to cease. So fierce and destructive were God's avengers, that they would not respect the vicinity of altars, nor groves devoted to idol gods. Even in the act of idolatrous sacrifice these delinquents should be slain, and it should be manifest that not the slightest modicum of power appertained to dumb idols.
V. This APPEAL EXHIBITS THE INGENUITY OF GOD'S LOVE. This dramatic appeal to the hills of Canaan was a gracious design of love, to find some entrance into the hearts of the people. As the skilful leader of a besieged city will go round it on every side, if haply he may find some gate or point by which access may be gained, so does God try every method which his eternal love can invent to gain admission to the hostile heart of the sinner. By speaking to the stolid mountains, does he not impress us with the callousness of our guilty nature? The devices of his compassion are inexhaustible. He will not give us over to destruction so long as a single ray of hope remains. Every threat of coming woe is a tear of Divine pity. God would not forewarn with such variety of argument if he did not deeply love. This is God's method—God-like.—D.
Many lost; few saved.
The prospects of God's kingdom on the earth have never been wholly dark. A glint of light has always pierced the heavy clouds of gloom. Among the diseased grapes of the cluster, a solitary sound one is found. A thousand acorns are on the oak in autumn time; three or four only take root and flourish. The elect are still the few. But it shall not always be so. The turning point in their fortune is repentance. The internal change must always precede the external.
I. THE OCCASION OF THIS REPENTANCE. The occasion was affliction. Until disaster, defeat, and exile came, no change of mind appeared. The ploughshare of calamity broke up the hard and stolid soil, so that the sweet energies of grace might find an entrance. Judgment alone will not soften and subdue the proud will of man; but judgment and mercy combined have an almighty efficacy. No teacher is so effective as experience. The scattered few, who had escaped the all-devouring sword, pondered, reflected, mourned.
II. THE REALITY OF THEIR REPENTANCE. There is a spurious repentance which is only remorse—i.e. regret that the sin has been detected. But real repentance has respect to God. The sorrow does not so much respect self. It is grief that God is pained—that his heart is broken by our perversity and folly. The old selfishness has disappeared, and God has obtained his proper place in the soul if so, repentance is real.
III. THE PROOF OF REPENTANCE. The proof indicated is self-loathing, self-condemnation. The things formerly loved are now hated. More than this, the penitent passes sentence on himself. He censures himself more severely than others censure him. His past deeds are as obnoxious to him as a dunghill, and that dunghill is within him. His own former self is detestable. He hates himself. No penalty seems for him too heavy. His chief fear is lest such sin as his should be beyond the possibility of mercy.
IV. THE EFFECT OF REPENTANCE. The result is intimate acquaintance with God—inward conviction of his truth and faithfulness. This knowledge of God is knowledge gained by experience. Such knowledge brings with it trust, admiration, love, peace; yea, life itself. "They that know thy Name wilt put their trust in thee." Formerly they were the dupes of falsehood; they wandered in darkness self-created, Now they are smitten by the charms of truth, and loyally follow the Truth.—D.
Earnestness is simply a fitting sense of duty. Earnestness is the outcome of reality. If a man has real conviction of his duty, and real compassion for others, he must be in earnest. Genuine earnestness is not equivalent to noise, display, hysterical excitement. It is wise and appropriate expression of feeling, and suitable to the occasion.
I. EARNESTNESS IS MANIFEST IN GESTURE AND ACT, AS WELL AS IN SPEECH. The man who has a due sense of his momentous office will adopt every device that will gain a hearing or leave due impression upon his hearers. Earnestness is contagious. If the speaker is in earnest, the hearer will feel the glow. There is eloquence in a look, in a tone, in a movement of the hand, in a gesture of the body. Tears are impressive appeals. God commands this whole-souled earnestness. To get an entrance for God's message into human hearts, every door must be tried, every avenue explored. To the extent that we can reach and move the obdurate souls of men, we are responsible for the result.
II. EARNESTNESS IS SEEN IN UNTIRING REPETITIONS OF GOD'S MESSAGE. It may be an irksome task to the prophet to repeat often the same facts and counsels; but he is not to think of himself, nor of his own tastes. He is a servant, not a master. To repeat the same things is proof of their real and vital importance. We cannot substitute other messages, because other messages have not the same importance. The constant dropping of water wears out even granite rocks; and, to conquer the callous natures of men there is required "line upon line; precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little."
