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Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ ezekiel-3.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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When the Prophet is ordered to eat whatever he receives, this ought not to be extended to everything which he meets with, but, whatever may be the taste of the book, he is forbidden to refuse it: for its bitterness might possibly cause him to reject the threats of God. Lastly, the quality of the book is noted, because it contained nothing but the material for sorrow. He adds, that he opened his mouth, for the sake of obedience; by which he signifies that he was not curious or dainty in seeking to taste it, but that he took what was divinely offered him, without the slightest hesitation. Now he adds —
Ezekiel, as we have just seen, proceeds to say, that a book was given him to eat, because God’s servants ought to speak from the inmost affection of their heart. We know that many have a tongue sufficiently fluent, but use it only for ostentation: meanwhile, God treats their vanity as a laughing stock, because their labor is fruitless. Hence we must observe the passage of Paul already quoted, “the kingdom of God is with power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20.) But the efficacy of the Holy Spirit is not exerted unless when he who is called to teach applies his serious endeavors to attain to the discharge of his duty. For this reason, then, Ezekiel is commanded to eat the roll Next he says, it was as sweet as honey; and, but a little before, he said it was filled with curses: therefore, either he had put off all humanity, or ought to be grieved, when he found himself appointed to be the herald of God’s vengeance. But, in other places, we saw that the servants of God were endued with feelings of an opposite kind; for, as they were often rough and stern like their work, so they condoled with the miserable people: but, their grief did not hinder them from proceeding in the discharge of their duty. For this reason Ezekiel now says, the book was sweet, because he acquiesced in God’s commands, and although he pitied his own people, yet he acknowledged that it could not happen otherwise, and subscribed to the just judgment of God. Therefore, by the word sweetness, he signifies his acquiescence in embracing the office enjoined upon him, and he so obeyed God that he forgot all the material for sorrow in the book, because the justice of God prevailed and thus extinguished the feeling of too great humanity which might otherwise have delayed him. Jeremiah uses the same expression. (Jeremiah 15:16.) He says, that he found the words of God, and that they became to him gladness and joy of heart. For we saw, that he was only anxious but very sorrowful when he thought that utter destruction was impending over the people. But, as I have just said, these two things are not discordant: that Prophets should desire the safety of the people, and use their utmost endeavors to promote it, and yet manifest a firm constancy, and never hesitate, when necessity demands it, to condemn the people and to utter God’s threats which are enjoined ‘upon them. Thus shortly afterwards Jeremiah says, that he was filled with anger; thy words were found, says he, and I did eat them, and they afforded me joy and gladness of heart, because thy name has been called over me, O Jehovah God of hosts: that is, because I have been taught by the power of thy Spirit, and as I have been called to this office, so thou hast stretched forth thy hand unto me that I may fulfill thy commands with good faith and constancy: therefore thy words were my delight. Afterwards he adds, (Ezekiel 3:17,) neither have I sat in the council of scorners, nor have I exalted myself for the sake of throwing off the yoke; for since I perceived that thou must be obeyed, I was, as it were, overpowered, yet I did not sit with the scorners, but I sat alone, says he, because thou hast filled me with indignation. Hence we see, that in one person were two feelings very different and contrary in appearance, because he was filled with indignation, and yet received joy through the words of God.
Now at greater length God explains why he wished his servant to eat the volume which he held forth in his hand, namely, that when instructed by it he might approach the children of Israel; for he ought not to come empty, and we know that man of himself can bring forward nothing solid: hence Ezekiel must receive from God’s hand what he delivers to the Israelites. Let us then preserve this order, as the volume is first given to the Prophet, and then transferred to the people. God orders him, to offer or speak his own words, which is worthy of remark, as having the same meaning. But if Ezekiel ought to bring forward nothing but what he had received from God, this rule ought to prevail among all God’s servants, that they should not heap up their own comments, but pronounce what God teaches them as if from his mouth: lastly, that passage of Peter (1 Peter 4:11) ought to guide us, he who speaks in the Church ought to speak the words of God. Now he adds, I do not send thee to a people strange in speech and hard in language, but to the house of Israel Stone think that the prophet is here animated to his duty, because God demanded nothing from him which was too difficult. For if he had been sent to remote nations with whom there was no interchange of speech, he might object that a greater burden than he could bear was imposed upon him. The difficulty would then have been a complete obstacle. They think that remote and foreign nations are here compared with the people of Israel, that he may discharge his duty with alacrity, as if it had been said, “I do not send thee to strangers. For neither could they understand thee, and they also would be barbarians to thee, but because thou art familiarly acquainted with thine own people, thou canst not turn thy back when I send thee unto them.” But this opinion does not approve itself to me, because I read these three verses in the same context, as they are united. It is by no means doubtful, that, by this comparison, God aggravates the impiety of the people. For this sentence is first in order, that the Israelites would be deaf, although the Prophet should use among them the common and vernacular language: this is the first point: now he shows the reason, because they were a bitter people Here God signifies, that nothing prevented the Israelites from obeying the doctrine of the Prophet but their malice and impiety. For this reason he says, I do not send thee to a people profound in speech I know not how some have conjectured that this epithet means learned or clever; for it is the same thing for a people to be of a strange speech and of a hard language. For what is a “hard” but a barbarous language? Now we perceive the genuine sense, that the Prophet is not sent to men of an unknown language because he would have been a barbarian to them and they to him. I do not send thee to them, therefore, but to the house of Israel.
Now he adds, not to many peoples Those who translate “many” by “great,” do not understand the Prophet’s meaning, for God had spoken in the singular number concerning all people, but now he uses the plural, as if he had said, I send thee neither to Egyptians, nor to Chaldeans, nor to any other remote nation, since the world is on all sides of thee, inhabited by peoples whose language thou dost not understand: to those therefore I do not send thee. The particle, if not, follows, and Jerome translates, “If I had sent thee unto them,” although the negative particle is interposed, literally, if not, but because this phrase appears harsh, some have supposed
, am-la, to have the sense of swearing, and interpret it affirmatively for אם - לא , cameth, “truly,” or “surely.” But if we receive it so, the passage will be defective; for they understand כאמת , am, “again,” “afterwards:” for these two words, אם , am-la, have the force of an oath interposed. What sense then shall we extract from the words, “truly I will send thee unto them, and they shall hear thee?” We see then this sense to be too forced. Some explain the passage thus: “If I had not sent thee unto them, they would have heard thee,” as if God here blamed the disposition of the people, because they rather sought vain and foolish prophecies:, than submitted themselves to the truth; just as if he had said, if any impostor should pour darkness upon them, they would immediately embrace his fables and lies, as they are so prone to foolishness. Since, therefore, I send thee, therefore they do not hear. But this explanation does not suit, because a little afterwards we shall see it in its own place. To me therefore this context is most probable, if I had not sent thee to them, these also would have heard thee, as if it had been said, unless a difference of speech had interposed, I had rather have used thine assistance with reference to foreign nations. In this way God signifies his displeasure, when he says, that he would rather send his Prophet hither and thither than to the Israelites, except through the want of a common language; for this difference of language presented the only boundary to the Prophet, so that he was confined to his own people. In this sense there is nothing forced. I do not, therefore, send thee to many peoples, profound in speech and strange in tongue, because thou wouldst not understand their language But if this had not been an obstacle, I would have sent thee, and they would have heard thee. We see then what I have just touched upon, that the Israelites are compared to foreign or uncircumcised tribes, because they rejected the instruction offered them, not through ignorance of the language, but through the hardness of their heart. Isaiah also says, (Isaiah 28:11,) that the word of God would be deep and obscure to even the Jews themselves, but in another sense; he also compares his prophecies to a sealed book, since God had blinded them according to their deserts. Since therefore they were so given over to a reprobate mind, and were destitute of sound understanding, therefore he says, that his teaching would be like a closed and sealed book: then he says, that he would be a barbarian, as if he was using an unknown language. So God in this place clearly shows that the house of Israel were suffering no impediment in profiting by his word, except their own unwillingness to hear. (Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 29:11.) For he says, that the heathen would be obedient, if they could be partakers of such a benefit. Unless therefore the language of the Prophet had been unknown to the profane and uncircumcised heathen, he had there found attentive and obedient disciples, as God testifies. How then comes it to pass that the house of Israel cannot hear! It now follows, But the house of Israel are unwilling to hear, that is, the house of Israel is unwilling to hear thee, because it will not hear me, says he. אם - לא
Now, therefore, we clearly see the sloth of the people assigned as a reason why they purposely rejected the Word of God, and hardened themselves in obstinacy. He also ascends higher, and says, that the people were not only disobedient to the Prophet but to God himself, as Christ also when he exhorts his disciples to perseverance in teaching. Therefore, says he, they will not hear you, because they will not hear me, and why am I and my teaching hated by them, unless because they do not receive my Father? (John 15:18.) For this stumblingblock is likely to break the spirits of the pious, when they see their teaching so proudly rejected. This reproach alone, therefore, is often accustomed to recall the servants of God from their course: but this admonition is proposed to them in the midst, that God himself is despised. Why then should they take it ill, that they are held in the same estimation as God, who is himself rejected? They think themselves undeserving of such contempt and haughtiness being thrown upon their labor. But is not God worthy of being listened to before all angels? Since, then, they are proud and unbelieving towards God himself, it is not surprising that they do not reverently receive what is proposed to them by mortal man. Now, therefore, we see what the intention of God is when he says, the house of Israel will not hear thee, because they do not hear me: lest it should be vexatious to the Prophet to see his labor profitless, nay, even the children of Israel rising against him: because he ought to bear it patiently, if he should suffer the same obloquy which they did not hesitate to display against the Almighty himself. It follows, Because the whole house of Israel is of a bold or a daring aspect, and of a hard heart He repeats what we saw before, but in other words — namely, that the people’s hardness of heart was untameable, and that they were not only obstinate in heart but brazen in countenance, so that they cast aside all modesty; and lastly, he implies that their obstinacy was desperate, when he joins a brazen countenance with a hard heart.
Ezekiel was forewarned of the obstinacy of the people, yea, even of their desperate wickedness. Now God strengthens him lest he should despair when he saw that he must contend with such abandoned and reckless men; for what else was it than contending with stones? If Ezekiel had been commanded to strike a mountain, it would have been just the same as contending with such a people. He had need then of this strengthening, viz., his forehead should be adamant against the hardness of the people If he had hoped for more fruit from his labor, perhaps that facility had been the cause of negligence: for confidence makes us more remiss when the work in hand is neither laborious nor difficult. The Prophet, therefore, would have been colder, if, certainly persuaded that the people would be docile, he had approached them more carelessly. God, therefore, excites him when he speaks of their obstinacy. As then it was useful that the Prophet should comprehend how arduous was the duty to the discharge of which he was called, so also he ought to be armed with the strength of God, for otherwise he would have been easily overcome by its difficulty. This is the reason why God adds, that he had given him a stout front and a brazen aspect against the face and front of the people Besides, in this way he was admonished that fortitude was to be hoped for from some other quarter, that he might not spend his strength in vain, but allow himself to be governed by the Spirit of God. For when we think only on the quality and quantity of our own powers, they may easily flow away, and disperse, and even become vapid, unless we discharge our duty with manliness. God, therefore, recalls his Prophet when he says, that he had given him a face, as if he would say, that the Prophet did not make war in his own strength, but was armed with celestial virtue. Although, therefore, this seems to have been spoken once for Ezekiel’s private use, yet it belongs to us all. Let us learn, then, when God calls us to the office of teaching, never to measure the effect of our work by the standard of our own capacity, nor yet to consider our own powers, but to repose on some communicated strength which God here extols in no empty praises. Whoever, therefore, shall acknowledge that God is sufficient for overcoming all obstacles, will gird himself bravely for his work; but he who delays for calculating his own strength is not only weakened but is almost overcome. Besides, we see that we are here instructed in humility and modesty, lest we should claim anything as due to our own strength. Hence it happens, that many are so full, yea so puffed out with confidence, that they bring forth nothing but wind. Hence, let us learn to seek from God alone that fortitude which we need: for we are not stronger than Ezekiel, and if he needed to be strengthened by the Spirit of God, much more do we at this time need it.
Lastly, we gather from this passage that although the whole world should rise up against the servants of God, yet his strength would be superior, as we saw it was with Jeremiah: They shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail. (Jeremiah 1:19; Jeremiah 15:20.) Hence there is no reason why we should be afraid of the violent attack of any enemy, and although the whole world should be in a tumult, yet we need not tremble, because God’s strength in us will always be more powerful. Therefore it is added, as an adamant, harder than flint, have I placed thee; therefore do not fear them. God says I have placed the forehead of the Prophet like adamant; not that he strove with the people by either injustice or audacity, but because God opposed the confidence with which Ezekiel was endowed to the furious impudence of the people. In this sense then the forehead of the Prophet is said to be adamant Now he adds — do not fear, then, and do not be broken by their face or presence These phrases, that the Prophet be not broken, and yet fear not, seem to be opposed to each other, since he excels in unconquered fortitude. But God so tempers his favor, that the faithful always have need of excitements, even when he animates them, and supplies them with strength. God, therefore, so works within his servants, that they do nothing except as they are ruled by his Spirit; and yet they have need of his teaching, since his exhortations to them are never superfluous. Profane men think that there is no use in teaching, and that all exhortations are frivolous, if God, when he acts upon us by his Spirit, not only begins, but continues and perfects his own work. But the Scripture shows that these two things mutually agree; for while God strengthens us and renders us unconquerable by his Spirit, at the same time he breathes virtue into his exhortations, and causes them to flourish within us, and to bring forth fruit In this way God on his part confirms his Prophet, by giving him an adamantine forehead and more than stony, and by giving him an unconquered spirit, and yet he exhorts him to fear not. We see, then, how God governs his own people within them, and yet adds teaching as an instrument of his Spirit. Then he adds, because they are a rebellious house, or although they are; for the particle
, ki, is often put adversatively, as we have said elsewhere. If we take it in its proper sense, it will suit very well, because they are a rebellious house; as if it had been said, the Prophet has no cause for fear, because he was carefully admonished beforehand, and nothing new could happen; for we are accustomed to be very much frightened by novelty; but when we have meditated on what happens, we are not disturbed, neither do we stand still nor hesitate; for although the Prophet had already learnt that the house of Israel was rebellious, yet he perseveres, because he experiences nothing new or unusual. It follows — כי
This is a repetition of the same doctrine; for we said that our Prophet is more verbose than Isaiah, and even than Jeremiah, because he had accustomed himself to the form of speech which was then customary among the exiles, he is not, therefore, either so restricted or so polished; but we must understand that he accommodated his language to learners, because he had to do with a people not only rude and dull, but also obstinate. And then they had degenerated as much from the purity of their language as from that of their faith; hence the Prophet purposely bends aside from elegance of language. Whatever repetition he might use with men so dull and slothful, it was not superfluous. He says, therefore, what we have formerly seen, that he was commanded to speak all the words, but he previously says, that he was commanded to receive them in his heart, and to perceive them with his ears The order is inverted, because we must perceive with the ear before we receive in the heart. And they philosophize with more subtlety than truth who say, that the interior hearing precedes, inasmuch as the ears are struck by the sound in vain, unless the heart was already docile. For although God prepares his elect for hearing, and gives them ears for that purpose, yet his teaching does not penetrate to their minds before it has been received by the car. There is no doubt, then, that here one thing is put before the other, by what we call a
The result is, that; the Prophet, as he is sure of his calling, hears God speaking to him. But this was not said for his sake, but that he might securely boast himself to be a servant of God, and bring forward nothing but what he had heard from the mouth of God himself. As, therefore, in this confidence, he was to contend against the people’s impiety, so he was commanded to hear the words of God We hear, then, a repetition of what we formerly saw, namely, that the Prophet freely boasts that he did not bring forward merely windy eloquence, as profane men do, who have no other object than to obtain the applause of men. ὕστερον πρότερον
The Prophet, therefore, here says, that he was commanded to receive the words of God in his heart.
