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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 24

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 24 The Destruction of Jerusalem Comes At Last!

Some of those who had listened to Ezekiel must have thought, as time went by and nothing happened, that he was being proved to be a false prophet, but then the news came through that Jerusalem was under siege, and they immediately had to recognise that his prophecy was possibly coming about. At such news all must have been suddenly awakened from their scepticism. Perhaps what he was saying really was from God after all. So they came to hear what he had to say, and he confirmed that there was indeed no hope for Jerusalem. It was doomed as he had foretold.


Verse 1-2

The Allegory of the Cauldron.

‘Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, write down yourself the name of the day, even of this selfsame day. The king of Babylon drew close to Jerusalem this selfsame day.” ’

This day was a momentous day, and Ezekiel was told to write it down so that it would be remembered. It was the day when the forces of Nebuchadnezzar appeared before Jerusalem and the long siege was began that would end in its destruction (Ezekiel 33:21). It was in January 588 BC, in the ninth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity. Compare for this 2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 52:4.

Some cavil at the idea that Ezekiel could have this so clearly revealed to him when he was so far away, but such telepathic communication is well testified to elsewhere, and Ezekiel was particularly receptive to such revelations from God. When my uncle was in the trenches during the first world war my aunt (not his wife, he was only seventeen) woke the family, my mother among them, to say, ‘Jimmy’s dead’. And the telegram arrived shortly afterwards to say that he had been blown up that very night. Something within her had told her the tragic fact. And similar incidents have certainly been repeated again and again. How much more then could such a man, full of the Spirit of God, be aware of events happening far away.

When he informed those who came to hear him there would certainly be some doubt, but eventually messengers would arrive who would confirm the grim news. Then they knew that this man indeed spoke from God.


Verses 3-5

“And utter a parable to the rebellious house, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, set on the cauldron, set it on, and also pour water into it. Gather its pieces into it, even every good piece, the thigh and the shoulder. Fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock, and pile also the bones under it. Make it boil well. Yes, let its bones be seethed in the midst of it.’ ”

The idea of the cauldron has already been used by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 11:1-13). (Compare Jeremiah 1:13). There we learned that the city of Jerusalem was the cauldron and its people the flesh within.

So the setting on of the cauldron with the stew being cooked within it was his way of indicating to his hearers that the final events were taking place. All the ‘choice’ people were gathered into it and the pot had begun to boil.

Note the continued use of ‘rebellious house’ for Ezekiel’s hearers. It was not only Jerusalem that was in rebellion against God but almost the whole house of Israel. If they did not hear and repent they would share the fate of Jerusalem.


Verse 6

‘Wherefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Woe to the blood-filled city, to the cauldron whose rust is in it, and whose rust has not gone out of it. Bring it out piece by piece. No lot has fallen on it.” ’

But the city was like a copper cauldron (Ezekiel 24:11) which was rusty. And its rust had not been removed from it. It was not fit for its purpose, and the rusty scum would form, the scum which represented the blood-guiltiness of Jerusalem with its violence and its child sacrifices (Ezekiel 22:1-16). Thus the rust affected pieces of flesh must be brought out piece by piece as the city was slowly taken. ‘No lot has fallen on it’. The removal is to be indiscriminate and not by selection. Fate cannot be manoeuvred, they can only helplessly submit to it.


Verse 7-8

“For her blood is in the midst of her. She set it on the bare rock. She did not pour it on the ground to cover it with dust. That it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance I have set her blood on the bare rock that it should not be covered.”

The people of Jerusalem were totally unashamed of their sins. The blood they had spilled was not hidden but displayed for all to see, both the blood of violence and the blood of child sacrifice. Like the blood of Abel it cried to God for vengeance (Genesis 4:10 compare Job 16:18). Had it been blood which was rightly shed they would have covered it with dust (Leviticus 17:13), although in fact had they done so it would not have remained covered, for it was unrighteously shed and would still not have been hidden (Isaiah 26:21).

Ezekiel’s priestly way of thinking comes out here. The blood displayed on the rock was against all the tenets of the Law, it was wrongly dealt with and therefore brought further defilement, which brought out the guiltiness of those involved. It doubly proved that they were not righteous men, but were men of blood.