III. EARNESTNESS IS SEEN IN ADDRESSING EVERY SIDE OF MAN'S NATURE. Some men are moved by fear, some by shame, some by the prospect of public dishonour. Many principles of human character are common to all men, yet do not dwell in men in equal proportions. In some, the moral sense is paramount. In some, feeling is predominant. In some, judgment and the logical faculty are supreme. The earnest prophet will appeal to each principle in turn. The approaching overthrow of the idols would impress some minds, The slaughter of their brethren and children beside the idolatrous altars would affect others. Exile and plague and premature death would touch the hearts of many. And the prospect of desolation in their own loved land ought to have moved the souls of all true Israelites. The exact pattern. Every face of the rebellious citadel must be assailed.
IV. EARNESTNESS IS SEEN IN UNSELFISH CONCERN FOR THE HONOUR OF GOD. Over and over again is the statement repeated, as if on this the prophet delighted to dwell, "They shall know that I am the Lord." Not for a moment did the man of God forget that he was standing in the stead of God, and spake as the "Spirit gave him utterance." He was identified with God's cause indissolubly. God and he were one. And although the interval of disorder and disloyalty might be long, the final outcome was glorious to contemplate—an object pleasing to every devout eye—God shall be known and honoured! The certainty of ultimate success fosters present courage, and inspires true earnestness.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The impotence of idols.
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy thee toward the mountains of Israel," etc. The former prophecies related chiefly to the city of Jerusalem and the laud of Judah. But this one relates to the whole of the land of Israel. Hence the Lord God, through his prophet, addresses "the mountains and the hills," etc. (Ezekiel 6:3). The burden of this chapter is a proclamation of Divine judgment because of the idolatry of the people. This, also, is a reason why certain geographical features of the country are mentioned. Mountains and hills, ravines and valleys, were chosen as localities for the worship of idols (cf. Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 17:10, 2 Kings 17:11; 2 Kings 23:10). The Israelites should have sternly opposed and utterly abolished the idolatry of the land. They were explicitly and solemnly commanded to do so (Deuteronomy 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Deuteronomy 13:1-18.). But instead of doing this, they had themselves become idolaters; and they persisted in idolatry. Therefore God himself will take the work into his own hands, and will make an utter end of their idols and images, their altars and sacrifices. "Behold, I, even l, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places," etc. (cf. Leviticus 26:30-33). And by the execution of his dreadful judgment the impotence and vanity of the idols would be conspicuously exhibited. The text shows—
I. THE INABILITY OF IDOLS TO PROTECT THEIR WORSHIPPERS. "I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols …. And the slain shall fill in the midst of you." The dead bodies of the idolaters, slain for their idolatry, and cast down before the idols, constituted a striking testimony to the impotence of the idols to succour or defend their worshippers. But there are idols and idolaters in our age and in Christian lands. A man may he an idolater who never bows down to any image, or statue, or anything else. A man's god is that which he loves supremely; and in this sense he may make an idol of his wife, or his child, or of riches, power, popularity, success in business, or even of himself. "And an idol in the heart is as bad as one set up in the house." And these things, viewed as gods, are as impotent as the idols of the Israelites. They cannot ennoble human nature; they rather crush its highest aspirations, degrade its best affections, and dwarf its noblest faculties. They are altogether incapable of satisfying the cravings of the soul. Its hunger is too great, its thirst too intense, to be satisfied with any of the gods of modern civilization, or with all of them, or with anything less than God himself. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." Only in him can the religious heart of man find true rest. And these modern idols cannot protect their votaries. There are circumstances and conditions in life in which neither riches nor rank, popularity nor power, relatives nor friends, can render man any aid. There are trials which none of them can ward off; dangers which none of them can shield us from; and none of them can save us from death, or give us hope beyond it.
II. THE INABILITY OF IDOLS TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AND THEIR ALTARS,
1. They cannot protect themselves and their altars from desecration. " I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars." Thus were the idolatrous images and altars polluted by dead bodies and decaying bones (cf. 1 Kings 13:2; 2 Kings 23:15, 2 Kings 23:16).
2. They cannot protect themselves and their altars from destruction. "I will destroy your high places. And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken … And the high places shall be desolate, that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished." And these idols, which the Israelites worshipped, were utterly powerless to avert their own destruction. How often does God in mercy destroy our idols! The riches which we are almost worshipping he makes to slip from our tightening grasp. Our worldly successes, which were drawing our hearts away from him, he turns into disastrous failures. The man who has made fame his god, and endeavoured to satisfy his soul with the fickle breath of popular applause, has found his idol broken into fragments; he is no longer greeted with plaudits, but with execrations. And when our love to any one has been growing into idolatry, God has taken from us the desire of our eyes with a stroke. And in all these cases the Divine intent has been that we should discover the vanity of our idols, and turn unreservedly to the one living and true God. And in all, the idols are powerless to save themselves, and we are powerless to save them.
III. THE INABILITY OF IDOLS LEADING IDOLATERS TO KNOW AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUE GOD. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord." When these judgments had been executed, and the vanity of their idols thus demonstrated, the Israelites would know by experience that Jehovah is the true God.
