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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 13

 

 


Introduction

Chapter 13. Yahweh’s Denunciation of Prophets Who Prophesy Their Own Ideas.

Ezekiel has depicted the failure of the leaders of the people, the princes, the priests and the elders. Now he turns his attention on ‘the prophets’, probably the cult prophets. They too have failed Israel. These men had been appointed by, and attached to, the temple, or to other recognised sanctuaries, who paid their wages (compare Zechariah 11:12), and they were supposed to have some gift of divine inspiration. Many had gone into exile with the others. But Ezekiel is to point out that they really speak their own ideas, and not Yahweh’s, for they say only what men want to hear. They are not opening themselves to the inspiration of Yahweh in accordance with His teachings and with His word. The denunciation is then also applied to the prophetesses who use doubtful means to establish their ideas (Ezekiel 13:17-23).

This was the constant complaint of earlier true prophets (1 Kings 22:22; Isaiah 28:7-13, where strong drink was to blame; Micah 3:5-7), and especially of Jeremiah who spoke in a similar way to Ezekiel (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 6:13-15; Jeremiah 8:10-12; Jeremiah 14:14-16; Jeremiah 18:18; Jeremiah 23:9-32; Jeremiah 26:8-11; Jeremiah 27:9-18; Jeremiah 28:1-17). Note the reference to false prophets in Babylonia (Jeremiah 29:21-32). They were there as well. The troubles that had come on Judah in its final days caused men to lean heavily on the cult prophets, but Ezekiel tells us that all that they heard was lies and self delusion.


Verses 1-3

The False Prophets (Ezekiel 13:1-16).

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, and say to those who prophesy out of their own hearts, ‘You, hear the word of Yahweh, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have not seen.’ ” ’

Note Ezekiel’s continuing emphasis on the word of Yahweh coming to him. We can tend to forget that he was under the constraint of silence all this time and could only speak when he had a word from Yahweh. But when Yahweh came to him he had to speak. This was the difference between him and the false prophets he was speaking about. He was constrained to speak because of Yahweh’s Spirit working within him. In the words of Amos 3:8, ‘the Lord Yahweh has spoken who can but prophesy?’

This time the words were spoken against the popular prophets. They were popular because they said what men wanted to hear. They claimed to be prophets of Yahweh. But their words were not from God. They came from within them. They were their own ideas. They did not have the Spirit of God inspiring their words, but followed their own spirit. They did not ‘see’, for they were not true seers. They had no true spiritual insight coming from above. All they had came from within themselves. They promulgated their own ideas. They were blind leaders of the blind. And Ezekiel was to ‘prophesy against them’, that is to denounce them and their words.

‘The prophets of Israel.’ This included all the prophets both in Jerusalem and in the scattered communities in exile. They really had no message to give because they did not hear the voice of God.

‘Foolish.’ The word is a strong one (nabal). The foolish man brings disaster on himself because of his folly, as did Nabal (1 Samuel 25). Although professing Him, in his heart he ignores the reality of God (Psalms 14:1) and behaves and speaks in a way that is contrary to Him.

There are many today who are ‘foolish prophets’. They seem wise and are popular, saying what people want to hear, but they do not hear the word of God or teach in accordance with it. Rather they pick among the ruins of what is left of man’s wisdom.


Verse 4-5

“O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes in the waste places (ruins). You have not gone up into the gaps, nor made up the fence for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of Yahweh.”

The picture is a vivid one of foxes running around in the ruins of a city. They build their dens in the ruins, and forage and scavenge, but they do nothing about the state of the city. So it is with these prophets. They have ignored the gaps in the understanding of the people, and have not built them up ready for what is coming, for they have not seen it themselves. Nor have they caused them to physically strengthen the walls of the city by their warnings. Instead of ‘rebuilding the walls and filling in the gaps’, by preparing the people for the coming ‘day of Yahweh’ about to fall on them, they are like foxes who make comfortable holes for themselves in the ruins and scurry around building nothing, scavenging for what they can find, making false promises that will not be fulfilled. They are nothing but parasites.

Note the phrase ‘the day of Yahweh’. It refers to any period in history where God manifests His judgments. God is longsuffering and gives man much leeway, but there comes a time again and again when man’s sins come in on himself and devastating consequences result. And each such ‘day of Yahweh’ leads on to the next, until the final great ‘day of Yahweh’ when He brings in His final judgments.

(The alternation between ‘they’ and ‘you’ in these verses makes it uncertain when it is the people who are being addressed, and when the prophets, but it makes no difference to the sense. If ‘you’ is seen as applying to the people it simply incorporates them into the sins of the prophets).


Verse 6

“They have seen vanity and lying divination who say, ‘the oracle of Yahweh’, and Yahweh has not sent them. And they have made men hope that the word would be confirmed.”

The false prophets have given people false hope with false visions and lying divination. The word for ‘divination’ is regularly used in a bad sense of using false means to obtain ‘divine’ guidance (Ezekiel 21:21-22; 2 Kings 17:7; Jeremiah 14:14; Numbers 22:7; Numbers 23:23; Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 15:23), usually through special techniques such as familiar spirits, worked up trances, examining entrails of a sacrifice and throwing sand on the ground. But the fact that here it is called ‘lying divination’ seems to contrast it with the true reception of prophetic truth by men like Ezekiel (never directly called divination), obtained directly through Yahweh.

The result of the false visions and lying divination is that the people are deceived and expectant of something that will never materialise, will never ‘be confirmed’ by fulfilment.


Verse 7

“Have you not seen a vain vision, and have you not spoken a lying divination? In that you say, ‘the oracle of Yahweh’, in spite of the fact that I have not spoken?”

Whatever methods they used, even if it was just hopeful aspiration, they stand condemned. For although they claimed ‘the oracle of Yahweh’ they did not in fact produce a word from Yahweh. Whoever spoke through them it was not Yahweh, for they spoke lies.


Verse 8-9

‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have spoken what is vain, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you,” says the Lord Yahweh, “and my hand will be against the prophets who see what is vain, and who divine lies. They will not be in the council of my people, nor will they be written in the writing (or ‘register’) of the house of Israel, nor will they enter into the land of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.” ’

The denunciation of the prophets for speaking empty words and ‘seeing’ what is vain, and ‘seeing’ what is false and ‘divining lies’ (compare Ezekiel 13:7), putting forth fabrications as an oracle from Yahweh, has brought on them the enmity of Yahweh. They have brought on themselves exclusion from the leadership of Israel, which they no doubt coveted, exclusion from the roll of those who are full members of the house of Israel, a blow to their self respect and hopes, and exclusion from the land of Israel, that is, final exclusion from the recognised benefits of the covenant. For being blotted out of ‘the roll of Israel’ compare Exodus 32:32-33. This also will demonstrate that God is truly the Lord Yahweh, with all that that means.


Verse 10

“Because, even because they have led my people astray, saying ‘Peace’, and there is no peace. And when someone builds up a flimsy wall they daub it with whitewash.”

The word for whitewash comes from a root meaning to talk nonsense. Some in Israel have built up for themselves ideas, empty hopes, which are the equivalent of a flimsy wall which will not stand the test (compare Ezekiel 13:5 and Ezekiel 13:16) and the prophets contribute to their folly by whitewashing it to hide the cracks. What they speak is nonsense. They declare peace, but there will be no peace. They promise safety and prosperity for Jerusalem when there will be no safety or prosperity. Thus they lead the people astray.

It is always a temptation to a preacher to speak what people wish to hear, to reinforce their prejudices, to make them satisfied with a low level life and a lesser morality. They please men and not God. But such preachers too will be disqualified by God from His purposes. If we never disturb people we must question our ministry.


Verse 11

“Say to those who daub it with whitewash that it will fall. There will be an overflowing rainstorm, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind will rend it.”

Yahweh now declares a vivid picture of judgment. The flimsy wall which the prophets have tried to make respectable will collapse under a great storm. It will be tested by drenching rain, great hailstones and a stormy wind and will be unable to stand the test. It can be compared with those who build their lives on sand because they do not receive the words of Christ (Matthew 7:26-27). They too will be devastated by the judgment.

Note the change to addressing the hailstones. This vivid way of making things personal in the middle of a sentence or paragraph is found again and again in Scripture. Many however repoint the Hebrew to mean ‘and I will cause great hailstones to fall’.


Verse 12

“Lo, when the wall is fallen will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the whitewash with which you whitewashed it?’ ”

The prophets should consider what will happen when their prophecies prove false. When the storm washes away the whitewash, and causes the collapse of the wall, what will they say then when they are questioned about it, as they certainly will be?


Verses 13-16

“Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my anger, and there will be drenching rain in my fury, and great hailstones in anger to consume it. So will I break down the wall which you have daubed with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare, and it will fall, and you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am Yahweh. Thus will I accomplish my anger on the wall, and on those who have daubed it with whitewash, and I will say to you, ‘The wall is no more, nor those who daubed it’, that is, the prophets of Israel who prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, says the Lord Yahweh.”

Notice the continual repetition which is so much a mark of Hebrew literature. Once again the picture of the great storm and its effects is used and amplified, with the whitewash completely washed off, the wall crashing down, and the very foundations being laid bare. Platitudes and superficiality will not stand the test of judgment. Note also the stress on Yahweh’s anger and fury. When men refuse to acknowledge God’s holiness and proclaim a low immorality, they become the objects of His anger, that is, of His implacable attitude towards sin. And His judgments will then reveal what He is, will reveal His holiness and His demand for response to His ways.

And as the wall crashes down, so will the prophets. And this is a prophecy concerning Jerusalem and its future. The present lives of those who live there are built on lies, and the prophecies of peace are gross deceit. For Jerusalem is doomed, and with it the false prophets. Note the stress on the fact that this is the work of God Himself. It is twice emphasised that these are the words of Yahweh, and once that it will reveal that He is Yahweh (twice if we go back to Ezekiel 13:9). In all that is to happen they are to realise that it is Yahweh Who is at work.


Verses 17-19

“And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart, and you prophesy against them. And say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Woe to the women who sew pillows (or armbands) on all joints of the hands (wrists and/or elbows), and make kerchiefs (shrouds) for the head of people of all heights to hunt lives. Will you hunt the lives of my people, and save those that are yours for yourselves? And you have profaned me among my people for a handful of barley, and for pieces of bread, to kill those who should not die, and to save those alive who should not live, by your lying to my people who listen and respond to lies.”

Those being prophesied against clearly participated in magic practises. The passage is difficult to translate simply because we do not know enough about magic practises in ancient Palestine. In Babylonia the magical binding of the wrists is witnessed, the purpose of which was to ‘enforce’ the binding power of a spell or incantation. That may well be what is in mind here. The ‘shrouds’ are long pieces of cloth that went over the head and reached down to the ground, covering the person from head to foot. They were used in order to ‘hunt persons’. Possibly the purpose of these was to enable the person so covered to reach out magically through spells or curses, while insulated against the natural world, to cause harm to their enemies. Perhaps it was to give the illusion of astral travel, the body supposed to disappear while under the shroud, and travelling magically to do its evil work on the enemy. Alternately it may be that the shrouds were impregnated with magic and thrown over the victim, or over some effigy or object belonging to him, ‘imprisoning’ him within the spell.

‘Will you hunt the persons of my people, and save those that are yours for yourselves?’ The purpose of the witchcraft was that those who submitted to the witchcraft (and paid for it) would be saved alive, for they were involved in the witchcraft and protected beneath the shroud, but those who were their enemies, who would be God’s own people, would be slain. There may well have been examples known, brought about by the combination of communication of what was happening and autosuggestion.

‘And you have profaned me among my people by a handful of barley, and by pieces of bread, to kill those who should not die, and to save those alive who should not live, by your lying to my people who listen and respond to lies.’

