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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 12

The Second Cycle—Chapters 8-19

THE second cycle (ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14) is separated from the first by an interval of a year and two months. The date is here the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin, the sixth month, the fifth day, about five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A vision here also forms the introduction, a song the close in ch. Ezekiel 19, in the midst of prophetic discourses that elucidate the vision, obviate objections, and form a bridge between it and the mind. The historical starting-point and the tendency also are similar. The prophet here also strives against the political dreams, represents the destruction as inevitable, and points to repentance as the only way of safety.

The vision is here far more comprehensive than in the first cycle. It occupies four whole chapters. It gives a complete representation of the sins of the people; and here accordingly is unfolded what in the first vision is only indicated concerning the punishment. Common to both visions is the delineation of the theophany itself, and in particular the description of the cherubim. The former delineation is supplemented by that here given only in details.

Ch. Ezekiel 8 contains the exposition of the guilt—the delineation of the four abominations of Jerusalem; ch. Ezekiel 9, the first punishment—Jerusalem filled with dead bodies; ch. Ezekiel 10, the second punishment—Jerusalem burnt; ch. Ezekiel 11:1-12, the third—God’s vengeance follows the survivors of the catastrophe. The close consists of comfort for the captives, who are already in exile with Ezekiel, and on whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem proudly look down; of these will God Himself take care, after the total disappointment of all human hopes (vers. Ezekiel 11:13-21). The prophet then sees still (vers. Ezekiel 11:22-23) how the glory of the Lord leaves the temple; and then the ecstasy comes to an end (vers. Ezekiel 11:21, Ezekiel 11:25).

Verses 1-16

Ezekiel 12. Now begin the amplifications, the marginal notes, so to speak, on the great text in ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 11:25, which extend to ch. Ezekiel 19, and there terminate in a song, corresponding to the song in the first group in ch. Ezekiel 7. The approaching catastrophe of Jerusalem forms the central point throughout. The prophet is inexhaustible in the announcement of this, as the false patriotism was inexhaustible in its announcements of salvation.

In ch. Ezekiel 12:1-16, the lamentable fate which will overtake the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the king at their head; in Ezekiel 12:17-20, the desolation of the land; in Ezekiel 12:21-28, the immediate fulfilment of the threat of punishment. Ezekiel 12:1-16 are, by the repeated sentence, “And the word of the Lord came unto me,” divided into two parts, in the first of which we have the order for the symbolic action and its execution; in the second, Ezekiel 12:8 f., the interpretation.

Ezekiel 12:1. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house; who have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house. 3. And thou, son of man, make thee baggage of the emigrant, and remove by day before their eyes, and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place before their eyes; it may be they will consider, for they are a house of rebellion. 4. And thou shalt bring forth thy baggage, as baggage of the emigrant, by day in their eyes; and thou shalt depart at even in their sight, like the removals of the emigrant. 5. In their sight dig for thee through the wall, and carry out the baggage thereby. 6. In their eyes shalt thou bear upon thy shoulder, in the dark shalt thou carry it forth: thou shalt cover thy face, and thou shalt not see the land; for I have set thee for a sign to the house of Israel. 7. And I did so, as I was commanded: I brought forth my baggage by day, as baggage of the emigrant, and in the evening I digged through the wall with my hand: I brought it forth in the dark; I bare on my shoulder in their eyes.

