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Ezekiel Chapters 33-39
The section begins with a reminder to Ezekiel that he is God’s appointed watchman for the house of Israel. Then the news comes through of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and Ezekiel is now released from his enforced dumbness and is free to speak again openly, and his ministry then transforms into one of warning and of hope for the future. God’s people must repent and seek Him, but His promise is that He will visit His people and will bless them abundantly, although there are still great events to come as the enemies of God’s people seek to destroy them. History must yet unfold but the end is sure.
Chapter 33 Ezekiel’s Position as A Watchman Is Re-emphasised - Sad News From Jerusalem.
Ezekiel Is Appointed A Watchman. Mercy Is Offered to the Repentant (Ezekiel 33:1-20 ).
The ideas in these verses are repeated from earlier in the book. See Ezekiel 3:16-21 where Ezekiel was earlier appointed as a watchman and Ezekiel 18:21-29 where the promise of forgiveness to the repentant was made. Why then are they repeated here? The answer must be because Ezekiel is being prepared for and reminded of his pastoral task now that his earlier prophecies have been fulfilled, and in order to connect back with what has gone before.
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, speak to the children of your people and say to them, When I bring the sword on a land, if the people of the land take a man from among them and set him for their watchman, if when he sees the sword come on the land he blows the horn and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the horn and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the horn and did not take warning. His blood will be on him. Whereas if he had taken warning he would have delivered his life. But if the watchman sees the sword come, and does not blow the horn, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” ’
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’ Once again Ezekiel receives a direct word from Yahweh. ‘Son of man.’ A continual reminder to Ezekiel that he is but a mortal man, and yet also bordering on a title by its constant use. It thus also designates him in its use as one chosen of God.
First a general principle is stated. The setting of watchmen to watch for the enemy was a common occurrence. Every border would have its watchtowers, every city its watchmen. And, as soon as an enemy was seen to be approaching, the long curved horns the watchmen carried would be sounded as a warning to the people, and would go on being sounded until they were sure that the people had heard. This gave those in the fields the opportunity to flee within the walled cities for refuge, and enabled the defending troops to ready themselves.
The responsibility was a great one, and they would use men with sharp eyes. The safety of the people would depend on their early warning. But once they had given their warning their task was done. It was then up to others to take notice of the warning and implement what was necessary for deliverance, and for those in the fields to seek refuge. Any failure then would not be the responsibility of the watchman, but of those who heard the warning.
But if the watchman saw the enemy coming and did not give warning, then their blood would rest on him. He would have failed in his duty and would be to blame for all that followed. It was an awesome responsibility. They would be blood guilty in the eyes of the relatives of the dead, and in the eyes of God.
‘When I bring a sword on the land.’ In a sense every invader is under the hand of Yahweh. Nothing happens without His say so. But this also implies guilt on the part of the invaded nation. For some reason they are receiving punishment.
‘He is taken away in his iniquity.’ The punishment is being exacted on this person. But if it is the watchman’s fault, the watchman must also bear the blame. This is a hint of the application to follow. Note that in the illustration God has spoken of a land against which He has ‘brought the sword’, therefore it is a blameworthy land and its people sinful. But they might have been spared if the watchman had done his duty. Thus we are prepared for the fact that a watchman of Yahweh is to be looked for, to turn men to repentance so that they may escape punishment.
“So you, son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman to the house of Israel. Therefore hear the word from my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man will die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
Ezekiel is reminded that he is God’s chosen watchman, appointed to watch on behalf of Israel on whom the sword has been brought. Now he must speak and give warning, for unless they repent, the sword will also come on Israel in exile. Indeed to the exiles God is saying, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die.’ It is now up to Ezekiel to warn them and call them to repentance, to a change of heart and mind, with the aim of turning them from their present way. And if he does not do so their blood will be on his hands and God will require it of him. Note that the call is to each individual. There is individual responsibility, and Ezekiel is responsible for each individual.
