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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 33

Verses 1-20

Ezekiel 33:1-20. We have here the author’s conclusion to ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 32:32. No other view is admissible. According to ch. Ezekiel 24 and Ezekiel 33:22, here a prophecy delivered among the people before the arrival of the fugitives from Jerusalem is impossible. The contents, which only resume throughout, and in part almost verbally repeat, what has been already said, are decisive against the hypothesis of an introduction to the following passage. Then there is the want of a date. Before the prophet passes to a new epoch of his prophetic activity, he lays down, in relation to his prophetic past, as it is given in ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 32:32, three fundamental thoughts, which are deeply important for all times of the church.

The first section ( Ezekiel 33:1-9) accords in thought, and partly also in expression, with ch. Ezekiel 3:16-21, where Ezekiel, in his call, receives the office of a watchman. The end returns to the beginning. The section falls into two parts: first in Ezekiel 33:1-6, the comparison of a watchman, whom a people appoints at a time of approaching war; then the application in Ezekiel 33:7-9. In the comparison the watchman is appointed by men; in the application by God. The lesson is, that the relation between the prophet (and in general the servant of God in His kingdom) and the people is one full of responsibility. As the prophet has in the foregoing fulfilled his duty, the response falls upon the people. Let every one take heed how he hears, among the contemporaries of the prophets and among their successors, to whom he commits his book. The neglect of the faithful admonitions of the servants of God, has in the past brought down the divine judgments, against which none ought to murmur, as they have their root and justification in culpable disobedience to the word of God Zechariah 7:11 f.). The neglect of the admonitions of the prophet will also in future bring down the judgments of God.

Ezekiel 33:1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, speak to the sons of thy people, and say unto them. When I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their midst, [210] and set him for their watchman; 3. And he sees the sword coming upon the land, and blows the trumpet, and warns the people; 4. And any one hears the sound of the trumpet, and takes not warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning, his blood shall be upon him; and he took warning, [211] he delivered his soul. 6. And if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned, and the sword come and take a soul of them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. 7. And thou, son of man, I gave thee to be a watchman to the house of Israel; and thou shalt hear a word from ray mouth, and warn them from me. 8. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked, thou shalt die; and thou speakest not to warn the wicked from his way, he, the wicked, shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. 9. But when thou warnest a wicked man of his way, that he turn from it, and he turn not from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, and thou hast delivered thy soul.

[210] Properly, from their end, that is, of their number. The end includes in itself that which is before the end, or that which lies between the ends (on both sides). In form the word is singular, but it may also be plural, as in 1 Kings 12:31, where Jeroboam takes priests from the ends of the people, from their number—laymen instead of Levites.

[211] Luther, “But whosoever takes warning.” But the thought is. If he had taken warning, he would have delivered his soul; so that he is thus to blame for his own fall.

“His blood shall be upon his own head” ( Ezekiel 33:4): he will be to blame for his own fall. The head is named, from the custom of carrying on the head. Blood often stands for bloodguilt. “He is taken away in his iniquity” ( Ezekiel 33:6): mishap befalls no one undeserved, even if under the circumstances he might have been delivered. For the unwarned it is decreed as the deserved punishment of his other sins, that warning should not be given him, as Joseph’s brethren, innocent in the particular case, cry out, “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants” ( Genesis 44:16). But the unfaithful watchman is punished for his neglect.

In Ezekiel 33:10-11 is the second thought. The prophet has had to punish and to threaten very much. The effect of his address might easily be depressing and disheartening. At the close, therefore, once more he gives prominence to a thought which he had already expressed in ch. Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:30, Ezekiel 18:32, and which by this repetition he secures against being overlooked: Say not I have been too severe. The sinner should not despair: the merciful God accepts sinners. Repentance is the way to salvation. To invite to this is the proper object. To afford more tranquility is not the aim of the prophet. He combats despair only so far as it is a hindrance to repentance. Ezekiel 33:10. And thou, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus ye say. If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11. Say unto them. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; and why will ye die, O house of Israel? “And we pine away in them” ( Ezekiel 33:10): as thou thyself hast said (ch. Ezekiel 24:23), and also the lawgiver has said in Leviticus 26:39.

