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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 12

 

 


Introduction

Chapter 12 The Fate of the Inhabitants of Jerusalem and of Its King Is Depicted.

Ezekiel is told to act out the attempted desperate escape from Jerusalem of the defeated leading Israelites. He is then to depict the sad state to which they will come because of their disobedience and sin. This is followed by the renunciation of a well known proverb and a warning that, contrary to it, the consequences of Ezekiel’s prophecies will come about.


Verse 1-2

Ezekiel’s Depiction of the Coming Great Escape That Will Fail.

‘The word of Yahweh also came to me saying, “Son of man, you dwell among the rebellious house, who have eyes to see, and do not see, who have ears to hear, but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.” ’

Again ‘the word of Yahweh came to’ Ezekiel, the indication of a new prophecy, and a reminder that he could only speak when he had a word from Yahweh. Otherwise he must remain dumb (Ezekiel 3:26). And He spoke of the difficulties that Ezekiel was facing, the difficulties of ministering to a people who would not hear.

That is always the most difficult and heartless of tasks. And Yahweh offered little hope. They were, he said, a rebellious group of people, who did not want to hear the truth. While they would not listen to His word, they wanted comfort and assurance that they would soon return to their homeland. They could not believe that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. They could not believe that God would allow it. They could not bring themselves to accept that it was what they deserved.

Yahweh’s words may have reference to their treatment of Ezekiel’s description of his visions, or to their treatment of his overall message that God has deserted Jerusalem so that its fate was sealed, or indeed to both. They just would not and could not accept it.

‘Eyes to see’ may have specific reference to the acted out prophecies that Ezekiel has already performed. They had seen him bound up and lying on his side, eating starvation rations, they had watched him grow thinner and thinner and develop the inevitable painful sores, they had seen him depict the fall of Jerusalem, but they had refused to see in that the certainty of the downfall of Jerusalem, and of Israel and Judah. And they had heard what he had to tell them, both in his visions and through the word that Yahweh had spoken to him. But they were sceptical and unbelieving. They did not accept what he said. And why? Because, said God, their hearts were rebellious. That is why they would not believe that what he said was possible. Because it did not fit in with their idea of Yahweh, and they did not want to know what God had to say about it (compare Ezekiel 2:4; Isaiah 6:9-10; Jeremiah 5:21).

How easily we can fall into such a state. We can be so convinced that we are right that we do not subject our ideas fully to Scriptural examination.

So it would now be necessary for Ezekiel again to act out vividly and graphically what was about to happen.


Verse 3-4

“Therefore, you son of man, prepare your stuff for removal, and remove by day in their sight. And you will remove from your place to another place in their sight. It may be that they will consider, even though they are a rebellious house. And you will bring forth your stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removal, and you will go forth yourself in the evening in their sight, as when men go forth into exile.” is

What Ezekiel had to do this time was make a great show of packing his household goods and chattels as though he was moving house and going on a journey. Indeed just as though he was going into exile. He was to pack during the day and leave in the evening, bearing his goods and transferring from one place to another.

This would then stir the thinking of his fellow-captives who would want to know what he was doing. They had seen what he had acted out before, they had seen him in a trance-like state as though he was no longer in his body, and now the news got around that he was ‘doing it again’. Unquestionably the crowds would gather. Some would mock, others would shake their heads, but hopefully, said Yahweh, some might even consider the implications of his actions in spite of their rebelliousness (compare Ezekiel 2:5). It was necessary to give them a chance, for Ezekiel was the watchman of the house of Israel.


Verse 5-6

“Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry your things out through there. In their sight you will bear it on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark. You will cover your face so that you do not see the ground, for I have set you as a sign to the house of Israel.”

These further instructions would add to the significance of his acts. He was to leave his house through the wall, symbolising surreptitious escape from the city, and he was to leave as it was becoming dark in order to indicate the idea of secrecy and haste. And he was to cover his face so that he could not see the ground.

The houses in Babylonia would be made of sun-dried brick which, with some effort, would not be difficult to hack through , removing the bricks in order to make a way through. The covering of the face was probably to indicate that he was not expecting to see his homeland again so that he could not bear to look at the ground as he left (see Ezekiel 12:11), and it may possibly have also been intended to indicate secrecy and disguise.

And these things were to be ‘a sign’, a guarantee of their happening. They would warn the house of Israel, of what was coming. As they watched his actions he was to hope that they would accept that this was really what was going to happen to their fellow-Israelites in Jerusalem. At least when Jerusalem did fall, and it is difficult for us to imagine just how huge a blow that would be to them when it happened, they would recognise that God had been telling them that this was what He was going to do all the time.


Verse 7

‘And I did so, as I was commanded. I brought out my stuff by day, as stuff for removing, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my hand. I brought it out in the dark, and bore it on my shoulder in their sight.’