The same is true for all Christians. We have been made watchmen for the world. We know His truth and the judgments that will come on men. We too are therefore responsible to warn men and to seek to turn them from their evil ways, and if we do not we too will be held responsible for their final death and what they have to face.
“Nevertheless if you warn the wicked of his way, to turn from it, and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your life.”
But many individuals who are warned will not listen. They will refuse to change their ways. They will therefore die in their sin. But the watchman will have ensured that he is guiltless because he has warned them. No blame can then be laid at his door.
“And you son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus you speak, saying, ‘Our transgressions and our sins are on us, and we pine away in them. How then should we live?”
God puts a question in the mouths of Israel, a question which suggests a certain level of conviction of sin. It suggests that they have recognised that they deserve to be declared guilty, and that that causes them great grief. For they have recognised that it means that they do not deserve to live. Rather they deserve to die. Their thought is of a cessation of life because of their sins, a loss of all that is good. Their cry has in it a sense of hopelessness. They see no way of escape.
‘How then should we live?’ Their conviction of sin is such that they recognise that they do not deserve to live. They do not see how a righteous God can forgive them, especially as they now have no sacrificial system to turn to. the loss of their sacrificial system was probably no small one to many of them. It raised the question as to whether they could be properly forgiven without it. God will assure them that they can.
“Say to them, As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn yourselves, turn yourselves, from your evil ways. For why will you die, O house of Israel.”
These words should be written in large letters. God has ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked’. His longing is that they turn from their wickedness and live. That is why He made the provision for forgiveness under the old covenant at Sinai, and that is why He sent His Son into the world that we might live through Him. There will be no pleasure for God in the judgment day. Only deep regret and sorrow as He passes His sentence on the majority of mankind. But nevertheless that sentence will be passed on all those who have not turned from their sins, for God is not only love, He is also light. He cannot overlook or deal lightly with unforgiven sin, for it reveals a heart set on evil.
But here He emphatically calls men to turn from their sins. He longs for their repentance. Then He will not have to judge them. Then they will not need to face sin’s punishment. Then they will not die the death of the wicked. His cry to His people is heart-rending. ‘Why will you choose to die?’
God’s reply reveals that the sacrificial system was not seen by Him as a final necessity. They were not in a position to offer sacrifices, but forgiveness was available. What was required was a heart that turned to Him in repentance. For He looked ahead to the one great sacrifice for sin that would replace all others, the sacrifice of Himself for man’s sin. It was that that enabled ‘the passing over of sin done aforetime’ (Romans 3:25).
“And you, son of man, say to the children of your people, ‘The righteousness of the righteous will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not fall by it in the day that he turns from his wickedness. Nor will he who is righteous be able to live by it in the day that he sins.’ ”
This is not talking about sins that we commit because we are sinful and cannot help it, even though we try, it is talking about presumptuous sin. It is talking about an attitude of heart and mind taken up and clung to. If the righteous man deliberately turns to sin and disobedience as a way of life, all his previous righteousness will be of no avail. A man is not saved by the amount of his righteousness. Looked at from the human standpoint he is saved by his response to God’s graciousness. And if that response ceases he is revealed as an unworthy sinner, and he cannot therefore count on any righteousness that he has done. For no amount of righteousness can save a man.
In the same way, if a man whose heart has been turned in the way of sinfulness has a change of heart and mind and turns to God and His graciousness, his past sins will be forgiven him. He will begin a new life in the mercy of God. All his past sins will have been done away.
This tends to raise many questions in the heart of a Christian concerning the fear of falling away, and what will happen to the one who does so. And its answer is that if a man falls away finally then he will not be accepted at the judgment. It will be no good pleading what he has previously done.
But the other side of things also has to be considered, the Godward side. God’s promise is to save a man out of his sins, not to save him in them. His promise is to transform men’s hearts and minds (2 Corinthians 5:17), to take them from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18), to work in His own to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And He will not fail in those promises. He will confirm to the end those who are His (1 Corinthians 1:8).
