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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Ezekiel 14

Verses 1-11

The Elders of Israel (14:1-11)

The elders of Israel met with the prophet, apparently in Tel-abib, but the intent of the message which resulted was for the inhabitants of both Tel-abib and Jerusalem. Ezekiel, as we have previously pointed out, considered Judah one people irrespective of their geographical locale. Idolatry, which has already been denounced by the prophet in chapter 6 and specifically faced by him in chapter 8, is now clearly shown as sin against the Lord.

The elders are described as men who have "taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces" (vs. 3). The reference is to passionate and complete attachment to idols. Having possessed the heart of man, the physical object or "stumbling block" is set before his face. The deep contempt in which the prophet held idols is manifest in his word for "idols" (literally, "rolls of dung") used thirty-nine times in the book.

Often in the Old Testament, God is depicted as jealous. Against this backdrop we are to understand the words "that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me, through their idols." It cannot be said whether or not this means that the prophet understood that God would get at the cause of idolatry, which is in the heart; but it is true that idolatry reaches far deeper than its overt and meaningless expression.

"Repent and turn away" is the exhortation of the prophet to Israel (vs. 6) . The Hebrew term for "repent" simply means "turn" or "return" or "turn away." To the Hebrew mind, the idea of repentance was to "turn away from," that is, to "do an about-face." That is what the prophet urged his hearers to do: to turn away from their idols.

The hypocrisy of a religion which still seeks a word from the Lord through prophets while continuing to worship idols is set in bold relief by Ezekiel. He says that neither Israelite nor sojourner can do this without facing divine rebuff and rebuke. Furthermore, when such spiritual schizophrenics come to the prophet, he must not speak God’s word to them. One must remember that to the Hebrew the word of God was not just a sound with meaning, it was creative power. If a prophet gives the word of God to a man who follows any religion but is loyal to none, the prophet as well as the inquirer is under God’s judgment.

The punishment of spiritual duplicity is carried out in order that Israel "may go no more astray" from God. The enticements of syncretism are dangers which every generation must face, yet they are so subtle that they are hard to resist. God will destroy the purveyors of distorted religion in order that his Covenant with Israel may be re-established. The terms of that Covenant — "that they may be my people and I may be their God" — provide a fitting close for a passage which has described with horror how the Covenant has been forgotten, ignored, and destroyed by all elements in society.

Verses 12-23

Present Doom and Future Hope (14:12-23)

This section should be understood as a recurrence of a basic theme which the writer and editors never let the reader forget: Present doom is a prelude to future renewal, through a remnant of purified and obedient Israel. God renews his warning of judgment by famine and exile because the land has been "acting faithlessly" (vs. 12). The inevitability of destruction is demonstrated when the prophet, in terms that are reminiscent of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, says that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were living in this land, all their righteousness could not stay the hand of God’s judgment. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33), Abraham was promised that the presence of faithful folk in the cities would turn the wrath of God. No such promise is made to Jerusalem, whose sin is more heinous than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The presence of righteous men, whose place in history was established on the basis of their righteous life, would not be enough to stop judgment.

A word about these figures from the past should suffice. Noah is well known from the story of the Flood, while the Book of Job preserves a very ancient story of uprightness. Together with these two super-saints a certain "Daniel," not to be identified with the main character of the Book of Daniel, is also listed. It seems improbable that a contemporary would be listed in the same breath with the most ancient sages. The name "Daniel" appears in an ancient Canaanite source and it reappears in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. In both cases this "Daniel," dating from early times, is represented as a righteous and good man from among the most ancient sages. Of these three the prophet speaks with an air of finality, "Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it . . . they would deliver but their own lives" (vs. 20).

The second paragraph of the section sounds again the recurrent theme of destruction by sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence. When any survivors from this holocaust are brought forth, they will demonstrate the necessity and justice of God’s destructive judgment. The message is directed to the exiles in Tel-abib, who are asking most urgently why God would destroy free Jerusalem. But when the exiles witness the destruction and meet the survivors they will be consoled (vs. 23). Once more the aim of God’s righteous judgment is stressed; it is that the remnant may still trust him and desire to be his people. He is not capricious; he is One whose offer of life when accepted is truly life but when rejected is destruction.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 14". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/ezekiel-14.html.