The people, according to Ezekiel 12:2-3, are blinded by their political passions: the word of Moses ( Deuteronomy 29:3), “And the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear” (Michaelis: “God gave not, because ye would not” ( Matthew 23:37)), has been verified anew in them. Therefore must the truth be set before their eyes in rough, palpable, overpowering reality, if it is to find entrance to their minds, and succeed in emancipating them from those dreams of the future which are preventing their repentance. The central figure among these is the king at Jerusalem, with whom, therefore, the palpable exhibition of the real future has chiefly to do. The repeated “before their eyes,” in Ezekiel 12:3, stands in relation with the sentence, “who have eyes, and see not,” in Ezekiel 12:2. The greater the weakness of their eyes, the more conspicuous must be the exhibition of the truth. “For they are a rebellious house:” so that the most powerful means of conviction are needed. The people proved themselves to be a rebellious house by this, that they could dream of salvation for Jerusalem, although their sins, calling down the divine vengeance, according to the infallible law of God, lay open to the day, and the Holy Spirit of God had announced by Jeremiah this vengeance in the most emphatic and persistent manner. To be compared is the word of Stephen to the Jews in Acts 7:51, “Ye stiffnecked, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” The symbolic action belongs here also, no doubt, to the department of the internal. The presumption is in favour of this in Ezekiel still more than in the other prophets (comp. on ch. Ezekiel 4). In the small circle of his immediate auditory, the chief thing was at all events the written description, and for this it was of no consequence whether the action were external or not. The remark, that “a sign that was not performed would have had no meaning,” does not apply, as the plastic visibility to which alone it refers remains even in the internal conception: the design is to throw into the imagination a reality instead of an empty figure of the future. For the internal speaks the analogy of the symbolic action in Ezekiel 12:16-20, which was scarcely to be exhibited in an outward form. Of importance is, further, Ezekiel 12:7. If we assume an external procedure, the wall there can only be the city wall of Tel-abib. Even if this place had a wall, yet it was certainly so built, that a single individual could not at once break a hole of the size of a man. The difficulty is increased by this, that the prophet accomplished the thing with the bare hand, without tools, to avoid a disturbance, which might call the attention of the enemy. Exile in particular is set forth in the symbolic threat of punishment to Jerusalem, because it is designed to reconcile the exiles with their condition, who, as we learn from Jeremiah 29, envied their brethren remaining at home, and were excited by hopes of an early return, and plans for its accomplishment. If the exile of Jerusalem is at hand, the envy ceases, the occasion for political intrigues vanishes: they will be contented with their lot, and direct their whole effort to be reconciled with God. The prophet represents, in the symbolic action, first in general the destiny of the people in Jerusalem—the exile of all those who were not already swept away by the sword, famine, or pestilence ( Ezekiel 12:11, Ezekiel 12:16); then specially the destiny of the king, who will endeavour to escape by night from Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 12:12). This double-sidedness of the symbolic action can only be learned from the interpretation, beginning with Ezekiel 12:8, which moreover. in the same manner as the interpretation of the parables of the Lord in the New Testament is at the same time a reconstruction, imparts several details which did not appear in the symbolic action, as the frustration of the king’s flight, his capture, his being blinded, and carried to Babylon. “The baggage of the emigrant” [62] is the equipment which is made by one who enters on a journey never to return. With the baggage the prophet, according to Ezekiel 12:4, departs by day, and brings it to the wall, for so far all might be public. What took place within the city the enemy saw not: when the darkness comes on, he breaks a hole through the wall, and carries the baggage through it. “Like the removals of the emigrant:” in the costume and with the manner of emigrants. Kimchi, “with a bag on the shoulder and a staff in the hand;” others, “sad and with drooping head.” Both are to be combined. By the wall, in Ezekiel 12:5, can only be understood the wall of the city, not that of the house. The prophet has already left the house with the baggage: he breaks through the city wall only in the evening, because the enemy are beyond it, whose prying eyes he can only escape in the dark. The wall in Ezekiel 12:12 means the city wall. According to Ezekiel 12:6, the prophet is to cover his face. The face is covered either not to be seen ( 2 Samuel 15:30; Jeremiah 14:3), or not to see, to avoid a painful sight, here that of the beloved native land. The latter holds here and in Ezekiel 12:12, where this end comes out still more clearly. To the expression, “Thou shalt cover thy face, and shalt not see the land”—that is, that thou mayest not see the land—corresponds Jeremiah 9:19, “We are greatly confounded, for we have forsaken the land.” “I have set thee for a wonder to the house of Israel:” that which was extraordinary, exciting wonder in the conduct of the prophet, which could not be explained from his personal relations, led them to seek the key in the relations of the people. The wonder is, as such, at the same time a sign.

[62] נולה , the emigrant, is the ideal unification of the emigrants.

