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3. The idolatrous rulers of Judah ch. 22
The Lord now clarified one of the primary reasons for the sword that was fast approaching Jerusalem and Judah. This reason was the sins of the present generation of Judahites, especially its leaders. In chapter 20 the prophet reviewed the guilt of the Israelites throughout their history, but in chapter 22 he exposed the guilt of the present generation of Judahites.
Three messages of judgment in this chapter indict the Judahites. In all three Ezekiel acted as a prosecutor presenting the evidence of Judah’s guilt, like a bill of indictments. Judah’s covenant violations were of two broad types: sins against God (spiritual apostasies) and sins against people (social injustices). The people had broken both parts of the Decalog as well as other more specific covenant commands.
Another message came from the Lord instructing Ezekiel to remind the residents of the bloody city of Jerusalem about all their abominations (cf. Ezekiel 20:4). A list of specific sins was necessary for him to pronounce judgment on them. Jerusalem was bloody because of all the blood its residents had shed, the blood of innocent people (cf. Nahum 3:1).
Shedding blood was Jerusalem’s primary offense, according to this prophecy (cf. Ezekiel 22:3-4; Ezekiel 22:6; Ezekiel 22:9; Ezekiel 22:12-13), and it had its roots in idolatry. The pagan religious practices that God’s people had adopted did not curb their abuse of other people, much less encourage altruistic living. Idolatry even promoted the taking of other people’s lives through human sacrifice. Whenever people disregard the revealed will of God, crimes of violence and bloodshed follow.
"Seven times in this prophecy the word ’blood’ or ’bloodshed’ (Hebrew, dam and damim) occur as characterizing the crimes against God’s covenant that had been occurring routinely in Jerusalem. These words have a special idiomatic meaning in Hebrew that their usual translation does not entirely convey in English. They connote ’harm’ or ’hurt,’ and that is what much of Ezekiel 22:1-16 is about: the harm or hurt done by people in power in Jerusalem (and by implication elsewhere in Judah) to those who have no power, such as the poor, the sick, the uneducated, etc. By extension, ’blood’ and bloodshed’ also come to mean in Hebrew anything ’violent’ or just simply ’vile,’ even if it does not actually involve causing physical harm to another person." [Note: Stuart, p. 209.]
Covenant unfaithfulness 22:1-16
Yahweh regarded Jerusalem as a city that shed blood in its midst and crafted defiling idols contrary to her own interests. For these sins her time of judgment would come. She had brought judgment on herself. Yahweh would also make her a reproach and a source of mockery among nations near and far because of her bad reputation for turmoil (cf. Romans 2:24). Here the general population of Jerusalem is in view.
"When a righteous people follow the world’s ways, as Judah had done, the world ends up laughing at her." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 847.]
In Ezekiel 22:6-12 Judah’s rulers are the main focus of indictment. The rulers of Israel had been guilty of shedding blood, each in his own sphere of authority, through the misuse of power (cf. Exodus 20:13). Evidently judicial murders were common (cf. 2 Kings 21:16; 2 Kings 24:4) as were child sacrifice (Ezekiel 16:21; Ezekiel 20:26; Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 23:37) and acts of personal violence.
Judah’s leaders had undermined parental authority (cf. Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3). When children stop respecting their parents, it is not long before citizens stop respecting their rulers. They had taken advantage of the helpless-aliens, orphans, and widows-people particularly in need of protection by those in positions of power (cf. Exodus 22:21-24; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 24:17).
"The real test of any society is . . . how it treats the people with no voice and no power." [Note: D. Lane, The Cloud and the Silver Lining, p. 88.]
The rulers had also despised what God considered holy and had failed to observe the Sabbath Days (cf. Exodus 20:8; Leviticus 19:3). Some of them had resorted to slander to get their way and to premeditated murder (cf. Leviticus 19:16). Jerusalem’s leaders had also worshipped idols at mountain shrines (cf. Deuteronomy 12:1-2; Deuteronomy 16:21-22) and practiced sexual sins in connection with their idolatry (cf. Leviticus 18:6-23; Leviticus 20:10-21).
