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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 14

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 14 Those In Captivity Share in the Condemnation of Those in Jerusalem.

Ezekiel was now to stress that those who had gone into exile shared the condemnation of Jerusalem because of their evil ways. They were really no different from those who were still in Jerusalem because they still engaged in idolatry and the ways associated with it. And unless they turned from it they too would bear their judgment.


Verses 1-3

‘Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me, and the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face. Should I be enquired of at all by them?” ’

The elders of the Israelites in captivity now came to Ezekiel. He had clearly made an impression on them and they were seeking Yahweh’s words through him. But they had not come as true believers, men firmly committed to the covenant with Yahweh, but as those who sought Yahweh’s advice as One among others. They were compromisers. They believed in Yahweh to a certain extent, but they served other gods too, the gods of their captors. However, they were probably hoping to receive some word of comfort and hope in their predicament. Yahweh was the specialist on Jerusalem.

But God knew the truth about them. He knew their hearts. They were still involved in similar idol worship to that which had called down God’s judgment on Jerusalem, and their hearts were with them and not with Yahweh. Thus Yahweh called them ‘these men’ in contempt.

‘The stumblingblock of their iniquity.’ Another way of speaking of idolatry. It either referred to their idols which caused them to stumble and fall into iniquity (compare Ezekiel 7:19 where it was their gold and silver; Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 14:7 where it was seemingly the idols themselves; Ezekiel 18:30 where it was their transgressions which included idolatry), or to the fact that they had encouraged and participated in idolatrous rites, thus leading the people astray, encouraging them in idolatry and putting a stumblingblock before them, causing them also to stumble (compare Ezekiel 44:12). It basically referred to what caused men to stumble. It is a phrase unique to Ezekiel.

‘Should I be enquired of at all by them?’ They had no right to seek His face, for they sought the face of idols. He would not hear those who simply treated Him as one of a pantheon of gods. He would not listen to any but those who were totally true to Him (compare Psalms 66:18; 1 Kings 18:21).


Verse 4-5

“Therefore speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Every man of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and puts the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet. I, Yahweh, will answer him in accordance with it according to the multitude of his idols, that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through idols.’ ”

Yahweh warned that He would not pretend that things were well. All those who were taken up with idols, and chose to come before them in worship, thus making them a stumblingblock in their religious lives, would receive a straight answer when they came to God’s prophet. In accordance with the number of their idols He would answer them, with warnings of severe judgment.

‘That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart.’ This may indicate that His purpose in this was that He might turn their hearts towards Him and capture them. For it was idolatry, and the immorality that went with them, that was causing His hostile attitude towards them and thus estranged them. Or it may mean that His intention was to take them captive in judgment just as they were, with their inner hearts set on idols.


Verses 6-8

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Return you and turn yourselves from idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, and takes his idols into his heart, and puts the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet to enquire for himself concerning me. I Yahweh will answer him by myself. And I will set my face against that man, and will make him an astonishment, for a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from among my people, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’ ”

The constant repetition reveals how hard God was trying to drum in this lesson to Ezekiel’s hearers, the people in exile. Idolatry had for so long been a hindrance to Israel’s faith, as today Mammon and Sex are, and God was determined to root it out. He again called on them to ‘return’ to Him and ‘turn’ themselves from idols, and the abominations that were a part of their worship.

But if they did not do so, and yet sought to a prophet to try to justify their position, He would not answer through the prophet. Indeed He would deceive the prophet (Ezekiel 14:9). And He would Himself answer in judgment those who refused to reject idols. He would set His face against them and treat them in such a way that all would remember it. They would become a sign. What happened to them would become proverbial. For He would destroy them from among His people. Then would all know that He was truly Yahweh, the living, holy God, Who would never condone sin and unfaithfulness.

‘Return you and turn yourselves from idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.’ A positive response was being called for, a turning about. It was not enough to be ‘sorry’, they had to take positive action, a resolve once and for all to have nothing to do with idols. This reflects a mistake made by many that all they have to do is keep on saying sorry to God before they race back to the things they love. But God requires a total turning about, a true repentance, reflected not so much in tears as in obedience.

‘The strangers who sojourn.’ Note also that this was to apply to any who would take up permanent residence among the people of Israel. It was necessary that they too reject idolatry. (LXX here calls them ‘proselytes’). Otherwise they would bring down the judgment of God on Israel. The success of this ministry was revealed in that when exiles did return to Jerusalem they were particularly careful to spurn idolatry and refuse ‘fellowship’ with outsiders. Possibly in fact, as men will, they became too careful. But at least the lesson was learned.


Verse 9-10

“And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I Yahweh have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand on him, and will destroy him from among my people Israel. And they will bear their iniquity. The iniquity of the prophet will be on the same level as the iniquity of the one who seeks to him.”

