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Some of the elders of the Jewish community in exile came to visit Ezekiel. While these men sat with the prophet, a word from the Lord came to him.
A warning to the elders of God’s people 14:1-5
4. The effect of false prophets on Israel’s leaders 14:1-11
This prophecy carries on the thought of the one in chapter 13 about false prophets. Those who resorted to false prophets would share their fate, namely, judgment by God.
"Idolatry was the standard method of religion in ancient times. Ancient peoples believed that any depiction of a thing somehow partook of the essence of that thing, no matter how crude or artificial the depiction might be. A picture of a tree contained part of the essence of the tree; a statue of a god contained part of the essence of that god. Where that statue was, the god was of necessity at least partly present. Anything offered to a god’s statue was offered directly to the god." [Note: Ibid., p. 126.]
This attitude persists even today in some parts of the world as seen, for example, in some people’s unwillingness to allow someone else to photograph them. They believe that the image of themselves on the photograph is a part of their essence that the taking of a photo removes from them.
The Lord revealed to His servant that these elders (along with the elders in Jerusalem, cf. Ezekiel 8:7-12) had been nursing idolatry in their hearts. The word translated "idols" in this passage is gillulim, Ezekiel’s favorite term for idols. It means pellets of dung literally (cf. Ezekiel 6:4-6; Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 6:13; et al.). These elders had put right in front of them the very thing that caused them to stumble in sin. That is, instead of trying to avoid temptation (cf. 2 Timothy 2:22) they cherished the worship of other deities. In view of what follows, this appears to have included seeking false prophets and prophetesses to obtain guidance (Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 14:7; Ezekiel 14:9; cf. ch. 13). In the following verses it becomes clear that the prophets these elders consulted were false prophets (cf. Ezekiel 14:9-10). Yahweh asked rhetorically whether He should respond to their requests in view of their trust in other gods (cf. Psalms 66:18; 1 Kings 18:21; James 1:8).
"This verse is important for those who come to Scripture seeking guidance. No true direction can be given to those who have erected idols in their hearts [cf. Psalms 66:18]." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 805.]
Ezekiel was to tell these elders a message from the Lord. The Lord promised that any person in Israel, not just these elders, who was an idolater at heart and set a stumbling block in his own path by consulting a false prophet for divine guidance would receive an answer from Yahweh, not from the idol. That answer would come in the form of divine judgment, not words (cf. Ezekiel 14:7-10). The judgment of God on those who pursued idolatry was allowing them to continue in it until it destroyed them (cf. Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 20:5-6; Deuteronomy 28:37; Hosea 4:17; Romans 1:18-32; 2 Thessalonians 2:11).
"This happens only to those who willingly take deceit into their hearts." [Note: Feinberg, p. 80.]
Taylor titled this section "Condemnation of those who are set on idolatry." [Note: Taylor, p. 125.] It is not the practice of these idolaters that drew the judgment of God, as bad as that was, but their commitment to it that drew the punishment explained here. Yahweh would judge these elders because of the multitude of His people’s idols and to bring their hearts back to Himself. The desire of these elders for a word from the Lord was only hypocritical; they wanted to appear pious but were really idolaters at heart.
The Lord called His people to change their minds (repent, Heb. shub), turn away from the idols in their hearts, and abandon them.
A warning to all God’s people 14:6-11
Anyone in Israel, including immigrants (Heb. ger, sojourners, resident aliens), who did not repent but continued to do what these elders had done and approached a false prophet for a message would receive judgment from the Lord. Note the emphasis on personal responsibility for sin throughout this passage (cf. Ezekiel 14:4). The Lord would oppose all such people making them object lessons to others of what happens when God’s people pursue idolatry. He would put them to death (cf. Leviticus 17:4; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:14; et al.). Then His people would know that He was God.
"In the Book of Ezekiel Israel’s idolatry was seen as the major cause for God’s judgment on His people." [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," pp. 1252-53.]
If the idolater prevailed on the false prophet to speak, it was Yahweh in His sovereignty who allowed that prophet to speak (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 1 Kings 22:23). [Note: See Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Does God Deceive?" Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):23-25.]
"Such a statement is only intelligible when we remember that ancient habits of thought [frequently] overlooked secondary causes, and attributed events directly to the action of God." [Note: Cooke, p. 151.]
The Lord would also judge the false prophet with death.
Both the idolatrous Israelite and the false prophet would bear punishment for their sins, but this would be punishment with a purpose. Then the rest of God’s people might learn and not apostatize and defile themselves with transgressions but enjoy an intimate relationship with Yahweh and He with them (cf. Ezekiel 11:20; Ezekiel 37:28; Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 26:16; Jeremiah 7:23; Jeremiah 31:33).
The Lord spoke to Ezekiel again. He revealed that Jerusalem’s great sins had made deliverance from divine punishment impossible. Evidently some of the exiled Jews were remembering God’s promise to Abraham that He would deliver Sodom if there were enough righteous people in it (Genesis 18:22-33). Surely, they thought, there were enough righteous people in Jerusalem that God would not destroy it.
"This attitude is nothing less than using the saints as an insurance policy to cover the sinners. It has been a human failing in every generation. A community is a trifle embarrassed to have a saint among its number, but it derives a sense of security from his presence, rather like the possession of a religious lucky charm. A family with no pretensions to spirituality is often glad to have a minister of religion in one of its branches, however far removed." [Note: Taylor, p. 128.]
When sin had gone so far that Yahweh stretched out His hand in severe judgment by famine, even the righteousness of a Noah, a Daniel, and a Job could not save the nation. Noah was the only righteous man of his day, but his righteousness did not avert God’s judgment on the rest of humanity. Daniel was righteous, but his presence in Jerusalem had not precluded the deportation of many Judahites. Job’s righteousness could not even prevent judgment that touched his family members and possessions. All three men were righteous men who lived amidst unrighteousness-Noah, a pre-Israelite, Daniel, an Israelite now living in Gentile Babylon, and Job, a non-Israelite. Some scholars believed the Daniel in view was not the Daniel of the Book of Daniel, Ezekiel’s contemporary, but a character in a Canaanite epic. [Note: E.g., ibid., p. 129; Stuart, p. 130; and Allen, p. 218.] Most conservative commentators have rejected this view. [Note: For a rebuttal of it, see Cooper, pp. 163-64.] If these three men lived in Jerusalem, the Lord would deliver them for their own righteousness, but He would deliver no others for their sake. God had, in fact, delivered Daniel from the coming destruction of Jerusalem by removing him safely to Babylon. God would have spared Sodom if only 10 righteous people lived there (Genesis 18:33), but He would not spare Jerusalem if three of the most righteous people in history lived there. Jerusalem’s guilt was greater than Sodom’s.
"Noah, Job, and Daniel-each one of them faces a distinct challenge that demands a profound level of faith. The issues that confronted them: faith in the word of God amid prevailing scientific skepticism, faith in God in spite of acute suffering; faith in God displayed in a situation of sophisticated pluralism, choosing to accept death rather than dishonor God." [Note: Jo Ann Davidson, "’Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job’ (Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:20)-Why These Three?" Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12:2 (Autumn 2001):143-44.]
"All of them were tested and proved faithful, Noah by the Flood, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Job by painful trials from Satan." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 188.]
The Lord said that this principle of judgment applied to "a country" (Ezekiel 14:13), any country that acted treacherously against the Lord.
"It probably is sufficient simply to note that the hypothetical situation has both a general character (note that Noah, Daniel, and Job are all associated with non-Israelite contexts) and a specific application to Israel. The point of the passage is that Israel was under a divine judgment that was irreversible in its very nature." [Note: Cooper, p. 162.]
5. The need of personal righteousness for deliverance 14:12-23
This prophecy continues the emphasis on judgment from the previous one and stresses the irrevocability of Jerusalem’s destruction (cf. Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 15:1-4).
If God’s judgment by wild beasts resulted in the depopulation of the land, including the children (cf. Leviticus 26:22; Deuteronomy 32:24), the righteousness of Noah (cf. Genesis 6:9), Daniel (cf. Daniel 6:4-5; Daniel 6:22), and Job (cf. Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Job 2:3) would not deliver even their own family members from divine judgment. God would spare just these men alone. God had spared Noah’s family for his sake (Genesis 6:18), and he had spared Daniel’s friends for his sake (Daniel 1:6-20; Daniel 2:17-18; Daniel 3) and Job’s friends for his sake (Job 42:7-10), but he had not spared Job’s children. Probably the order of these names is climactic. It is not chronological.
The presence of these three men would not save the city if the Lord brought an invading army against it (Ezekiel 14:17-18). The same would be true if God judged His people with disease, the effect of siege warfare (Ezekiel 14:19-20; cf. Revelation 6:1-8). The Lord confirmed the certainty of each of the last three forms of judgment with His oath (Ezekiel 14:16; Ezekiel 14:18; Ezekiel 14:20).
The Lord promised to send judgment by these four agents against Jerusalem: war, famine, wild animals, and disease (cf. Leviticus 26:22-26). Four agents of divine judgment would overcome even the influence of three extremely righteous individuals, super-saints.
"The number four conveys the idea of completeness with an allusion to the four quarters of the earth. The logic is this: If there would be no sparing in one judgment, how much more certain would the universal judgment be in the case of four devastating judgments?" [Note: Feinberg, p. 82. Cf. Revelation 6:1-8.]
In spite of this severe judgment on Jerusalem, some of the inhabitants would survive and would join the Jews already in exile (i.e., a remnant, but this time an apostate remnant, cf. Jeremiah 44:27-30; Amos 9:8; Amos 9:11-15). The formerly exiled Jews would see their conduct and actions (Heb. ’alilah, evil actions) and feel some comfort in view of the calamity that had overtaken Jerusalem. They would then see that what the Lord had done to Jerusalem was fair because these Jerusalemites’ actions deserved judgment (cf. Genesis 18:25). They would also see that God’s preservation of some of them was pure grace.
The presence of godly people living in an ungodly society will not necessarily preclude divine judgment on that society. There must be repentance by many people in that society for God to withhold judgment.
"A vicarious deliverance from individual sin, however, is impossible, except for the singular eternal vicarious deliverance provided by Jesus the Messiah in his substitutionary death for all sins (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He alone can deliver others because of his death for their sin and his resurrection from the dead." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 807.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent