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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ezekiel 24

 

 

Verses 1-27

EXPOSITION

Ezekiel 24:1

In the ninth year. We pass from the date of Ezekiel 20:1 to B.C. 590, and the very day is identified with that on which the army of Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:1; 2 Kings 25:1-12). To the prophet's vision all that was passing there was as plain as though he saw it with his own eyes. The siege lasted for about two years. The punishments threatened in Ezekiel 23:1-49, had at last come near. We may probably infer that a considerable interval of silence had followed on the Aholah and Aholibah discourse. Now the time had come to break that silence, and it was broken, after the prophet's manner, by a parable. In the "rebellious house" we find, as in Ezekiel 2:3 and elsewhere, primarily Ezekiel's immediate hearers, secondarily the whole house of Israel as represented by them.

Ezekiel 24:3, Ezekiel 24:4

Set on a pot, etc. The words contain an obvious reference to the imagery of Ezekiel 11:3-7. The people had used that imagery either in the spirit of a false security or in the recklessness of despair. It is now the prophet's work to remind them that the interpretation which he gave to their own comparison had proved to be the true one. The cauldron is the city, the fire is the invading army, the metal of the cauldron does not protect them. The pieces, the choice bones, were the princes and chief men of the people.

Ezekiel 24:5

Burn also the bones under it; better, with the Vulgate and Revised Version, pile the bones. The bones of animals were often used as fuel. Currey quotes an interesting passage from Livingstone's 'Last Journal,' 1. p. 347, narrating how, when the supply of ordinary fuel failed, he made his steamer work with the bones of elephants. See a like practice among the Scythians (Herod; 4.61).

Ezekiel 24:6

Scum. The word is not found elsewhere. The Authorized Version follows the Vulgate. Keil and the Revised Version give "rust." As the cauldron was of brass (Ezekiel 24:11), this must have been the verdigris which was eating into the metal, and which even the blazing fire could not get rid of. The pieces that are to be brought out are the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who are to be carried into exile. There was to be "no lot cast," as was often done with prisoners of war, taking every tenth man (decimating) of the captives for death or exile. All alike were doomed (Joel 3:3).

Ezekiel 24:7

The parable is for a moment interrupted, and Jerusalem is the murderess who has shed blood, not where the earth might cover it (Job 16:18; Isaiah 26:21), but as on the top of a rock visible in the sight of all men.

Ezekiel 24:9

We return to the image of the cauldron, and once again, as in Ezekiel 24:6 and Ezekiel 22:3 and Ezekiel 23:37, we have the words which Nahum (Nahum 3:1) had used of Nineveh applied to Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 24:10

Spice it well; better, make thick the broth (Revised Version). The verb is used in Exodus 30:33, Exodus 30:35, of the concoction of the anointing oil, and the cognate adjective in Job 41:31 for the "boiling" of the water caused by the crocodile. We are reminded of the "bubble, bubble" of the witches' cauldron in 'Macbeth.'

Ezekiel 24:11

Then set it empty upon the coals, etc. The empty cauldron is, of course, the city bereaved of its inhabitants. The fire must go on till the rust is consumed. There is, however, in spite of the seemingly terrible hopelessness of the sentence, a gleam of hope, as there had been in Ezekiel 16:42. When the punishment had done its full work, then Jehovah might cause his fury to rest (Ezekiel 16:13). Till then he declares, through the prophet, there will be no mitigation of the punishment. The word has gone forth, and there will be no change of purpose.

Ezekiel 24:12

She hath wearied herself with lies, etc.; better, it (keeping to the image of the cauldron) is worn out with labors; sc. with the pains taken to cleanse it, and yet the rust remains. The fire must burn, the retributive judgment must continue, till the work is done.

Ezekiel 24:15-17

Behold, I take away from thee, etc. The next word of the Lord, coming after an interval, is of an altogether exceptional character, as giving one solitary glimpse into the personal home life of the prophet. The lesson which the history teaches is, in substance, the same as that of Jeremiah 16:5. The calamity that falls on the nation will swallow up all personal sorrow, but it is brought home to Ezekiel, who may have read those words with wonder, by a new and terrible experience. We are left to conjecture whether anything in the prophet's home life furnished a starting-point for the terrible message that was now borne in upon his soul. Had his wife been ill before? or, as the words, with a stroke, suggest, did it fall on him, as a thunderbolt "out of the blue"? I mention, only to reject, the view that the wife's death belongs as much to the category of symbolic visions as the boiling cauldron. To me such a view seems to indicate an incapacity for entering into a prophet's life and calling as great as that which sees nothing but an allegory in the history of Gomer in Hosea 2:1-23; Hosea 3:1-5. We, who accept the Scripture record as we find it, may believe that Ezekiel was taught, as the earlier prophet, to interpret his work by his own personal experience. To Ezekiel himself the loss of one who is thus described as the desire (or, delight) of his eyes (the word is used of things in 1 Kings 20:6, of young warriors in Lamentations 2:4, of sons and daughters in Verse 25), must have been, at first, as the crowning sorrow of his life; but the feelings of the patriot-prophet were stronger even than those of the husband, and his personal bereavement seemed as a small thing compared with the desolation of his country. He was to refrain from all conventional signs of mourning, from weeping and wailing, from the loud sighing (for forbear to cry, read, with the Revised Version, sigh, but not aloud), from the head covered or sprinkled with ashes (Isaiah 61:3), and from the bare feet (2 Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:2), from the covered lips (Le 13:45; Micah 3:7), which were "the trappings and the garb of woe" in such a case. Eat not the bread of men. The words point to the custom, more or less common in all nations and at all times, of a funeral feast, like the parentalia of the Romans. Wine also was commonly part of such a feast (Jeremiah 16:7). The primary idea of the custom seems to have been that the mourner's friends sent the materials for the feast as a token of their sympathy.

Ezekiel 24:18

So I spake unto the people in the morning, etc. In yet another way the calling of the prophet superseded the natural impulses of the man. He knew that his wife's hours were numbered, yet the day was spent, not in ministering at her deathbed, but in one last effort to impress the teachings of the time upon the seared consciences and hardened hearts of his countrymen and neighbors. I cannot help referring to the poem 'Ezekiel,' by B.M published in 1871, as expressing the meaning of the history better than any commentary.

Ezekiel 24:19

We must read between the lines what had passed in that eventful night of sorrow. The rumor must have spread among the exiles of Tel-Abib that the prophet had lost the wife whom he loved so tenderly. They were ready, we may imagine, to offer their consolations and their sympathy. And, behold, he appears as one on whom no special sorrow had fallen. But that strange outward hardness had the effect which it was meant to have. It roused them to ask questions, and it was one of the cases in which the prudens interrogatio, which if not in itself the dimidium seientiae, at least prepared the way for it. The form of their question implies that they had a forecast that the strange conduct was, in some way, connected with the prophet's work. Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us?

Ezekiel 24:21

The desire of your eyes. There is something exquisitely pathetic in the iteration of the phrase of Ezekiel 24:17. To the priest Ezekiel himself, to the people whom he addressed, the temple was as dear as the wife to the husband. It was also "the pride of their power" (Revised Version), the "pity of their soul" (margin). The former phrase comes from Le Ezekiel 26:19. When that temple should be profaned, when sons and daughters should fall by the sword, then they would do as the prophet had done. They would learn that there is a sorrow which is too deep for tears, something that passeth show. The state which the prophet describes is not one of callousness, or impenitence, or despair. The people shall mourn for their iniquities;" this will be the beginning of repentance. Le 26:39, 40 was obviously in the prophet's thoughts. We note that Verse 24 is the one solitary passage since Ezekiel 1:3 in which Ezekiel names himself. As single acts and gestures had before (Ezekiel 4:1-12) been a sign of what was coming, so now the man himself was to be in that hour of bereavement.

Ezekiel 24:26, Ezekiel 24:27

Yet another sign was given, not to the people, but to the prophet himself. For the present there was to be the silence of unutterable sorrow, continuing, day after day, as there had been before (Ezekiel 3:26). Then there should come a messenger from Jerusalem, reporting its capture and destruction, and then his mouth should be opened. The messenger does not come till nearly three years afterwards (Ezekiel 33:21); and we must infer that there was no spoken message during the interval, but that from Ezekiel 25:1 onward we have the written words of the Lord that came to him from time to time, not as messages to Israel, but as bearing on the fate of the surrounding nations. We have, i.e; what is, strictly speaking, a paten-thesis in the prophet's work.

HOMILETICS.

Ezekiel 24:1-5

The seething-pot.

I. THE VESSEL. Jerusalem is compared to a seething-pot. The character of the city had certain points of resemblance.

1. Unity. All the parts are thrown into one vessel. There was a common life in the one city. All classes shared a common fortune. They who are united in sin will be united in doom.

2. Vain protection. The heat of the fire came through the vessel. The wails of Jerusalem did not save the doomed city. No earthly shelter will protect the guilty from the wrath of God.

3. Fatal imprisonment. The miserable inhabitants of Jerusalem were shut up to the horrible fate of a besieged city. There is no escape from the scene of Divine judgment. Indeed, the sufferings of a siege are worse than those of the open battle-field. They who hold out against God will be more miserably punished than those who meet him early.

II. THE CONTENTS OF THE VESSEL.

1. Flesh. The various joints of the butchered animal are flung into the seething-pot. They represent the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The punishment of sin falls on the persons of the sinners. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." There is something humiliating in this comparison with mere joints of meat. The doomed sinner is in a degraded condition. His higher spiritual nature has been neglected and well-nigh lost. He appears as "flesh," and, having sunk into the lower life of flesh, he must expect to receive the treatment of flesh. Sowing to the flesh, he reaps corruption (Galatians 6:8).

2. The choice parts. "The choice bones" are to be thrown into the seething-pot. The princes of Judah share the fate of their city; they are even selected for exceptional indignity and suffering. No earthly rank or wealth will save from the just punishment of sin. On the contrary, if large privileges have been abused, and high duties neglected, the penalty will be all the heavier.

III. THE FIRE. The seething-pot is to be put on a fire. Sin is punished by burning wrath.

1. Suffering. The symbol of fire certainly suggests pain, although we may dismiss the gross mediaeval picture of actual physical flames belching forth from some subterranean volcano.

2. Destruction. The fire is to go on beyond its wonted task till all the water is dried up and the contents of the vessel are burnt. This is the final issue of the penalties of sin. At first they come in suffering. But if there is no amendment, and the lessons of chastisement are not taken to heart, the broad road leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13), and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Ezekiel 24:2

Memorable days.

Ezekiel was to take note of the day on which he received a message concerning the approaching ruin of Jerusalem, as it was to be on the anniversary of that day that the King of Babylon would besiege Jerusalem. Thus it would be seen that the prediction was strikingly fulfilled. This is one instance of the marking of memorable days.

I. THE OCCURRENCE OF MEMORABLE DAYS. In themselves all days may be equally sacred (Romans 14:5). Nevertheless, a difference of character, history, and associations will divide our days out into very various classes, and will mark some for especial interest. There are days that stand out in history like great promontories along the coast. We must all have lived through days the memory of which is burnt into our souls. There are the red-letter days, days of honor and gladness; and there are the black-letter days of calamity. Note some of the kinds of memorable days.

1. Days of warning. Such was the day of our text. We cannot afford to forget such days. They may occur but rarely; yet their influence should be permanent.

2. Days of blessing. If we have had times of exceptional prosperity, or occasions when we have been surprised with new and unexpected good, surely such happy seasons deserves to be chronicled. It is ungrateful to leave a blank in our diaries for those days.

3. Days of sorrow. These, too, may be days of blessing, though of blessing in disguise. It is not easy to forget such days, nor is it altogether desirable. The softened memory of past grief has a wholesome, subduing influence over the soul.

4. Days of revelation. The day to be noted by Ezekiel was of this character. We have no prophetic visions. But there may be days when God has seemed to draw especially near to us. Truth has then been most clear and faith most strong. The memory of such days is a help for the darker seasons of doubt and dreary solitude.

II. THE USE OF MEMORABLE DAYS.

1. To chronicle them. A diary of sentiments is not always a wholesome production; but a journal of events should be full of instruction. An almanac marked with anniversary dates is a constant reminder of the lessons of the past.

2. To study them. Dates are but sign-pests. They indicate events which require separate consideration. It is good sometimes to turn aside from the noisy scenes of the present and walk in the dim cloisters of the sweet, sad past, communing with bygone days and musing over the deeds of olden times. Our own rushing, heedless age would be the better for such meditations among the tombs, not to grow melancholy in the thought of death, but to learn wisdom in the lessons of the ages.

3. To avoid their errors. There are bad past days. Antiquity does not consecrate sin and folly.

4. To follow their good example. We have the whole roll of the world's history from which to select instances of inspiring lives. The Christian year is sacred to the memory of a holy past, and its anniversaries revive the lessons of good examples; chiefly it repeatedly reminds us of the great events in the life of our Lord.

5. To be prepared for their recurrence. The day of prophecy was anticipatory of the Day of Judgment. Past days of judgment point to the future judgment. "Of that day and of that hour knoweth no one," but the fulfillment of prophecy in the destruction of Jerusalem is a solemn warning of the sure fulfillment of predictions concerning the judgment on the whole world.

Ezekiel 24:12

A weary task.

Jerusalem is represented as endeavoring to remove her own evil, but as growing weary in the fruitless task. The rust cannot be cleansed from the vessel.

I. IT ACTS LIKE RUST.

1. It comes from a corroding agent. Temptation bites into the yielding soul like an acid.

2. It reveals an inferior character. Brass and iron become rusty under circumstances which leave gold and silver untarnished. Readiness to yield to temptation is a sign that there is base metal in the soul.

3. It corrupts the very substance of the soul. Rust on metal is not like moss on stone, a mere excrescence and parasite growth. It is formed from the metal itself; it is a portion of it disintegrated and mixed with an alien body. Sin breaks down the fabric of the soul-life, and wears it away in a slow death.

4. It tarnishes the beauty of the soul. Rust is like ingrained dirt on the bright surface of the metal. The rusty mirror no longer reflects light. The sin-stained soul has lost its luster and ceases to reflect the light of heaven.

II. MEN TRY TO REMOVE THE RUST OF SIN. This is the task that the people of Jerusalem are supposed to have undertaken.

1. They turn from their past. The atmosphere which caused the rust is abandoned. The old days are to be forgotten; a new life is to be commenced.

2. They put their souls under discipline. The attempt is made to burn off the rust or to scour it away.

3. They offer compensation. New deeds of goodness are to supersede and atone for old deeds of sin.

4. They offer sacrifices of expiation. The history of religion is full of such sacrifices—sacrifices which constitute a leading element in the Old Testament economy.

III. THE ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE RUST OF SIN IS A WEARY TASK.

1. New circumstances do not destroy old sins. Though the vessel be taken out of the damp atmosphere which first corroded it, it does not become bright. The rust is still on it. We may try to make amends in the future, but by such means we cannot get rid of the guilt and the consequences of the past.

2. Sin has eaten its way so deeply into the soul that no efforts of ours can remove it. It is not like dust that lies loosely on the surface; it has cut into our nature like rust. Our feeble self-discipline is ineffectual for removing so close-clinging an evil.

3. No compensation of good works nor expiatory sacrifices will remove this evil. "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin" (Hebrews 10:4). Such sacrifices can be but symbols at the best.

IV. CHRIST HAS ACCOMPLISHED THIS WEARY TASK.

1. He has made the great atonement with God. He is the one true Sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:14). Thus the way is now clear for the soul's cleansing.

2. He removes the rust of sin from the soul. As "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world," Christ not only brings pardon, he produces purity. His mighty arm scours the rust off the soul.

3. This was a weary task for Christ. Even he found it no easy work. It required the humiliation of Bethlehem, the agony of Gethsemane, and the death of Calvary. Christ toiled, suffered, and grew weary unto death in the awful task. Yet he persevered to the end.

4. Christ invites us to abandon our useless, weary task and come to him for cleansing. It is especially to those who labor and are heavy laden with sin that he gives his great invitation (Matthew 11:28-30).

Ezekiel 24:14

(first clause)

God true to his word.

"I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it."

I. THE SUPPOSITION THAT GOD MAY NOT BE TRUE TO HIS WORD. Certain observations and considerations shelter that supposition.

1. The changefulness of life. It looks as though things fell out by chance. We do not discern regular, orderly movements in Divine providence.

2. The tardy fulfillment of threat and promise. Both are delayed. Then men lose hold of both, and regard them as inoperative.

3. A false idea of God's mercy. It is thought that God must be too kind to execute his awful threatenings of wrath.

4. Unbelief. This condition of the souls of men is at the root of the error, and it is only by its existence that other considerations are laid hold of and made occasions for doubting God's certain performance of what he has foretold.

II. THE CERTAINTY THAT GOD WILL BE TRUE TO HIS WORD. This is based on important considerations.

1. The constancy of God. He is "the Eternal." Men vary, but God is changeless. What he wills today, he wills forever.

2. The perfect knowledge of God. We may be forced to change our plans by reason of the discovery of new facts. A change in our circumstances may compel a change in our conduct. But God knows all things, and he has prevision of all future contingencies when he makes his promise. Of course, he acts in regard to changing events and the alteration of the characters of men. But these things are all foreknown, and where his action is concerned with them it is conditioned accordingly from the first. There is no surprise and consequent sudden turn.

3. The power of God. We may fail to keep our word from simple inability. A man may promise to pay a sum of money by a certain day, and, in the mean time, unforeseen misfortunes may rob him of the power to redeem his word. No such chances can happen with the Almighty.

4. The mercy of God. Archbishop Tillotson pointed out that God was not so bound to fulfill his threats as to keep his promises of grace, because men had a claim on the latter, but no one would claim the former. Nevertheless, it would not be merciful in God to torture us with warnings of a doom that was not impending. God does remit penalties. But then, from the first he has promised pardon to the penitent.

III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF GOD'S BEING TRUE TO HIS WORD.

1. The vanity of unbelief. It may be with us as it was in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39). But the judgment will not be the less certain because we refuse to expect it.

2. The need of a sure refuge. God has threatened judgment against sin. He will be true to his word. Then we should be prepared to face the day of wrath. Our only refuge is to "flee from God to God."

3. The assurance of true faith. God has given gracious promises of pardon to his returning children (e.g. Isaiah 1:18). He will certainly be as true to those promises as to any threatenings of wrath against the impenitent. The eternal constancy of God is a rock of refuge for his humble, repentant, trusting children.

Ezekiel 24:16

The desire of thine eyes.

I. A PICTURE OF DOMESTIC LOVE. Ezekiel's wife is called "the desire of his eyes." God has ordained marriage, and the blessedness of the true union of husband and wife is from him. It is in itself good and a source of further blessings. It is not the doctrine of the Bible that monkish celibacy is more holy than homely wedded love.

1. The blessedness of wedded love is a solace in trouble. If Ezekiel had a wife who could be described in the language of our text, it must have been refreshing for him to turn from the rancor of Jewish enmity to the sympathy of a true woman. The home is a sacred refuge from the storms of the world.

2. Wedded love is a type of Divine love. The Church is the bride of the Lamb. God loves his people as a true husband loves his wife.

3. Such a great blessing should be tenderly guarded. Wedded love may be hurt by want of thought as much as by want of heart. Small kindnesses constitute much of the happiness of life, and small negligences may make its cup very bitter. It needs care lest the bloom of love be ruthlessly brushed aside.

II. A STROKE OF TEARFUL TROUBLE.

1. "The desire of his eyes" is taken from Ezekiel. A prophet is not exempt from the greatest troubles that fall to the lot of men. Divine privileges do not save us from earthly sorrows. Love cannot hold the beloved forever. The pair who love much may yet be parted. This awful grief of widowhood may invade the happiest home. They who are never divided in love may yet be thrust asunder by "the dark divorce of death."

2. This trouble comes by a sudden stroke. Sudden death seems to be best for the victim, for it spares all the agonies of a protracted illness, and all the horrors of the act of dying. But to those who are left it comes as an awful blow! Still, as such events do occur in the most affectionate and most peaceful households, we should do well to be prepared for them. The sweet summer garden of today may be a waste, howling wilderness tomorrow.

3. The trouble comes from God. Therefore it must be irresistible. On the other hand, it must be right. We cannot understand why so fearful a blow should fall. We can only say, "It is the Lord."

III. A REQUIREMENT OF UNNATURAL RETICENCE. Ezekiel is not to "mourn nor weep." Inwardly his grief cannot be stayed, for no man can escape from nature; but all outward signs of grief are to be suppressed. This is a hard requirement.

1. Public men must repress private emotion. Here is one of the penalties of a prominent position. The great duties must be performed as though nothing had happened. The leader of others must present a confident face to the foe, though his soul is wrung with despair. A smiling countenance must mask a breaking heart.

2. Private sorrow is buried in public calamity. The national disaster of Jerusalem is so huge that even the most terrible grief of sudden widowhood is not to be considered by the side of it. Grief is generally selfish; but what is one soul's agony to the misery of mankind?

3. Divine judgments are not to be gainsaid. Ezekiel's trouble is typical. Hengstenberg and others hold that he did not really lose his wife—that the story is but a parable. Even though we take it as history, we see that it is used as an illustration of the fate of the Jews. This was unanswerable. The penalty was deserved by the guilty nation. Guilt is silent. In all sorrow we have no right to reply to God. The psalmist says, "I was dumb" (Psalms 39:2). Christ went to his cross in silence. "As a sheep," etc. (Isaiah 53:7).

4. God has consolations for patient sorrow. Though the mourner is silent, God is not, and his voice whispers peace to all his trusting sons and daughters in their sorrow.

Ezekiel 24:27

The dumb mouth opened.

I. THERE IS A TIME TO KEEP SILENCE. Ezekiel was not stricken dumb physically like Zacharias. He was silenced by circumstances and the will of God. Even a prophet may have to learn that "silence is golden." Consider the indications of the time to keep silence.

1. When one has nothing to say. It is a great mistake to speak because one ought to say something instead of waiting till there is something to be said. Prophets have not always messages to deliver. Poets are not always inspired.

2. When men will not hear. Ezekiel's repeated discourses, and even his striking illustrative actions, had beer treated with indifference by the Jews. It is useless to "cast pearls before swine."

3. When events are speaking. God says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10). The awful voice of providence silences every utterance of man.

4. When we are called to reflect. We have too much talking and too little thinking. This is an age of expression. We have lost the art of reticence. The consequence is shallowness and instability. More silence would allow of a richer brooding thoughtfulness.

II. EVENTS OPEN THE MOUTH OF THE SILENT. Ezekiel was to be silent in the grief of his sudden widowhood, and the Jews would be silenced by the frightful calamities of the siege of Jerusalem. Afterwards the prophet's lips would be unsealed, and he would be able to speak to better purpose. Events help to this result:

1. In suggesting topics. The truest thought is inspired by fact. New occurrences give rise to new lessons. The age of literature follows the age of action, and great books spring up in the soil that has been fertilized by great deeds. The facts of the gospel history are the chief topics for Christian preaching. The new scenes of the life of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles are the inspiration of all evangelistic speech.

2. In inclining men to listen. Ezekiel was silenced by indifference; he was to be rendered eloquent again by a newly awakened interest. Now, this change was to be brought about through the instrumentality of external events. Thus God breaks up the fallow ground and prepares the soil to receive the seed of the Word.

3. In inducing faith. This is the principal cause of the change in the present instance. The Jews had refused to believe Ezekiel. But when his words had been verified by the occurrence of the calamities he had predicted, the skeptical hearers would be forced to acknowledge that he was a true prophet. The fulfillments of Christ's prophecy in the growth of the kingdom from the grain of mustard seed to the great tree should incline people to listen to Christian teaching with faith.

III. THE WISE TEACHER WILL SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPEECH. His mission is to proclaim the will of his Master; and, though silence may be suitable on occasion, and room for thought is greatly to be desired, he must be on the watch for every opportunity of delivering his great message. It is a glorious time when inspired lips are unsealed. The mere babble of empty talk is not to be compared with such utterance. The Jews had it in the thunders of prophecy, and the early Christians in the gift of the cloven tongues. But every Christian teacher who has power to speak to his brother may receive Divine impulses which should give him words of helpfulness and healing. The great art is then to utter the word in season—the right word, to the right person, in the right spirit, at the right moment.

HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON

Ezekiel 24:1-14

The consuming cauldron.

The threatened judgment has at last descended upon the guilty city; and Ezekiel, far away in the land of the Captivity, sees in vision, and declares to his fellow-captives by a parable, the siege of Jerusalem now actually taking place. As in so many parts of his prophecies, Ezekiel reveals by symbol that which he has to communicate. Opinions differ as to whether the cauldron was actually filled with the joints of animals and was actually heated by a fire. But the familiar operation, whether literally performed or merely imagined and described, served vividly to portray to the mind the calamities which were befalling the doomed metropolis.

I. THE SIN OF THE CITY. As described in this passage, the errors of Jerusalem may be classified under three headings.

1. Lies. By which we must understand the corruption, the deceits and frauds, the political insincerity, which had eaten away the very heart of the citizens.

2. Lewdness. Or the prevalence of sensual sins and of carnal luxury, opposed to that purity and simplicity of domestic life in which the moral health of a nation ever consists.

3. Blood-guiltiness. Or violence and murder, which at this time were rife in Jerusalem, each man seeking his own interests, even at the expense of the life of his neighbors. These three classes of iniquity are chosen by the prophet as peculiarly heinous and obtrusive, not as exhausting, but simply as exemplifying, the city's sinfulness.

II. THE JUDGMENT OF THE CITY. As the flesh and bones are placed in the cauldron, and boiled and seethed by the fire being applied beneath, so the inhabitants of Jerusalem are enclosed within the walls, the besieging army surrounds them, and the citizens are abandoned to all the privations and fears and sufferings, and finally to the destruction, incident to so miserable a condition. The instrument of chastisement is appointed to be the nation into whose idolatries Judah had been seduced, the nation whose protection might for a time have availed to avert further evils, had not the catastrophe been hastened by the treachery and rebellion of prince and people. The Divine Judge never lacks instruments for the carrying out of his own purposes. "Heap on wood; kindle the fire!"

III. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY. Previous punishment has been of the nature of chastisement, of correction; this is of the nature of consuming. All the calamities which have come upon Jerusalem have failed to produce true repentance and radical reformation; it remains now to execute the threats and to complete the ruin foretold. The language coming from the Almighty Ruler, who had taken Jerusalem under his especial patronage and care, is frightful indeed. "I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord God." It is evident that the purpose of God is this—that the era of rebellion shall come to an end, that there must be a break in the continuity of the national life, that a future revival must be a new beginning unaffected for evil by the habits and traditions of the past. To this end the people and all their ways and practices, all their rebellions and idolatries, all their oppressions and immoralities, must first be cast into the cauldron of judgment, and many must be consumed and destroyed.—T.

Ezekiel 24:13

Ineffectual discipline.

Men who are providentially entrusted with the care and training of the young, or with the probation of undisciplined members of society, often have reason to complain that their endeavors seem to be utter failures, that there is no response to the appeal which by language and by action they are constantly addressing to those who are placed beneath their charge. It is very instructive to all such to observe what was the result of Jehovah's dealing with Judah and Jerusalem. It is not to be disputed that the results in question were perfectly known to the Omniscient before they came to pass. Yet it seemed good to him, in dealing with moral agents, to afford them the means of repentance, and to furnish them with inducements to repentance. Lamentable is the record of what without irreverence we may term the Divine experience: "I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged."

I. DIVINE DISCIPLINE. There is presumed the need for such discipline. It is because the metal is mixed with dross that it is cast into the furnace. It is because the patient is sick that medicine is administered. It is because the wheat and the chaff are intermingled that the winnowing-fan is employed. And it is because the heart and life of the individual or the nation are contaminated with evil that the chastening hand of God intervenes to purge away the mischief—the dross, the chaff. The means employed is usually affliction in some one or more of the many forms it assumes. One heart is reached in one way, another by a way altogether different; one nation is humbled by pestilence or famine, another by defeat in war and privation of territory.

II. THE MOTIVE AND PURPOSE OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE. To the careless observer it may seem as if such experiences as those described were evidences of malevolence in the Governor of the world. But in fact it is otherwise. "Whom he loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every child whom he receiveth." The son does not always understand his father's treatment of him, and does not always accept that treatment with submission and gratitude; neither does he always profit by it as he might do. Yet the treatment may be wise and well adapted for purposes alike of probation and of education; and the time may come when, looking back with enlarged experience and maturer judgment, he may approve his father's action. So is it with God's dealing with his great family. The Father of the spirits of all flesh has at heart the welfare of his offspring, his household. He knows that uninterrupted prosperity would not be beneficial, that many lessons could never be acquired amid circumstances of ease and enjoyment, that character could not by such experience be formed to ripeness and moral strength. It is through trials and afflictions that true men are fashioned. And the same is the case with nations. Israel had to wander and to fight in the wilderness. England has only reached her present position by means of many generations of conflict and many epochs of adversity. God has "purged" his people, not because he is indifferent to their sufferings, but because he is solicitous for their welfare, which only through sufferings can be achieved.

III. THE APPARENT FAILURE OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE. There is a pathetic tone in the assertion, "I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged." The explanation of this failure is to be found in the mysterious fact of human liberty. An eminent philosopher has said that he would be content to be wound up like a clock every morning, if that would ensure his going right throughout the day. Determinism is mechanism; it reduces man to the level of a machine. But this is not the true, the Divine idea of man. God evidently designs to do something better with man than to constrain him. He even gives to man the prerogative of resisting the high motives which he in wisdom and mercy brings to bear upon him. And when he perceives that the purposes of discipline are not fulfilled, he laments, "I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged." Yet it is not for us to say that even in such cases there has been real failure. Ends may be answered of which we cannot judge; good may be done which we cannot see; preparation may be making for advanced stages which we are now incapable of comprehending. Doubtless in many cases the "purging" which is ineffectual here and now will be brought about hereafter, and perhaps above. It is open to us to believe, with the poet-

"That nothing walks with aimless feet,

That not one life shall be destroyed

Or cast as rubbish to the void,

When God has made his work complete."

T.

Ezekiel 24:15-27

Speechless and tearless sorrow.

If the event here described really happened, and if the death of the prophet's wife was a fact and not a mere vision or parable, at all events there is no reason to suppose that this death took place from other than natural causes. Foreseeing what would happen, the God of men and of nations used the affliction of his servant and turned it to account, making it the occasion and the means of spiritual instruction and impression for the benefit of the Hebrew community. The decease of Ezekiel's wife symbolized the fate of the guilty Jerusalem. It was—

I. SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED. The Lord took away from the prophet the desire of his eyes "with a stroke." How touching is the prophet's record!—"At even my wife died." It is the simplicity of truth, the simplicity of submission, which speaks in this language. The terms Ezekiel employs show how great was his love and attachment to his wife; all the more was this sudden bereavement a shock of distress and anguish to him. Similarly swift was the stroke of retribution and ruin which came upon the Jewish metropolis. Notwithstanding repeated warnings and threatenings, the Israelites would not believe that their beloved Jerusalem, "the joy of the whole earth," could fall before the mighty conqueror from the east. But their confidence was misplaced, and their pride was destined to humiliation. The death stroke came, and it came with the sharpness and suddenness which corresponded with the prophet's bereavement.

II. SEVERE. No affliction which could befall Ezekiel could be so distressing and so crushing as the loss of his beloved wife. In this it was emblematical of the blow which was about to descend upon Jerusalem. "Behold," said the Lord, "I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth." Patriotism, historical associations, religious pride, and other elements of feeling conspired to render their metropolis dear to the sons of Abraham; and its destruction and the dispersion of its citizens could not be contemplated by them without the liveliest emotions of anguish and anxiety. No heavier blow could fall up. on them than this. Distress, as of the bereaved and desolate, must needs take possession of every true Hebrew heart, when predictions of Divine wrath were fulfilled, when the heathen entered and possessed the sanctuary of Jehovah.

III. INEVITABLE AND IRREPARABLE. Life is in the hands of the Lord and Giver of life. When he recalls his gift, his creatures can do nothing but submit. So Ezekiel himself acknowledged and felt; it was God who deprived him of the desire of his eyes. The dead return not to their place, which knows them no more. This fact gives keenness to the sorrow, whilst it aids submission. Ezekiel's fellow-countrymen were to learn that it was the Divine purpose to inflict upon Jerusalem the last indignity. No human power could avert, and no human power could repair, this evil, any more than such power could save or restore the life which the Creator resumed. A new career might indeed open up before the people of Israel, but the old career was closed peremptorily and irrecoverably.

IV. CRUSHING EVEN TO SILENCE. Ezekiel was bidden, when his bereavement came upon him, to refrain from weeping and mourning, and from all the outward signs of grief. Distressing and difficult as the command certainly was, it was obeyed. And the prophet's obedience to it was significant. When the day of Judah's trouble came, it came in such a manner and with such circumstances accompanying it that the survivors and spectators of the national calamity were rendered speechless through grief. Their experience reminds us of the memorable language of the psalmist, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it." There is a time to be silent. When the hand of God is heavy upon those who have resisted his laws and rebelled against his authority, they have nothing wherewith to answer their righteous Lord whom they have offended. It is for them to refrain from complaint, which in such a case would be merely blasphemy; it is for them to bow beneath the rod; it is for them, in silence and in speechless bitterness of heart, to repent of all their sins. It is the Lord: "Behold, here am I let him do to me as seemeth good unto him."—T.

Ezekiel 24:24

Ezekiel a sign.

This prophet was commissioned to utter many words and to perform many actions which were of the nature of signs to Israel. But in this verse, by God's own instruction, Ezekiel is directed, not to show, but to be, a sign to the people. In his own person, in his own remarkable experience, he typified great truths.

I. IN THE AFFLICTION WHICH BEFELL HIM.

II. IN THE ANGUISH WHICH HE EXPERIENCED.

III. IN HIS SILENT SUBMISSION TO DIVINE APPOINTMENTS.

IV. IN HIS UNCOMPLAINING OBEDIENCE TO DIVINE BEHESTS.

V. IN HIS DESIRE AND RESOLUTION, BY ALL HIS EXPERIENCE AND ACTION, TO GLORIFY GOD.

APPLICATION. There are occasions when a good man can do little in the way of directly benefiting or influencing the ungodly by whom he may be surrounded. But even in such circumstances he may be a witness to God, and he may render service to his fellow-men, by his own life, and especially by his demeanor in times of affliction and trial.—T.

HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES

Ezekiel 24:1-14

The interior mechanism of war.

The prophet is commissioned to employ another homely metaphor. The patience and ingenuity of God's love are inexhaustible. The homeliest imagery is employed with a view to vivid and abiding impression. Here it is shown that behind all the machinery and circumstance of war, a hand Divine directs and overrules. A moral force resides within the material and human agency.

I. THE NECESSITY FOR THE SCOURGE. The necessity arose from the excessive criminality of the Jewish people.

1. They are described as a "house of rebellion." The authority of Jehovah was trampled in the dust.

2. Jerusalem was a city of blood. Justice was so grossly administered that the guilty escaped; the innocent were judicially murdered.

3. Sin assumed the most flagrant forms. "In thy filthiness is lewdness." All restraint to vice was cast off. All moral vigor was eaten out with self-indulgence.

4. There had been wanton abuse of God's corrective methods. "I purged thee, and thou wast not purged." Costly remedies had been wasted and scorned. The hand of the great Physician had been withstood. This is the culmination of guilt. The condition of such is hopeless.

II. THE CERTAINTY OF THE SCOURGE. "I the Lord have spoken: it shall come, and I will do it." The event was based upon the word of God, and God's word is the forthputting of his will. He puts himself into his speech. Fulfillment of his word is not only invariable as law; fulfillment is a necessity. But further, the scourge had already come. By prophetic inspiration Ezekiel knew that on that identical day on which he spoke to the people in Chaldea, Nebuchadnezzar lay siege to Jerusalem. The verification of this fact would impart a weight of authority to Ezekiel's mission as a prophet of Jehovah. It was now too late to evade, by repentance, the scourge. Still, the moral lesson would be healthful. It is never unseasonable to be assured of the righteous faithfulness of God.

III. THE SEVERITY OF THE SCOURGE. The truth intended to be conveyed by this singular and striking figure is that of entire and indiscriminate destruction. Chastise-meats less drastic in their nature had been tried in vain; and, as the evil seemed to be ingrained in the very nature of the body politic, no other measure was availing than overwhelming disaster. This is represented by keeping the cauldron on the fire till its contents were evaporated. To men this punishment appears severe, but to those intelligences who stand near God's throne the punishment does not appear such an evil as does the sin. No punishment is equal to the hatred of man's heart toward God. Calamity that is external to the man is not such a curse as the sin in the soul. This inward canker is the heaviest of all catastrophes.

IV. THE THOROUGHNESS OF THE SCOURGE. "I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent, saith the Lord' (Verse 14). Every piece of flesh was to be brought out for the foe; no exemption was to be allowed. Even the scum was to be consumed. The very rust upon the cauldron was to be burnt off. In other words, the city itself was to be destroyed as well as the inhabitants—the institutions, political and religious, as well as nobles and priests. God's cleansing will be thorough. In God's esteem there are no small sins. Only give them time, and small sins become great. Therefore, no sin must be spared. God is represented, in one place, as "searching Jerusalem with candles" in order to discover her secret sins. Over the gateway of the new Jerusalem it shall be written, "Nothing that is defiled, or that worketh abomination, can enter herein!" And unless sin be separated from us, we and our sins must be destroyed together. Light and darkness cannot dwell in the same room at the same moment; nor can sin and holiness. The God of righteousness will exterminate sin root and branch.

V. THE HIDDEN HAND THAT WIELDS THE SCOURGE. Ordinary observers of the invasion of Judaea, and of the overthrow of Jerusalem, saw only the activity of man. To them it would seem only a human quarrel. Human ambition on the one side, and violation of treaties upon the other, appeared as the immediate causes of the war. To military captains, I dare say the probability of success was on the side of the besieged. The wails were strong and high; the natural ramparts were almost inaccessible; the gates had withstood many a foe. Yet there was a factor in that martial business that was not apparent. The mightiest agent was out of sight. All the forces of righteousness were on the side of Nebuchadnezzar. He had been commissioned to this undertaking by the invincible God. At what point, or in what way, the directing and controlling will of Jehovah acted upon the mind of the Babylonian king, we cannot say. But that God did move him to this undertaking, and did give him success, is a plain fact. Even men of the world are the sword in the hand of God.—D.

Ezekiel 24:15-27

Graduated lessons.

Most important truths can only be learnt by a series of comparisons. We best know the magnitude of the sun by comparison with the moon and stars. We prize the fragrance of the rose by comparison with the perfume of other flowers. We learn the dignity and strength that belong to a man by passing through the stages of childhood and youth. God teaches us and trains us, not only through the understanding, but also through the feelings, affections, griefs, inward experiences. Every event that occurs is a lesson for the immortal life.

I. GRIEF FOR THE LOSS OF A WIFE IS NATURAL. A wife occupies a more central place in a man's heart than any other among humankind. God himself has ordained that this mutual affection shall transcend all other. It is a relationship born of mutual choice. In proportion to this depth and intensity of affection is the sense of loss when death occurs. To suffer anguish of heart at such a time accords with the laws and instincts of nature. It is a loss not to be measured by words, and in proportion to the sense of loss is the abundance of the grief.

II. MAN'S CAPACITY FOR FEELING GRIEF IS LIMITED. Every capacity of the soul of man has, on earth, limitation. Whether this will continue when released from the trammels of the flesh is not known. In all likelihood, capacity of mind and feeling will be enlarged, but will still be limited. If grief be indulged for minor losses, the soul will have no power of grief remaining for heavier demands. Therefore effort of will should be employed to restrain, and not to excite, our grief. Those who weep over imaginary sorrows portrayed in novels often become callous in the presence of real distress. The fountain of grief is exhausted.

III. REAL GRIEF SHOULD BE RESERVED FOR OUR HEAVIEST CALAMITIES. Because, if we allow the severest disasters to occur without an adequate sense of sorrow, we do our moral nature an injury; we do injury to others. We convey to men a wrong impression. We emphasize the less important matters. The result is that our nature gets out of harmony with God's nature—a disaster the heaviest of all. Then God's lessons are lost upon us. We become incapable of receiving good. We are "past feeling." To lose feeling is to lose enjoyment—is to endure diminished life.

IV. SIN SO OUTWEIGHS ALL OTHER CALAMITIES THAT OUR CHIEF SORROW SHOULD RE RESERVED FOR SIN. God forbade Ezekiel to weep for the loss of his wife. He forbade the Hebrews to exhibit signs of mourning for the fall and ruin of their temple. "But," he added—" but ye shall pine away for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another." All other disaster is external to a man. This disaster, sin, is internal and injures the very texture and fabric of his soul. This is without question "sorrow's crown of sorrow." A man belonging to the criminal class obtained an interview with a Christian gentleman. Replying to questions, the man told his sad history—his gradual lapse into crime, his ultimate detection, Said he, "I have been twice in gaol; I have endured all kinds of misery; but I confess that my worst punishment is in being what I am now." This is the cardinal truth set forth by Ezekiel—that sin is the sum of all disasters, the quintessence of hell. Hatred of God is man's curse.

V. A GOOD MAN IS A SIGN TO THE UNGODLY, OF UNSEEN REALITIES. "Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign." A sign is an index of unseen things. Smoke is the sign of fire. A sword is the sign of hostility. An English ensign is an index of the queen's authority. A good man's life is a" sign" or proof that there is a God, and that God is the Friend of man. The purity and piety of a good man is an index of the transforming grace of God. The peace in a good man's heart is an index of the peace of God—the peace of heaven. The obedience of a good man is an index of God's gracious authority. The resignation of a good man under trouble is a sign of the superiority of heavenly good to earthly. Every good man is a sign and witness for God.—D.

HOMILIES BY W. JONES

Ezekiel 24:1-14

The parable of the cauldron; or, the judgment upon Jerusalem.

"Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came unto me," etc. The interpretation of the chief features of this parable is not difficult. "The cauldron is Jerusalem. The flesh and the bones that are put therein are the Jews, the ordinary inhabitants of the city and the fugitives from the country. The fire is the fire of war. Water is poured into the cauldron, because in the first place only the inhabitants are regarded, not the city as such. Afterwards, where the cauldron only is intended, it is set on empty (Ezekiel 24:11). The bones, in Ezekiel 24:4, in contradistinction to the pieces of flesh, are those who lend support to the body of the state—the authorities, with the king at their head" (Hengstenberg). The precise meaning of one clause is controverted. "Burn also the bones under it" (Ezekiel 24:5) Revised Version, "Pile also the bones under it." The interpretation of Fairbairn appears to us to be correct, "What the prophet means is that the best, the fleshiest parts, full of the strongest bones, representing the most exalted and powerful among the people, were to be put within the pot and boiled; but that the rest, the very poorest, were not to escape: these, the mere bones as it were, were to be thrown as a pile beneath, suffering first, and, by increasing the fire, hastening on the destruction of the others." A remarkable confirmation and illustration of this interpretation is quoted in the 'Speaker's Commentary ' from Livingstone's 'Last Journal:' "When we first steamed up the river Shire, our fuel ran out in the elephant marsh where no trees exist. Coming to a spot where an elephant had been slaughtered, I at once took the bones on board, and these, with the bones of a second elephant, enabled us to steam briskly up to where wood abounded. The Scythians, according to Herodotus, used the bones of the animal sacrificed to boil the flesh; the Guachos of South America do the same when they have no fuel; the ox thus boils himself." The parable and its interpretation as given by Ezekiel suggest the following observations.

I. THE TIME FOR THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS MAY SEEM TO MEN TO BE LONG DELAYED, BUT ITS ARRIVAL IS CERTAIN. (Verses 1, 2.) This judgment against Jerusalem had been spoken of by the prophets for a long time. The people of that city had refused to believe in its approach; but now it has actually commenced. "The King of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day." But notice:

1. The minuteness of the Divine knowledge of the beginning of the judgment. "In the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month," etc. (Verses 1, 2; and cf. 2 Kings 25:1). The very day, yea, the hour and the moment, when Nebuchadnezzar began the siege were known unto God. Nothing is hidden from him (cf. 2 Kings 19:27; Psalms 139:1-4; Matthew 9:4; John 2:24, John 2:25; Hebrews 4:13).

2. The communication of this knowledge to Ezekiel. Here on a particular day, which is clearly specified and set down in writing, the prophet announced to his fellow-exiles that Nebuchadnezzar had begun to besiege Jerusalem. "The place on the Chebar where the prophet lived," says J. D. Michaelis, "was distant from Jerusalem more than a hundred German miles; it was therefore impossible for Ezekiel to know by human means that the siege of Jerusalem had commenced on that day; and when it was afterwards ascertained that the prediction had exactly corresponded with fact, it would be regarded as an invincible proof of his Divine mission."

3. The mixture record of the fact. "Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this selfsame day." When this prophecy was found to be exactly true, the record of it would rebuke the people for their unbelief of the prophet, and witness to the Divine inspiration and authority with which he spake. But to revert to our main point, the apparent delay of a Divine judgment does not affect its certainty. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." God's visitation because of persistent sin is certain, and it will take place at the precise time appointed by God. With what remarkable iteration and emphasis is this awful certainty expressed in the fourteenth verse! "I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent" (cf. Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). God's threatenings of punishment will as surely be fulfilled as his promises of blessing.

II. IN THE EXECUTION OF HIS JUDGMENTS GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. "Set on the cauldron, set it on, and also pour water into it; gather' the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder'; fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock." Thus the prophet teaches that the great ones of Judah and Jerusalem—the king, the princes, the nobles—would suffer in this judgment. There is another expression which points to the same conclusion: "No lot is fallen upon it" (Verse 6). In former visitations some had been taken captive and others left. So it was when Jehoiakim and when Jehoiachin were taken away (2 Kings 24:1-20.; 2 Chronicles 36:1-10). But in this case the judgment was to fall upon all without distinction. "There is no respect of persons with God." He is a Respecter of character, but not of persons. No outward rank or riches, no distinctions of place or power, nor anything in man's secular circumstances or condition, can exempt him from the stroke of God's anger in the day when he visits a people for their sins.

III. WHEN WICKEDNESS HAS BECOME FLAGRANT, THE DIVINE JUDGMENT WILL BE NOT LESS CONSPICUOUS. "For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the bare rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust; that it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance, I have set her blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered." Blood upon the bare rock is here mentioned in contradistinction to blood shed upon the earth, which is absorbed by it, or which is covered and concealed with dust. There is, perhaps, as Hengstenberg suggests, a reference to the judicial murders which were perpetrated in Jerusalem, of which that of the Prophet Urijah is an example (Jeremiah 26:10-23). But there certainly is set forth the notorious wickedness of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They were "distinguished by the openness and audacity with which they sinned." The conspicuousness of their wickedness would manifest the righteousness of the judgment of God; and it would lead to an equal conspicuousness in the infliction of that judgment. She had poured out blood "upon the bare rock, and God would "set her blood upon the bare rock." In the administration of the Divine government there is a close relation and proportion between sin and its punishment. "It is fit," says Matthew Henry, "that those who sin before all should be rebuked before all, and that the reputation of those should not be consulted by the concealment of their punishment who were so impudent as not to desire the concealment of their sin."

IV. WHEN WICKEDNESS HAS BECOME UTTERLY INVETERATE, THE TIME FOR THE EXECUTION OF JUDGMENT HAS COME. Several things in the text indicate the inveteracy of the wickedness of the people. The scum or rust of the cauldron was not cleansed (Verses 6, 12); so the cauldron shall be put empty upon the fire, that the rust may be burnt away (Verse 11). J.D. Michaelis explains this verse: "When verdigris has eaten very deeply into it, copper is made red-hot in the fire, and cooled in water, when the rust falls off in scales. It can be partially dissolved by the application of vinegar. Only one must not think of a melting away of the rust by the fire, since in that case the copper would necessarily be melted along with it. Also through the mere heating the greater part can be loosened, so that it can be rubbed off." But here it seems that both the cauldron and the rust are to be consumed; both Jerusalem and its guilty inhabitants are to be destroyed. Nothing will avail to cleanse them but the fierce fires of stern retribution. Another evidence of the exceeding wickedness of the people is the application to them of the word translated "lewdness." זִמָּה means "deliberate wickedness," wickedness meditated and planned. For such willful and studied evil-doing there remained but judgment. "All measures of a less extreme kind," says Fairbairn, "had been tried in vain; those were non-exhausted; and as the iniquity appeared to be entwined with the whole fabric and constitution of things, nothing remained but to subject all to the crucible of a severe and overwhelming catastrophe. This is represented by keeping the cauldron on the fire till its contents were stewed away, and the very bones burnt. And as if even this were not enough, as if something more were necessary to avenge and purge out such scandalous wickedness, the cauldron itself must be kept hot and burning till the pollution should be thoroughly consumed out of it. The wicked city must be laid in ruins (cf. Isaiah 4:4)…. In plain terms, the Lord was no longer going to deal with them by half-measures; their condition called for the greatest degree of severity compatible with their preservation as a distinct and separate people, and so the indignation of the Lord was to rest on them till a separation was effected between them and sin."

V. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE RETRIBUTORY IN THEIR CHARACTER. "According to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord God." (We have already noticed this aspect of the Divine judgments in our treatment of Ezekiel 7:3, Ezekiel 7:4; Ezekiel 9:10; Ezekiel 16:43.)—W.J.

Ezekiel 24:15, Ezekiel 24:16

A sudden and sorrowful bereavement.

"Also the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes," etc. The death of the prophet's wife is introduced here as a type of the calamities which were impending over Jerusalem and its inhabitants. We believe that her death was a fact, and not merely "a vividly drawn figure" designed to set forth the more impressively the overwhelming troubles which were coming upon the Jews. We may notice, in passing, that the fact that Ezekiel had a wife suggests the unscripturalness of the papal dogma of the celibacy of the clergy. Moses was most eminent as a prophet, and he was married (Exodus 2:21, Exodus 2:22). So also was his brother Aaron, the high priest. Samuel the seer and judge was married (1 Samuel 8:1, 1 Samuel 8:2); and St. Peter (Matthew 8:14). St. Paul claimed for himself the "right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas" (1 Corinthians 9:5). And he writes of the prohibition of marriage as a "doctrine of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Regarding the death of the wife of the prophet as a real actual occurrence, we propose to consider it at present apart from its typical significance. We notice—

I. THE REMOVAL OF A BELOVED RELATIVE BY DEATH. "Son of man, behold, I take away … the desire of thine eyes." This undoubtedly refers to the wife of Ezekiel; and this mode of speaking of her indicates the high esteem and tender affection in which she was held by her husband. "A good wife," says Jeremy Taylor, "is Heaven's last best gift to man—his angel and minister of graces innumerable—his gem of many virtues—his casket of jewels. Her voice is sweet music; her smile, his brightest day; her kiss, the guardian of his innocence; her arms, the pale of his safety, the balm of his health, the balsam of his life; her industry, his surest wealth; her economy, his safest steward; her lips, his faithful counselors; her bosom, the softest pillow of his cares; and her prayers, the ablest advocates of Heaven's blessing on his head." The sacred Scriptures, especially in the New Testament, represent the love which the husband should bear towards his wife as being of the closest, tenderest, holiest kind (Ephesians 5:25-33). When a man has a good wife, who is to him the desire of his eyes, and she is taken from him by death, great is his loss and sore his sorrow. "The death of a man's wife," says Lamartine, "is like cutting down an ancient oak that has long shaded the family mansion. Henceforth the glare of the world, with its cares and vicissitudes, fails upon the old widower's heart, and there is nothing to break their force or shield him from the full weight of misfortune. It is as if his right hand were withered; as if one wing of his angel was broken, and every movement that he made brought him to the ground. His eyes are dimmed and glassy, and when the film of death falls over him, he misses those accustomed tones which have smoothed his passage to the grave." How frequently are beloved relatives removed by death! At one time it is the true wife and tender mother. At another, it is the faithful husband and the wise and loving father. Again, it is the beloved and beautiful child.

II. THE REMOVAL OF A BELOVED RELATIVE BY DEATH SUDDENLY, "I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke." The wife of Ezekiel did not suffer long from any illness, she had no antecedent affliction which tended to prepare him for her removal, but was snatched away as it were in a moment. It is not infrequently the case that our beloved are taken from us without any warning or without any anticipation of their removal. By virulent disease, by public calamity, by private accident, men are taken away with a stroke. This renders the suffering of the survivors more severe. If the life had slowly faded away, they would in a moment have been prepared for its departure. When there is a protracted affliction, the hearts of those who are soon to be bereaved nerve themselves for the last separating stroke when it shall come. The idea of the parting to some extent familiarizes itself to the mind. But in cases of sudden death there is no such preparation for the trial. And the stroke sometimes stuns the bereaved by its unlooked-for force, sometimes overwhelms their hearts with sorrow, and sometimes drives them into half-madness.

III. THE REMOVAL OF A BELOVED RELATIVE BY DEATH SUDDENLY BY GOD. "The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke." The agent in the removal of the prophet's wife is here said to be neither disease, nor accident, nor chance, nor fate, but the Lord himself. This is the general teaching of the Bible as to man's decease (cf. Job 1:21; Job 14:5, Job 14:20; Psalms 31:15; Psalms 68:20; Psalms 90:3, Psalms 90:5; Psalms 104:29; Revelation 1:18). In the fact which we are considering there is:

1. Deep mystery. Why does God take away our beloved ones with a stroke? Why does he not grant us at least some intimation and preparation for the coming trial? We cannot tell. But he says unto us, "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt understand hereafter."

2. Divine instruction. The fact should teach us important lessons; e.g.:

3. Rich comfort. God is all-wise, perfectly righteous, infinitely kind, and graciously interested in us. Therefore his arrangements concerning us, and his actions in relation to us, must be for our good. It is consoling and even inspiring to know that our times are in his hand.

IV. THE REMOVAL BY GOD OF A BELOVED RELATIVE, WHO WAS NOT TO BE MOURNED BY THE BEREAVED SURVIVOR. "Yet neither shalt thou mourn or weep, neither shall thy tears run down." God does not prohibit to his servant the feeling of sorrow, but only its outward expression. All the visible signs of mourning in use amongst his countrymen he must abstain from (Verse 17). He may not weep, and even the relief of silent tears is forbidden him. It has been well said by Albert Smith that tears are "the safety-valves of the heart, when too much pressure is laid on." And Leigh Hunt writes, "Tears enable sorrow to vent itself patiently. Tears hinder sorrow from becoming despair and madness." But in this painful bereavement Ezekiel must neither weep nor shed tears, in order that he may be a more impressive sign unto his fellow-exiles. Exceedingly severe were his trials. But for us in our sorrow there is no such prohibition. Christianity does not forbid tears. "Jesus wept." In the days of his flesh he "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death." And the solace of tears is allowed unto us. We may relieve the over-laden heart by sighs, and cool the burning brain by our flowing tears. And in the sorrows of bereavement we have richer, diviner consolations than these. We know that to those who are in Christ death is unspeakable gain; that the separations which it causes are more in appearance than in reality; and that in the great hereafter there will be blessed reunions with those who have passed beyond the veil.—W.J.

Ezekiel 24:20-23

An awful catastrophe and a prohibition of mourning.

"The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Speak unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God," etc. The death of Ezekiel's wife, and his abstinence from mourning by reason thereof, were symbolical, and their signification is brought before us in our text. Two scenes are presented for our contemplation.

I. A PEOPLE DEPRIVED OF THEIR MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS.

1. The possessions of which they were to be deprived.

2. The Person by whom they were to be thus deprived. "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will profane my sanctuary," etc. (Ezekiel 26:21); "I take from them their strength," etc. (Verse 25). In this destruction and slaughter the Chaldeans were as instruments and weapons in the hand of God, who was himself the great Agent.

3. The reason why they were to be thus deprived. All this loss and misery was coming upon them because of their sins. They had forsaken God, and he was about to leave them without his defense. They had profaned his temple by their idolatries, and he was about to allow the idolatrous Chaldeans to enter into it and destroy it. Their calamities were caused by their crimes. Their sufferings were the righteous retribution of their sins.

II. A PEOPLE THAT SHOULD NOT MOURN THE LOSS OF EVEN THEIR MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS. "And ye shall do as I have done: ye shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. And your tires shall be upon your heads," etc. The outward demonstrations of mourning are thus forbidden to the Jews in their distress. The covering of the face from the upper lip downwards was a sign of mourning (cf. Le 13:45; Micah 3:7). In great grief the mourners partook of food which their neigh-hours prepared and sent to them (cf. Jeremiah 16:7, Revised Version). This is here called "the bread of men." In many cases of mourning the headdress was taken off, and dust or ashes sprinkled upon the head (cf. Le Ezekiel 10:6; Job 2:12; Isaiah 61:3; Lamentations 2:10). But David and his companions in a season of deep distress went weeping with their heads covered (2 Samuel 15:30). It was also customary for mourners to go barefoot, as David did on the occasion just referred to. All these visible symbols of grief were to be absent from the house of Israel during the great distresses that were coming upon them. Yet our text speaks of their great sorrow. "Ye shall pine away in your iniquities, and moan one toward another." We suggest, by way of explanation:

1. Their calamities would so overwhelm them as to leave them no power to think of the ceremonial of mourning. Their losses and miseries would stun them with amazement and anguish of soul. "As in the prophet's case," says Schroder, "the misfortune of his wife's death disappears in the deep shadows of the overthrow of Jerusalem and Judah, so all the personal feelings of the exiles" (and we must not limit this to them to the exclusion of their fellow-countrymen) "shall be absorbed in this destruction of the last remnant of the kingdom and city. One and another shall be benumbed with pain, so that no comfort shall come from any quarter; on the contrary, a desolating feeling of guilt shall be general—such shall be their knowledge of the Lord."

2. Their consciousness of the sin which caused their calamities should check the outward exhibitions of sorrow because of them. This is well set forth by Fairbairn: "In the typical part of the delineation, it was not because the prophet was insensible to the loss he sustained by the death of his wife that he was to abstain from the habiliments and usages of mourning; but because there was another source of grief behind, of which this was but the sign and presage, and in itself so much greater and more appalling, that his spirit, instead of venting itself in expressions of sorrow at the immediate and ostensible calamity, was rather to brood in silent agony and concern over the more distressing evil it foreshadowed. And in like manner with the people, when all their fond hopes and visions were finally exploded, when the destruction of their beautiful temple, and the slaughter of their sons and daughters, came home to them as dreadful realities, they could only refrain from bewailing the loss of what had so deep a hold on their desires and affections, by having come to discern in this the sign of what was still greatly more dreadful and appalling. And what might that be but the bloodstained guilt of their iniquities, which had brought on the catastrophe?… The overwhelming sense should then break in upon them of the iniquities to which they had clung with such fatal perverseness, absorbing their spirits, and turning their moanings into a new and higher direction. The agonies of bereavement would be in a manner lost under the self-inflicted pains of contrition and remorse (cf. Ezekiel 7:16). Yet the description must be understood with certain qualifications, and indeed is to be viewed as the somewhat ideal delineation of a state of things that should be found, rather than the exact and literal description of what was actually to take place … The people should, on the occurrence of such a fearful catastrophe, have sunk under an overpowering sense of their guilt and folly, and, like the prophet, turned the tide of their grief and mourning rather against the gigantic evil that lay behind, seen only in the chambers of imagery, than what outwardly appeared; they should have bewailed the enormous sins that had provoked the righteous displeasure of God, rather than the present troubles in which that displeasure had taken effect. And such, undoubtedly, was the case with the better and more enlightened portion of the people; but many still cleaved to their idols, and would not receive the instruction given-them, either by the prophet's parabolical example or by the reality of God's afflicting dispensations."

CONCLUSION. Mark well the dread consequences of persistence in sin.—W.J.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 24:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ezekiel-24.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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