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JEHOVAH’S REFUSAL TO ALLOW IDOLATERS TO ENQUIRE OF HIM: THE CERTAINTY OF THE JUDGMENTS DENOUNCED AGAINST THEM (Chap. 14)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The visit of the elders of the people to the prophet was the occasion of this word of God. They were alarmed by the threatenings which the prophet uttered, but they yet hoped to obtain from him a more favourable answer. They make an appeal to God’s mercy, but are silent concerning the greatness of their sin or any purpose of repentance. These elders were not the representatives of the majority of the exiles who practised the most open and the boldest forms of idolatry; but rather of those who, though they outwardly feared God, yet inwardly served the world and the spirit of the age. “These men have set up idols in their heart” (Ezekiel 14:3). The prophet’s answer to their inquiry extends to Ezekiel 14:11. The latter part of the chapter declares that the coming judgments on Jerusalem will not be averted even for the sake of the righteous few therein.
THE LORD GIVES NO ANSWER TO THE IDOLATERS (Ezekiel 14:1-11)
Ezekiel 14:1. “The elders of Israel.” “These men were not deputies from the Israelites in Palestine, but elders of the exiles among whom Ezekiel had been labouring” (Keil). Their object in this visit is not distinctly stated, but probably it was that they might know something further concerning the duration of the captivity, or the fate of Jerusalem. Unlike the elders in chap. Ezekiel 20:1, they had not come with the definite purpose of inquiring of the Lord.
Ezekiel 14:2-3. “These men have set up their idols in their heart.” They were not given to the grosser forms of idolatry, but they were strangers to the true worship of God. They had set up some object of their own creation, which they put in the place of God. They allowed their minds to be deluded by phantoms. In heart and spirit they were one with the worst idolaters around them. “And put the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their face.” They even refused to put away idols from their presence. They sought not to flee from temptation by removing what would be an occasion and reminder of sin. “Should I be enquired of at all by them?” This question implies a strong negation.
Ezekiel 14:4. “I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols.” The form of the verb to “answer” gives the meaning, “I the Lord will answer him by myself,” instead of by the prophet. The manner in which the Lord will answer the idolatry is set forth in Ezekiel 14:8. They are to be treated as all idols should be treated.
Ezekiel 14:5. “That I may take the house of Israel in their heart.” The Lord will reach the very seat of idolatry, touch their conscience, and bring down their heart by judgments.
Ezekiel 14:6-8. Repetition of the threat already uttered, and also of the summons to repentance. “Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” “We have here a combination of the Kal and Hiphil conjugations for the sake of emphasis. Return unreservedly from your abominable idolatries. Be NO longer estranged from me, either in heart or practice. They were neither to hanker after in desire, nor look towards the accursed thing” (Henderson). “Every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel.” All who hypocritically applied to the prophet, whether proselytes or native Jews, were liable to the same judgments. Strangers were only permitted to dwell in the land of Israel on condition of forsaking all idolatry and all moral abominations, and worshipping Jehovah alone (Leviticus 20:2; Leviticus 18:26; Leviticus 17:10; Exodus 12:19). “And will make him a sign and a proverb.” “The expression is a pregnant one; I make him desolate, so that he becomes a sign and proverb” (Keil). “An exemplary punishment” (Heng.)
Ezekiel 14:9-11. No prophet is to give any other answer. “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” He who delivers any other message, though he may think that he speaks the word of the Lord, is not a true prophet. When God is represented as deceiving such a prophet, we are to understand something more than merely a permissive sense, as if God allowed it and did not interfere to prevent the deception. It was Jehovah who sent the lying spirit into the prophets of Ahab, and for this very purpose, that by predicting success to the king they might secure his fall (1 Kings 22:20, &c.) “This persuading of the prophets to the utterance of self-willed words, which have not been inspired by God, only takes place in persons who admit evil into themselves, and is designed to tempt them and lead them to decide whether they will endeavour to resist and conquer the sinful inclinations of their hearts, or will allow them to shape themselves into outward deeds, in which case they will become ripe for judgment. It is in this sense that God persuades such a prophet, in order that He may then cut him off out of His people” (Keil). “If matters should turn out differently from what the prophet expected and foretold, I have so ordered them in the course of my providence as to issue in such a result. It is the prerogative of Deity to control the sinful operations of created minds, without interfering with free agency” (Henderson). “The punishment of the prophet shall he even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him.” The false prophets and those who inquire of them are both alike guilty, and come into the same condemnation. Neither in one nor in the other was there any desire to learn the truth, but rather to seek excuse for their sins and errors even by the daring impiety of demanding for them the sanctions of religion. “That the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions.” “It serves to purify the people of God. For the particular sinful generation it flows from the principle of retribution; but for the whole 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.” (Heng.) “It was to this end that, in the last times of the kingdom of Judah, God allowed false prophecy to prevail so mightily,—namely, that it might accelerate the process of distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked; and then, by means of the judgment which destroyed the wicked, purify His nation and lead it on to the great end of its calling” (Keil).
HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS AFTER GOD
These elders had come as a deputation from among the exiles in order to consult Ezekiel as a prophet of the Lord. They had come from a distance, and are to be distinguished from those mentioned in chap. Ezekiel 8:1 who were already with the prophet. We are not told expressly what their purpose was. They may have sought guidance concerning some question which they felt to be a difficulty. They may have simply waited to hear what seasonable truth the prophet had still to utter. But from Ezekiel 14:3 we learn that they certainly did come in the character of inquirers. And the answer which the Lord gives through theprophet shows that they were not sincere, but hypocritical inquirers. We have here the great features of all such.
I. They closely imitate the conduct of real inquirers. Hypocrites are generally described as those who deceive others by making an outward show of piety. But the sacred writers call those hypocrites not only who deceived others, but deceived even themselves. These closely imitate the religious actions of the pious, but they are ignorant of those deep spiritual principles upon which such conduct is founded. These have no true knowledge of God. They only know Him by tradition and the customs of religious service and worship. These elders had some of the qualities of real inquirers after the mind and will of God.
1. They were already stirred by the message of the prophet. They took alarm at his threatenings. They were afraid at God’s judgments.
2. They tome to the prophet, as an inspired messenger of God, for further counsel. They were the subjects of religious awakening, and professed themselves ready to learn all the will of God. Men may go as far as this without any true and essential knowledge of the realities of religion.
II. They lack the proper characteristics of real inquirers.
1. They apply to religious teachers, not to be instructed in God’s will, but to be confirmed in their own superstitions and errors. They were ready to hear and obey the prophet so long as he prophesied after their own heart. While religion did not interfere with their cherished convictions and prospects they were ready to obey its precepts and ordinances. They did not really believe that the threatened judgments would come to pass, and they desired a prophet who would confirm them in their false hopes. Such men feel a certain satisfaction in heaping to themselves teachers. In some way they feel the necessity of obtaining the sanctions of religion. But they come to the prophet not to learn, but to be confirmed in the purpose of their evil heart. They have not learned what it is to surrender the mind as well as the heart and will to God.
2. They retain sin in their heart, though they avoid the outward manifestation of it. They abstained from the gross forms of idolatry which were practised by their countrymen, but “they set up their idols in their heart” (Ezekiel 14:3). The real root-principle of idolatry was still in them.
3. They take no steps to remove the occasions of sin. “They put the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their face” (Ezekiel 14:3). While these outward temptations and means of sin are suffered to remain, it is of no use to seek first to cleanse the heart. Images must first be destroyed, else there is little prospect of rooting out idolatry from the land. Religious teachers should testify against both outward and inward idolatry. If idols are not removed from the eyes of men the temptation to worship them will remain, however faithful the teaching may be against the sin of it. The outward forms of superstition should first be destroyed, else there is little hope of promoting the pure worship of the heart.
III. They are exposed to terrible judgments. Even though they inquire of a true prophet and cannot be charged with open transgression.
1. They cannot hope to deceive God, who sees and knows the heart. God can see into the depths of the heart, which is the real man. It is the sinful heart within which makes the outward temptations of the world dangerous.
2. They are left to the action of the law of retribution. Retribution in kind, “according to the multitude of his idols (Ezekiel 14:4). They trusted in idols; let them have them now. Let them see what their own refuges can do for them. God refuses to be inquired of them. “He heareth not sinners” (John 9:31). The Word of God is taken away from the despisers of the truth (Acts 13:46). There is a time when God gives an answer, but not as men desire, and there is also a time when He refuses to answer. In both these modes of treatment He shows His righteous indignation, Sinners are left without answer or help in order that they might come to the true knowledge of their sin.
IV. Their only hope for escape is by a thorough repentance.
1. The heart must be turned to God. “Repent and turn yourselves from your idols” (Ezekiel 14:6) The Lord will not share His glory with another. The heart must be entirely given up to the service and worship of the only God.
2. The outward occasion of sin must be removed. “Turn your faces from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6) They must avoid the outward forms of idolatry lest they should become again a temptation and a snare. Their repentance must be a complete reformation both of the outer and of the inner life.
IDOLATRY IN THE HEART (Ezekiel 14:3)
Idolatry is an old sin. The worship of the true God is older; but it was soon corrupted, for men “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:28). There may be idolatry in the heart even when idols are abolished from external worship. God’s commandment is “exceeding broad.” Idols have long been banished from our land, and therefore the second commandment has in one sense become obsolete. But all that is essential to the sin of worshipping them may still be found even in Christian lands. Everything that stands between a man’s soul and heaven is an idol,—it is that which he trusts in with his whole heart. For the root-principle of idolatry is the tendency to put something in the place of God, to allow the mind to be deluded by phantoms. Idols of all kinds are mere phantoms, they are (as St. Paul tells us) nothing in the world; there is no reality in them. When God is not truly known to the soul within, the man of necessity becomes an idolater. Whatever hinders the true knowledge of God is idolatry. Bacon, the father of modern science, has distinguished certain idols or phantoms which interfere with human knowledge. These idols he represents as certain false notions which possess the mind, and which must be dislodged if men would attain to the truth concerning the knowledge of man and nature. There are “idols of the tribe,” “of the cave,” “of the market-place,” “of the theatre.” It will be found that idolatries in religion spring from similar sources.
I. Idols of the tribe. By which Bacon means, those errors and false conceptions which have their origin in human nature itself. He says that “the human mind is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolours the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.” Does not this speak to us of our natural ignorance of God, which distorts all the indications He has given us of His character and will? It may assume the form of gross idolatry, of atheism, of indifference, or of the various forms of superstition where ignorant fear is substituted for the worship of Him who alone is to be feared.
II. Idols of the cave. Bacon describes these as the sources of error which belong to individual men. These may arise from the peculiar constitution of our mind, from our early habits and education, from all those influences which form our individual characters. “Each man,” says Bacon, “has a den or cave of his own.” Sometimes it is dark and comfortless, shutting out the light of heaven, full of doleful things and gloomy fears. Each man has some infirmity of mind or temper which leads him to judge wrongly of God and of duty. Each man has his besetting sin, and must bear his own burden, fight against his own enemies, and seek peace for his own soul.
III. Idols of the market-place. These are described as false notions or conceptions, which arise from the intercourse of men with each other. It may be that each man in his own cave—in himself as an individual—is ashamed of the customs and notions of which men as communities approve. But these are often deemed respectable and right if only they are adopted by good society, or by common usage, or by the laws and customs of that particular business or profession to which the man belongs.
IV. Idols of the theatre. By which are meant those hindrances to the knowledge of the truth which have been imported into men’s minds from the various dogmas of human philosophies: It is certainly a hindrance in all intellectual pursuits that many ingenious men have gone wrong before us. Hence knowledge is retarded. Mental power is wasted, for some wiser man must arise to clear away those errors to which great men of former times have given currency. We have such idols of the theatre in religion,—each successive system of infidel philosophy, rationalism, every device for setting aside the revelation which God has given of Himself to man in Jesus Christ, every attempt to get rid of the supernatural and divine element in the Scriptures of God. All these have hidden God from many human souls. They are the peculiar temptations of intellectual men, of speculative minds. Such are often free from vulgar temptations, and it would seem as if in this way their proper measure of the difficulties of probation is filled up to them. And all idols, whether they spring from that nature which is common to mankind, or from each man’s peculiarities of temper and disposition, or from the customs of human business and conventional moralities, or from those ingenious speculations which we find in books,—all these are only to be overcome by the recognition of God in Christ. They are all mere phantoms, they hide God from the soul, they lead us astray, they have no power to teach us, they cannot bring us nearer heaven. But God has not left us to wander in uncertainty. He has given us the true Light. Our blessed Lord said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He gives the invitation, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He will give us rest from the pursuit of vanities of all kinds, from empty speculations which weary the soul for no profit. If we have found the true we cannot worship the false. If we are true worshippers of Christ we must put away all our idols, for He will not share His love and worship with another. Christ gives us the true idea of God. The sin of idolatry is not now impossible though idols are removed from the eyes of men. The Second Commandment may be dead as concerns the letter of it, but the spirit of it is as potent as ever to convince men of sin. How many professed worshippers in the Christian Church set up their idols in their heart and then come to inquire of God! There is a tendency to worship something which is not God, to deny Him the full devotion of our hearts. Even when men will scarcely dare entirely to leave His service, they still strive to serve two masters. All who love pleasure, earthly honours and distinctions, more than they love God, are idolaters. In short, all are involved in this sin who seek the world first before the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
THE INQUIRERS OF FALSE PROPHETS (Ezekiel 14:9-11)
I. They hope to obtain a more favourable answer. The true prophets do not speak that which they would like to hear, so they seek teachers after their own minds. They will undertake to decide for themselves what prophets are true or false by the correspondence of the message with their own corrupt wishes. They are willingly deceived.
II. They do not thereby escape God’s judgments.
1. Even false prophets are by the will of God. “I the Lord have deceived that prophet” (Ezekiel 14:9). God permits such men to preach error, as He permits all other evils to prevail in the world. He does not suppress them by an act of power. He allows the tares and the wheat to grow together until the appointed time of judgment. And we must learn from God’s dealings with mankind the lesson of toleration. If we attempt to pluck up the tares we run the risk of rooting out the wheat also. No man has knowledge or skill enough which will serve him to anticipate God’s final judgment. He who attempts this may, indeed, do some good, but he will certainly do much harm.
2. God uses and controls evil for the working out of His purposes. It is true that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man” (James 1:13). But God makes use of the sins of men in working out His great designs. Thus He allows men to fall into one sin as a punishment for another. These exiles loved to be deceived, and they were deceived. They loved darkness, and they were allowed to wander into greater darkness. A man must either repent, or he must continue in the sinful path towards his punishment. It is by God’s law that even the germs of sin are permitted to be planted, to be fostered, and to grow, so that sin shall attain to its full maturity and bring on its own punishment. God’s Providence so orders the course of events that men who will not have the truth shall be brought to ruin by a lie.
III. These judgments are intended for the benefit of God’s people.
1. To preserve them from transgression (Ezekiel 14:11).
2. To test their faith. By the flourishing of false prophets their own fidelity and steadfastness would be tried. The prevalence of error makes manifest the tried and approved children of truth (1 Corinthians 11:19).
3. To confirm their faith. By witnessing the judgments of God fulfilled upon others.
4. To teach them to realise their relationship to God. “That they may be my people, and I may be their God” (Ezekiel 14:11). We can have no true peace until we know that the Lord is our God. The essence of religion consists in the appropriation of God by the soul.
5. To separate between the righteous and the ungodly. God may use even sin and error to contribute to this final purpose of His judgment (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11).
False prophets were both in Judea and in Babylon, and the people had often recourse unto them. They spake pleasing things. They told them who were in Judea that Nebuchadnezzar should never subdue and carry them captives; yea, they told them that those in Babylon should shortly return. These were vain, false, and deceitful prophecies, and Divine Providence ordered it so. We have here—
I. A supposition. “If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing.” The false prophets were deceived in what they spake to the people. Zedekiah and the rest of the prophets which bade Ahab to go up to Ramoth-Gilead and prosper, were deceived (1 Kings 22:0). Hananiah and Shelemiah made that people trust in a lie (Jeremiah 28:15; Jeremiah 32:31). They were deceived in their prophets, and deceive others.
II. An assertion. “I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” These words sound very harsh, and no man durst have attributed them unto the Lord, had not He Himself said so. The words, “I have deceived” are to be taken as a judicial act of God, who, dealing with them as delinquents, punisheth them with this special judgment of seduction; they were idolatrous and hypocritical, and God punished those sins with others, and so accidentally was the efficient cause of their deception. God finding those men false and forward to deceive, hearkening to their own hearts, and following their own spirits (Ezekiel 13:2-3), He gave them up and over to vain visions and lying divinations, which was one punishment, and to perdition, which was another punishment following thereupon. Have you a mind to be prophets, to prophesy lies? Ye shall be so. In Isaiah 63:17, we read, “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” God did this in judgment to the people who affected false prophets, and chose their own ways (Isaiah 66:3), and delighted in their abominations. He in judgment gave them up to their own ways, and to hardness of heart (Psalms 71:11-12).
III. A threatening. “I will stretch out my hand upon him.” God would put forth His power to punish such a prophet. But if God deceived him, how can He in justice punish or destroy that prophet? We answer,
1. The false prophet did whatever he did freely. He was not forced by any power or act of God. His seduction was principally from himself; and it was his own fault that he was deceived, that he deceived others.
2. A man may serve Providence, and yet sin against the law of God. The secret Providence had ordered it that this people should be seduced by false prophets, yet God in His word had forbidden such (Deuteronomy 13:0). And because men are to look at what is written, not what is secret and hidden, therefore if they violate the law, God may justly punish thereupon (Acts 4:27-28). Herod, Pilate, Judas, and the Jews, they did to Christ whatsoever God had determined to be done, yet they were not without sin, nor without punishment, because they transgressed the rule given them. We make two observations,—
(1.) The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and justice, doth make a punishment of sin, and punish one sin with another. Besides corporal judgments He hath spiritual; if the prophet be deceived, “I the Lord have deceived him,” I have laid this judgment upon him, that he should be deceived, led into errors, and deceive others; this he hath deserved at my hands, and this punishment in just judgment I inflict upon him. The Scriptures hold out frequently this way of God’s proceedings with sinners, His punishment of one sin with another; (2 Chronicles 25:17-20; Jeremiah 4:10; Romans 1:25-26; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11).
(2.) God will deal severely with false prophets. “I will stretch out my hand upon him.” He would be made an example to all, as were Hananiah and Shemaiah (Jeremiah 28:15-16; Jeremiah 29:31-32.—Greenhill).
“The great sophister and prince of darkness (God permitting him) can strangely blindfold our reason and muffle our understanding; and, no doubt, the chiefest cause that most of the obstinate, besotted sinners of the world are not sensible that the devil blinds and abuses them is, that he has indeed actually done so already. For how dreadfully did God consign over the heathen world to a perpetual slavery to Satan’s deceits? They worshipped him, they consulted with him, and so absolutely were they sealed up under the ruling cheat, that they took all his tricks and impostures for Oracle and Instruction. And the truth is, when men under the powerful preaching of the Gospel will grow heathens in the viciousness of their practices, it is but just with God to suffer them (by a very natural transition) to grow heathens, too, in the grossness of their delusions.”—South.
JUDAH AND JERUSALEM CANNOT CLAIM EXEMPTION FROM JUDGMENTS BECAUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS FEW THEREIN (Ezekiel 14:12-23)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 14:12-13. “When the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously.” Their sin is more particularly defined as “trespass,” the literal expression being “to trespass a trespass,” i.e. to commit a very great trespass. The first signification of the Hebrew word is “to cover,” and therefore it is used to denote acting in any secret or treacherous manner, especially towards Jehovah, either by outward or inward idolatry or by withholding what is due to Him. Here the treachery specially pointed out is that of apostasy from God by idolatry.
Ezekiel 14:14. “Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it. These men are named as well-known examples of true righteousness of life. They were just in their generation living that life of obedience which springs from faith in God. Noah is so described in Genesis 6:9; and Job, in the Book of Job 1:1; and Daniel, in like manner, is classed with these ancient men as one who confessed a true faith by a righteous life. “The fact that Daniel is named before Job does not warrant the conjecture that some other older Daniel is meant, of whom nothing is said in the history, and whose existence is merely postulated. For the enumeration is not intended to be chronological, but is arranged according to the subject-matter; the order being determined by the nature of the deliverance experienced by these men for their righteousness in the midst of great judgments. Hävernick shows we have a climax here: Noah saved his family along with himself; Daniel was able to save his friends (Daniel 2:17-18); but Job, with his righteousness, was not even able to save his children” (Keil).
Ezekiel 14:15. “If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land.” “Beasts” in the usual sense, or in human form (Ezekiel 14:17.)” (Hengstenberg), comp. Ezekiel 5:17; Leviticus 26:22; 2 Kings 17:25.
Ezekiel 14:16. “They shall deliver neither sons nor daughters.” “In the first instance, it is simply stated that Noah, Daniel, and Job would save their soul, i.e. their life, by their righteousness; whereas, in the three others, it is declared that as truly as the Lord liveth they would not save either sons or daughters, but they alone would be delivered. The difference is not merely a rhetorical climax or progress in the address by means of asseveration and antithesis, but indicates a distinction in the thought. The first case is only intended to teach that in the approaching judgment the righteous would save their lives, i.e. that God would not sweep away the righteous with the ungodly. The three cases which follow are intended, on the other hand, to exemplify the truth that the righteousness of the righteous will be of no avail to the idolaters and apostates; since even such patterns of righteousness as Noah, Daniel, and Job would only be able to save their own lives, and would not be able to save the lives of others also. This tallies with the omission of the asseveration in Ezekiel 14:14. The first declaration, that God would deliver the righteous in the coming judgments, needed no asseveration, inasmuch as this truth was not called in question; but it was required in the case of the declaration that the righteousness of the righteous would bring no deliverance to the sinful nation, since this was the hope which the ungodly cherished, and it was this hope which was to be taken from them” (Keil).
Ezekiel 14:17-20. Two more great judgments are threatened. “The four visitations of God, each introduced 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 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 common place” (Heng.)
Ezekiel 14:21. “How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem.” “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” (Heng.) “The sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence.” “The number four may possibly symbolise the completeness of the judgment, as one on all sides. Formerly famine was first; here it is the sword, because the calamity of war lay immediately before them. In consequence of it the other three judgments came one after another. War brings famine into the cities; corpses outside, which attract the beasts; and from all these follows the pestilence” (Lange).
Ezekiel 14:22. “Therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth.” “A remnant,” i.e., persons who have escaped destruction. These shall be brought forth, i.e., led out of Jerusalem “unto you.” They shall join those who are already in exile in Babylon. “Sons and daughters.” “These are called sons and daughters, with an allusion to Ezekiel 14:16; Ezekiel 14:18; Ezekiel 14:20; and consequently we must not take these words as referring to the younger generation in contrast to the older” (Keil). “Ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem.” They shall be comforted in seeing the justification of the ways of God.
Ezekiel 14:23. “Their ways and their doings.” “Not those ways by which they had provoked the Lord to punish the nation, but the fruits of righteousness—the good works to the practice of which they had been recovered by the severe discipline through the course of which they had been brought. While they justified God in all the calamities which He had inflicted upon them, their being spared was a proof of His great mercy, and a pledge that, if their brethren in the captivity followed their example by renouncing idolatry, they also should be dealt with in mercy” (Hend.)
THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD UPON NATIONS
I. They usually take the shape of great public calamities.
1. The sources of the national wealth are undermined. “I will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it” (Ezekiel 14:13). Bread, the chief food of man, may well be called “the staff of life.” It is the prop which supports man’s physical nature, and when it is taken away he sinks exhausted to the ground. Famine is one of God’s sore judgments, for it seizes upon what is man’s greatest treasure, his life. Man and beast fail; the means of useful labour and food are cut off. The very foundations of life are destroyed.
2. The invasion of enemies. “If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land” (Ezekiel 14:15). Man was invested with dominion over the beasts of the earth. By virtue of the power of his mind, and not merely by physical force, he retains his sovereignty over them. And God’s providence wonderfully preserves the balance of power between man and the lower animals. He sets a watch over all His creatures, so that they shall not pass His commandment, but fulfil His purpose in placing man head over all here below. But sin interferes with man’s complete dominion; and it is, after all, but a broken sceptre that he holds in his hand. God, for purposes of judgment, allows beasts to overcome man. Another enemy to nations is the sword. God says, “Sword, go through the land” (Ezekiel 14:17). War is one of the scourges which God uses to punish wicked nations. All the evils mentioned in this section—devouring beasts, pestilence, and famine—follow in its track.
3. Pestilence. “Or. if I send a pestilence into that land” (Ezekiel 14:19). In famine and other calamities men of wealth may be able to keep the enemy for a long while at bay, or even to hold out to the end. But they have no defence against pestilence. Then does the Angel of Death walk through the land with impartial step, sparing no age or condition.
II. Though they may be traced to natural causes they are still the work of God. War, pestilence, and famine, are due to the operation of natural laws. But it is also true that God sends them; for He is behind all nature, and behind all human history, whether in justice or in the mysterious march of its events. The calamities that fall upon nations have deep moral causes, and ultimately resolve themselves into the righteous will of God in His manifest indignation against human sin.
1. Nations, as such, are under moral law. This law expresses the will of God in regard to human conduct.
2. The transgression of those laws involves penalty. History has many sad examples which show how the moral corruption of a nation may become so great as to bring about its destruction. Nations can only be judged in this life, for as such they do not exist in another world. When a land sins against God by “trespassing grievously,” the calamities which are visited upon it are seen to come from God by all who believe that there is a moral Governor of the world.
III. They cannot always be averted by pleading the righteousness of the few therein. Abraham’s intercession for Sodom establishes that principle of God’s government by which whole nations are spared great judgments for the sake of the few righteous among them. The faithful few among many faithless are as the salt which preserves the whole community from corruption. We are exhorted and encouraged to pray for others, and even to be so bold as to ask that the hand of justice might be stayed when it is lifted against the ungodly. But there are limits to intercession. Even the prayers of Abraham could not save the devoted cities of the plain. In like manner the iniquity of Jerusalem had grown so great that the prayers and godly influence of men of such famous righteousness as Noah, Daniel, and Job, could not save it from the threatened doom. The Jews placed great reliance upon the intercession of the saints, and counted upon it as a refuge from judgment. They are now told that this is a vain hope, that God’s righteous law must take its course, and that the most holy men can but save themselves (Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:16; Ezekiel 14:18; Ezekiel 14:20).
IV. The righteousness of God therein will appear unto His people. “And ye shall be comforted” (Ezekiel 14:22). This comfort would arise from clearly seeing the justification of God’s ways (Ezekiel 14:23). There was a sufficient cause for all the evil which was coming upon Jerusalem, and faithful souls should see how that the ways of the Lord were just. However severe God’s judgments may be in His dealings with mankind, it is a comfort when we know and believe that they are righteous. What a lesson for Christian nations! They are governed by the same great moral principles, but with added light their responsibilities are greater.
From this passage we may infer two things—
I. That there are seasons when even the intercession of the most eminent will not avail. There are seasons in which it is unalterably determined to inflict punishment.
II. That these are so rare and so extraordinary that to declare He will not turn away for intercession is the strongest token of His fierce indignation.
(1.) If God delights to hear prayer it is most reasonable to believe He will favourably regard intercessory prayer; for then the supplicant is exercising two most important virtues at once, piety and benevolence. He is then employed in fulfilling the whole law, and makes the nearest approach to the divine nature.
(2.) Examples of its success—Abraham, Moses, and Job.—R. Hall.
“NOAH, DANIEL, AND JOB.”
Some make great inquiry why these three men should be mentioned rather than others, and they give in their answer:—
1. It is thought that they are named, for that they could not divert God’s wrath by their holiness and prayers from the people of their times. Noah could not keep off the flood, nor Job the sad things which befel him and his, nor Daniel the captivity.
2. Others think they are named because they freed others in imminent danger in their times. Noah saved his family from the flood; Job prayed for his friends, and they were spared; Daniel preserved the magicians and wise men. But rather they are named, because they were men of great holiness, exercised with great trials, and so the more fervent in prayer. And what if these men, who were so acceptable to me, had so much interest in me and often prevailed with me, should pray for you, yet they should do nothing for your deliverance by their prayers. These were men in great afflictions, and affliction is the whetstone of prayer, the bellows to blow up that fire.—Greenhill.
1. When God’s judgments are sorest, yet then He shows mercy to some.
2. The Lord will satisfy and comfort the hearts of His people against the evil and scandal that comes by any of His judgments. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews rooted out and carried to Babylon, what joy was there in the nations! what reproachings of the Jews! Where is now their God? At these things the Jews’ hearts in Babylon were grieved, offended; therefore the Lord tells them, they “shall be comforted concerning all the evil He hath brought upon Jerusalem.” They shall know the greatness of their sins which moved Him to do so.
3. That the Lord is righteous and just in His judgments. “I have not done without cause all that I have done in Jerusalem.” It is the devil’s design to hurt without cause; therefore saith God, “Thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause” (Job 2:3). But God would not do it; whatever He doth He hath great cause for. He is the only and infinitely wise God, and doth all things upon the height of reason. Their sins were such as impeached His honour, corrupted His worship, broke the covenant, questioned His providence, violated justice, and conformed them to the heathen. He had cause enough to do what He did, namely, to vindicate His honour, worship, covenant, providence, justice, and to show that His people, if they will sin with the world, must suffer grievous things for it.
4. Men shall know in due time the equity of God’s judgments. They are a great depth. Men cannot sound or measure them (Psalms 36:6). The causes of them are hidden from the eyes of most. Job’s friends mistook the cause of God’s dealing so sharply with him, but afterwards they understood it. They in Babylon, and others, were astonished at the sore judgments of God, but God let them know the cause of it, and so they were brought to justify God (1 Kings 9:7-9). God proclaims the cause of His severe judgments, so that men may see the equity of them, that “He is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psalms 145:17).—Greenhill.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27