Note the emphasis on the fact that he did as he was told. If only Israel had done the same. It would appear that during the day he prepared his stuff and gathered it together ready for the great removal, and then at night, having made a hole in the wall with his hands, actually shouldered it and carried it to another place.


Verse 8-9

-10 ‘And in the morning the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, has not the house of Israel said to you, ‘What are you doing?’ You say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, This burden concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel among whom they are.’ ” ’

Ezekiel carried out his instructions, and as expected the people came to him and asked him what he was doing, and why he was doing it. So God then revealed to him the full import of what his actions revealed. They revealed not only what would happen to some of the people, but also to ‘the prince’ himself. (He possibly prefers this term for Zedekiah because all saw Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:15; 2 Kings 25:27-30) as still their real king, even though deposed. But we should recognise that ‘prince’ is a regular term for the king in Ezekiel). All would be included in the situation.

‘This burden.’ Prophecy is regularly described in this way, for it was a heavy burden to the prophet, who did not delight in what he had to prophesy, and to the people who heard it because of the nature of the prophecy.


Verse 11

“Say, I am your sign. Just as I have done, so will it be done to them. They will go into exile, into captivity. And the prince who is among them will bear on his shoulder in the dark, and will go out. They will dig through the wall to carry out by it. He will cover his face because he will not see the ground with his eyes.”

What Ezekiel had acted out was a sign, a guarantee from God of would happen to both prince and people. Kings did not usually bear heavy burdens. But Zedekiah would, for he would have been brought down to a humble level by what was happening. Bearing the burdens may well have been part of his disguise. And they would go out ‘in the dark’. Compare John 13:30. It would be both literally true, and spiritually true. The future was dark before them. Their proud boast of being the chosen of Yahweh (Ezekiel 11:15) would have collapsed.

As mentioned above the covering of the face probably primarily indicated that he could not bear to look at the sacred ground which he was having to leave behind him, a measure of his despair. He and his followers would be leaving with broken hearts (compare 1 Samuel 28:14). But it may also have indicated some measure of disguise (so LXX), or even have included that he would shortly be blinded (Ezekiel 12:13).

Breaking through the wall indicated the extremity they would have come to. It was an ignominious flight. The gates would be heavily guarded by the enemy. See 2 Kings 25:4-6; Jeremiah 39:4-5; Jeremiah 52:7-8 for its fulfilment.


Verse 13

“My net also will I spread on him, and he will be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans. Yet he will not see it, even though he will die there.”

The attempted escape will be frustrated, and it will be Yahweh’s doing. Like a hunter He will cast His net over them, and capture them in his snare (compare Hosea 7:12; Lamentations 1:13). They will not be allowed to escape, for they must reap what they had sown. God’s sovereignty over what Nebuchadnezzar was doing is clearly revealed. It is Yahweh Himself Who will bring Zedekiah to Babylon.

‘Yet he will not see it, even though he will die there.’ But though Zedekiah is brought to Babylon, where he will remain for the remainder of his life, he will not see it, for he will have been blinded (2 Kings 25:7).


Verses 14-16

“And I will scatter towards every wind all who are round about him to help him, and all his bands, and I will draw out the sword after them. And they will know that I am Yahweh, when I will disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries. But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine and from pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the nations where they go, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”

Those of Zedekiah’s supporters and military units not captured and exiled with him will be scattered in every direction (‘every wind’ means in every direction. It probably refers to the well recognised ‘four winds’ (Ezekiel 37:9; Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:2; Daniel 8:8; Daniel 11:4; Zechariah 2:6), thus in all four directions). They will be dispersed among many nations and countries. They will constantly be harried by enemies, they will suffer famine and pestilence. But some (‘a few men’) will be spared so that they may face up to how they have sinned, may at last recognise Yahweh for what He is, and may then testify to the nations how what has happened to them was deserved because of their own dreadful behaviour. Thus the destruction of Jerusalem will bring honour to Yahweh in the eyes of the nations, instead of revealing Him as weak and unable to do anything. The latter would be the usual interpretation of the defeat.

The fact that ‘a few men’ will survive brings out the awfulness of their situation. It is only a few who will survive what is to come on them. As refugees their lives are going to be very hard, and will result in premature death for the large majority, through violence against them, pestilence and disease, and through continual food shortage. This will be the consequence of the way that Israel has treated Yahweh through the previous centuries. They had been given every chance, for He had constantly protected them, but instead of responding in repentance, they had taken advantage of Yahweh’s continuing mercy, assuming that it would go on for ever. So now His protection would be withdrawn.

‘And they will know that I am Yahweh.’ Twice repeated for emphasis, but with two different slants. Both the refugees and the nations they go among will learn the truth about Yahweh. Both will recognise His holiness, His hatred of sin, and His ability to act.


Verse 17-18

The Fear Coming On The Land.

‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and with carefulness.” ’

This indicates a further word from Yahweh. It may have no direct connection with the previous words. Here Ezekiel was to act out eating and drinking in fear and great wariness, partly depicting great terror at what is coming, and partly the fear lest someone come and take it away. Possibly it includes the desire to preserve with great care as much of the provisions as possible because of the shortage of food. The picture is one of the expectancy of disaster.


Verse 19-20

“And say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the land of Israel. They will eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with dismay, because her land will be desolate from all that is in it because of the violence of all those who dwell in it. And the cities that are inhabited will be laid waste, and the land will be a desolation, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’ ”

His actions would depict what was to come on Jerusalem and Judah. ‘The people of the land’ is a regular phrase indicating all the people, the common folk. The lack of administration would result in even more violence in the land, with no one to curb evildoers. Some would desolate the land by their activities. Thus the ordinary people would be burdened with care and would live in constant dismay. It is a picture of constant unrest and lawlessness, with its inevitable consequences. They had ignored Yahweh’s covenant and laws, now they would experience the consequences of doing so.

Both cities and land would be desolated. None would escape. That they might be made to recognise that their God was the God Who made moral demands, and exacted judgment when those moral demands were ignored. They would be made to recognise that it was indeed Yahweh, the living, present God, with Whom they had been dealing and whom they had been ignoring and treating casually.

In Spite of the Apathetic Attitude of the People The Warning Prophecies Will Be Fulfilled.


Verse 21-22

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have in the land of Israel, saying, ‘Time goes by, and every vision dies’.

The proverb is literally, ‘The days, they lengthen and every vision, it dies.’ The point being made is that time goes by but none of the prophecies come to fulfilment. Thus when the people hear a prophecy they shrug their shoulders and say, ‘it has never happened, it will not happen now.’ Proverbs can be very valuable, but they can become stilted and meaningless, resulting in apathy.

These people were aware of the prophecies of past prophets, of warnings about the coming ‘day of Yahweh’, and they considered that nothing had happened. How easy it is not to see in present history the fulfilment of God’s warnings. They were here in captivity, having witnessed Nebuchadnezzar’s successful campaign against Judah and Jerusalem, but had not see in it a ‘day of Yahweh’, for Jerusalem still stood.


Verse 23

“Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will make this proverb to cease, and they will no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, ‘The days are at hand and the word (i.e. carrying out of the word - effective fulfilment) of every vision.’

Israel are to be made to realise that the proverb is now no longer true. Indeed it will cease to exist. For the opposite is about to prove true. The prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah are about to come to their final awful fulfilment. And the people will see it and realise how foolish they were. ‘The days are at hand.’ That is, are about to burst on them with unexpected speed.

There is a warning to us all here of the danger of assuming that the warnings of God are simply empty threats which can safely be ignored because ‘God is love’, or of thinking that judgment is far off and therefore does not really matter.


Verse 24-25

“For there will no more be any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am Yahweh. I will speak, and the word I speak will be performed. It will not be deferred any longer. For in your days, O rebellious house, will I speak the word and will perform it, says the Lord Yahweh.”

The great problem for Israel was that of conflicting voices. There were the prophets who prophesied peace and security, words pleasing to men’s ears (Jeremiah 28:2-4; Jeremiah 28:11). And there were those like Jeremiah and Ezekiel who spoke dire warnings of what was shortly to come. And the people as a whole preferred the former.

But now, said Yahweh, this would cease. Once the horror came on them, prophecies of peace and security would be in vain. They would be obviously untrue. Those who spoke with meaningless promises, and flattered with pleasant words through divination, would be shown up and would cease. For what Yahweh had said, He would do. He had spoken, and He would bring it about. Indeed in the very days of Ezekiel’s listeners all he had warned about would come about. Yahweh would perform it.


Verse 26-27

‘Again the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, behold, those of the house of Israel are saying, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days to come, and he prophecies of times that are far off.’ ” ’

Yahweh well knew the hearts of some of the men to whom Ezekiel prophesied. They considered his prophecies interesting, and similar to the warnings of past prophets. They did not deny that they would happen, but they assured themselves that they applied to well in the future. The ‘day of Yahweh’ was well in the future. For the present it was irrelevant. Such things could not happen now. How easily we too can so dismiss the warnings of the Bible. Life goes on, and seemingly nothing disturbs it. But for us too God will one day say, ‘The time has come’.


Verse 28

“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, None of my words will be deferred any more, but the word which I will speak will be performed, says the Lord Yahweh.’ ”

For them the hour was present. There would be no more deferment. Judgment would come. The day of Yahweh was here. All the dire things He had spoken of would happen. It ‘will be performed’, for Yahweh Himself would see to its performing. And these were the words, not of a minor god, but of ‘the Lord Yahweh’.

The church today faces a similar position with regard to the second coming. It can easily be seen as something that will not happen yet. But one day there will be a generation when all these things will happen, and in the light of the troubles facing the world it may well be our generation. We must watch, lest coming suddenly He find us sleeping.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 12:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-12.html. 2013.

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Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
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