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2. FULLER DETAILS RELATING TO THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE AND THEIR PUNISHMENT (Chaps. 12–19)
Intercourse with their countrymen in Jerusalem deeply affected the views and hopes of the exiled Jews, as the feelings and expectations in British colonies are affected by the discussions and decisions in the mother-country. The kingdom of Judah still maintained its existence, notwithstanding the prophetic threatenings of Jeremiah. That gave apparent denial to his dismal prediction, and a bold, defiant attitude was assumed respecting them. The captivity took the cue from this, and the vision of the Holy City, its abominations and departed glory, by which Ezekiel had intimated to his hearers the utter ruin of the Jewish state, found no belief among them. The training through which God was taking them required that this state of mind should be mastered. A true view of their guilt and their dependence on the Law could not be arrived at except as illusions were dissipated. Ezekiel is therefore entrusted with further messages, both for Judah and the captivity, exposing the fatuity of all suppositions that the calamity denounced could be averted. “The prophet is inexhaustible in the announcement of this, as the false patriotism was inexhaustible in its announcements of salvation.”—Heng.
(1.) SYMBOL AND INTERPRETATION OF THE KING’S FLIGHT (Chap. Ezekiel 12:1-16)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 12:1-3. Ezekiel has to do that which must excite public attention at Tel-Abib, but the primary application of his action is to Jerusalem, and so secondarily to the captives. He is not to scruple to carry out palpable and strange movements or to refrain from prophesying as he has done before, because he has to speak to a people who, with capacities for learning, are too perverse to learn (Ezekiel 12:3). “And thou, son of man, make thee utensils of captivity,” a phrase found in Jeremiah 46:19 (marginal rendering), and there and here signifying such few things as could be taken into the unfriendly and hard conditions of exile. “And remove [as a captive] by day before their eyes.” In broad daylight he was to gather his articles and carry them out of his house, thus making secure of the observation of his neighbours. “And thou shalt remove [as a captive] from thy place to another place before their eyes, perhaps they will see,” but it is not likely: their disposition evokes the refrain, “for they are an house of rebelliousness.”
Ezekiel 12:4-6. Though the articles were brought out, they were left while daylight lasted. At its departure, but before total darkness came on, Ezekiel was to act again; “and thou shalt go forth in the evening before their eyes;” in some way which would clearly appear to be that of a captive, “as the goings forth of a captivity.” He was to proceed furtively, while they were looking on. “Before their eyes dig through the wall, and go forth by it”—by the opening thus made (Ezekiel 12:6). In full view of the people, “upon thy shoulder shalt thou lift;” but by the time he had digged through night had fallen, such as fell over Abram (Genesis 15:7; Genesis cf.12), and so “in the darkness thou shalt go forth; thy face thou shalt cover,” as one who does not wish to be recognised, “and not see the earth.” These proceedings were intended to represent very ominous incidents, “for a wonder-sign I give thee to the house of Israel.” There was nothing in Ezekiel’s own surroundings which required this course of action, but it was typical of the fate of King Zedekiah. As yet prosperous, the inhabitants of Jerusalem rashly assumed that his kingdom would continue; but events were preparing which would prove the utter futility of trusting such a shaken reed.
Ezekiel 12:7-16. Ezekiel fulfilled his instructions to the letter, and on the following morning received, in plain terms, an explanation of what he had been doing. He was thus put in a position to answer the curiosity of the people as to what was meant, and with painful distinctness describes the disasters which were to befall the realm (Ezekiel 12:10). “Say thou unto them, The prince is this lifting up in Jerusalem,” i.e., this taking up on my shoulder is a lesson, the prophetic burden which refers to him who occupies the throne in Jerusalem—he must remove as a captive. It refers also “to all the house of Israel that are among them;” both the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the members of the ten tribes who have joined themselves to their brethren the Jews will be involved in the same calamity. By this sign also the exiled were informed that if they were envious of the lot of those who still remained in Judea that was a groundless feeling, because the latter also would suffer exile (Ezekiel 12:13). Further details than those found in the symbolic action are given. “And I spread my net over him;” the Lord will, by means of the Chaldean army, catch the prince in meshes, and his escape will be prevented; “And I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans;” yet, in a manner which the event alone can explain, “he shall not see it though he shall die there” (2 Kings 25:1-7, and Jeremiah 52:1-11). Ezekiel 12:14. All his friends, all his forces, “I will scatter toward every wind of heaven, and a sword I draw out after them.” They would not all perish; “I leave over of them men of number,” men who can be easily counted; and it is done to this end, “that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen among whom they come;” their recitals would explain that it was not weakness on the part of the God of Israel which bad occasioned the distress and subjection of His people, but their offences against His holy laws. His unfaltering purpose is that “they know that I am the Lord.” Human foresight might have signified that the king and people of Jerusalem would be mastered by the Chaldeans, but that the king should flee from the city by night, be caught in his attempt, be taken to Babylon after his eyes had been put out, could not have been forecast by any mere human intelligence, except as the intelligence was enlightened by the God who seeth all events that are to come.