With a sudden turn in thought we then learn that this was Yahweh’s doing. He would not let the blood be covered up, for it was His purpose to exact vengeance for it.

But it was not enough just to deal with the inhabitants, Jerusalem itself must be destroyed, all the filth along with the flesh.


Verses 9-11

‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Woe to the blood-filled city. I will also make the pile great. Heap on the wood, make the fire hot, boil well the flesh, and make the broth thick and let the bones be burned. Then set it empty on its coals, that it may be red hot and its copper burn, and that its filthiness may be molten in it, that its rust may be consumed.”

This cauldron, the blood-filled city, with its contents is doomed. God Himself will make of it a great burnt up pile. So the command comes to heap on wood, blow on the fire to make it burning hot, and then to overcook the flesh and the broth until it is spoiled and to burn the bones. Then once the spoiled flesh and broth are removed the cauldron is to remain on the fire as it grows hotter and hotter, until the copper is red hot, the filth within it becomes molten, and its rust is consumed. It is a picture of total destruction.


Verse 12

“She has wearied with toil, yet her great rust does not go out of her, her rust does not go out by fire.”

‘She has wearied with toil.’ Jerusalem is seen as having contributed to her own destruction and cleansing, as having become weary in the extremes of her behaviour. She has brought the invasion on herself and is exhausted by it, but it has not cleansed her.

Some would, however, read it as ‘she has wearied (me) with her toil’ referring to Yahweh as being wearied with her behaviour, but still unable to do anything because she is so sinful.

‘Yet her great rust does not go out of her, her rust does not go out by fire.’ With all the effort the filth is not removed. It is so deeply ingrained that it is fire-resistant. That is why this time there is no hope for Jerusalem. Its sin is too great and too deeply imbedded.


Verse 13

“In your filthiness is lewdness (i.e. your rust represents your lewdness). Because I have purged you and you were not purged, you will not be purged from your filthiness any more until I have satisfied my fury on you.”

The rust and filthiness in the cauldron represents the lewdness of Jerusalem/Judah. God had attempted to purge her again and again (for example through the prophets and through the defeats and deportations in 605 and 597 BC), but she was still not purged. Now God recognised that every effort would only fail until He had exacted full judgment on them, until He had shown them the fullness of His anger by the total destruction of Jerusalem and a period in exile away from their land when hope will seem almost to be gone.


Verse 14

“I, Yahweh, have spoken it. It will come about and I will do it. I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent. According to your ways, and according to your doings, will they judge you, says the Lord Yahweh.”

God added His seal to what was to happen. Now nothing could prevent it for He had determined it. He had spoken, and so it would come about (Isaiah 55:11). He stressed that this time there would be no alteration in His purpose. He would not go back to how things were before, or withdraw from His purpose, He would not spare, He would not have a change of mind. He would act towards them exactly as they deserved. They would receive what their behaviour merited.

The same warning comes to us all. God is gracious and longsuffering, but if we continue in disobeying Him and rejecting His commandments, His patience will come to an end. And then there can be only judgment.


Verses 15-17

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife.

‘Also the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, behold I am taking from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke. Yet you will neither mourn, nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud. Make no mourning for the dead. Bind your turban on you, and put your shoes on your feet, and do not cover your lips (moustache), and do not eat the bread of men.”

God tells Ezekiel that his wife is about to die and that he is to use it as a sign to Israel of what is coming. It is not necessary to see in this a sudden striking down from total health. She may well have been ill for some time (and it could not have been easy being the prophet’s wife). It is not her death that is the sign but Ezekiel’s reaction to it.

That she is called ‘the desire of your eyes’ brings out his feelings for her, and we here learn that on top of all the other burdens that he had had to bear was his beloved wife’s illness. We should not be surprised when all of life seems to be toppling on to us. God does so work in those He loves, that we may learn more to look to Him.

But her description as ‘the desire of your eyes’ is also given because she is to be compared with God’s sanctuary (Ezekiel 24:21), the place where Yahweh met with His people, the place which men ‘loved’. The desire of their eyes was also about to be destroyed.