"Ritual sex was another great attraction of idolatry. Most of the ancient Near Easterners believed that all things that came into being were born into being. This was a major tenet of their belief system. They believed that not only animals were born, but also plants. (This is the reason that they ’sowed their field with two kind of seed,’ i.e., male and female seed as they thought of it; see Leviticus 19:19.) What was born into being started, they believed, with sex on the part of the gods-specifically Baal and Asherah, the god and goddess of fertility according to the Canaanites. They also thought that if a person bringing an offering to Baal and/or Asherah would have ritual sex with a prostitute at the shrine as part of worship (!) this would help stimulate the divine powers of nature to have sex, and thus more animals and crops would be born, and the agriculture would flourish. Outlandish as this sounds to us, it was the pinnacle of theology among the Canaanites-and was what the Israelites readily accepted at Baal-Peor." [Note: Stuart, pp. 181-82.]
Sexual impurity, adultery outside and inside the family, and incest all occurred in Jerusalem (cf. Leviticus 18:7-8; Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:11; Leviticus 20:18; Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20). Moral purity had broken down completely.
Taking bribes to kill people, taking interest and making a profit at the expense of a fellow Israelite, and oppressing a neighbor for personal gain also took place there (cf. Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:10-12; Deuteronomy 27:25). At the heart of all this, the Jerusalemites had forgotten about Yahweh. This was the root problem, and the Lord presented it as the last nail in Jerusalem’s coffin.
"Since God is at the center of all moral relations, all social and moral rights and proprieties are secure only when God is recognized in His sovereign rule." [Note: Feinberg, p. 127.]
The financial corruption and physical violence that marked Jerusalem disturbed God so greatly that He pictured Himself as striking His palm with His fist (an anthropomorphism). The hearts of the people would not be able to bear up under His coming judgment of these sins nor would they be able to maintain their physical strength.
The Lord promised (1) to scatter the people of Jerusalem among the other nations and to disperse them in other lands. He would (2) refine their sinful practices away. Some commentators claimed that after the exile idolatry was no longer a temptation for the Israelites. [Note: E.g., Cooper, p. 231; and Fisch, p. 155.] They would (3) not be able to maintain their holiness in exile, and the nations would regard them as unclean. Then they would know that Yahweh was the only true God. This was His primary purpose in judging them.
The Lord also compared the present Judahites to the base metals (lead, sulfur, and other minerals) that separate from silver in the refining process. He planned to gather them in Jerusalem, His crucible, and subject them to a trial by fire, as refiners do to extract any remaining silver from the dross (cf. Isaiah 1:22-25; Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 6:27-30; Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2-4). [Note: See Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 38, for a description of the smelting process.] Punishment for sin involves three major things: retribution, correction, and purification. [Note: Stuart, p. 212.] Here purification is in view.
Coming refining 22:17-22
Accusation marks the preceding oracle, and judgment marks this one.
God’s wrath would be the fire that He would blow on them, and they would melt, as when a silversmith refines silver (cf. 2 Peter 3:9-14; Revelation 20:15). They would then know that Yahweh had judged them.
The Babylonians really did burn the city, so this turned out to be a literal fire as well as a metaphorical one.
Using another figure, Ezekiel was to announce that Judah was a land that had not been cleansed with rain. God had withheld rain as punishment for covenant disobedience (cf. Deuteronomy 28:24). Judah’s moral uncleanness had accumulated because it had not benefited from God’s periodic cleansing of the land through its leadership. It would receive no "rain" of blessing in the day when God poured out His indignation on the city (in 586 B.C.).
Corrupt leaders 22:23-31
"Often the prophets are inspired to compose attacks on the leadership of Israelite society. The reason for this phenomenon is clear enough: the nation could never have become sufficiently corrupt to merit the outpouring of God’s destructive wrath unless the societal leadership had helped the process along." [Note: Ibid., p. 216.]
The Lord proceeded to indict three categories of leaders in Judah (cf. Zephaniah 3:3-4). False prophets had conspired to take advantage of the people like a wild lion tears its prey. Some translations have "princes" instead of "prophets," following the Septuagint, but the Hebrew word is nebi’eyha, "her prophets." Evidently the change was made to distinguish four groups of leaders rather than repeating reference to the prophets (Ezekiel 22:28) and because princes were in position to practice the sins mentioned. These leaders had eaten up people’s lives and had stolen their possessions. They had even been responsible for the deaths of many men and for many women becoming widows. They probably slew the men by assuring them that if they went into battle against the Babylonians they would succeed, and following this advice the men died in battle leaving many widows in the land. Jeremiah, on the other hand, had counseled submission to the Babylonians.
The priests had also abused the Mosaic Law and had made common what should have been set apart to the Lord. They had treated holy and profane things the same, and they had failed to teach the people the difference between clean and unclean things that the law distinguished. They had made the holy city and the holy land anything but holy. Furthermore they did not observe the Sabbath. In short, they did not hallow the name of the Lord (cf. Hosea 4:6; Malachi 2:6-8).
Judah’s princes (officials, nobles, Heb. sarim) also abused the people to get what the people had. They behaved like wild wolves. The false prophets evidently assisted the nobles in their wickedness by saying in the name of the Lord that what the officials were doing was right.
"By a terrible Jekyll and Hyde transformation the civil authorities who should have been shepherds with the welfare of their flock at heart changed into wild beasts preying on the sheep (cf. Ezekiel 34:8)." [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 39.]
The people (ordinary citizens) also oppressed one another and stole from each other. They took advantage of the poor, the needy, and travelers illegally.
"One hardly could read such a list of crimes that so thoroughly pervaded society of Ezekiel’s day without seeing the parallel to the Western world at the close of the twentieth century. The latter years of this century have been marked by decadence, moral and spiritual decay, loss of integrity, violence, and injustices that mirror what Ezekiel must have witnessed. Such a crisis calls for renewed spiritual and moral leadership that is the by-product of genuine spiritual renewal." [Note: Cooper, p. 223. For further development of this theme, see Ted W. Engstrom, Integrity, pp. 26-27; Charles Colson, Against the Night, pp. 35-69; and Stuart Briscoe, All Things Weird and Wonderful, p. 112.]
Yahweh had looked for one of the Judahites who would lead a reformation that would defend the people from God’s judgment, but He could not find anyone. [Note: See D. Edmond Hiebert, Working with God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, pp. 99-108.] Building up the wall and standing in the gap formed by a breach in the wall were appropriate figures for fortifying the people in their hour of need.
In chapter 14 the Lord said that no righteous person could deliver the nation from judgment by his own righteousness, not even Noah, Daniel, or Job. Here He said that He could find no one who could lead the people back to God.
"Such a statement is hyperbole, purposeful exaggeration for effect. It hardly means that no one at all in Jerusalem in the early 580s was righteous. . . . It means rather that there were so few among the people who were righteous that the net effect was as if no one at all cared about God’s Will." [Note: Stuart, p. 218.]
Obviously there were prophets who were faithful to the Lord in Judah during its last days, like Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Evidently the Lord did not mean that He was without any faithful representatives but that even these men were ineffective in stemming the tide of ungodliness. They did not fail because they were deficient but because the people were so thoroughly defiant. No one could return them to following the Mosaic Covenant faithfully as, for example, Hezekiah had done earlier and as Josiah had tried to do. Furthermore, Jeremiah and his fellow prophets lacked the political authority to lead Judah back from the brink of disaster.
Moses had been a "gap man" in his day (Exodus 32:11; cf. Genesis 20:7). He had turned aside the Lord’s wrath from the Israelites with His intercessory prayers. God responded to Moses’ pleas for mercy because the people were still malleable enough to repent. He did not respond to Jeremiah’s prayers for mercy because the Judahites were now hardened in opposition to His will (Jeremiah 7:16-17; Jeremiah 14:11-12).
Therefore the Lord would send judgment like a flood and like a fire. He would bring the evil that they had done back on the heads of His violent and idolatrous people. The prophetic perfect tense in Hebrew describes the future action as already past to stress its certainty.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 22". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26