The third thought ( Ezekiel 33:12-20) is comprehended in the one word theodicy. The greatest danger that can arise out of suffering, is that a man should misunderstand his Maker: one of the hardest problems of the servants of God is to bring reason to bear on suffering. God, the prophet proceeds, is righteous in all His ways: every one murmurs for his sins ( Lamentations 3:39). Whosoever fails of salvation, let him not—as Israel, sighing under his distress, is so prone to do—accuse God, who always bestows salvation on the righteous, and on him who turns from his sin. Evil only befalls the formerly righteous, who has turned away from righteousness, and the wicked, who will not repent. Thoughts are also here repeated from ch. Ezekiel 18; comp. especially Ezekiel 33:20-21, Ezekiel 33:24-25, Ezekiel 33:29. They are of extreme importance; for the heart that in distress misunderstands its God, will not tread the path of repentance, which determines the return of salvation; and man is quite prone to mitigate his guilt, and to think that God has dealt too hardly with him. It may easily be the same persons, who think in Ezekiel 33:10-11 that they have been severely treated, and here that God has done too much for them. In such times of suffering, the one wave relieves the other.

Ezekiel 33:12. And thou, son of man, say unto the sons of thy people. The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; and by the wickedness of the wicked he shall not fall in the day that he turns from his wickedness; and the righteous shall not be able to live thereby in the day of his sin. 13. When I say to the righteous that he shall live, and he trusts in his righteousness, and commits iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered, and by his iniquity that he has done he shall die. 14. And when I say to the wicked. Thou shalt die, and he turns from his sin, and does judgment and righteousness; 15. If the wicked restore the pledge, repay that which is robbed, walk in the statutes of life, so that he do no iniquity, he shall live, not die. 16. All his sins wherein he sinned shall not be remembered to him: he has done judgment and righteousness, he shall live. 17. And the sons of thy people say. The way of the Lord is not right; but their way is not right. 18. When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, then he shall die thereby. 19. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does judgment and righteousness, he shall live thereby. 20. And ye say, The way of the Lord is not right: I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one after his ways.

“Thereby’’ ( Ezekiel 33:12): that he has been righteous formerly, or until now. “He trusts in his righteousness” ( Ezekiel 33:13): it was a widespread delusion among the Jews, that they possessed a hereditary righteousness; that whatever they might themselves be, yet the righteousness of their pious fathers, from Abraham down, would avail them; and if they experienced the contrary in their misfortunes, they held themselves justified in murmuring against God. The prophet teaches, on the contrary, that the fate of every generation is determined by its own relation to God. “If the wicked restore the pledge” ( Ezekiel 33:15); comp. Ezekiel 18:7. “The way of the Lord is not right” ( Ezekiel 33:17): properly, not weighed; comp. Ezekiel 18:25, Ezekiel 18:29.

Verses 21-33

Words of Comfort— Ezekiel 33:21-33

Ezekiel 33:21-22

THE book of Ezekiel has only two chief parts—prophecies before and after the destruction of Jerusalem—threatening and promise. If this be mistaken, and the prophecies against foreign nations be made a separate part beside the other two, the position of ch. Ezekiel 33:1-20 is inconceivable, as in that case it must have followed ch. Ezekiel 24. This follows also from the fact that the beginning of the prophecy against foreign nations in ch. Ezekiel 25 is connected with that relating to home affairs in ch. Ezekiel 24. The prophecies against foreign nations are merely an appendix to the first part, designed to throw a stronger light on the judgments pronounced against Judah, by unfolding to the view the judgment impending over the heathen. This subordinate place is already assigned to the prophecies against foreign nations by this, that the prophet (ch. Ezekiel 24:27) at the opening of the siege of Jerusalem is dumb, and (on the main subject) does not speak again until the fugitive comes. Accordingly, what he says between ch. Ezekiel 24:27 and Ezekiel 33:23 cannot be co-ordinate with the rest; it can only have a subsidiary importance.

Our two verses give, in accordance with the end of ch. Ezekiel 24, the historical introduction to the discourses of the second epoch.

Ezekiel 33:21-22. And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth of the month, the fugitive from Jerusalem came unto me, saying, The city is smitten. 22. And the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening before the fugitive came; and He opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no longer dumb.

This cannot refer to the first news of the taking of Jerusalem. This took place nearly one and a half year sooner, on the ninth day of the fourth month in the eleventh year; and the news of such events spreads with amazing rapidity. The intelligence arrived no doubt in eight, or at the most fourteen, days at the abode of Ezekiel; so that the difficulty is not removed by assuming most arbitrarily an error in the text, and putting the eleventh in place of the twelfth year. It refers rather to the first account of an eye-witness, who had himself passed through the terrors of the catastrophe, and was in his miserable plight a living proclamation of it. The “fugitive” is here, as in Genesis 14:13, an ideal person, or according to the usual designation, a collectivum—not a single individual, but a transport. Ezekiel had already said, in ch. Ezekiel 14:22-23, that a whole host of such fugitives would come to the exiles; comp. also ch. Ezekiel 6:9. There we have the commentary on the fugitive here. These sufferers were by their very appearance a testimony to the fearfulness of the divine judgments: in them the smitten city presented itself as it were bodily. Their narratives gave only the commentary on their appearance: they said, The city is smitten, even before they opened the mouth. Analogous to this is the deep impression, which, according to Nehemiah 1, the description of the desolate condition of Jerusalem by eye-witnesses made on Nehemiah, although this condition had existed for a century. Here the impression must have been still deeper. On the night before the arrival of the transport, which was doubtless announced the day before, took place the opening of the prophet’s mouth, that had been closed since ch. Ezekiel 24:27—as it were the removal of the seal from it. The impulse to speak to the people again asserted itself. The prophetic activity itself first commenced after the transport appeared, the arrival of which was to form the ground for the assumption of new hopes. Only after the complete death, the annihilation of all earthly hopes, had passed before their eyes, could the announcement of the joyful resurrection be made. Already in ch. Ezekiel 24:27 it was said that God would open the prophet’s mouth to the fugitive. Accordingly the actual arrival of the ruined people, in whom the ruined city was represented, was the prerequisite of the discourse.

Ezekiel 33:23-29. The new discourse here first takes up again the former threatening, and meets those who, still giving themselves up to illusions, thought that the judgment would not inexorably run its course. That there were such people, was proved by the revolt in which Gedaliah the Chaldean governor was slain. The new discourse is essentially comforting. But before the seed of divine hope could be sown, the last thorns and thistles of false human hopes, and of the efforts that grew out of them, had to be destroyed, which even now, although against all appearances, were convulsively grasped by those who avoided the passage through the strait gate of repentance, which is the condition of participating in the divine hope, and did not wish to put off the spotted garment of the flesh.

Ezekiel 33:23. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 24. Son of man, the inhabitants of those ruins in the land of Israel say, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: and we are many; the land is given to us for a possession. 25. Therefore say unto them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eves to your detestable things, and ye shed blood: and shall ye possess the land? 26. Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and defile every one his neighbour’s wife: and shall ye possess the land? 27. Say thus unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, As I live, they that are in the ruins shall fall by the sword; and him that is in the field I will give to the beast for food; and they that are in the forts and the caves shall die of the pestilence. 28. And I will lay the land desolate and waste, and her mighty pride shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, without any passing through. 29. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I lay the land desolate and waste, for all their abominations which they have done.

“The inhabitants of these ruins” ( Ezekiel 33:24): according to Ezekiel 33:27, the ruins are those of the places destroyed. The whole land was a land of ruins, and therefore ground enough to let go at length the hopes of a deluded heart. They still cherish these hopes, and connect them with Abraham. He was childless, and yet has inherited the land in his posterity. Why shall they, who are still numerous in reference to him, not receive again the possession of the land? They believe that they must approach the nearer to Abraham, as they hold themselves to be the true continuation of Abraham’s being—the holders of the promise given to him—but overlook the wide gulf that stands between them and him. If they were Abraham’s children, they would do his works. “Ye eat with the blood!” The eating of blood was forbidden in Genesis 9:4 as the first step to the prohibition of murder: in the blood of animals was to be seen a type of the blood of man. The prescription had a didactic end. It was to call forth an abhorrence of shedding human blood. Whosoever disregarded this prohibition showed, under the Old Testament, after the law had made the horror of animal blood national, that the germ of the murderous spirit was in him. “Ye work abomination” ( Ezekiel 33:26): the feminine form of the verb is surprising: Your wives work. This goes hand in hand with the fact that in ch. Ezekiel 13:17 f. the false prophets appear as women. The feminine character of the sinner is already indicated in Genesis 4:7. There it appears unmanly to let sin conquer, instead of ruling over it. In reference to sin, the men are not to be womanly, but the women manly. The abomination is afterwards more exactly defined. It is adultery. The man who defiles his neighbour’s wife is, in truth, himself a woman. In the foregoing we have the transgression of the first commandment of the first table, and of the first of the second: the eating of blood is only mentioned by way of introduction. Here we have the transgression of the first two commandments of the second table. The pestilence is in Ezekiel 33:27 the companion of the famine, which pursues those who have fled from the Chaldeans to the inaccessible hills, and to the caves.