A godly man was once asked, ‘Do you believe in the perseverance of the saints?’ And that godly man replied, ‘No. I believe in the perseverance of the Saviour.’ So those whom the Saviour saves will be persevered with. They cannot fall permanently back into sin, otherwise He would have failed. But it warns us that there is no peace in wallowing in sin on the basis of past experience. If Christ is truly at work within us our hearts will be right at the end, for He will ensure that it is so. There is no contradiction between Ezekiel and the Gospel.
“When I say to the righteous that he will surely live, if he trusts to his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered. But in his iniquity which he has committed, in that will he surely die.”
The warning here is against one who has lived rightly and therefore is confident that he deserves the goodwill of God. So he feels that God now owes him something and that he can turn to sin without losing God’s goodwill. That is the belief that a man’s destiny depends on the quantity of his good works. But that is denied here. It is here clearly stated that God’s judgment on a man is not determined by the quantity of his righteousness but by his revealed attitude of heart.
In ancient days many believed that the sins of men were put in the balances on one side and the good on the other, and a man would receive according to which weighed the heaviest. Their view was that if a man had lived a righteous life he could get away with a bit of sinfulness. But Ezekiel gives a firm and emphatic denial of such an idea. It mattered not what the weight of a man’s sins was, nor what the weight of his righteous deeds. What mattered was whether his heart was set rightly towards God. And only a man whose heart was rightly set towards God could be sure that he would live and not die. Only he could look forward with confidence to the favour of God.
“Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die.’ If he turns from his sin, and does what is lawful and right. If the wicked restore the pledge, give again what he has taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity, he will surely live, he will not die. None of his sins which he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is lawful and right. He will surely live.”
Note that this is spoken of one to whom God has spoken. It is speaking of a man who responds to God. And because of his genuine response to God his past sins will be forgiven him so that they are remembered no more, and he will begin to live to please God, to obey His commandments and to do His will. He will restore anything that he has wrongfully kept, he will return anything that he has stolen, he will walk in God’s ways seeking to please Him, turning from all that he knows to be wrong. Then he can be confident that he will receive life and not death. Not because his new goodness deserves it, but because he has responded to the mercy of God. He has been ‘converted’ and has found forgiveness.
‘Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not equal (fairly weighed).’
This sums up man’s attitude. They cannot bear that a sinner can suddenly become acceptable to God. They cannot bear that one who has struggled to be righteous, building up merit, can ‘lose’ the benefit of it. They think that it is not fair. For they believe that God should give a man what he deserves. And they are confident that somehow they can earn merit with God to put in the scales to balance out any wrong they do. Thus to suggest that a sinful man can suddenly be put on a par with ‘the righteous’ is something that they cannot stomach.
They think that such a man ought to go through a long probation, build up merit to put in the scales against his former wickedness, and even then not catch up with the righteous. He must always be second best. Their view is that there is a medium level, and those who go above it are righteous, and those who go below it are sinful, and the only way that a sinful man can become righteous is by catching up by great effort and getting above the line.
But God tells us that there is only one level, and all go below it. For the truth is, of course, that we deserve nothing from God. ‘All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6). When we are righteous in our living we are only doing what we ought to do (Luke 17:10). We earn no merit. And when we sin we cancel out the fact that we have not sinned before (James 2:10-11; Galatians 3:10). And we have all sinned. It would have been no use Adam in the Garden pleading that he had only sinned once, for without the mercy of God his one sin condemned him forever. It was only because God came to him in mercy that he could begin again and not die. And so it is with us all.
Thus it was in this case. Repentance towards God and looking to Him for mercy was alone the way by which any, whether rated as righteous or unrighteous, could find favour with Him. The righteous found favour because he was looking towards God and making the necessary offering for sin, not because he was ‘righteous’. The unrighteous could find immediate favour when he turned from his sins, looked towards God, made the necessary offering for sin, and began to walk as God would have him walk. Thus both were in the same position, acceptable to God because they walked in the mercy of God. But let them turn from that in attitude of heart and mind and they were no longer acceptable.