Now it is added, that he may go and proceed to the captivity, to the children of his own people We see, then, that God does not regard the Prophet so much as the Israelites, because they had never willingly yielded to the Prophet when he brought a message by no means pleasing. For nothing could be more sad and hateful to them than to hear threats and curses. Because, then, they had never willingly bent to obedience, he is sent with a testimony that he had learnt what he uttered in God’s school; then that he had so learnt from God, that he adds nothing of his own; lastly, that he so speaks, that; the obstinacy of the people is not overcome: Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, do thou nevertheless go forward Wherefore? Thou shalt say, thus saith the Lord. We have already explained the meaning of this phrase, namely, where we are persuaded that our labor is pleasing to God, although it be useless to men, yet this ought to suffice us, that God has sent us. Then he wishes to try our constancy, lest when we see ourselves laboring in vain, we should cease on that account, instead of being prepared to obey, whatever may happen.
The Prophet again affirms what we have formerly seen, that God had worked upon his mind by the secret instinct of his own Spirit. Although, therefore, God had exhorted him to fortitude, yet the Prophet shows what he demanded of himself. In short, the Prophet was strong in God, because God implanted his virtue within him. He says, therefore, that he was raised up by the Spirit, which only means that the agitation within him was of no avail, unless through heavenly inspiration; so also he ought to be carried beyond himself for the time, that nothing human should appear within him. But more will be said about this hereafter.
He adds, that he heard a voice of a great rushing, that is, a sonorous voice, and one different from the usual voice of men: for the, Prophet, by the noise or tumult of the voice, could distinguish it from the usual voice of men. Blessed, said it, be the glory of Jehovah from his own place We cannot doubt that this benediction was suitable to the occasion of its utterance: when, therefore, this voice was heard, God wished to refute the clamorous voices of the people who thought themselves injured. For we know that the people were querulous, and murmured because they thought themselves treated with greater harshness than they deserved. Hence the glory of God is opposed to all impious and sacrilegious blasphemies, which the Israelites were in the habit of vomiting forth against God, as if he treated them cruelly. In short, this voice restrained all calumnies, by which the impious then endeavored to overwhelm the glory of God. He says that glory is blessed, because although men dare not utter gross and open reproaches against God, nevertheless they curse his glory as often as they detract from his justice, and accuse him of too much rigor. Hence, in opposition to this, a voice is heard, saying, the glory of God is blessed
By God’s place, I understand the Temple. I confess that in many passages of Scripture heaven is so called; not that God’s essence, which is immense, can be included within any place; for as heaven is called his throne or seat, so also the earth is his footstool, because he fills all things with his immensity. So here, as often in other places, the Temple is called God’s place, because he dwelt there with respect to men. Besides, this is said as well with reference to the exiles as to the rest of the people yet remaining at Jerusalem. For the exiles did not sufficiently consider that they were banished from their country, and dragged into a distant region, through the just vengeance of God. Since, therefore, this captivity did not sufficiently subdue them, the name of God ought to be set before them, that they might know that they were not banished from their country by the cruelty of their enemies, but by the judgment of God. The Prophet, doubtless, regards also those Jews who as yet remained at home: for they boasted that God was seated in the Temple, and so fancied that they should be always safe under his protection. But the Prophet, as we shall afterwards see, denounces on those who remained a punishment similar to that of those who were in captivity. It is then just as if he had said that God remained in his Temple, that he might shine there with conspicuous glory. Now as he wished to humble the ten tribes as well as the other two, so he wished to alleviate the grief of them all, that they should not cease to hope for the promised return. For calamity itself might lead them to despair, and to suppose their salvation impossible: nay, to think that God was as it were dead, and his virtue extinct. To what purpose, then, was the worship of God? to what purpose the splendor and dignity of the Temple, unless that God should protect his own? But they had been deserted by him; here then was matter for despair, unless it had been met: the Prophet now treats this, since on one side he reminds them that God was the just avenger of wickedness, when he suffered the ten tribes to be dragged into exile, yet that he would be their deliverer, because he does not cease to reign in his Temple, although profane men think him conquered, and treat with wanton insolence their own triumphs over him. Now therefore we perceive the sense of the Prophet: for this sentence would be cold if it were merely general; but when it is accommodated to the state of things at the time, we see that the glory of God is not extolled by any vain eulogium, and that the Temple is not mentioned in vain. (Psalms 11:4; Psalms 103:19; Isaiah 66:1.)
The Prophet now seems to express from whence the voice which he heard proceeded: for I do not think that the voice proceeded from any other quarter, and that afterwards the living creatures moved in unison with the wheels, but it seems to me to explain what would otherwise have been doubtful, namely, that God’s glory was celebrated by the living creatures and the wheels. It is not wonderful then that a voice should be attributed to the living creatures, because we saw them to be cherubim or angels, as by the wheels God wishes to mark all actions and motions; motions, I say, which seem fortuitous, but yet are governed by the living creatures, whom God inspires with his own virtue, while he wishes to execute his designs, and so exercises his dominion over all creatures; for nothing happens which is not governed by his will. Hence a voice proceeds as well from the living creatures as from the wheels, which extolled the glory of God, and proclaimed him, in the midst of that sad and wretched slaughter of the people, still reigning in his own Temple; then, indeed, especially exercising his power, because he was a judge, in punishing their wickedness; then because he was about to become the deliverer of his own people, as he had promised them restoration after seventy years. He says also, I heard the voice of wings when they mutually embraced each other; for
, nekesh, signifies to embrace: others translate, when they struck or engaged in conflict with each other: but by the word osculating, conjunction is metaphorically signified. When, therefore, each wing embraced its fellow, then the voice emerged: he adds also the same thing concerning the wheels, and at length he repeats what he had said, that there was a sound of a great rushing It follows — נקש
He confirms what we have formerly seen, namely, that he was acted upon by the Spirit of God, so that it was in some way without himself, and not as profane men have invented, enthusiastically: for their Prophets were deprived of self-control, and the devil so dealt with them, that they were not of sound mind. Hence the Prophet does not understand that he was deprived of self-control, because God’s Prophets were of a sedate and composed mind; but he understands that he was so governed by the Spirit of God, that he was unlike himself, and did not breathe a terrestrial air; lastly, he understands that visible marks were graven upon him, which obtained for his doctrine authority with all the people. And it was the more necessary that the Prophet should be adorned with his own proofs, on account of the dullness of the people, and also because his message was distasteful to them, and he had not previously discharged the duty of a teacher. It was needful, therefore, that he should be so renewed that the people should acknowledge him as inspired. He had lived familiarly among his friends, and was sufficiently known both by appearance and character. Meanwhile God, as I have said, separated him from common life, that he should represent something celestial; and the object of this was, as we have shown, to conciliate confidence and reverence towards his teaching. He felt indeed the agitation of the Spirit, and it is scarcely to be doubted that the people also knew it, otherwise they would scarcely have had confidence in him when speaking of himself.