1. That he is the true God as distinguished from the false gods—the idols.
2. That he is the almighty God as contrasted with the impotent idols.
3. That he is the living and eternal God as contrasted with the dead idols which had been demolished. Israel would not learn this lesson in seasons of peace and prosperity, though it had been. taught them in many forms, and with the reiteration of infinite patience. But they would learn it, and, as a matter of fact, they did learn it, when it was impressed upon them by the stern judgments of siege and famine, sword and captivity. And still there are those who need trial and suffering to teach them the same lesson. They will not in heart and life acknowledge the true God until they have been taught, by bitter and painful experience, the vanity of the idols which they had set up in their hearts. Blessed are they, if even thus they learn that only the Supreme Being is worthy of the soul's supreme love and reverence.
CONCLUSION. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." "Wooden idols are easily avoided, but take heed of the idols of gold. It is no difficult matter to keep from dead idols" in the form of statues or images, but guard yourselves against the manifold forms of modern and civilized idolatry. Yield not even the least to anything or any person who would contend for the throne of your heart. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me; Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."—W.J.
Stages in the soups prestress from sin unto salvation.
"Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations," etc. These verses exhibit the exercise of mercy even in the execution of judgment; and they indicate certain stages in the restoration of a remnant of the people to the Lord Jehovah.
I. SIN LEADING TO PUNISHMENT. In dealing with previous paragraphs we have already spoken of the sin and of the punishment of the Israelites. Their chief sin was idolatry. It is spoken of in our text as whoredom. The chosen people are looked upon as the wife of Jehovah (cf. Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:19, Hosea 2:20). And in turning from him to worship idols, they played the part of a wife that is unfaithful to her husband (cf. Jeremiah 3:9, Jeremiah 3:20). And when they persisted in this infidelity, despite exhortation, remonstrance, and warning, the righteous judgment of God came upon them—siege, famine, pestilence, sword, captivity. Sin ever leads to suffering. Sooner or later penalty follows transgression. "Be sure your sin will find you out;" "Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him."
II. PUNISHMENT LEAVING TO RECOLLECTION. "They that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives." The goodness of God is designed to lead men to repentance (cf. Romans 2:4); but sometimes it fails to do so by reason of the perversity of the heart of man. Some men partake of the gifts of the Divine goodness without any thought of the bountiful Bestower. But affliction not unfrequently accomplishes that which prosperity failed to effect. It was in the far country, in poverty, degradation, and destitution, that the prodigal son came to himself, and remembered his father's house (Luke 15:14-17). And though Israel had forsaken the Lord, he had not forsaken them. Even his judgments were an evidence of this (cf. Hosea 2:6, Hosea 2:7). In wrath he remembers mercy. In his terrible visitation for their sins he spares a remnant of them. And in the miseries of captivity that remnant remembers him. As a faithless wife who has deserted a good husband will almost certainly have occasion to remember in bitterness of soul him whom she has so basely and cruelly wronged, so the remnant of the Israelites, in the sorrows of their exile, would remember the Lord Jehovah, whom they had rejected for vain idols. Suffering should induce recollection and reflection. Trials should lead us to review our life and consider our ways.
III. RECOLLECTION LEADING TO REPENTANCE. "When I have broken their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and their eyes, which go a-whoring after their idols; and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations." Where this rendering differs from that of the Authorized Version it is supported by Hengstenberg, Schroder, and the 'Speaker's Commentary.' Amongst the remnant of the Israelites, recollection prepared the way for repentance, of which three aspects are here indicated.
1. Repentance in its origin. "When I have broken their whorish heart." Whatever may be the means by which it is brought about, penitence is the product of Divine grace (cf. Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18). In this Christian age, God brings gracious gospel influences to bear upon the hearts of men by the operation of his Holy Spirit, in order to quicken them into penitence for sin.
2. Repentance in its seat. "When I have broken their heart." Repentance is not merely a change of mind, but a change of feeling. It is godly sorrow on account of sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:9, 2 Corinthians 7:10). "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
3. Repentance in its expression. "They shall loathe themselves for the evils they have committed in all their abominations." The true penitent never seeks to excuse himself on account of his sins, or to explain them away, or to extenuate the guilt of them. He takes shame to himself on account of them; and humbly confesses them to God. He says, "I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me," etc. (Psalms 51:3-5); "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lilt up my face to thee, my God," etc. (Ezra 9:6); "God be merciful to me a sinner." It is well when recollection thus leads to repentance unto life. It did so in the case of the psalmist: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies," etc. (Psalms 119:59, Psalms 119:60). And David prophesied that it should be so throughout the world: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord," etc. (Psalms 22:27).