Josephus (Antiq. x. 7) reports that an account of this prophetic action and its explanation was sent to Zudekiah, but that he, on comparing it with the danger which Jeremiah had warned him of, found that the latter said that he should be carried to Babylon, while Ezekiel said that he should not see it. The discrepancy was so glaring in the king’s view that he concluded, not that one was right and the other wrong, but that both were false! “In this he but showed the captious disposition of superficial inquirers and shallow unbelievers of all ages, who no sooner discover some obvious difficulties on the surface of Revelation than they conclude the whole to be a cunningly devised fable, or treat it as unworthy of their serious consideration. Would they but search a little deeper, and survey, in a spirit of impartiality, the entire field of Revelation, they would find that the things which at first stagger their belief disappear on closer inspection, or remain only as difficulties inseparable from communications which bear respect to the character and purposes of Godhead.”—Fairbairn.
SOME ASPECTS UNDER WHICH GOD COMMUNICATES WITH MEN (Ezekiel 12:1-16)
Taking for granted—that which both human history and experience bear witness to—not only that God is able to communicate with man, but also that man is capable of receiving His communications, we are presented here with certain features of that process.
I. It is carried on with a clear view of all human conditions. It could not be otherwise, because He is God and not man. He has respect
(1.) to all with whom He may enter into communication. The king is not too exalted for His message; nor are the princes. Soldiers are open to Him and every member of a quiet habitation. It can be said, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me.”
(2.) To their preparedness for His communications. They have faculties to apprehend all truth that He may impart. Eyes have they to see, and ears have they to hear, and He wants to bring the faculties for seeing and hearing into use. He well knows that eyes may be used for selfish interests, and not for the things that are unseen and eternal, that ears hear the enticements of the flesh and lies of deceiving prophets, but do not listen to the just and holy and good commandment, giving knowledge of sin and need of the righteousness of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Thus He estimates the power of all forces that are favourable or opposed to His aims.
(3.) To the possibility of mastering men’s indisposition. Whatever may be the blindness or deafness exhibited in regard to the wisdom and truth and love of God’s words, He still acts in hope of a change. “It may be they will consider though they be a rebellious house.” His graciousness is a perennial spring for parched and hardened hearts. In New Testament as in Old Testament times, with us as with the Jews, He is “long suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The Israelites of Ezekiel’s day are illustrations of what the Word of the Lord encounters in most of those to whom it is sent; they are its hearers but not its doers, and punishment is impending over them. The Lord’s treatment of them is a type of His riches of mercy, which leaves no means untried, and would hope against hope. “The mirror of human perversity is at the same time the mirror of divine grace.”
II. It proceeds by stages.
(1.) They are varied in appearance. Actions are alone at one time; at another they are followed by words. Common and uncommon things are summoned in order to impress His thoughts and ways. It would be quite unfair to argue from these grotesque proceedings of Ezekiel, that any methods, however outlandish, may be pursued in order to secure men’s attention to spiritual facts. The method should be such as will impress a truth, not such as may excite little else but wonder or amusement or sympathy. Under such a restriction and by the pressure of divine leading, symbolical actions may first be used, and instruction follow after them; but it ought ever to be realised that no action, even though it may be apparently impressive, is of any worth in God’s judgment unless it end in making men know that He is Lord.
(2.) Constant in progress. So it seems to us, and so it is, only we sometimes conclude that God is in a hurry when He is not. The suffering which looks as if it had burst suddenly upon a people or an individual is the result of preceding events which may have been occurring through some, it may be many, years. The destruction of the plain of Sodom in a morning was physically the outcome of material forces which had been long in gathering and pent up, and was, morally, the final consequence of lengthened and highhanded wickedness. This incident in Ezekiel’s history shows how God lets the minds of prophet and people simmer till morning over the odd conduct of the prophet on the day and night before. Then He explained what was in prospect; but the event, which the action referred to, was not brought to pass till about six years had gone away. God gives line upon line, precept upon precept, before the guilty fall backward and are broken and are snared and taken. The apostle who “ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” was a pupil of God, who is full of compassion. Does His goodness and forbearance lead us to repentance? Have we the love which suffers long and is kind?