The object of this remarkable government of the Spirit was, that the Israelites, if only awake and attentive to the miracle, might know the Prophet to be in some manner renovated. But what follows seems opposed to the former sentence; for he says (Ezekiel 3:3) the volume was sweet as honey, but now that he departed in the bitterness of his spirit;. but as I briefly explained yesterday, this is easily reconciled; for the Prophet was not deprived of all sensation. Although he was entirely consecrated to God, and in no degree remitted his diligence and alacrity, yet he retained some human feelings: hence the spirit of bitterness of which he speaks, which he calls his own spirit Whence we perceive an implied contrast between that motion by which he was caught up and that feeling, which, although not sinful, was in some way different from the grace of the Spirit, because the Prophet so burnt with zeal that he performed the commands of God almost in forgetfulness of self: yet, at the same time, he felt within him something human, since the power of the Spirit had not extinguished all sorrow. We hold, therefore, that the Prophet was in some degree inspired by the Spirit, and yet that his own spirit was bitter He adds, and the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me By “hand,” some understand prophecy, but in my opinion ignorantly: I do not doubt that its meaning is power or authority. He says, the hand of God was strong, because he ought to obey God, although the bitterness of which he spoke should draw him in a contrary direction. As Paul says, (2 Corinthians 5:14, and Philippians 1:23,) that he was constrained by a zeal of God, so also the Prophet signifies that he was constrained by the secret instinct of the Spirit, so that he did not act from human motives, nor yet obey the wishes of his own mind, nor follow his own individual will, but was only intent on rendering obedience to God. In this sense, then, he says, that the hand of God was strong upon him Otherwise it might be objected — why did he not fall away when he was so oppressed with grief, and anxiety so overwhelmed his spirit? he replies, the hand of God was strong and prevailed, since otherwise he would have failed a hundred times, had he not been supported by the power of God. And thus we see that there was some repugnance in the Prophet, since as man he was affected with sorrow, but the power of the Holy Spirit ruled over him, so that he denied himself and all his human affections.
Now he says, that he had returned to his own people, not that he had ever removed from them, but had been drawn by the vision from the intercourse with men. For God revealed himself to him on the bank of the river Chebar, but he was solitary: and that this was done by vision, is by no means doubtful, since he was always among his own people. How then does he say, that he is now returned? Why, because the vision had vanished, and so he was entirely occupied with the other captives. What some affirm with subtlety, that he was like a monk, is frivolous: for they say, that he abhorred the wickedness of the people, and, that he might not contract any stain of impurity, had sought solitude: but this is not probable. Without doubt., the Prophet means that he returned to his former mode of life from the time when he heard God speaking and saw the vision. He then says — I sat seven days in some way absorbed in either admiration or sorrow, for
, shemew, signifies “to be desolate,” “to be astonished,” “to wonder.” But as to the Prophet sitting quiet and silent for seven days, there is little doubt but that in this way God prepared him for beginning to speak afterwards to the greater surprise of the whole people. Nor ought it to seem absurd that he was dumb although sent by God:: for this did not occur through any negligence or delay which can be accounted a fault, but the office of teaching had been so imposed that he was not yet instructed by any fixed commands; as if any one were chosen ambassador either by a king or a senate, and were afterwards furnished with his instructions, so the Prophet was called to the prophetic office., but knew not yet what he was to say. He had indeed eaten the roll, but God had not yet suggested whence he ought to begin, nor how he ought to temper his doctrine. Hence Ezekiel had not yet been drawn forth: therefore he says, that he sat with either great stupor or great desolation, as they say. For his very appearance would rouse the attention of men, that they should enquire the meaning of this unusual sorrow. Whatever it was, we see that this silence was a preparation for the discharge of his duty with greater fruit and efficacy, since his speech ought afterwards to be received with greater reverence when he had been silent for seven days שמם
Then he says, I came to the exiles who sat in Thelabib I willingly accord with the opinion of those who take this for the name of a place, and ancient interpreters even have left these two words. Their Septuagint version has
, as if it meant “lofty.” μετέωρον , thelel, signifies to elevate, but it ought to be תלל , thelol, if the Prophet meant that he was exalted, but this is not suitable, since he rather asserts that he was like the rest of mankind after the vision was withdrawn. Some render it “skillful,” but I am not aware of their reason: but as I have already said, their opinion is probable, who suppose it the proper name of a place. Jerome translates, “a heap of fruit,” and not badly; for this was probably the origin of the place’s name, as cities and villages and mountains often receive their name from their situation and other circumstances; so also this place was called Thelabib. For תלול , thel, signifies “a heap,” and תל , abib, means a “stalk,” or “straw of corn,” and it may, therefore, be that the place was called Thelabib on account of its fertility, since the harvest there is very plentiful. But this is of no great moment. What we have mentioned must be especially remembered, that the Prophet was beheld in that sad and sorrowful countenance, and was silent for seven days אביב
Now the Prophet shows more clearly why he continued in silence for seven days, because, indeed, he had been appointed a teacher, but the time had not fully arrived in which he was to utter the commands of God. He waited, therefore until he should receive a distinct message. Hence he says, at the end of seven days I received a word from the Lord Whence we gather, that he had been chosen before, and that the burden of an embassy was imposed upon him: meanwhile he stood, as it were, in suspense, because he did not distinctly understand what he was to say, and where he ought to begin. Hence it appears, that God acts by degrees towards his servants, so that he claims them for his own, then he shows them generally what duties and labors they have to discharge, and at length he sends them forth to the performance of their work, and the execution of their office. This we see was done in the case of our Prophet. For first he learned that he was chosen by God, afterwards he was admonished generally to behave himself courageously, and not to yield to any threats or terrors: at length God explained to him what commands he wished him to bear to the people. As yet God seems to speak but generally, but it is as if he announced that the time had come when the Prophet must gird himself to his work: hence he says, Son of man I have appointed thee a watchman of the house of Israel
What Ezekiel heard belongs to all teachers of the Church, namely, that they are Divinely appointed and placed as on watch-towers, that they may keep watch for the common safety of all. It was the duty of those who have been appointed from the beginning ministers of the heavenly doctrine to be watchmen. And would that in the Papacy, as this name has been imposed on idols, dumb and blind and deaf, those who with swelling cheeks call themselves Bishops, had been admonished of their vocation. For we know that the word Bishop means the same as watchman. But when they were boasting themselves to be bishops, they were drowned in the darkness of gross ignorance: then also they were buried in their pleasure, as well as in sloth, for there is no more intelligence in these animals than in oxen or asses. Asses and oxen do spend their labor for the advantage of man, but these are not only destitute of all judgment and reason, but are altogether useless. But what I have said is to be remembered, when God chooses Prophets, that they are placed, as it were, on watch-towers, that they may keep watch for the safety of the whole Church. This ought now to have its force, that pastors may acknowledge themselves placed in stations whence they may be watchful: and this, indeed, is one point. Now this cannot be done unless they are endued with superior gifts and prevail in the grace of the Spirit above the commonalty. Nor is it sufficient that pastors should live as private men, but they ought to wait longer, as if they were placed on a lofty watchtower, which demands both diligence and a power of observation: this is a second point.