“But as for them their way is not equal (fairly weighed). When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he will even die in it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he will by that live. Yet you say ‘the way of the Lord is not equal’. O house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.”
God points out that it is their way that is not just, not His. He treats all the same. If their heart are responsive towards Him and they seek His mercy, He gives them life. If their hearts are turned away from Him and they do not seek His mercy, He gives them death. And if they turn again He again gives life. He is the same towards all. All will be judged according to their present ways and not according to some supposed merit which does not exist. They want to insist that there are some who deserve more than others, and therefore deserve different treatment on those grounds. But God treats all men equally.
‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh to them, “Behold I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and the lean cattle, because you thrust with side and with shoulder, and push all the diseased with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad.”
The leaders and the wealthy were like the fat cattle that made use of their strength and bulk and thrust and push until the weak moved away and were scattered. They did not care about those for whom they were responsible, especially the sickly. They wanted to move them out so that there was more for themselves.
So God was making clear His displeasure at the current leadership of Israel, and the well-to-do, because they were like the rams and fat cattle. They had no time for the poor of the flock. And it is clear that He expected things to go on like that as He now revealed. He was under no illusion about the hearts of His so-called people. Indeed he recognised that there was only one hope, the raising of a man, a chosen man, a unique man, at His behest, to bring about His will.
There are many Christians today who also behave like this. They push people out of the way. They arrogantly exert their authority over others (often claiming to be humble). They too must recognise that God knows their hearts and will call them to account.
Jerusalem Has Been Destroyed (Ezekiel 33:21-33 ).
‘And so it was that in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me saying, “Jerusalem is smitten”.
If we accept this dating, and accept it as being calculated on the same basis as others in Ezekiel, then it means that the first news of the fall of Jerusalem arrived eighteen months after Jerusalem’s fall which was in the fourth month of the eleventh year. Ezra would later make the journey in four months (Ezra 7:9). It is thus seen as strange that it took so long for the news to come through. But it may rather be that this was the first eye witness to tell them of what had happened, and that until that was so they were unwilling to accept it. Rumour was one thing, an eye witness who had experienced it another. With a ravaging army possibly still around Jerusalem it may not have been possible for any to escape who had the purpose of reaching the exiles, survival would have been their first consideration, and they may have remained hidden in the mountains and waited until it was possible to move freely again.
Alternately it has been suggested that we read the twelfth year as ‘the eleventh year’ (with some LXX manuscripts and the Syriac. The difference in Hebrew would be only one consonant). Another suggestion is that the calculation was based on a different calendar using the autumnal reckoning. This would then also make for a much shorter period.
Whatever the solution the arrival of one who had actually escaped from the ruined city would have been a momentous event. The depth of feeling conveyed is indicated by the brevity of the announcement, ‘the city is smitten’. Nothing more needed to be said. What had seemed to many so incredible, and to Ezekiel so certain, was now a reality. It would change their whole way of thinking. Indeed they would have to rethink their whole theology.
“Therefore will I save my flock, and they will no more be a prey. I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he will feed them, even my servant David. He will feed them and he will be their shepherd. And I Yahweh will be their God, and my servant David prince among them. I Yahweh have spoken it.”
No solution will be found to the problem of false shepherds and bad leaders until there arises one appointed by God, one out of the house of David, one who is like David, to be prince over them. He will feed them rightly and be a good shepherd to them. And that is what Yahweh intends to bring about. Note that he is a ‘prince’. Yahweh is God (and king).
God intends to save His flock, and deliver them from being continual victims (‘a prey’). He will separate the good from the bad, judging between cattle and cattle (see on Ezekiel 33:17). And He will establish over them the shepherd of His own choosing. It is clear that this shepherd was going to be a powerful and striking figure, and we can see why people began to look forward to the coming of a son of David, of a Messiah. And this promise was certain. It was the word of Yahweh.