IV. REPENTANCE LEADING TO DEVOUT RECOGNITION OF GOD. "And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them." "The Lord would have spoken in vain, or to no purpose, if the event had not corresponded with the utterance. By the correspondence of utterance and event, they know that he who has spoken by the son of man is Jehovah—is God in the fullest sense" (Hengstenberg). They shall know him as the living and true God in contrast to the dead and vain idols (see on Ezekiel 6:7). And more than this, true repentance leads to forgiveness and reconciliation with God; and thus the penitent soul comes to know him by devout sympathy and hallowed communion with him.
CONCLUSION. Learn that pain and trial are blessed when by Divine grace they lead to earnest reflection, and sincere repentance, and saving knowledge of God (cf. Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71; Hebrews 12:10, Hebrews 12:11).—W.J.
The sorrow of the servant of God on account of the sins of his people.
"Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot," etc. Almost everything contained in the paragraph of which this verse forms a part (Ezekiel 6:11-14) has already come under our notice in preceding portions of this book. But our text presents matter for profitable meditation. It teaches—
I. THAT THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD REGARDS THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF SINNERS WITH DEEP SORROW. "Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel!" Idolatry was the great sin on account of which the prophet grieved. But our text suggests that idolatry is a multitudinous sin. It comprises many "abominations." In the worship of Peor the worshippers committed fornication; and in the worship of Moloch they committed homicide. In proportion as we participate in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we shall regard sin neither with levity, "Fools make a mock at sin;" nor with indifference; nor with extenuation of its guilt; but with deep grief. To the holy, sin must ever cause regret and pain of heart. Ezra mourned over it bitterly (Ezra 9:3-6); so did the psalmist (Psalms 119:136, Psalms 119:158), the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17), the Apostle Paul (Romans 9:1-3), and our blessed Lord and Saviour (Mark 3:5; Luke 13:34; Luke 19:41, Luke 19:42). And in our text, grief for the sins of the people is expressed first, and for the miseries caused by their sins afterwards. There are many who mourn the losses and sufferings which result from sin, but comparatively few who mourn because of the sins themselves; yet these should awaken our sharpest sorrow.
II. THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD REGARDS THE JUDGMENTS WHICH COME UPON SINNERS WITH DEEP SORROW. "Alas!… for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence." "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether;" and therefore his people should at least heartily acquiesce in them. But while consenting unto them, and cordially approving their righteousness, the godly will look with sorrow upon the woes which the wicked bring upon themselves by their sins. Nor is there anything wrong or unbecoming in this; for so our Lord viewed the miseries which he saw gathering over the guilty Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), and so the pious and patriotic Jeremiah contemplated the captivity of the Lord's flock (Jeremiah 13:17). One cannot look upon calamity and suffering without sorrow, even when we know that these are the righteous retributions of sin. And if we could do so, there would not be anything either commendable or desirable in so doing.
III. THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD ENDEAVOURS TO IMPRESS OTHERS WITH THE WICKEDNESS OF SIN AND THE DREAD PENALTIES THEREOF. "Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot." These gestures indicate strong emotion, which may be of various kinds. Thus Balak "smote his hands together" in anger (Numbers 24:10); the Ammonites are represented as clapping their hands and stamping their feet in derision of the land of Israel (Jeremiah 25:6); and in the text these gestures are intended to express keen sorrow, as we see from the words with which they were accompanied: "Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel!" Thus the prophet would denote his firm conviction of the certainty of the judgments which he announced, his earnest desire to impress the people with the reality and solemnity of these judgments, and his grief by reason of them. His entire being was, as it were, engaged in this expression of woe. "Words are transient," says Greenhill, "and leave little impression, but visible signs work more strongly, affect more deeply, and draw the spirits of beholders into a sympathy." And the servants of God in our own times cannot feel too deeply the wickedness of sin, or express their abhorrence thereof too strongly, if that abhorrence be genuine, or manifest too great a concern that sinners should flee from the wrath to come. If we realized the essential heinousness of sin, the unspeakable value of the soul, and the awful significance of its loss, we should deem no action unworthy, and no effort too great, if they were likely to lead sinners to turn from sin to the Saviour. "I know not," says Richard Baxter, "what others think of these concerns, but for my own part I am ashamed of my insensibility, and wonder at myself that I deal no more with my own and other men's souls, as becomes one who looks for the great day of the Lord. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smites me that I have not been more serious and fervent. It is no trifling matter to stand up in the face of a congregation and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God in the name of the Redeemer: it is no easy thing to speak so plainly that the most ignorant may understand; so seriously treat the deadest may feel; and so concerningly that contradictory cavillers may be silenced and awakened."—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19