So Ezekiel was to abjure all the normal signs of mourning. He was not to wail loudly (Micah 1:8 see also Mark 5:38). He was not to begin a period of official mourning. He was to continue to wear his priestly turban (Ezekiel 44:18; Exodus 39:28), although in periods of deep distress that would normally be removed and the head covered in dust and ashes (compare Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; Job 2:12). He was not to take off his sandals (compare 2 Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:2). He was not to cover his lips (veil the lower part of his face - compare Micah 3:7; Leviticus 13:45 of a leper). He was not to take part in a mourning feast, a wake (Jeremiah 16:7). He was not to show signs of mourning.

‘The bread of men’, that is ordinary bread such as would normally be eaten at a wake.


Verse 18

‘So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. And I did in the morning as I was commanded.’

Ezekiel was totally obedient. In the morning he spoke to the people as though everything was normal, and when in the evening his wife died, he continued without mourning, so that the people were amazed and recognised that this had some great significance (compare Jeremiah 16:5-13).

Note the way the procedure is described so as to indicate that he continued normal life. ‘In the morning I -- in the evening my wife died -- in the morning I --’. His life just went on as normal.


Verse 19

‘And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things are to us that you do?” ’

The people recognised that what he was doing was symbolic. And they asked what message and significance it had for them.


Verses 20-24

‘Then I said to them, “The word of Yahweh came to me saying, Speak to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you have left behind will fall by the sword, and you will do as I have done, you will not cover your lips nor eat the bread of men, and your headgear shall be on your heads, and your shoes on your feet. You shall not mourn nor weep, but you will pine away in your iniquity, and moan one towards another. Thus shall Ezekiel be a sign to you. According to all that he has done, so shall you do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.’ ” ’

The sign is explained. His dying wife represents the sanctuary of God in Jerusalem which will also be suddenly destroyed, and it will be in such circumstances that mourning and weeping will not be appropriate. Indeed men are not to weep for it, in spite of what it means to them, because it is fitting that it be destroyed. God will profane it because it has already been profaned. Thus must they recognise this and not weep for it, but rather they must mourn for their own sins which have brought it all about.

‘My sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, the yearning of your soul.’ The significance of the sanctuary to the exiled, and to all Israel, is brought out. It was their pride and joy when they were at their most powerful, it was the place to which their eyes turned in longing, it was the place their soul yearned for. But it was to be so no more, for it had become a defiled sanctuary, a place where many gods were worshipped. And yet it had been and should have been His!

And they were not to mourn for it, nor for their sons and daughters who would be slain by the sword, rather were they to mourn for their sins which have brought it about. Their moanings must be because of their iniquities, not because of the lost temple and the destruction of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.

We probably cannot even begin to conceive what the temple in Jerusalem meant to the people of Israel. It depicted all their past, it was their present, it represented all their hopes for the future. It was the one thing that stood firm in an uncertain world, the one ‘guarantee’ of such a future. It was the one permanency when all else was changing. But although they had clung to the temple of Yahweh, they had not clung to Yahweh, they had allowed Him to be submerged under a multiplicity of gods. And so now the temple was to go. And they were not to mourn for it. (But as Ezekiel will later point out, it will be replaced by a new temple, a better temple, a pure temple from which will come out the River of God - chapter 47 - clearly a symbolic picture. This would be a heavenly temple).

‘But you will pine away in your iniquity, and moan one towards another.’ There would be mourning, but it would not be for the temple, it would be for themselves. The future held a period of rethinking, in which their eyes would not be turned on a building which was no longer significant, but on the void that it left and the sinfulness of their own souls. And hopefully they would turn fully to Yahweh.

‘Thus shall Ezekiel be a sign to you. According to all that he has done, so shall you do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.’

So Ezekiel, and his reaction to his wife’s death, was to be a sign to them of what was to be, and an example to be followed. Interestingly this is the first time that God has spoken of him as ‘Ezekiel’ which brings out the importance of this moment. The reference to himself in the third person also brings out how much Ezekiel desired simply to be seen as the mouthpiece of Yahweh.