It is now added, thou shalt hear words from my mouth, and shalt announce them to the people from me. Here a general rule is prescribed to all Prophets and pastors of the Church, namely, that they should hear the word from the mouth of God: by which particle God wishes to exclude whatever men fabricate or invent for themselves. For it is evident, when God claimed to himself the right of speaking that he orders all men to be silent and not to offer anything of their own, and then, when he orders them to hear the word from his mouth, that he puts a bridle upon them that they should neither invent anything, nor hanker after their own devices, nor dare to conceive either more or less than the word: and, lastly, we see that whatever men offer of their ownselves, is here abolished, when God alone wishes to be heard, for he does not mingle himself here with others as in a crowd, as if he wished to be heard only in part. He assumes to himself, therefore, what we ought to attribute to his supreme command over all things, namely, that we should hang upon his lips. But if this was said to Ezekiel, how is it that men of no authority now dare to spread abroad their own fictions, as we see done in the Papacy? for what. is such a religion but a confused jumble of the numberless fictions of men? dray have heaped together, from many brains, an immense chaos of errors; ‘for they wish us to adore as the oracles of God whatever foolish men have imagined. But who among them will boast himself superior to Ezekiel? nay, if they were all put together will they dare to assert that they can be compared with him alone? And if they dare, who will admit their arrogance? We see then, that Ezekiel with the other Prophets is reined in, that he should not say anything but what he has heard from God’s mouth.
Now it follows, thou shalt admonish them from me The word which the Prophet uses, signifies as well to admonish as to caution. There is no doubt that he means those admonitions by which men are roused to caution, lest they should perish through any error or thoughtlessness. Hence after God had subjected the Prophet to himself, and commanded him to be a disciple, he appointed him a teacher, because hearing was not sufficient, unless he who had been called to rule the Church should deliver out of his hand what he had received from God. God therefore commands his Prophet to speak, after he had ordered him to hear. But he adds, from me, that the people may understand that God alone is the author of instruction. False teachers, indeed, proudly assume the name of God, as we see in the Papacy that this axiom sounds through it, that the Church is ruled by the Holy Spirit immediately, and therefore that it cannot err: but these two things are to be read conjointly, namely, that he who is appointed a teacher should hear God speaking, and afterwards should admonish in the name of God himself, that is, should profess that he is the minister and witness of God, so that his teaching should not be thought his own. For those who affect the praise of ability, or learning, or eloquence, often obscure the name of God, and therefore although they professed that they had their teaching from God, yet afterwards they speak from themselves: that is, they puff themselves up with vain ostentation, so that the majesty of God does not appear, nor the efficacy of the Spirit in that profane method of teaching. Hence God afterwards imposed a law upon his Prophet, that he should utter nothing but what he had heard: now he adds another clause: that he should admonish the people; but he must admonish them not from himself, but must always have in his mouth that sacred name of God, and show that he is in reality sent from him. For after this manner spake Moses, What am I and my brother Aaron? (Numbers 16:11.) Here we see that Moses spake from God; that is, professed himself to be God’s minister, when he bore witness that he was nothing, that he assumed nothing to himself, and acted in nothing by his own peculiar counsel or motion.
The Prophet is now taught how difficult and dangerous an office he has now to undertake. God had previously laid it down as a law that he should utter nothing of himself: now he adds, that, the watchman is so set over the people that he must render an account of the diligence with which he goes through his watches. It is just as if it had been said that souls were committed to his care and fidelity, so that if they should perish he must undergo punishment before God. But it is better to explain the words — if when I say to the impious, “Thou shalt surely die,” and thou dost not admonish him, and he perish, then from thee will I require his blood In the first place, God confirms what we saw yesterday, that it is not. permitted to any mortal to condemn or absolve at his own discretion. When, therefore, God sends forth his servants, he does not resign that power, for still the supreme authority remains with himself: because there is one lawgiver, as James says, who can save and destroy. (James 4:12; Ezekiel 13:19.) And elsewhere Ezekiel reproves the false prophets, because they keep alive the souls which were dying, and slay the souls not devoted to death. For we know that proud men always tyrannize over the conscience when they take upon themselves the prophetic name, and substitute themselves in the place of God, as their practice is in the Papacy. For the Pope indeed pretends that he does nothing in his own proper name, but meanwhile he claims the prerogative of God, and sits in the temple as an idol, because nothing is more peculiar to God than ruling our minds with celestial doctrine; but the Papists themselves heap on their own comments, and so it comes to pass that they miserably distort and drown their own consciences even to utter destruction. They enact laws according to their pleasure, then they always add the condition, that they must be kept under pain of eternal damnation, or of mortal sin, as they say. This place, then, must be diligently marked, where God claims to himself alone the power and right of condemning: if, says he, when I say to the impious. From this we infer, that all those are sacrilegious who bind consciences with their own laws, decrees, and enactments, enforcing one thing and forbidding another, because they take away from God what here he wishes to be assigned to him, for it is his office alone to pronounce sentence, for Prophets are only his heralds.
Meanwhile those fanatics are to be rejected, who, under pretext of this place, wish to give license to sin, and assert there is no difference between good and evil, because it is not our duty to condemn. For, properly speaking, we do not assume anything to ourselves when we recite what has proceeded from the mouth of God. God condemns adulterers, thieves, drunkards, murderers, enviers, slanderers, oppressors: if one inveigh against an adulterer, another a thief, a third a drunkard, shall we say that they take upon themselves more than they ought? By no means, because they do not pronounce of themselves as we have said, but God has said it, and they are but witnesses and messengers of his sentence. Yet this moderation must be maintained, not to condemn any one through moroseness, since many immediately abominate whatever displeases them, and cannot be induced to use diligent inquiry. Inquiry, therefore, should precede our sentences; but when God has spoken, then we must follow the rule which was given to the Prophet, if thou hast not admonished him, and spoken for his admonition Here the character which was imposed upon Ezekiel is referred to: for the same duty does not devolve upon private individuals who do not bear the prophetic name. For we must remark that this is not a general declaration which concerns all men at large, but it concerns a Prophet who had already been called to be a watchman: for unless those who sustain such a burden admonish mankind, no excuse remains for them but the necessity of sending an account to God for those who are lost. And the repetition shows that this ought not to be done as a matter of course, but that Prophets ought to be anxious and even zealous in recalling sinners. This clause was clear enough: if thou dost not admonish the wicked after I have spoken: but it is added, and hast not spoken for his admonition This sentence seems to be repeated in vain, but God signifies that. unless the Prophet admonishes sinners, he is not absolved, because he spoke once in passing and uttered but a single word. We should remember that sinners ought to be continually reproved that they may return to the right way. And this is the tendency of Paul’s doctrine to Timothy:
“be instant in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2.)
For if it had been sufficient to reprove sinners mildly, and afterwards to spare them, Paul would have been content with that courtesy, but he says, we must be urgent on every occasion. The minister of the Church then must not cease to repeat these admonitions, as Paul says elsewhere to the Philippians —
“I am not weary of repeating the same things to you.”
And we know what he professes in the Acts. (Acts 20:31.) I have not ceased day and night, publicly and privately, to admonish each of you. That perseverance then which Paul shows that he used is here enjoined on all the Prophets and servants of God.
