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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 14

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 1-11

Ezekiel 14:1-11. Without repentance there is no salvation for the exiles, in whom also the evil spirit is still active, nor for the whole people. Let us not make demands on the true prophets which they cannot fulfil, with an appeal to the false prophets. These shall perish along with the sinful people who are led astray by their responses. Only by punishment is a faithful people of God raised up, on whom His grace may unfold itself.

This word of God is occasioned by the visits of the elders of the people to the prophet. The object of their visit we learn partly from the answer here, partly from ch. Ezekiel 20:1. They wish to make an experiment, whether they cannot obtain a more favourable answer through the prophet, whose fearfully threatening announcement they have heard not without shuddering. They ask, “Has the Lord, then, forgotten to be gracious? Has He in wrath shut up His tender mercy?” Of repentance there was not a word. They appealed to grace, although they were the children of wrath. The inquirers are not to be regarded as representatives of the whole of the exiles, but, as the nature of the thing and the answer show, representatives of those who only outwardly fear God, but inwardly serve the spirit of the world and the age. The truly God-fearing community humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God, and submitted to the order prescribed by the prophet. The answer goes only as far as Ezekiel 14:11. Beyond this there is found no more reference to the proposal of the elders. That no great importance is to be attached to this, we learn even from the significant brevity with which the visit is mentioned.

Ezekiel 14:1. Then came men of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. 2. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 3. Son of man, these men have set up their abominations in their heart, and put the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? [70] 4. Therefore speak with them, and say unto them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his abominations in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet, should I the Lord answer him thereby, after the multitude of his abominations? [71] 5. That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, who are estranged from me through all their abominations. 6. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Repent, and turn from your abominations, and from all your detestable idols turn away your faces. 7. For every man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, who separateth himself from me, and setteth up his abominations in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet to inquire of him in me, should I the LORD answer him in myself? 8. And I will set my face against that man, and destroy him, for a sign and for proverbs, and will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. 9. And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I the LORD have deceived that prophet; and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. 10. And they shall take upon them their iniquity: as the iniquity of the inquirer, so shall the iniquity of the prophet be; 11. That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, nor be polluted any more by all their transgressions; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, saith the Lord Jehovah.

[70] The foregoing infinitive, אדרשׁ? , gives a sharp emphasis to the question. The sharper the inspection, the more its impossibility comes to the light.

[71] Luther, “So will I the Lord answer the same, as he hath deserved by his gross idolatry;” contrary to Ezekiel 14:3, where every answer is refused (the external notation of the question there makes it here unnecessary); comp. also Ezekiel 14:9.

“The stumbling-block of their iniquity” ( Ezekiel 14:3): the idols which bring them to ruin, involve them in iniquity and its punishment. “Thereby” [72] ( Ezekiel 14:4)—as it is with him. The more precise explanation follows, “after the multitude of their abominations.” The question in Ezekiel 14:4 is in the sense of a negative—I will not answer; and this negative has its ground in Ezekiel 14:5. God leaves sinners without answer or help, that they may come to a knowledge of their sin. “To take in the heart,” is to touch the conscience. “Turn” ( Ezekiel 14:6)—the sense and heart ( Ezekiel 14:3). “To inquire of him in me” ( Ezekiel 14:7): the question goes only in the first instance to the prophet, who is simply the medium: He to whom it is really addressed is Jehovah; and therefore the meaning is, to inquire of me through him. “Should I the Lord answer him in myself?” so that the answer actually comes from me. Whosoever acknowledges that Jehovah is the background of prophecy—that the prophets give no reply of themselves, but as they are moved by the Holy Spirit ( 2 Peter 1:20-21)—he will not expect this. “In:” this designates the department in which the question and answer move. “For a sign and for a proverb” ( Ezekiel 14:8): an exemplary punishment. Ezekiel 14:9 meets the objection that the other prophets besides Jeremiah and Ezekiel announce salvation, and that these take up a doubtful and singular position over against the great chorus of their colleagues, who have also the Spirit of God. The deception proceeds originally from indwelling sin ( James 1:14), otherwise it could not be the object of punishment; but in the development of sin God has no inactive part: He knows how to regulate things, that sin attains to its full development and maturity, and brings punishment along with it ( Romans 1:26). He takes care that there can he no standing still, no halting at an intermediate stage: He makes the occasions and removes the hindrances. There is scarcely a notable fall into sin, in which this activity of God does not display itself in a terrible manner. Those miserable men, who themselves lie under the destiny of God, are led by Him whither they will not, and hasten to meet the judgment, cannot possibly exchange one staff for another. Whosoever will cite them as authority against the true prophets, or make demands from these on the ground of their utterances, is a poor fool. “The speaking of the word” receives a precise definition, from the petition which is offered for a favorable answer. To take iniquity upon one’s self ( Ezekiel 14:10) is to repent. Grotius says, “Both shall equally suffer punishment, those who buy prophecies and those who sell.” Both suffer deserved punishment, because they are not concerned in their hearts to learn the truth, but only follow their own hearts’ lusts, and endeavour to make God serviceable to these. The answer to this deep humiliation of God is given to them by their own humiliation. In Ezekiel 14:11 the object of punishment extends over the deceiver and the deceived. It serves to purify the people of God. For the particular sinful generation, it flows from the principle of retribution; but for the whole of the community of God, a purpose of mercy lies at the ground of the exercise of this retribution. The prophet here clearly opens up the view to the light which shines behind the darkness.

[72] The marginal reading בא , that comes, has only arisen from a misunderstanding.

Verses 12-23

Ezekiel 14:12-23. The deep corruption of Jerusalem inevitably draws on its destruction. The righteous in Jerusalem are so few, that exemption cannot be claimed on their account ( Ezekiel 14:12-21). How great is the debasement of its inhabitants, we may see even in their remnant ( Ezekiel 14:22-23). The prophet encounters a thought which Abraham uttered in view of the determined destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18), and thus destroys a false ground of security, a hindrance to the full effect of the great vision in ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 11:25, for which all that is in ch. Ezekiel 12:1 to Ezekiel 19:14 serves to prepare the way. The corruption of Jerusalem was so great, that God could not grant it exemption on account of the few righteous. No reference to the visit of the elders in Ezekiel 14:1 is here to be discovered. And the significant way in which this visit is mentioned shows that even for that section it was not of paramount importance, and only gave the outward impulse to the discussion of a point, the mention of which serves the purpose which the prophet has throughout before him in ch. Ezekiel 12:1 to Ezekiel 19:14.

Ezekiel 14:12. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 13. Son of man, if a land sin against me to commit a trespass, and I stretch out my hand upon it, and break for it the staff of bread, and send upon it famine, and cut off from it man and beast: 14. And there be these three men in the midst of it, Noah, Daniel, and Job, they shall deliver their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord Jehovah. 15. If I cause evil beasts to pass through the land, and they bereave it, and it become desolate, without any one passing through because of the beasts: 16. Were these three men in the midst of it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters: they alone shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate. 17. Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, A sword shall go through the land, and I cut off from it man and beast: 18. And these three men are in the midst of it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; for they alone shall be delivered. 19. Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it with blood, to cut off from it man and beast; 20. And Noah, Daniel, and Job are in the midst of it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall by their righteousness deliver their own soul. 21. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, How much more shall I send my four sore judgments, sword, and famine, and evil beasts, and pestilence upon Jerusalem, to cut off from it man and beast. 22. And, behold, therein shall be left a remnant escaped that are brought forth, sons and daughters; behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings, [73] and shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, all that I have brought upon it. 23. And they shall comfort you, when ye see their way and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord Jehovah.

[73] Luther, “that ye shall see how it goes with them,” contrary to what is added, “their doings,” according to which the way is to be taken in the sense of the walk, not the lot.

Instead of the three mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 stand Moses and Samuel in the fundamental passage, Jeremiah 15:1, who, along with their personal righteousness, come into consideration there on account of their effectual intercession. The relations in which Job appears in the book named after him are throughout those of the patriarchal time. Daniel is designedly placed in the middle of the two primeval personages to glorify him, as it were to canonize him, just as he appears in ch. Ezekiel 28:3, by an apparently undesigned accident, as the pinnacle of human wisdom, to bring out his eminence in this respect in the community of God. What is intended here, appears from the character of those by whom he is enclosed on both sides. Of Noah it is said at the head of the narrative relating to him in Genesis 6:9, “Noah was a just man, and blameless among his contemporaries: Noah walked with God.” And of Job it is likewise said at the head of ch. Job 1, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and fearing God, and far from evil.” Thus the righteousness and the walking with God must be what are regarded also in Daniel. The connection also leads us to the same result. Only the walking with God and the righteousness could possibly suspend a judgment which followed on account of ungodliness and unrighteousness. The reference to Genesis 18 also leads to the same result. It is the righteous, who may be in Sodom, that awaken the consideration of Abraham in reference to its decreed destruction. Our announcement belongs, according to ch. Ezekiel 8:1, compared with ch. Ezekiel 20, to the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin. About fourteen years before, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Daniel as a youth was carried into exile. The fervour of his righteousness and piety was already observed, according to Daniel 1, during the three years of his preparation for the royal service. Immediately after the end of this period of preparation, Daniel gave a conspicuous proof of his walking with God in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream ( Daniel 2:1). The occurrence also in ch. Daniel 3, in which Daniel made confession to God at the risk of his life, and received testimony from God in his miraculous deliverance, belonged probably to the earlier period of Nebuchadnezzar: the golden image which he set up was a monument of the lofty flight which the Chaldean power had taken in the beginning of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, from the first to the eighth year of his reign, [74] before the formation of the great coalition, which brought all again into peril. Such clear proofs of the righteousness and piety of Daniel—proofs that were not confined to the narrow limits of a private circle, but displayed themselves on the theatre of the world, must have been historically extant in the time of our prophecy. For Ezekiel would otherwise have made himself and Daniel ridiculous by placing him beside the grand figures of Noah and Job. We have here a solid basis for the historical character of the book of Daniel. It is of importance also to put our passage in connection with ch. Ezekiel 28:3. The connection of eminent piety and righteousness with eminent wisdom is exactly the characteristic of the personality of Daniel, as it appears in his book. The coincidence is so much the greater, as the wisdom of Daniel appears in ch. Ezekiel 28 to be such as to deal with sacred things, to understand all mysteries. “Evil beasts” ( Ezekiel 14:15), in the usual sense or in human form (v. Ezekiel 14:17). The expression “with blood” ( Ezekiel 14:19) points, as in ch. Ezekiel 5:17, to this, that the pestilence is to be placed in the like point of view as the sword in Ezekiel 14:17—namely, that of punishment. The four visitations of God, which are here introduced each with an if, should actually come, as had been repeatedly predicted, unitedly upon the degenerate covenant people, upon the desecrated land of the Lord. The prophet, however, treats the matter first in general, without regard to the existing relations, that the emotion called forth by the sight of the latter may not have a disturbing influence. The transition from the merely hypothetical to the actual follows in Ezekiel 14:21. The for at the beginning points to the ground of the discussion instituted, shows that it is no mere idle commonplace. “How much more” must the general standard of the divine judgments manifest itself before all in the servant, who knows his master’s will, and yet does what is worthy of stripes! “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities,” says Amos. In the same relation with the people of the Old Testament stand here the Christian nations, only that in them the responsibility appears enhanced. The evil beasts must stand here in the figurative sense, as the lions in ch. Ezekiel 19:2; for only wild beasts in human form can be employed against Jerusalem, the walled city, and were employed against it. The comfort in Ezekiel 14:22 lies in the justification of the ways of God. The central part of the pain was, that they were gone astray from their God. Should not the Judge of all the earth do right? Should He slay the righteous with the wicked, so that it fared with the righteous as with the wicked ( Genesis 18:25)? Knowledge of the greatness and depth of sin—this forms the chief foundation of the theodicy. This knowledge they shall gain here in the pitiful figures of those who, after the destruction of Jerusalem, shall find their way to them, as the surviving monuments of its shame. These miserable men shall be a living apologetic, and as such comfort the exiles, inasmuch as they put to silence the most painful of all lamentations—namely, “Where is our God?”

[74] Niebuhr, History of Asshur and Babel, pp. 206-11.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 14". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-14.html.