For those who persisted in idolatry God would even provide false prophets, prophets who were deceived. In a sense people receive the teachers that they deserve. If they do not want God’s pure word, then God will allow them teachers who go astray from the word. And both the teachers and they will be destroyed together. Judgment will come on them and they will be rooted out from among God’s people. And from it God’s people will learn their lesson.

‘I Yahweh have deceived that prophet.’ This could be said because God was seen as the ‘first cause’ of everything. We would say ‘He allowed it’. The prophet would be deceived because his mind was closed to God and he was a man-pleaser not a God-pleaser (Isaiah 8:20). That was not God’s doing. The people would have false prophets because they did not want to listen to true prophets. They would choose them for themselves. But God would allow it because they had first chosen their own way and closed their minds to the truth. If they hardened their hearts, God would allow more things that would further harden their hearts. The judgment of God on those who pursued idolatry would be in allowing them to continue in it until it destroyed them (compare Leviticus 20:3-6; Deuteronomy 28:36; Hosea 4:17; and see Paul’s vivid description of the process for all nations in Romans 1:18-32). Thus in the end what happened was in the permissive will of God (compare Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6).


Verse 11

‘ “That the house of Israel may go astray from me no more, nor defile themselves any more with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people, and I may be their God,” says the Lord Yahweh.’

God’s purpose behind all this, both in what He allowed, and in the judgment He brought on those who continued in sin and idolatry, was in the end for the sake of His true people. He was wooing them and teaching them lessons by His judgments so that they would learn their lesson and once and for all turn their back on idolatry and look to Him. Then He would be their God, and they would truly be His people. This in the end lay behind all the judgments pronounced by Ezekiel. In the end their aim was mercy on those who would respond.

How often men come to God’s people with smooth words that seem so plausible. A small change here, a slightly different interpretation there that is not quite in accordance with God’s word, but pleases men. And they are such good and sincere people. And they deceive many. But they cannot finally deceive God’s true people (1 John 2:20). And God allows it because that is what the people want. If they do not want His word in its fullness, He will let them have another. But it will stand against them in the judgment. In the words of Yahweh through His prophet, ‘if they do not speak according to My word, it is because there is no life in them.’

The Presence Of The Righteous Few Will Not Cause the Many To Be Spared.

Now came a new argument, that the presence of righteous men among Israel would not defer the judgment of God. The time for that was past. The thought looks back to Abraham’s pleas over Sodom when ten righteous men would have been sufficient to stave off judgment (Genesis 18:32). But there were not such, there was only Lot and his family, and judgment came. However they were not to see hope in this, for even if three of the most righteous men in history had been among them they would not be able to defer this judgment that God had determined. Only the righteous themselves would be spared, as Lot was out of Sodom. And the judgment will be terrible and lasting, composed of famine, sword, dangerous wild beasts and pestilence.


Verse 12

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting treacherously, and I stretch out my hand on it, and break the staff of its bread and send famine on it, and cut off from it both man and beast, though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord Yahweh.” ’

Note that the application is general. It is a general principle. It applies to any land against which God might intend to bring judgment for acting treacherously, but it is quite clear that Jerusalem is in mind in the context.

The principle is that once God has finally determined judgment, even the presence of godly men will not prevent it. The godly themselves will be delivered but Yahweh’s judgment will not be prevented. Thus they need not look to the presence of men in Israel like Jeremiah and Ezekiel as evidence that they were safe. Why, even the presence of those great and good men Noah, Daniel and Job, would not forestall the judgment God intended to bring on Jerusalem. Noah was ‘a righteous man, blameless in his generation’ (Genesis 6:9), Job was ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil’ (Job 1:1). Neither were strictly Israelites, and both were thus a good example to use as a general principle.

Noah was a particularly good contrast, for his presence in the world had delayed the flood for many years, but in the end it came, even though it had been delayed to give them opportunity to repent. So would it come on Jerusalem. The mention of Job demonstrates that his story was at this time well known in Israel, and that he was admired and respected as a righteous and holy man. His righteousness too did not prevent great suffering.

The mention of Daniel presents us with a slight problem. The name is different from that used in the book of Daniel, (Dani’el here, Daniyye’l in Daniel), but it is a variation which occurs in other names referring to the same person (Do’eg (1 Samuel 21:7; 1 Samuel 22:9) spelled Doyeg in 1 Samuel 22:18; 1 Samuel 22:22), so that is not a great difficulty. More difficult is as to whether the contemporary of Jeremiah and Ezekiel could have achieved such fame by the time Ezekiel was speaking. But he had been taken captive from Jerusalem years earlier, and in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar had interpreted his dream and been raised to honour (Daniel 2). Word may well therefore have got back to Jerusalem about this, and at a time when people were seeking comfort and hope he may well have become a folk-hero. The mention of a contemporary who had clearly been ‘delivered’ from the coming judgment on Jerusalem would add considerable weight to Ezekiel’s argument.

An alternative Daniel is found by some in stories surrounding the Dan’el known from Ugaritic literature, who had a reputation for wisdom and righteous judgment. But it seems unlikely that Ezekiel would choose such a figure when he had many heroes from Hebrew tradition such as Abraham that he could have called on, especially as Dan’el was connected with the very idolatry that was being condemned. However the Ugaritic myths may have been based on earlier stories of a famous king Dan’el, well known in Israel, which exalted his goodness and did not connect with idolatry and with Baal. Certainly, like Noah and Job, as he was not an Israelite he would fit the pattern. It does not, however, really matter which we choose, for it does not affect the poignancy of the illustration.

‘Acting treacherously.’ The word is strong. It indicates those who have sinned to the full.

‘Break the staff of its bread and send famine on it, and cut off from it both man and beast.’ For the ‘staff of bread’ see Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 5:16 and compare Leviticus 26:26; Psalms 105:16; Isaiah 3:1. Bread was the basic food on which they leant and depended for survival. Thus to break the staff meant to remove their bread, which would be the result of famine. That both man and beast would be cut off indicates the severity of the judgment.


Verse 15-16

“If I cause dangerous wild beasts to pass through the land, and they despoil it so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts, though these three men were in it, as I live says the Lord Yahweh, they will deliver neither sons nor daughters. They only will be delivered, but the land will be desolate.”

The presence of such wild beasts indicates a land deserted by man, and thus one already under judgment, to be taken over by the wild beasts who would despoil what was left. The mention of sons and daughters probably has both Noah’s and Lot’s stories in mind, when their children were delivered. This judgment is to be worse in its effect than that of Sodom, with none deliberately spared except the exceptionally righteous.


Verse 17-18

“Or if I bring a sword on that land and say, ‘Sword, go through the land,’ so that I cut off from it man and beast, though these three men were in it, as I live says the Lord Yahweh, they will deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only will be delivered themselves.”

Again the idea is in mind of devastating judgment. This is no local raid but a raid by a huge army which totally devastates the land destroying man and beast. If it is the Lord’s doing then there is no deliverance from it except for the truly righteous.


Verse 19-20

“Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury on it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast, though Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, as I live says the Lord Yahweh, they will deliver neither son nor daughter. They will deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.”

The same principle applies when God determines to bring pestilence on a land in His anger against sin and idolatry, the presence of the truly righteous would not save the land, nor even their own families. Only the righteous themselves would be delivered.


Verse 21

‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “How much more when I send my four sore judgments on Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the dangerous wild beasts, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?” ’

The general principle having been stated it was now applied to Jerusalem. If other lands could be so judged, how much more sinful Jerusalem. The judgments previously described are now seen as ‘the four sore judgments of Yahweh’. ‘Four’ regularly indicates the whole known world. It is the number of those outside the covenant. Thus Jerusalem is numbered among them as an outcast.

All these judgments were a regular part of an invasion. The sword to slay, the famine resulting from the burning of the crops or from siege, the wild beasts taking over because of the desolating of the land and the removal of the inhabitants, and the pestilence following from the conditions under which men had to survive. Note the continual stress on the depth of the judgments, cutting off from it man and beast.


Verse 22-23

“Yet behold in it will be left those who escape, who will be carried forth, both sons and daughters. Behold they will come forth to you, and you will see their way and their doings, and you will be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought on Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought on it, and they will comfort you when you see their way and their doings, and you will know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, says the Lord Yahweh.”

But in the case of the judgment on Jerusalem some would be allowed to escape. The point here is that it is only because Yahweh determines it. These are not the righteous previously mentioned (it will include sons and daughters) but some chosen out to be an illustration to the exiles of why God’s sore judgments have come on Jerusalem. As their way and doings are observed it will be clear why God has acted in judgment. Then the exiles will realise that His judgment was not without good reason. ‘Doings’ always has a bad sense in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:43-44; Ezekiel 21:24; Ezekiel 24:14; Ezekiel 36:17; Ezekiel 36:19; Ezekiel 36:31).

‘You will be comforted.’ Or rather ‘you will gain some kind of ease of heart from recognising that their judgment was just’. The word means ‘to breathe a deep breath’. Thus the idea is that they can again breathe freely because they recognise the justice of what has happened.

‘All that I have done in it, says the Lord Yahweh.’ The prophet is quite clear on the fact that all that will happen will be the Lord’s doing.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 14:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-14.html. 2013.

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