He says, to urge him to turn from his evil way, that is, to be cautious; as it was said yesterday,
, zeher, means to be cautious; here it is taken actively — unless thou hast spoken, that thou mayest teach him to be cautious, or to return from his evil way Here it may be asked, why does God touch only on one side of the teaching, and omit the chief point? For why was the law given? and why were Prophets called forth, unless to collect the people for God? Here we must exercise the obedience of faith, since we know that God regards nothing as more important than uniting miserable men in the hope of eternal life. This is the chief end of the law and the gospel, that men being reconciled to God, may worship him as a Father. Chastisements, threats, and terrors follow afterwards, of which now there is only the mention; but we must consider the condition of the people, as we have already seen it; for at that time the prevalence of impiety, and contempt of God, and of all kinds of wickedness, was so great, that the Prophet could not address the people mildly and softly. Since, indeed, that passage of Paul must be remembered, (1 Corinthians 4:21,) what will ye? how shall I come to you? with a rod, or in the spirit of mildness? When he gives the Corinthians the choice, whether they wish him to come in a spirit of tenderness, or armed with a rod for their chastisement — and why? For when they were self-satisfied with their sins, Paul could not, according to his custom, treat them as sons, nor deal freely with them, but he was compelled to assume, as it were, another character, and to use pure austerity and rigor. Such, then, were the Israelites, and hence we cannot feel surprise that God should lay aside his pity, his promises of favor, and whatever is sweet and pleasant to men; for they were not in a fit state to hear the paternal voice of God, unless previously subdued; and this could not be done without violence, because of their exceeding perverseness. זהר
Hence we must remark, that the more displeasing the Prophets’ embassy, the greater need they had of excitements; because, if the grace of God only is to be set before a people, and the hope of eternal life to be held out to them, since there is nothing in such teaching which greatly offends them, or embitters their feelings, hence it is easy to offer freely messages of this kind. But when men are to be summoned, or rather dragged, to the tribunal of God, when they are to be frightened by the fear of eternal death, when the minister, in the armory of God, as Paul says, (2 Corinthians 10:5,) brings his vengeance before mankind, because offense is thus stirred up, and this sometimes instigates men to fury, because, they cannot bear thus to be pressed home with the word of God; hence it is necessary that Prophets themselves should be animated, lest they fail, or even hesitate in their duty. Now, therefore, we understand why God speaks only of his own threats and terrors, for he mingles no taste of pity, because, in truth, the Israelites were not capable of profiting by any mildness, so that the Prophet would never have dared to discharge his duty so courageously unless this threat had been added. In other places we shall see the Prophet as God’s ambassador, for reconciling the miserable exiles to God; for he will bring forward many testimonies concerning the reign of Christ, and the restoration of the Church, and will herald the mercy and pardon of God; but before he can utter any message of grace, he must himself contend with the extreme obstinacy of the people. Hence it is, therefore, that God only can say, that the impious must be admonished, that they may return from their impiety
It is added, to give them life; and this may seem absurd, because all hope of repentance was taken away beforehand; they are a rebellious house and a bitter one, thou wilt not profit them. (Ezekiel 2:5.) But it now seems that the fruit of his labor is promised, when mention is made of the life of those who, when admonished, shall repent. But in the first place we must remember, that some individuals always are curable, even if the whole body of the people appears desperate. For God, when he previously said that all the Israelites were rebellious and intractable, referred to the body at large, but as he is accustomed to preserve some small seed, there were a few remaining in that people who might be converted by the Prophet’s labor. This is one point. Besides, we must remember, even if no success from labor appears, yet it ought to satisfy us, just as if we had succeeded better and according to our wishes. For example, suppose our duty to be with the impious multitude, where-ever we turn our eyes contempt of God meets us, and even such wickedness, that we seem to lose all our pains. But yet, whilst the sin of the people affords us only materials for despair, we ought, nevertheless, to pursue our course, just as if the seed sown were producing fruit. Although, therefore, Ezekiel had heard from God’s mouth that the people would be rebellious, yet he ought to spend his labors for God quite as much as if he either perceived or hoped for some good result. In the meantime, what I have touched upon must be borne in mind, namely, that God always has some seed as a remnant, although the people as a whole may be lapsed into impiety.
It is now added, the impious man shall die in his impiety, but I will require his blood at thy hand. God here says, that he had called his servant under this condition, that he must render an account if any one perished through his fault. This place, although I have lately touched upon the subject, shows how dangerous an office those sustain who are called to the duty of teaching. Nothing is more precious to God than souls which he has created after his own image, and of which he is both the Redeemer and Father. Since, therefore, our souls and their salvation are so dear to God, hence we infer, how anxiously Prophets and all pastors ought to discharge their duties; for it is just as if God were to commit souls to their care, under this condition of rendering an account of each. Nor is it sufficient to admonish one and another, for unless they had endeavored to recall all from destruction to life and salvation, we hear what God here pronounces. Hence, also, Paul uses this expression, woe is me if I preach not the gospel, for a necessity is laid upon me. (1 Corinthians 9:16.) In fine, that the Prophet may be roused to undertake his office, God here announces that certain penalties hang over him, unless he diligently endeavor to recall all wanderers into the way of salvation. But, because men think that their ignorance will prove a sufficient defense, this cavil is removed, because God says they shall perish, although they were not admonished. This exception is added advisedly, that men may not flatter themselves, and throw the blame upon their pastors, if they perish in error. Although, therefore, any one has not been admonished, yet he shall die, and although the pastor shall render an account of his negligence, and shall spare himself while doing so, yet he shall have no excuse before God. Now we perceive that negligence in Prophets and pastors is allied to perfidy, when they knowingly and willingly permit souls to perish through their own silence: meanwhile, it is not surprising if God adjudges to death those who are not admonished: for their conscience is a sufficient accuser, and however they may now defend their error and ignorance, it is certain that they perish of their own accord. Afterwards it follows —
The Prophet is here taught how usefully he will lay out his labor, although he should appear to fail, for he ought to be satisfied with this alone, that God approves his efforts. Although, therefore, those who were to be brought back by holy exhortations remain obstinate, yet God’s servants ought not, through fastidiousness, to throw up their commission as if it were useless, for they free their own souls. It has been formerly said, that a necessity was imposed upon them, but if they are dumb dogs the destruction of souls will be imputed to them, but when they have executed their duty and satisfied the Almighty, ought not it to suffice them to be absolved in his opinion? We see then, that the Prophet was animated by this consolation, lest he should be weary of admonishing abandoned and obstinate men, because, if they were not profited by his teaching, yet its fruit should return to himself. That expression of Christ’s is well known, “Into whatsoever house ye enter, salute it: if the house be unworthy, your blessing shall return to yourselves.” (Matthew 10:12; Luke 10:5.) So also when the Prophets anxiously desired to reclaim the wandering sheep and to collect them within the fold, if they experienced such petulance that their labor did not profit them, yet their usefulness shall return to themselves. Now we understand the counsel of God in these words, Thou, therefore, hast freed thy soul. Here he does not put impiety only, but impious way, for the sake of explanation: unless any one had rather distinguish that impiety is the interior wickedness of the heart, but an impious way is the outward life and comprehends all actions, which is perhaps more probable, although there is no reason to object to add impious way as an explanation after the mention of impiety. Now it follows —
Here God adds another part of duty which is incumbent on all Prophets. For they are first sent to bring back into the way those who had been alienated from God, then to retain those who are already within the flock, and to lead those onward to the goal who have already entered upon the course. We see, therefore, that Prophets ought to be occupied with both duties, so that they may not only recall to their obedience to God those who wander after their own lusts, but also confirm those who are, of their own accord, teachable already, and encourage them to persevere, and prevent them from failing away. Hence, after God has spoken concerning the correction of sinners who had strayed, he now adds another member. If, says he, the righteous man be turned aside from his righteousness, and thou hast not admonished him, he shall ate, and I will require his blood at thy hand Where in effect God signifies, that Prophets are guilty, not only if they do not exhort those who have withdrawn from the right way to retrace their steps, but also if they do not retain within their duty those who have already entered upon the right course. We must then have two objects in view, to recall those who have fallen into various errors, and to take care that those within the fold should not fall away, but be strengthened in perseverance. Hence it is now added, If the righteous shall turn aside, he indeed shall die, but his blood will I require
Here it may be asked, how can the just turn aside, since there is no righteousness without the spirit of regeneration But the seed of the Spirit is incorruptible, (1 Peter 1:23,) nor can it ever happen that his grace is utterly extinguished; for the Spirit, is the earnest and seal of our adoption, for God’s adoption is without repentance, as Paul says. (Romans 11:29.) Hence it may seem absurd to say, that the just recedes and turns aside from the right way. That passage of John is well known — if they had been of us, they had remained with us, (1 John 2:19,) but because they have departed, that falling away proves sufficiently that they were never ours. But we must here mark, that righteousness is here called so:, which has only the outward appearance and not the root: for when once the spirit of regeneration begins to flourish, as I have said, it remains perpetually. And we shall sometimes see men borne along with a wonderful ardor of zeal for the worship of God, and to be urged to promote his glory beyond even the very best men; indeed we shall see this, but, says Paul, God knows those who are his own. (2 Timothy 2:19.) Hence it is not wonderful that God under the name of righteousness here commends virtues which deserve praise before men, even if they do not spring from a pure fountain. Thus we see it. often happens that the righteous are alienated, and turn aside from the right way. This passage, then, ought to stir us up to seek from God continually a spirit of perseverance, because such is our propensity to sin, that we immediately flow in different directions like water, unless God strengthen us. When therefore we see the righteous themselves depart from the way, let us lea4 and become sure of the constancy of our own faith, only let our confidence be founded on the help of the Holy Spirit and not. in ourselves. In the meantime, we see that Christ did not pronounce this passage in vain: Happy are those who persevere unto the end, (Matthew 24:13,) because many fall away in the midst of their course, or reversing their steps, turn their backs upon God.