All this would reveal that God was really what He had always shown Himself to be, the supreme Lord, the Lord Yahweh, the One Who is what He is, the One Who will be what He will be, the One Who will cause to be what He causes to be.


Verses 25-27

Ezekiel Is Once Again To Be Able To Speak Freely Once Jerusalem Is Destroyed.

“And you son of man, will it not be that in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and the yearning of their soul, their sons and their daughters, that in that day he who escapes (‘the fugitive’) will come to you to cause you to hear it with your ears. In that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped, and you will speak and no more be dumb. So will you be a sign to them, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”

Here ‘the day’ is being used in the same way as in the phrase ‘the day of Yahweh’. It signifies ‘that time when’, so covering a period of time. So we do not have to see everything as occurring on the same literal day. (Although if we do wish to take it literally it need not all be on the same day. The first two references could be to the day of final destruction, when the messenger begins his ‘coming’ to Ezekiel, while the third could refer to that day when the messenger finishes his journey. But it is far more sensible, and in accord with the biblical use of yom (day), to see it as signifying a certain period of time of unspecific length in which things happen, like the ‘day’ in which Yahweh God made earth and heaven - Genesis 2:4).

These verses signal a very important moment in the ministry of Ezekiel. Ever since Ezekiel 3:26 Ezekiel had only spoken to Israel when he had a word from Yahweh, otherwise he had been dumb. But now that the siege of Jerusalem had begun, and the date of it written down, there would be no further word from Yahweh until its destruction was communicated to Ezekiel. at which point he would be free to speak to Israel again with a new message as pastor to his people. Until then he was to be silent towards them.

‘That day’ which is coming will firstly be the time when God ‘takes from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and the yearning of their soul, their sons and their daughters.’ The day when they lose everything.

This can be taken in two ways. RSV adds ‘and’ before ‘your sons and your daughters’ to parallel Ezekiel 24:21. Thus it interprets the first phrases as referring again to the temple, with the sons and daughters an added extra. This is possible.

But the Hebrew has no conjunction and it may be that the inference is that it is their sons and daughters who were now to be seen as their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and the yearning of their soul, because the temple had been profaned. But they too would be taken away.

Either way the point is the same. All that they looked to, and that they treasured, was being taken away from them.

But at that time (‘in that day’) a messenger will escape from the disastrous situation and make his way to the exiles and to Ezekiel, and will give Ezekiel eyewitness confirmation of the situation. And that will then give him a new beginning and a new message for his people.

But he will not be wholly silent meanwhile. There would yet be three years before the final end. Meanwhile he will have prophecies to give to the nations, and as he proclaims them in the direction of the various countries his awed watchers will hear and understand. They will understand firstly that there was now no word of Yahweh for Jerusalem. All that could be said had been said, and God had no further message for them. It would be a pregnant silence. But they would also receive a hint of hope. For the fact that God was acting against those countries that took advantage of Israel’s misfortune would demonstrate that God was not totally finished with Israel and had not totally forgotten them. Thus the silence was both pregnant and awesome, but it was not final.

This demonstrates that the messages to the nations have not just been fitted in here in order to find a place for them. Rather they are an essential indication of the fact that while there was no further word for Israel, in the midst of their current misfortunes they had not just been forgotten. He was still watching over their concerns. God’s judgment may be severe, and would be final for Jerusalem, but it was not to be final for the whole of Israel. God still had further purposes towards them, which the remainder of the book will deal with.

‘In that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped, and you will speak and no more be dumb. So will you be a sign to them, and they will know that I am Yahweh.’ That is, ‘at that time’, or ‘in that day’ of the messenger’s arrival. Then will Ezekiel’s mouth be once more open to speak freely. His enforced silence, except when Yahweh spoke through him, will be over, and he will be able to speak with the messenger. This will be a sign to all, for they will recognise that his dumbness had been of Yahweh, and thus that his prophecies too had been of Yahweh, and as the destruction of Jerusalem will have confirmed, they will recognise how truly he had spoken. Now indeed would they be willing to listen to what he had to say.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 24:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-24.html. 2013.

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