Ezekiel 12:8-16. The interpretation now follows in the second paragraph. Ezekiel 12:8. And in the morning came the word of the Lord unto me, saying, 9. Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said unto thee, What doest thou? 10. Say unto them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, The prince is this burden on Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel that are among them. 11. Say, I am your wonder: as I have done, so shall it be done unto them; as exiles they shall go into captivity. 12. And the prince who is among them shall bear upon the shoulder in the dark, and shall go out: [63] they shall break through the wall to carry out (the baggage) thereby: he shall cover his face, that he see not the land with his eye. 13. And I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans, and he shall not see it, and there he shall die. 14. And all his help round about him, and all his squadrons, I will scatter to every wind, and a sword I will draw oat after them. 15. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them in the countries. 16. And of them I will leave men of number (few) from the sword, from the famine and from the pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen whither they come; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

[63] The ויצא serves to give prominence to the dark moment.

The symbolic action announcing misfortune applies, according to Ezekiel 12:10, first to the prince in Jerusalem, and then to the inhabitants, and prefigures the conduct and the fortune of both. Burden: this is a prophetical expression, especially consecrated by Isaiah in his ten burdens (ch. Isaiah 13:1 to Isaiah 23:18), to express a threatening message, and the misfortune itself announced therein. The prince in Jerusalem is himself the burden: prince and burden, as it were, coincide; because the burden is of a crushing character, the prince wholly falls into misfortune, which leaves nothing of him remaining. The Hebrew name of the prince signifies one on whom something is laid, who is burdened. The burden is the government, which he bears, as it were, on his shoulder ( Isaiah 6:6). Here the prince, instead of the usual burden, receives another far more oppressive: he is burdened with the load of misfortune. Along with the king is named, as bearer of the burden, “all the house of Israel that are among them.” [64] This addition was necessary, inasmuch as there was another house of Israel still (ch. Ezekiel 11:15). Here the house of Israel came into account only in so far as it existed among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Ezekiel 12:11 carries out first the second part of Ezekiel 12:10—unfolds the prophetic import of the symbol in reference to the whole people. Ezekiel 12:12 then returns to the chief object, the prince. The latter will be still in a third sense one burdened; he will bear his baggage in the night. And shall any hope be placed on such a poor baggage-bearer! His own land he may not ( Ezekiel 12:13) see in the grief of departure, and the heathen land he cannot see although he comes to it. The latter is a riddle, which history was the first to solve. Zedekiah was blinded before he reached Babylon. The historical commentary on the announcement, so far as Zedekiah is concerned, we have in 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 39:1 f. and Jeremiah 52. Zedekiah fled by night from the city ( Jeremiah 39:4, Jeremiah 52:7), but was caught by the Chaldeans in the neighbourhood of Jericho, brought to Riblah before the king of Babylon, there blinded and sent in chains to Babylon, where he died in prison. The announcement in Ezekiel 12:16 takes place not so much by words as rather by the event, as in Psalms 19:1 mention is made of a practical announcement. It is made by the heavy sufferings which they have to bear, and the misery of their whole condition; thus in the same way in which the Jews, after the betrayal of Jesus, have announced the sins of their fathers among the heathen. Only in this view is the sentence, “and they shall know that I am the Lord,” apposite, which refers also to their destiny. Ezekiel 12:15 shows that those who shall know this are not the heathen, but the Jews. The reference to the agents themselves is also the only one suitable to the conclusion. In regard to the Jews, these words recur as a refrain in Ezekiel.

[64] Instead of “which is therein,” it properly is, “who are in the midst of them.” The suffix refers to Jerusalem or its inhabitants.

Verses 17-20

Ezekiel 12:17-20. A close siege will be followed by the desolation of the country. The prophet pours cold water on the heated fancies of the exiles, who expected an approaching miraculous renewal of their native land, in contrast with the desolation of the land of the Chaldeans, which they thought was approaching. Ezekiel 12:17. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 18. Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with care. 19. And thou shalt say to the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel, They shall eat their bread with care, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land may be astonished from the fulness thereof, for the violence of all who dwell in it. 20. And the inhabited cities shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate, and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

The prophet represents in Ezekiel 12:18 the condition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the approaching siege. This second symbolic action can scarcely be reduced to outward exhibition. If such were intended, it must have been stated how often, or how long, or under what precise circumstances, or in what position the prophet should so act. That a single act is not intended, is manifest from the phrase, thy bread, thy water. The people of the land in Ezekiel 12:19 are those dwelling in Chaldea, in opposition to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. “Her land”—the land of Jerusalem. “May be astonished:” the astonishment of the inhabitants goes before the astonishment or desolation of the land, and has this for its object. “From the fulness thereof;” so that it loses its fulness of men, animals, fruits, etc., and nothing is left but the bare ground—a tohu vabohu.