(2.) Culminating in acknowledgment of Him. As Ruler over all He makes the end of His revelations of Himself to be that “all should know the Lord, from the least to the greatest.” He has the right to supreme homage, and He will arrange to spare some of those who have felt the consequences of withholding that homage, so that they shall speak of what He has done. They will make known His deeds among the people, and the heathen shall fear His great and terrible name. Thus shall His way be known upon earth; His saving health among all nations.
THE TIME OF GOD’S COMMUNICATION IS WORTHY TO BE NOTED (Ezekiel 12:8)
I. Because the coming of the Word of the Lord to us is an important event in our history.
(1.) Sometimes it produces terror and conviction of evil. Moses on Sinai, Job under the whirlwind, Saul near to Damascus. We are to be brought to see our need.
(2.) Sometimes it is attractive and tender. As to Samuel when a youth, and to Lydia when Paul preached.
(3.) Sometimes it is for consolation. As the still small voice to Elijah when he was cast down, with its, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” And as Christ came to the disciples on the lake with His, “It is I.”
(4.) Sometimes to unfold and urge to duty. As to Ezekiel here, and as to Paul when he was praying in the temple in a trance.
II. Because it comes at a noticeable season. “In the morning.” God regards the time we have been under His teachings, what our attitude to Him has been, and how we have profited, or the reverse. “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?”
(1.) The word may come in the morning, literally. Give God your first thoughts, meditate early on His ways; “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord,” and let us say, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.”
(2.) In the period of youth. Samuel, Josiah, Timothy. Good to begin well, in hope of ending well. “Wilt Thou not cry unto me, My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth?”
(3.) After a period of anxiety and suffering. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Martha said to Mary, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” “Pay thy vows.” “Arise, go to Bethel, and make there an altar unto God, that appeared to thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.”
Let us look for the day when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and come forth from their graves.
(2.) THE SYMBOL FROM BREAD AND WATER (Ezekiel 12:17-20)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The prophet is commanded to take his ordinary meals as a man under great apprehensions. It is not, as in chap. Ezekiel 4:16, that he is thus to indicate a dreadful scarcity approaching, but rather the felt pressure of that calamity, as if the evil threatened would take away all relish for sustenance to the body (Ezekiel 12:18). Ezekiel speaks in the Word of the Lord “of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in the country of Israel;” a message is to be forwarded to the people who had not been carried into captivity, to declare that they should be affected with anxiety and surprise, “because its land,” i.e., ferusalenis, “becomes desolate from its fulness;” where once were life and plenty, the supply of population, animals, grain, &c., would be grievously and surprisingly diminished.
When the evil consequences of sins have to be encountered then there may be trouble.
I. On men.
1. An apparently foolish course may be appointed by the Lord, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
2. Hard service may have to be undertaken for the gracious Master, but “most gladly will I glory in infirmities if the power of Christ rest upon me.”
II. On the necessaries of life. Supplies for the body may become not sources of comfort but of suffering. Food and drink shall cause a strain and pain. The bread be bread of affliction.
III. On population, agriculture, commerce. Depression and decrease ensue. A nation no more than an individual can escape from the due reward of its deeds.
(3.) THE FOOLISH PROVERB (Ezekiel 12:21-28)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The hearts of the Jerusalem people would evade any fair application of the ominous action of Ezekiel, and he is incited to aim a blow at the evasion, which took form in a proverbial saying, Ezekiel 12:22, “The days are prolonged, and every vision perisheth” time is going by, and not one forecast of good or evil has come to pass; it has been a deluding of us. Ezekiel 12:23. Against this sentiment the communication from the Lord is, “The days are near, and the word of every vision,” the passing days are inevitably bringing on the speedy fulfilment of every word folded in the imagery which has been perceived by the spiritual vision of the prophets. Ezekiel 12:25. Over against the merely human prophecies, which had largely contributed to the formation of the condemned proverb, the divine truthfulness would be manifested, and utterly dislodge the former, “For I, the Lord, will speak whatever word I will speak, and it shall come to pass,” not in some far-off future, but “in your days, O house of rebellion.” On the generation of his contemporaries would come both the earlier and the later effects which had been declared certain.
Ezekiel 12:26-28. An emphatic assertion of the impending accomplishment of Ezekiel’s own prophetic utterances is made against the temporising of “the house of Israel, who say the vision that he seeth is for many days, and for far off times he prophesieth.” They believed his words would come true, but not in their experience at any rate. To meet that idea of postponement the Lord said, “None of my words shall be delayed any more; whatever word I shall speak, it shall come to pass.”