This idea of the raising up of a son of David (and thus of Judah) is found throughout the Old Testament. The very suggestion indicated that there could be no solution until He came, that nothing would finally be settled until His arrival, otherwise why was He needed? It began in Genesis 49:10, continued in Numbers 24:17, and grew as an idea throughout the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 55:3-4; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 31:21-22; Hosea 3:5; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9; Daniel 7:13-14). There is no wonder that many Psalms came to be interpreted in the light of the Messianic hope (see Psalms 2:0; Psalms 72:0; Psalms 110:0). It was clear that Israel’s destiny could not be settled until He came on the scene. But note that He would introduce an everlasting kingdom with everlasting promises. This is no ordinary prince, no mortal man. His success and authority go on beyond the end of time. The thought of everlastingness clings to Him (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 55:3; Daniel 7:13-14; Micah 5:2). It is the vision of an eternal future which cannot be put into words.
So none of them, Ezekiel included, could have literally put into words what He would achieve. It was outside their experience and their knowledge. It was beyond their comprehension. And thus they all without exception necessarily had to express their prophecies in terms of what they could understand, of their own ideas of perfection. They knew that He would bring in the perfect everlasting state, but they inevitably had to express it in terms of their own present understanding, and in terms that their hearers and readers could understand. So the remainder of this chapter deals with that conception in terms that Ezekiel’s hearers would appreciate. New Testament ideas would have been totally incomprehensible to them.
How far then should it be taken absolutely literally? Are these promises necessarily to be completely fulfilled in the literal mountains of Israel, in a literal Jerusalem, restricted basically to Jews? Or is their fulfilment put here in these terms simply so that people who had no conception of a living world beyond the grave could grasp and appreciate them. In other words, is it in the final analysis wider reaching than having just a literal meaning, to convey lessons about the heavenly to those who had no conception of eternity?
The choice is not necessarily an either/or. The people of Israel would (to a certain extent) certainly be gathered back to the land. There would certainly be enjoyment of these promises to some extent by the literal mountains and rivers of Israel. The Shepherd would come to Israel. But the perfection implied in them was never attained, and could never be attained, and the New Testament applies that partly to the invisible Kingly Rule of God on earth, and finally to the everlasting state in ‘a new Heaven and a new earth’. This is clearly brought out in Ezekiel 37:24-28 which speak of an everlasting state, but in terms of the land of Israel.
Our view is thus that it must not, indeed cannot, all be taken literally. There can be no everlasting state on earth. Thus it is a vision of a perfect world to come depicted in terms of the day. The New Testament takes this up and reveals that it was the church which was the new Israel, continuing as the people of God, with the old Israel cast off, and that the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled in the church, the new Israel (something Paul emphasised), first in the suffering church, gathered from among all nations, and then in the glorified church, thus themselves following in the footsteps of the suffering and glorified Messiah. This is what the message of Revelation especially makes clear.
Those who would apply the ideas to the old Israel, simply restored, are taking a backward step. They are partly missing the glory of what happened through the death and resurrection of Christ, when He, as the One Who was the chosen of God and incorporated Israel within Himself, and as the representative of the true Israel, established the new Israel, based on His Apostles, after which the old order was finished and destroyed in 70 AD. Such interpreters are trying to revive what in Christian terms has been put aside for ever. (See Romans 9-11; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:28-29; Galatians 6:15-16; Ephesians 2:12-13; Ephesians 2:19-22; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).
We have only to see what the result would be if we took all the Old Testament promises literally. We have an earthly temple and an earthly Jerusalem erected after they have been replaced by the heavenly temple and Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22; Galatians 3:26; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:11-13; Hebrews 10:19-21; Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 8:3-5; Revelation 11:1; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:15; Revelation 14:17; Revelation 15:5; Revelation 15:8; Revelation 16:1). We have the restoration of literal blood sacrifices when Hebrews has made clear that they have been replaced by something far better (see Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 13:10). Indeed to commence earthly sacrifices is to do exactly what Hebrews forbade us to do. We have a so-called ‘gospel of the kingdom’ which is a sideline, and debased, compared with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and offers lesser benefits, a poor shadow of the great reality.