Verses 21-28

Ezekiel 12:21-28. The incredulous doubt of the fulfilment of his threatening prophecy, the prophet opposes by the announcement made in the name of God that it will certainly be fulfilled, and that in the immediate future. The same thought is treated in two paragraphs, Ezekiel 12:21-25 and Ezekiel 21:26-28.

Ezekiel 12:21. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 22. Son of man, what is that proverb ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? 23. Therefore say unto them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it in Israel; but speak unto them. The days are at hand, and the word of every vision. 24. For there shall be no more any vain vision or smooth divination within the house of Israel. 25. For I the LORD will speak the word that I shall speak; and it shall be done, it shall be no more prolonged; for in your days, O rebellious house, will I speak a word, and do it, saith the Lord Jehovah. 26. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 27. Son of man, behold, the house of Israel say. The vision that he seeth is for many days, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off. 28. Therefore say unto them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, none of my words shall be prolonged any more: for I will speak a word, and it shall be done, saith the Lord Jehovah.

The prophet in Ezekiel 12:22 opposes an opinion which had been formed in the land of Israel, and thence had penetrated to the exiles. It had been expressed in a pointed sentence, a proverb in a wider sense, according to which it embraces everything that has a poetical character, and straightway became popular as a watchword, which was taken up on every occasion against the true prophet, a parole of the ungodly. The announcement of the fall of the city and temple given long ago by Jeremiah had, as it appears, given occasion to this saying. As the fulfilment crept on so slowly, it was concluded that the prediction of the true prophets would come to nothing. That the expression, the days are prolonged, goes further than the words imply—conveys, in fact, a doubt of the fulfilment—appears from the parallel sentence, “and every vision faileth.” There is yet a long time to the fulfilment: this is a jeering expression for its total failure. An end is made to the proverb by the force of facts ( Ezekiel 12:23). When the fulfilment of the predictions comes upon their head, the jeer will stick in their throat. “And the word of every vision”—the contents of every prediction. According to the connection with Ezekiel 12:1-20, the visions are meant which represent destruction and downfall. The prophet therefore finds it unnecessary to be more definite, because only visions of this sort are real visions, in contrast with the false visions in Ezekiel 12:24. “Word of every vision” implies that all that the true prophets have predicted will be completely fulfilled, in contrast with a mere partial fulfilment; contrary to the opinion that it will not be quite so bad, that the prophets have exaggerated, that some abatement of their words may be made. In Ezekiel 12:24 the true predictions pass into fulfilment; for false prophecy or smooth divination, [65] flattering and fair-speaking, which is even as such unworthy of the name of prophecy— prophecy and roughness, these go hand in hand among a sinful people—is so confounded by the event, that no one any longer ventures to come forward with it. In Ezekiel 12:25 the false predictions are confounded because the true are fulfilled. Ezekiel 12:27 is distinguished from the foregoing only by this, that it treats of the announcements of Ezekiel in particular, whereas the foregoing treated of true prophecy in general. The doubt also here refers to any fulfilment whatever, although in form it is only deferred to a remote period. The address “son of man” shows that it was at that time popular to degrade prophecy quite rationalistically into the region of the subjective. It admits what lies before the eyes; but then a mighty counterpoise is given in Ezekiel 12:28 by the word, “Thus saith the Lord.” The announcement of the prophet has passed into fulfilment in a terrible manner. Scarcely five years elapsed when Jerusalem with its temple lay in ruins; and those who had filled their belly with the east wind of their proud hopes of the future, were either lost or envied the dead. Humanly taken, these were certainly in a sense much more prudent and sharpwitted than the true prophets; but the Spirit of God made the eyes of the latter clear.

[65] Literally, “divination of the smooth,” that has the character of smoothness, corresponding to deceit in the vision of falsehood in ch. 13:6,7.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 12". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-12.html.