MEN’S EVASION OF THE DIVINE INTERFERENCE IN EVENTS
God does not only begin, He goes along with the whole development of the world’s history. He can foretell any portion of that history. By special communication or general providence He proves that all its “government is upon His shoulders;” that “He sitteth on the throne judging right,” and working so that men should cease to do evil and learn to do well. There is that in human nature which reaches a point at which it resiles from the idea of this immanence, where it finds the absolute rights of God unwelcome to itself. In this state we observe—
I. The power exerted by what is visible. “Prophets and preachers are men like yourselves. Why should you yield up your souls that they may ride over them with what they assert are messages from an invisible mighty Being? What palpable proofs can they give that He communicates with them, though He never does with you? You might accept their statements did you see any clear fulfilment of the threats of punishment which they plentifully cast forth; but in failure of such evidence you have reason to make light of the claims which they advance for the recognition of the truth of what they say.” How shall these difficulties be overcome? “Let what is righteous and true and holy and good get an honest hearing in your consciences. Let the operation of principles, which is so much more slow to become obvious than the operation of the physical forces, have due time accorded; you will be brought to see that your craving for what is sensible is a depreciation of that nobler part of your nature which feels after higher things than it sees. You may be convinced if what is spiritual commends itself by its close adherence to rectitude, you are wrong in ignoring or postponing its indications.” How many hearers of the Word of God will not accept Jesus Christ as Lord, because they expect some more palpable influences to be brought into action! Do not portions of modern society indicate doubt and even aversion to the demands of the Bible, because they do not place themselves in the light of what is sinless and just and unbending to worldly pleasures? Thus space given for repentance is too often turned into space for hardening the heart against the Unseen and Eternal.
II. Doubts of the efficiency of God. They may acknowledge Him as Maker of the undeveloped world, but decline to acknowledge the signs that He is acting in it now. They see force of one kind or other, and as these forces always act in uniform lines, what place is there for a holy will behind and before and upon men in every event? So the thought is, There is no God in the common acceptation of the term. There may be a power that is unique, but it does not interfere in human affairs as prophets and preachers maintain. There is no reality expressed by the words, The God of Abraham and of Israel, of Jesus Christ and His Church. Is it forgotten by such thinkers that the nature of God must be expressed in words and acts corresponding to itself; that He must abide and must operate age after age; that whatever be the superficial sameness of society and slumbering of retributions, He has not forgotten the work of His hands? “I say the word and will perform it.”
III. Discredit cast upon personal application of divine messages. In this class it is not said, There is no prospect of the evil threatened ever coming near; but rather, There is no likelihood of it touching us. “When the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come nigh unto us.” Men who have committed iniquity for years do so with impunity, nations which have been selfish and oppressive have not been subjected to penalties, notwithstanding what men speaking in the name of the Lord say. We may believe that not in our days are their words to be practically illustrated. Thus is produced a feeling of security, if not of unbelief. The heart is set towards putting far off the evil day. It is a token of deepest immersion in spiritual darkness when men take the apparent absence of a frowning face as proof that God’s servants are not justified in saying that it is there. It would be seen if darkness did not blind the eyes. The feeling is widespread. The darkness covered the mass of Israel. It affects and will affect multitudes in these later days. “When the Son of Man Cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” What need to question all our spiritual security to see whether it results from trust in God, or from a vague idea that we shall escape portending ill, that if others are to be sufferers for sin we shall not be!
1. Common sayings are not always true sayings. They may pass current in houses, shops, meetings, but when they have to stand a cross-examination how many utterly break down and show themselves to be bubbles—baseless and hollow.
2. God’s sayings are certain. He has spoken them in the constitution of man and that of the world, as well as also by holy men commissioned to declare His will. However prolonged the working out of His institutes be, they must develop fully and finally. He has eternity to act in. See that faith is placed in Christ Jesus, who gives insight of the thoughts and ways—the love and the wrath of God the Holy and True. We receive “a kingdom that cannot be moved, and serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
3. The preference of man’s sayings may hasten the manifestation of the truth of God’s sayings. The boldness and mockery of deniers of God’s claims may make Him to become a swift witness for His veracity and against men’s despisal of it. Men who taunt Him to “make speed, hasten His word that we may see it,” may find, in the midst of sorrows, that they have brought upon themselves swift destruction. Repentance may prevent judgment; hardening of heart aggravates and expedites it. In the Lord alone is there sufficient to assure us that He will not forget, delay, change.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26