Ezekiel 33:30-33. This second part of the introductory discourse, which proves itself to be such by this, that the sentence, “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,” first recurs in ch. Ezekiel 34:1, endeavours in another respect to prepare the mind for the chief contents of the new message. The prophet had, otherwise than Jeremiah, a well-affected audience, especially now, after the violent catastrophe had gone over Jerusalem, and confirmed his former predictions: as the power of the opposition which had formerly risen against him (ch. Ezekiel 26:6, Ezekiel 3:7) was broken. But many were still wanting in real earnestness: they listened to his fair speech; but the heart was still addicted to worldly things—the word bore no good fruit. with a view to such, the prophet warns men against hearing him for the tickling of the ears. The word of God is a very serious matter. Let every one take heed how he hears, that he be not a hearer only, but a doer. What the prophet announces comes to pass; and if the fulfilment takes place, the mere hearer will be the loser: he is overtaken by the threatened punishments, and excluded from the promised blessings. He has not to deal with an excellent orator; but behind the son of man stands the Lord, mighty to punish and to save.

Ezekiel 33:30. And thou, son of man, the sons of thy people talk [212] concerning thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak with one another, each with his brother, saying. Come now, and hear what is the word that cometh from the LORD. 31. And they come unto thee as a people comes, and sit before thee as my people, and hear thy words, and do them not; for they deal tenderly with their mouth, their heart goeth after their covetousness. 32. And, lo, thou art to them as a song of love, pleasant in voice, and playing well; and they hear thy words, and do them not. 33. And when it comes, lo, it is come; and they shall know that a prophet hath been in the midst of them.

[212] Literally, “who talk.” They are, as it were, placed before the prophet that he may have them clearly in his eye—be aware of their character. A “behold” might have been prefixed.

The talking in Ezekiel 33:30, as the following shows, is not hostile, [213] but well-meaning: amidst the national impoverishment they amuse themselves with the surpassing rhetorical gifts of the new classic. “By the walls”—on the divan. This is the place for household talk. “As a people comes” ( Ezekiel 33:31): the prophet has not merely several followers, but he is become popular among the exiles—has a quite, different position from that of Jeremiah in Jerusalem, who had to cry, Woe is me, against whom every man contended in the land. “As my people:” so respectful, attentive, and apparently earnest and willing. “They deal tenderly with their mouth “( Ezekiel 33:31): properly, they show ardour [214]—affect in words an ardent love to God and His word, while the real inclination of their heart goes quite another way—is turned to mammon, the god of the Jewish old man. The essence of the dealing desired by the prophet is sincere conversion to God, the turning of the heart from covetousness to Him. As a person can only be compared with a person, so “as a song of love” ( Ezekiel 33:32) means, as one who sings and plays a love-song. [215] “A prophet” ( Ezekiel 33:32)—no mere orator. The difference they discover in painful experience when it is too late: the threatened punishment has already overtaken them; they are already excluded from the promised salvation, which can be gained only by true repentance. “Lo, it is come, and they shall know:” they shall know even by its coming.

[213] ב need not lead to this supposition. The person concerning whom often stands elsewhere with ב .

[214] The meanings loveliness and delight are not well founded.

[215] Jerome: Tales sunt usque hodie multi in ecclesia, qui aiunt; venite audiamus illum et istum, mira eloquentia praedicationis suae verba volventem, plurimique plausus commovent et vociferantur et jactant manus.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-33.html.