Now we must carefully remark what follows, his righteousness shall not be remembered, because some desire to bargain with God, so that if for a time they enter upon the pursuit of piety, that may be taken into account and avail in their favor. But we hear what God pronounces, all their righteousness shall not be remembered in the case of backsliders There is no encouragement to flatter ourselves into sloth and security, when God shows that unless we continue to the end, even the goal of our career, whatever else we attain unto, it is useless. He says, as clearly as words will express it, if he shall fall away, or recede, or turn aside from his righteousness and shall commit iniquity We must mark this diligently, because we know that the very best men often fall away; but here a falling away is intended, where any one casts himself headlong on impiety: hence to commit iniquity is to give oneself up entirely to impiety; as when John says, that those who are born again of the Spirit of God do not commit sin, (1 John 3:9,) he means, are not addicted to sin, even if as yet they dwell among many infirmities and failings: as also Paul says, that sin dwells in us, but does not reign. (Romans 6:12.) Hence to commit sin is to give oneself up to sin. But God says, I will place, or for placing, or if I shall have placed, a stumblingblock before his face Punishment is here called a stumblingblock, when God demonstrates his vengeance against apostates. Although a stumblingblock may also be called actual admonition, as the phrase is; but because that is too far-fetched, I receive it simply, if the righteous shall have turned aside: but I shall have rendered the reward which he deserved, he shall die, because thou hast not admonished him: in his unrighteousness shall he die: thus I point it off, for interpreters seem to me improperly to have mingled together — he shall die, and — he shall die in his iniquity. Now that threat which we have seen is repeated, namely, that all prophets who have deserted their office are guilty before God, because their sloth differs little from perfidy: for God considered them worthy of the greatest honor, since he committed souls to them, which, as we have said, he esteems so dear and precious. But if they reject this trust committed to them, we see that they not only act injuriously to man, but are also ungrateful to God; and their sluggishness is not only united with perfidy, but also with sacrilege, because they permit Satan to snatch from God what was his own. Just as if any watchman should desert his post and betray it to the enemy; because when they see some wander and others desert, it is clear that this does not arise from ignorance, as we have said, but to the snares of Satan and lust are those exposed whom Christ has redeemed with his blood: hence as we have said, this their treachery is without excuse.
We saw in our last lecture that the office of pastors is twofold, that they collect the dispersed sheep, and retain within the fold those whom they had gathered together. For as man’s nature is inclined to many failures, it often happens that those who have been gathered into God’s sheepfold are dispersed hither and thither, through their own infirmity, unless they are strengthened. For this reason constant admonitions are necessary; and hence God asserts that those pastors will be guilty, if though their negligence the righteous fall away. He now pursues the same sentiment, but adds another clause — but if the righteous is admonished the shepherd is guiltless The whole meaning is this, because Ezekiel had been called to the office of teaching, he ought to be intent in recalling into the way those who have erred, and also in retaining others. In the meanwhile we must observe, that those who seem to have entered on the right way are daily subject to error, unless God retains them by his servants, and urges them to go forward. Now it follows —
God seems in some way to play with his Prophet, when he sends him about, and apparently changes his plan. For the duty of teaching was previously imposed upon the holy man, but now he is commanded to go abroad, and afterwards God orders him to shut himself up at home. Hence this variety seems like a change of plan, when God first commands his servant to speak, and afterwards to be silent. But it is by no means doubtful that, by this method, the authority of the Prophet was confirmed, when God evidently governed his tongue, whether for speech or silence. For although he was created a teacher, yet he restrained himself till God should suggest what he was to say. Afterwards he was ordered to be silent, and obeyed God; then when God dictated words, and commanded him to go forth in public, he began to discharge his office. Now, if he had begun to speak directly upon his appointment, too great levity might be objected against him; but when he showed his alacrity, and yet remained silent during God’s pleasure, greater weight was added to his teaching.
Now we understand to what purpose the hand of God was upon him By the hand of God his power is understood; for that exposition is cold, as I have before observed, which interprets the hand of God as the prophetic office. He perceives, then, that he was impelled by the secret virtue of God. Lastly, the hand of God is nothing else but the agitation of the Spirit, since the Prophet felt that he was not carried forward by human power, or by any arbitrary impulse, tie says, therefore, the hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he said to me arise, and go forth to the plain, that I may speak there with thee. Ezekiel could not but suppose that he was led forth to proclaim immediately God’s commands to the people. But in this opinion he was mistaken, because, as we shall see, he was brought forth into the midst that he should immediately shut himself up at home. But before he says this, he says that he went forth We see hove submissive he was whenever God sent him. And this is worthy of notice, because unless God’s calling please us, and our sense approve (80) it, we fly back, or at least put it off. But the Prophet had a just excuse, according to human judgment, for turning his back with some color of reason; for God had often addressed him already, and as yet without fruit. But now, although he is hitherto held in suspense, yet God does not pronounce what he wishes him to do; yet he goes out into the plain, because God commanded him. We are taught by this example, even if the result of things is hidden from us, that as soon as God issues any command, we must obey, even if our senses refuse, yet we ought so to obey him as to follow whenever he calls, even if our doing it seems not only in vain, but ridiculous. But God did not address him in vain when he appeared in his glory, for the appearance of the glory of God ought to satisfy a holy man, although all other things should fail. He saw the glory of God, as it were, near the river Chebar; whence we gather, that. the vision was not fixed to any definite place. God, therefore, appeared once above the bank of the river to his servant, and then in the plain. As to his saying he fell on his face, I have previously explained what he means. It must necessarily happen that the faithful, who are impressed with a serious fear of God, should dread his appearance. The impious, also, are compelled to fear God, but afterwards they grow hardened, and although they are rendered almost lifeless, the stupor which follows extinguishes all sensation. But the fear which the faithful feel from the appearance of God is joined with reverence. Thus also Ezekiel fell on his face, so as not to rise again until the Spirit raised him up, as it follows afterwards.
(80) Calvin’s Latin — “
Quia nisi nobis arrideat Dei vocatio, et sensus noster subscribat.” The French is — Pource que si la vocation de Dieu ne nons vient a gre, et que nostre sens l’approuve.