Here the idea is probably of magic rites involving handfuls of barley and pieces of bread, possibly tossed onto a flat surface to be ‘read’ (like tea leaves), the reading intended to result in death for the victim in mind. That the reading had to be communicated to the victim is suggested by the last phrase. It would seem that some of God’s people were on the whole so weak and unbelieving that they accepted the truth of what they heard and died by autosuggestion. Among those who superstitiously believed in the witchcraft the suggestion that they were cursed might well produce death through fear and hopelessness, and lack of a will to live.

For the use of barley and bread in worship compare the cakes to the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 7:18. See also Ezekiel 44:17-19). Thus eating the bread may have been part of the spell.

‘To kill those who should not die.’ They had done nothing to deserve death, and therefore what was done was a form of murder. ‘To save those alive who should not live.’ This may suggest that those who had done something worthy of death got rid of the witnesses and the accusers by this means, and so perverted justice. Or it may simply mean that the people in question were worthy of death for indulging in witchcraft (Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27; compare Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18:11; Deuteronomy 22:5; Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12-14).

‘By your lying to my people who listen and respond to lies.’ It would seem that only those who believed what they were told were likely to suffer. Those who rejected such ideas in the power and name of Yahweh were not affected.


Verses 17-23

The False Prophetesses (Ezekiel 13:17-23).

We know from Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) that there were recognised prophetesses in Israel (see also Nehemiah 6:14), the latter two playing an important role in guidance in the ways of Yahweh, although they were exceptional. But we know little else about their function as a whole. Here again we come across prophetesses, but like the prophets they had ceased to speak truly and were involved in occult activity. Indeed ‘prophetesses’ may simply refer to women who seek to foretell the future through occult means, rather than a genuine group of cult prophetesses.


Verse 20-21

“Wherefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold I am against your armbands (wristbands) with which you hunt the people (nephesh - living person) as birds (or ‘as becoming flying ones’), and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the people go, even the people that you hunt as birds. Your shrouds will I also tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they will no more be in your hand to be hunted, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”

It is clear from this that the armbands and shrouds were seen as binding people by spells, not because of their own power but because of the power given by the superstitions of the people who believed their lies. The hunting as birds again suggests astral travel, or something similar. Thus when God’s judgment came their armbands and shrouds would be torn from them. They would no longer be able to harm others. God’s people would no longer be in their hands or subject to their suggestive powers. Thus would all see that Yahweh was triumphant over them. The fact of Yahweh’s all-powerful nature would be revealed.


Verse 22-23

“Because with lies you have grieved the heart of the righteous whom I have not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way and be saved alive. Therefore you will no more see vanity, nor divine divinations, and I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you will know that I am Yahweh.”

The prophetesses had done the very opposite of the purpose intended for them. Instead of making the righteous glad and the wicked aware of their sins, they had by their lies grieved the hearts of those Whom Yahweh wished to make happy, and had strengthened the wicked in their sins, removing from them the fear of temporal judgment. Thus the wicked continued happily on in their wicked ways, instead of repenting and finding life, and the righteous grieved when they should not have needed to.

This was why Yahweh would bring His judgment of death on the prophetesses, so that they could no longer see what was vain and empty and divine what was false, to the hurt in the end of both righteous and wicked. So were they, and we, discovering why God’s judgment on Jerusalem was going to fulfil His purposes and was in line with His justice and holiness. Then all would know that He really is Yahweh, the holy and living God Who acts.

There is little difference between these prophetesses and those who in our day go to the occult to receive advice, discover the future and contact the dead, and indeed even in some cases to bring harm on others. These practises are equally condemned.

So God was building up a picture as to why Jerusalem had to be destroyed. He had outlined the detail of the different forms of idol worship going on in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:5-18) and its surrounds (Ezekiel 6:1-7), which involved both priesthood (Ezekiel 8:16) and laity, with its resulting descent into all kinds of wickedness, He had described the evil ways of the civil leaders, with the resulting violence (Ezekiel 11:1-13), and now He had demonstrated the evil of the false prophets, and the wicked practises of the prophetesses. The whole city was a mass of wickedness, ripe for judgment.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-13.html. 2013.

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