And we could go on to demonstrate how impossible it is that all the descriptions of the so-called ‘coming kingdom age’ can be woven together, for if taken literally they conflict with each other. Does anyone really believe that we will have spears and bows and arrows in use in the last days, and that all the people of the whole earth will be required, or able, to gather at Jerusalem and Judah for the feast of Tabernacles, using seething pots (Zechariah 14:0)? Indeed that all nations will gather at Jerusalem for worship week by week on the Sabbath and will go out and look at the dead carcasses in the valley of Hinnom (Isaiah 66:23). What a contrast, if taken literally, with the glorious picture in Revelation 21-22. But how meaningful if seen as indicating the glorious fulfilment of all the promises of God and restoration of full harmony with Him in His covenant.
And can we believe that anyone in an age of glory, would gather at the slaughter of thousands of beasts and have their blood sprinkled on them in the presence of Christ, at a time when the animal creation was at total peace and killing was no more (Isaiah 11:6-9), and the sacrifices were not really necessary? Why should they have their eyes turned to the slaying of brute beasts when the Lamb is present? Men who take all the Old Testament literally (or largely literally) have to believe it, but few surely do so without some doubts or questionings in their hearts.
Furthermore in Ezekiel 37:26-28 it is made clear that what Ezekiel is describing has eternal dimensions. It is not for a thousand years but for ever. Can we believe that this world will go on for ever? For that is what is involved.
However, we must recognise that there are many godly men who do hold these views in various measure, as I once did when as a young man I used the Scofield reference Bible, before I gained the knowledge to see the greater application, and I would point out that I honour these men for their true faith in Christ, and look on many of them as faithful and beloved fellow-servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, and have been blessed through their ministry. I recognise that they do so because they take literally words which in my view were intended to convey ideas which if expressed otherwise would not have been comprehended. They are therefore seeking to be faithful to the word of God.
But I cannot accept their ideas on this matter, which appear to me to be retrograde, and not in accordance with New Testament revelation. It is my view that they have missed the point, something that all readers must judge for themselves. (But for His sake let us do it in Christian love. Our views will not change what will really happen).
In order to be literally fulfilled they require not only the present return of Israel to their own land, but also that, in some way, literal Israel are to be differentiated from the true Israel as described by Paul (the true ‘foreknown’ Israel which grew out of the old Israel - Romans 9-11) in the purposes of God. For the latter is not just to be seen as a ‘spiritual Israel’, the stress in the New Testament is that it is the real Israel, being incorporated into the covenant as renewed in the new covenant.
Now if the argument is that God is gathering unbelieving members of that Israel, who have been cut off, back to their land in order that they might be converted in the final days and become incorporated back into the true Israel, the genuine church of Christ, we can only say ‘amen’ to that. But to go back to restoration of the old Israel, a mixture of belief and unbelief, building failure upon failure, re-erecting the temple, establishing a sacerdotal order, and dealing with separate issues than those of the Gospel, is such a backward step that it is incomprehensible why it should be so. Indeed it seems to suggest that the Gospel has not been successful, and that the shadow is more important than the reality. But the Scriptural truth is that the church is the Israel of God. There is surely now therefore no place for another Israel in the divine reckoning, except as being re-grafted into the new Israel (Romans 11:23). For Paul the only future for the old Israel was to become part of the new Israel.
So we see these verses (and similar verses throughout the prophets), as pointing forward to the days when His Kingly Rule began first to be established, and concluding in the perfection which will be finally achieved in the new Heaven and the new earth.
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, those who inhabit those waste places in the land of Israel speak, saying, ‘Abraham was one, and he inherited the land. But we are many. The land is given to us for an inheritance.’ ” ’
Those who now remained in the land, ‘the poorest of the land’ who were left to become vinedressers and ploughmen (Jeremiah 52:16), began to boast of their new inheritance. They were able to take over large tracts of empty land, land which had been wasted by war, and boasted that in comparison with Abraham they were many and were thus in a better position than he. They thus saw themselves as having been left there by God as inheritors of God’s promises, and indeed had some grounds for optimism had they been faithful to the covenant (Jeremiah 42:10-12).