Here Ezekiel confirms what I have said: whenever the faithful are frightened at the sight of God’s glory, they cannot collect their mind unless the Lord prop them up by his strength. But this state was peculiar to the Prophet, because he ought to acknowledge himself, as it were, dead when he felt the Spirit of God living and flourishing in his mind. Therefore this tends to confirm him, because the Spirit restored him from a state of death to life: therefore he says, the Spirit came In fine, as the soul gives life to the man, so the Spirit of God is a supernatural life in man. We live after the manner of men, because a virtue is implanted in our soul which has faculties of its own. For in the soul is the seat of intelligence, and the will, and the sensations, and it diffuses its vigor through all the members. But the life which souls breathe into bodies is only earthly, but the Spirit of God gives life supernaturally. And this distinction must be held, because profane men boast only in outward appearances, as they call it — that is, in outward splendor, which is nothing else but a mask: and so with all their might they celebrate free-will and our natural faculties, because they have never tasted what that supernatural life is which is here mentioned. Ezekiel indeed was filled with the Spirit of God after a peculiar manner, that he might be fit to undertake the prophetic office, but this is common to the faithful for their spiritual life.
He says next, that he was placed upon his feet, because he was lying prostrate, nor could he, as I have said, raise a finger, unless he had been raised by divine power. Afterwards he relates the command of God, which appears to be absurd. For why did God appoint Ezekiel a Prophet unless that he should apply himself to the office of teaching? But now he orders him not only to rest, but even to he concealed at home. He uses the word “concealed” as if he had said, remain at home as a captive. If he had been a private man, he had enjoyed a free passage out, but now since God enjoins upon him the prophetic office, he is held captive. But all this is opposed to his mission. But first, God wished to prove the obedience of his servant; then he wished specially to confirm his calling more and more, for this was no common confirmation, because although the Prophet excelled in singular virtue, yet he did not leap into the midst, but rested at home, and became a voluntary captive, because it so pleased God. Hence the whole people might know that the Prophet did not proceed rashly, or by any sudden impulse, because he was often mute by the command of God. Afterwards it follows —
Now God explains the reason why he wishes the Prophet to cease for a time, and to remain at home as if dumb. They have placed, said he, ropes upon thee with which they may bind thee. The opinion of those who take the passage metaphorically is not unsuitable, as if it had been said, the perverseness of the people hinders Ezekiel in the discharge of his duty, just as if he had been bound with ropes.
To make this clearer, we may call to mind what Paul says to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 6:11,) namely, that he was held in bondage, because his teaching could not find access to them, nor penetrate to their souls. “Our mouth,” says he, “is open towards you, O Corinthians! Our heart is enlarged towards you:” that is, as far as lieth in me, I am prepared faithfully to spend my labors upon you: but your bowels are straitened. Since therefore men, by their own depravity, hinder the course of doctrine, by reducing the servants of God to straits, it is quite consistent to represent the malice of those who are not teachable to be like ropes by which faithful teachers are bound, so that they cannot proceed freely in the course of their duty. If any one, however, prefers taking what is here said strictly and literally, the sentence must thus be understood, that the Israelites were not as yet prepared for instruction, because if the Prophet shall utter God’s commands immediately, they would be like the furious who would lay hands upon him and bind him with ropes. This sense also is very appropriate, and hence we may choose freely between them. But as to the general purport, God’s intention is by no means obscure, namely, that the Prophet ought not to take it ill, if he be for a time apparently useless without obtaining either hearers or fit disciples. We see then that this is said for the Prophet’s comfort, that he should not murmur or take it ill that God wishes him ‘to remain shut up at home; because the fit time had not yet come, as if it had been said — “If you hasten now, you will approach furious men who will by and bye rush against you and bind you with ropes. Because, therefore, you see them not yet prepared for learning, wait a while until I prepare their ears for you, that they may attend to you; or at least, that they may be rendered the more excuseless, I will send thee; and meanwhile, although they are as yet perverse, yet they cannot rise violently against thee, but whether they will or not, they shall be compelled to hear the commands which proceed from my mouth.” And he afterwards confirms this at length, as we shall see.
But he now adds, I will fix thy tongue to thy palate — or I will make thy tongue adhere to thy palate — so that thou shalt not be to them a reprover, because they are a rebellious house What God ascribed to the Israelites he now transfers to himself. He had said, They will bind thee with ropes: he now says, I will make thy tongue cleave to thy palate But these two things are easily reconciled, because in truth the Israelites rejected prophecies through their intemperance, and God thus deprived them of this benefit, because he saw they were unworthy of it. But this place shows that it is a sign of God’s vengeance, when all prophecies cease, and opportunity for hearing is taken away. For as God shines upon us by his instruction, and we have thereby a certain pledge of his fatherly grace and favor, so also when instruction is removed, it is just as if God hid his face, nay, even turned his back upon us. We must consider, therefore, what is here said — because the house of Israel was rebellious: hence the Prophet was dumb, and refrained from teaching those impious ones. God therefore desists, when he sees that he is dealing with the stupid and deaf; but. not on the first occasion of their wearying him, because he rather contends with man’s ingratitude, and never ceases, as we see in Jeremiah, to rise in the morning, and to keep watch even while it is yet night; (Jeremiah 7:2; Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 35:14; Psalms 74:9;) he never ceases to call to himself even those who are slow and sluggish, nay, even the utterly rebellious: but at length, when he sees that he does not succeed by long-suffering, he takes away his instruction, as we have said. And therefore the Church complains that it is destitute of Prophets, and places that slaughter among the extreme signs of God’s anger: “We do not see our signs, and Prophets do not appear among us. ” In this way they understand that they are alienated from God, and that no consolation remains to them, when God does not give them any taste of his goodness by Prophets. The ungodly indeed wish this, because nothing is more troublesome to them than to hear God continually exclaiming. Hence, as far as they can, they seek hiding-places, and think nothing better for themselves than to be torpid amidst their vices, and to be deaf to every voice of reproach; but yet nothing is more destructive to them, because God offers himself as a physician who cures our diseases, while he exhorts us to wisdom. But when he is silent, he deserts us as if abandoned to de-st, ruction, and hence I said that nothing is more destructive than when no reproach sounds in our ears, but we are sweetly flattered, because in this way Satan deprives us of our senses, and this is his final poisoning, when he so soothes us with his blandishments, that all reproach which may alarm our security altogether ceases. Now it follows: —
After a silence, God shows by what commands he wishes to instruct his servant, namely, by such as would exasperate the people, as we have formerly seen. His embassy therefore was hateful, since the Prophet begins with this insult — “If ye wish to hear, hear; but if not, I am not concerned.” Those who are sent as ambassadors are usually ordered to try whether they can conciliate, by courteous and friendly discourse, those with whom they have to deal. But God here follows a method completely the contrary. For what is the meaning of these words, He who hears, let him hear: he who desists, let him, desist? namely, that the Israelites may understand that the Prophet was sent to them, not because there was any hope of their becoming wise again, since they had borne witness by experiments sufficiently numerous that they were altogether desperate: but the Lord sends the Prophet, that he may strike and wound them further, and at length inflict a deadly blow. Now, therefore, we see that confirmed which the Prophet previously brought forward, that the office of teaching was enjoined upon him, not because his labor would be useful and fruitful with reference to the common people, but that he might inflame the Israelites to madness, if they were unwilling to grow wise again, that he might break them if they would not bend, and if they rejected him, that he should accuse them before God, who would be their judge, and in the meanwhile the course of Prophetic teaching would be free, however pertinaciously they might resist it. Now we understand the intention of the Prophet. Hence also we collect what I have lately touched upon: that God deals with the reprobate in various ways. Sometimes he makes it doubtful whether they be curable, and destines Prophets for them, who should exhort them to repentance. But when he sees them in their ingratitude burying all the light, then he deprives them of all doctrine; afterwards it shines forth again: at length other and denser darkness succeeds: therefore let us hasten, as long as the doctrine of salvation shines upon us, lest God darken all our minds and senses, and deprive us of that singular benefit, when the image of his paternal favor is engraven on us, as we have said. Let us go on —