“Wherefore say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘You eat with the blood and lift up your eyes to idols, and shed blood. And shall you possess the land? You stand on your sword, you work abomination, and you each defile his neighbour’s wife, and shall you possess the land?”
But they were not faithful to the covenant. They ignored the ban on eating the blood of slain beasts, they worshipped idols, they brought violence and death to the land. To ‘stand on the sword’ probably meant that they relied on it and resorted to it. To work abomination was to engage in the sins described in Ezekiel 18:10-13. And they especially engaged in illicit sex, probably connected with Canaanite religious rites. All these things meant that God would not allow them to possess the land, which in the end explains why they found refuge in Egypt against God’s express command after a short civil war (Jeremiah 41-43).
“Thus shall you say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Surely those who are in the waste places will fall by the sword, and he who is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in the strongholds and in the caves will die of pestilence, and I will make the land a desolation and an astonishment, and the pride of her power will cease, and the mountains of Israel will be desolate, that none pass through.”
This is a vivid picture of the situation in the land. Those in waste places were those trying to reclaim the land that had been wasted by war, they would fall by the sword in civil war; those in the open fields probably scavenged for food and were themselves regularly attacked by hungry and scavenging beasts who had moved in to an area made empty of man; those in the strongholds had found refuge in holes and ruins in the devastated strongholds, those in the caves had returned to primitive ways of living. Both the latter would suffer pestilence because of the conditions. Thus the land would be desolated, an astonishment to all round about. ‘The pride of her power’ (Ezekiel 7:24; Ezekiel 30:6), the authorities in the land, will be no more. The mountains will be empty and desolate, peopled no more.
“Then will they know that I am Yahweh, when I have made the land a desolation and an astonishment, because of all their abominations which they have committed.”
The people who remained continued in the abominations described above. So instead of returning to Yahweh and listening to Jeremiah, assassination and warfare continued among those remaining, and those who joined them. There was a short civil war and then those who remained left for Egypt taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 41-43). Thus they learned Who and What Yahweh was, the moral Overlord, the One Who would not bless and protect them while they sinned against Him and His covenant.
“And as for you, son of man, the children of your people speak of you by the walls, and in the doors of the houses, and speak to each other, every one to his brother, saying, ‘Come I pray you and hear what word there is that comes from Yahweh’. And they come to you, as the people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words. But they do not do them. For with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after profit. And lo you are to them as a love song by one who has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument, for they hear your words. But they do not do them.”
The people in exile were little better. They had now fully recognised that Ezekiel had bought the authentic word of Yahweh, they spoke of him with admiration, they discussed him, they came to hear him, declaring themselves the people of Yahweh, they exalted him, they enjoyed his messages like men enjoying a beautiful singer who sings of love, but they did not do what he told them. They were hearers but not doers. Their real love was mammon. Their hearts were fixed on profits and worldly gain. Thus the word fell on barren ground.
How many modern Christian campaigns follow the same pattern. Great outward response, enjoyment of the music and the preaching, but no genuine response. Lives are not changed. Men do not become doers. Their hearts are still set on mammon (often even the preachers’ hearts). By their fruits they must be known.
“And when this happens, behold it comes, then will they know that a prophet has been among them.”
‘This’ is the further desolation of the land after the fall of Jerusalem as described above. That will further evidence to them that a true prophet of Yahweh has been among them. But the question will continue to be, will the exiles now genuinely respond? As watchman to the house of Israel it was his responsibility to go on blowing the horn.
Others see ‘this’ as referring to the coming restoration.
Remarkably this is the last mention of Jerusalem in Ezekiel (apart from a secondary mention in a comparison - Ezekiel 36:38). Jerusalem, having been destroyed, is no longer of interest to Ezekiel. His emphasis is on the restoration of Israel as a whole. He is concerned with the people of God, not with the restoration of Jerusalem.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany