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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ezekiel-33.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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EZEKIEL’S COMMISSION RENEWED (Chap. 33)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 33:2. “Speak to the children of thy people.” “The prophet turns from foreign nations to Israel again. The early portion of the chapter (Ezekiel 33:2-20) seems to have been imparted to Ezekiel on the evening previous to the arrival of the news of the downfall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 33:22), and was a preparation for the latter part (Ezekiel 33:23-33) imparted after the messenger had come. This accounts for the former part standing without date, which was properly reserved for the latter part. ‘If the people of the land take a man of their coasts and set him for their watchman.’ The men were themselves to appoint the watchman, whence, in case they did not give heed to him, they withstood and strove against themselves, and so should be more convicted of their guilt and folly.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:3. “If when he seeth the sword come”—invaders. An appropriate illustration at the time of the invasion of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar.—“He blow the trumpet”—a horn, with clear resounding tone (Joshua 6:0).
Ezekiel 33:4. “His blood shall be upon his own head.” “He will be to blame for his own fall. The head is named from the custom of carrying on the head. Blood often stands for blood-guilt.”—Hengstenberg. According to others, the image is derived from sacrifice, in which the offerer transferred his guilt to his victim by laying his hand on the victim’s head (Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 24:14; Matthew 27:25).
Ezekiel 33:5. “But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.” The alone self-guiltiness of the individual is here made still more manifest.
Ezekiel 33:6. “He is taken away in his iniquity.” “Mishap befalls no one undeserved, even if under the circumstances he might have been delivered. But the unfaithful watchman is punished for his neglect.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:7. “I have set thee a watchman.” The “I” is emphatic. Ezekiel’s appointment to be a watchman spiritually is far more solemn, as it is derived from God, not from the people. The lesson is, that the relation between the prophet (and in general the servant of God in His kingdom) and the people is one full of responsibility. “Thou shalt hear the word at My mouth and warn them from Me.” “Safety therefore demanded that the prophet have free speech. That God should have given them a true seer in their midst was a sure proof of His favour, which might well keep off despair. Jehovah would fain save the wicked, and threatens wrath through His prophet only that every one may take heed and reform.”—Geikie.
Ezekiel 33:11. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” To meet the Jews’ cry of despair in Ezekiel 33:10 Ezekiel here cheers them by the assurance that God has no pleasure in their death, but that they should repentand live (2 Peter 3:9). “A yearning tenderness manifests itself here, notwithstanding all their past sins; yet with it a holiness that abates nothing of its demands for the honour of God’s authority.”—Fausset.
Ezekiel 33:12. “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.” “Self-righteousness, ever disposed to justify itself, had adopted among the exiles a comfortable theory that they were punished for the sins of their forefathers rather than for their own. Ezekiel again exposes this deception, as he had done before (chap. Ezekiel 3:20; Ezekiel 18:24; Ezekiel 18:26-27).”—Geikie. “The heart that in distress misunderstands its God will not tread the path of repentance, which determines the return of salvation; and man is quite prone to mitigate his guilt and to think that God has dealt too hardly with him.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:21. “In the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month”—a year and a half after the capture of the city (Jeremiah 39:2; Jeremiah 51:5-6), which took place in the eleventh year and fourth month. “The one who escaped may have been so long on the road through fear of entering the enemy’s country” (Henderson); or, the singular is used for the plural in a collective sense. “Naturally the reopening of the prophet’s month for consolation would be deferred till the number of the escaped remnant was complete: the removal of such a large number would easily have occupied seventeen or eighteen months.”—Fausset.
Ezekiel 33:22. “The hand of the Lord was upon me in the evening.” Thus the capture of Jerusalem was known to Ezekiel by revelation, before the messenger came. “My mouth was opened and I was no more dumb.” He spake the message from God to the people contained in Ezekiel 33:2-20 in the evening before the tidings came.
Ezekiel 33:24. “Those wastes of the land of Israel.” “Less Jerusalem itself than the other cities which had been stripped of their inhabitants (Jeremiah 33:10; Jeremiah 33:13), in which those who were without possessions (Jeremiah 39:10) shared with the returned fugitives (Jeremiah 40:12), having all at once come to great wealth of land and were puffed up.”—Hitzig. “That there were such people is proved by the revolt in which Gedaliah, the Chaldean governor, was slain.”—Hengstenberg. Compare also the representation in Nehemiah 1:0 of the desolate condition of things, though an interval of upwards of a century had elapsed. “Abraham was one, and he inherited the land, but we are many.” “Some of the bands of fighting-men which had escaped the Chaldeans, not improbably stood aloof, keeping the country disturbed by harassing forays. But, like true Jews, even their robber life was dignified by a religious colouring. Few though they were, they fancied there was no reason to despair, since the land had been given to Abraham when he was alone in the midst of the whole population, a much more hopeless position than theirs. Ezekiel, however, predicted a terrible end to these visionaries.”—Geikie.
Ezekiel 33:25. “Ye eat with the blood.” “The eating of the blood was forbidden in Genesis 9:4 as the first step to the prohibition of murder. In the blood of animals was to be seen a type of the blood of men. The prescription had a didactic end. It was to call forth an abhorrence of shedding human blood. Whosoever disregarded this prohibition showed, under the Old Testament, after the law had made the horror of animal blood national, that the germ of the murderous spirit was in him.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:26. “Ye work abomination.” The abomination is adultery. The feminine form of the verb is surprising.
Ezekiel 33:28. “That none shall pass through.” Cleared of men, even of passing travellers. The ravage of robbers and wild beasts rendered the ordinary roads unsafe.
Ezekiel 33:30. “The children of thy people still are talking against thee.” Though going to the prophet to hear the word of the Lord, they criticised, in an unfriendly spirit, his peculiarities of manner and enigmatical style (chap. Ezekiel 20:49), making these the excuse for their impenitence. “By the walls and in the doors of the houses.” In the public haunts and privately.
Ezekiel 33:31. “As My people.” “So respectful, attentive, and apparently earnest and willing.”—Hengstenberg. Ironically, those who should be mine; or, as if they would be My people and still are not. “With their mouth they show much love.” “They deal tenderly with their mouth—they show ardour; affect in words an ardent love to God and His words, while the real inclination of their heart goes quite another way—is turned to Mammon, the god of the Jewish old man.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:32. “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song”—a song of love, a lover’s song. “They praise thy eloquence, but care not for the subject of it as a real and personal thing, just as many do in the modern Church.”—Jerome. “One that hath a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument.” “Amidst the national impoverishment they amuse themselves with the surpassing rhetorical gifts of the new classic.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:33. “That a prophet hath been among them.” “No mere orator. The difference they discover in painful experience when it is too late. The threatened punishment has already overtaken them. They are already excluded from the promised salvation which can be gained only by true repentance.”—Hengstenberg.
THE OFFICES OF THE CIVIL AND SPIRITUAL WATCHMAN COMPARED AND CONTRASTED
Having sung in strains of unequalled sublimity the dirge of the great monarchies, Ezekiel returns with redoubled intensity to the duty of teaching. The enthusiastic disciple of Jeremiah, he carries out to their most startling consequences the principles but dimly sketched in the creed of his loved master. In this chapter he develops in increased sharpness of definition and fulness of detail the doctrine which is the prominent feature of his prophetic mission—that of the responsibility of the individual soul separate from the collective nation, separate from the good or ill deserts of ancestry. “Other prophets,” says Stanley, “have more of poetical beauty, a deeper sense of Divine things, a tenderer feeling of the mercies of God for His people. None teach so simply, and with a simplicity the more remarkable from the elaborate imagery out of which it emerges, this great moral lesson, to us the first of all lessons. On this narrow but solid plank of the doctrine of human responsibility Ezekiel crosses the chasm which divided the two parts of his eventful life. It is almost the last doctrine which we hear announced before his country fell. It is the first that meets us as he recovers from the shock after all is over.” This truth we shall find strikingly illustrated in the teaching of the present and succeeding paragraphs of this chapter. In these verses we have the offices of the civil and spiritual watchman compared and contrasted—
I. In the manner of their appointment.
1. The civil watchman is appointed by the careful discrimination of his fellow-countrymen. “The people of the land take a man of their coasts and set him for their watchman” (Ezekiel 33:2). It is a mutual arrangement. The rulers of the state see the need of guarding its interests, and after due inquiry select the man who in their judgment is best qualified to discharge the duties required, and the man willingly accepts the post. It is a human appointment, and the fount of authority is human, though sanctioned by the aggregate wisdom of the governing body. The government may be mistaken in the character of the man selected. They can only do their best in providing for the immediate exigencies of the state; or they may err in their conception of the trust with which they invest their officer. Human wisdom is at the best imperfect.
2. The spiritual watchman is Divinely appointed. “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7). Here the authority is supreme and infallible. The Divine discernment is unerring. God never calls and commissions the wrong man, and never appoints His servant to a work that He does not at the same time give him power to do, however unwilling he may be to accept the responsibility. The authority thus delegated is indisputable, because backed by supreme power, and from which there is no appeal. The office of the spiritual watchman is superior to all earthly governments, and has often to be exercised above and in opposition to their worldly policy.
II. In the duties assigned to each. 1. To exercise constant vigilance. “When he seeth the sword come upon the land” (Ezekiel 33:3). “Thou shalt hear the word at My mouth” (Ezekiel 33:7). It is the duty of each to be ever in a wakeful, listening attitude. The look-out on board the ocean-steamer and the advanced night-picket of a slumbering army has each a responsible post. The safety of both vessel and army depends upon their keenness of vision and delicacy of hearing. It is their duty to detect the first indications of danger. The duties of the civil and spiritual watchman are alike in demanding a highly sensitive alertness and heroic fidelity. The excavations at Herculaneum, buried by an eruption of Vesuvius more than eighteen hundred years ago, revealed the figure of a sentinel who remained immovable at the post of duty till swathed and suffocated with the molten lava.
2. To give distinct and timely warning. “Blow the trumpet and warn the people” (Ezekiel 33:3). “Warn them from Me” (Ezekiel 33:7). It is not enough to keep a sharp look-out. Every threatened movement of the enemy must be faithfully reported, and a loud, clear, earnest warning sounded when the slightest advance is made by the attacking force. The watchman should be every moment braced up to duty, and no indulgence permitted that will impair his faculties. The greater the peril, the more urgent and unmistakable should be the alarm.
III. In the reality and limitation of the responsibility of each. If the watchman, seeing the threatened evil, neglects to warn the people, he is responsible for the calamities they may suffer; if he warns the people and they suffer by not giving heed to the warning, he himself is clear of blame (Ezekiel 33:4-6; Ezekiel 33:8-9). Ezekiel, while explicit in teaching what in his day was the novel doctrine of personal responsibility, is careful to define its limits. Unlimited responsibility would be intolerable; it would tend to paralyse rather than evoke effort. Personal responsibility is ever limited by ability, opportunity, and the nature and scope of the trust with which we are invested. There is no discharge from responsibility but by obedience to obvious duty. The burden is then transferred to those towards whom duty has been faithfully fulfilled.
1. The true watchman is placed in a position of great honour and responsibility.
2. Should preserve all his faculties in the highest possible state of healthy development and exercise.
3. Is faithful in the degree in which he retains the consciousness of his Divine call.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ezekiel 33:1-9. Individual Responsibility—
1. Recognised by the directness of the Divine revelation. “The word of the Lord came unto me” (Ezekiel 33:1).
2. Augmented by the importance of the office in which he is installed. “The people of the land take a man and set him for their watchman. I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:2; Ezekiel 33:7).
3. Is limited to the faithful discharge of specific duties. To be on the alert, to raise the alarm, to warn of approaching disaster (Ezekiel 33:3-5; Ezekiel 33:9).
4. Involves serious blame when obvious duty is neglected. “His blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 33:6; Ezekiel 33:8).
—“The duty of the spiritual watchman is to warn faithfully the impenitent of their imminent danger, and of the willingness of God to receive them graciously and save them freely if they will repent. Whosoever hears the watchman’s warning and yet takes no heed to it shall perish, and his blood shall be upon his own head. But the minister who knows the danger that is before sinners, and yet neglects to sound the faithful note of warning, shall not only be in part the cause of their ruin, but shall also bring upon his own head an awful condemnation. They no doubt justly perish on account of their neglect to watch and pray continually; but he incurs at once the guilt of his own and that of their disobedience to God. What a heavy account they shall have to render who make excuses for sin, flatter sinners, and promise them pardon and peace without penitence and faith!”—Fausset.
Ezekiel 33:2. “Take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman.” A National Guardian.
1. An important officer in time of public danger.
2. Is selected for some special qualifications he possesses above other of his countrymen.
3. The safety of the country is entrusted to his care.
4. Should be vigilant and faithful in the discharge of duty.
5. Is accountable for his conduct to those who appoint him.
—“One man may be of public service to a whole country. Princes and statesmen are the watchmen of a kingdom, that are continually to employ and, if occasion be, expose themselves for the public safety.”—M. Henry.
—“The calling to the office of preacher is twofold—one immediate, the other mediate; the former is from God, the latter from man (Acts 26:15-16; Acts 6:5). No blind man, nor dreamer, nor drowsy sleeper is fit for an office that takes its name from wakefulness.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:4-5. Faithful Warning—
1. Should be clearly and earnestly uttered.
2. Secures the safety of those who give heed to it.
3. Is uttered in vain to those who neglect it.
4. Deprives the heedless of any ground of complaint for the suffering he refused to avoid.
Ezekiel 33:6. Neglect of Duty—
1. Inexcusable where the duty is clearly defined and publicly proclaimed.
2. An unmistakable evidence of moral deterioration.
3. Always involves calamity and suffering to somebody.
—“Of the watching which is enjoined upon ourselves we are not relieved by the obligation which lies upon the watchman. Hence he who is overtaken unwarned does not fall guiltless, for his security and carelessness were the occasion of his fall. Contempt of danger is no true courage. Every one must carry his soul as in his hand. What a mournful condition is it when the Church does not watch, the State does not protect, the house does not admonish!”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:7-9. The Ministerial Calling—
1. Divine in its institution. “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel.”
2. Is to interpret the meaning of the Divine Message. “Thou shalt hear the word at My mouth.”
3. Should be faithful in warning as well as in instruction. “And warn them from Me—speak to warn the wicked from his way.”
4. Involves grave responsibility. “That wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”
5. Retains the Divine approval only so far as it is strictly faithful. “But thou hast delivered thy soul.”
—“With a spiritual watchman there must be found a spiritual life, a spiritual light, a spiritual wakefulness, and dutiful fidelity in all parts of his office.”—Starke.
—Even when the preacher’s conscience is free from guilt in regard to the ungodly who perish in their sins, what a sorrow does it occasion in the life of the preacher when he has to see the impenitent die in their sins! “I would not willingly be saved,” said Augustine, “without you.”
THE UNSWERVING EQUITY OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT
I. Is joined with the most tender solicitations for the best welfare of men.
1. Jehovah has no satisfaction in the ruin of the sinner (Ezekiel 33:10-11). It is a false conception of God to regard Him as implacable and difficult to propitiate. Such a view is possible only to the mind debased by sinful indulgence and hardened by unbelief. Without man’s solicitation, and without his daring to hope for such favour, God offers him life and salvation, and reveals His love in the wondrous plan which His spontaneous mercy has provided for the redemption of the sinning race. So slow is man to comprehend, and so little reason had he to expect the possibility of such kindness being shown to him, that Jehovah solemnly pledges the integrity of His Divine character in assuring him of the fact—“As I live, saith the Lord.” He has more pleasure in pardoning than punishing.
2. Jehovah condescends to plead with the sinner to turn from his iniquities and accept life. “Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezekiel 33:11). Amazing spectacle! Incredulous condescension! God pleading with man—the highest reason expostulating with human folly and unreason! The monarch imploring rebels to return to their allegiance and the parent entreating the prodigal to reform may seem the despair of baffled helplessness. But not so with our Heavenly King and Father. His condescension is all the more conspicuous and significant because He is so strong, so righteous, and so unselfish in His aim to rescue man from his self-delusion and ruin. A greater marvel still is, that in the presence of this Divine solicitude man remains obdurate and indifferent. How deceitful and deadly an enemy is fondly-cherished sin!
II. Recognises the responsibility of the individual soul. “I will judge you every man after his ways” (Ezekiel 33:20). Life or death depends on individual action. Israel is to be treated no longer as a collective nation, in the mass, but as individuals, each one by himself. This doctrine was so novel and startling to the Jew, and so opposed to his notion of special privileges to be enjoyed by the aggregate nation, irrespective of the moral condition of individuals, that the masters of the Synagogue hesitated to receive the Book of Ezekiel into the sacred canon, and when it was adopted, decreed that it should not be read by any Jew who was not above thirty years of age. And yet throughout the Bible there is no truth more clearly taught than this. It is this responsibility that gives a moral character to each man’s actions, and is the basis on which he must be ultimately judged.
III. Distributes with exact impartiality reward and punishment according to individual conduct (Ezekiel 33:12-16; Ezekiel 33:18-19). The seeming righteous will not escape punishment if they sin (Ezekiel 33:12-13; Ezekiel 33:18). The wicked will not be denied reward if they reform (Ezekiel 33:12; Ezekiel 33:14-16; Ezekiel 33:19). No man can shelter himself under the shadow of ancestral piety, or under the reputation of a blameless life. Personal virtue can make no atonement for a single sin. On the other hand, the most abandoned need not despair. The Lord “pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy gospel.” The final decisions of the Divine government cannot be charged with the least injustice, but will compel universal adoration.
IV. Is the subject of querulous complaint by the wrong-doer. “Yet the people say, The way of the Lord is not equal; but, as for them, their way is not equal” (Ezekiel 33:17; Ezekiel 33:20). Wrong-doing blinds the mental vision, dulls and vitiates the moral sense, and incapacitates the soul from exercising righteous judgment. Ignorance is always obstinately one-sided. Reminds one of the Irish juryman who had never met eleven such obstinate men as his fellow-jurors; and of the recruit who maintained he was the only man of his company who was keeping step. The sinner is ready to blame any one but himself, and even dares to impugn the equity of the great Judge of all the earth. The reckless audacity of such a charge reveals his own condemnation.
1. Divine justice and mercy are inseparable.
2. If we embrace the principles of the Divine government it becomes easy to do right and difficult to do wrong.
3. The destiny of every man is, under God, in his own hands.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ezekiel 33:10-11. A yearning tenderness here manifests itself, still seeking, notwithstanding all that has taken place, the return of those who survived to the way of peace. But with that tenderness what a stern and unflinching holiness! There can be no relaxation or abatement mentioned in respect to this, not even amid the moanings of pain and cries of distress which arose from the people; no return to life possible but through a return to righteousness.
Ezekiel 33:10. Unrepented Sin—
1. Produces a sullen disposition.
2. Fosters the mistaken notion that we are punished for the sins of others rather than for our own.
3. Reflects upon the sincerity of the Divine promises.
4. Fills the soul with despair.
—“Thus ye speak.” “But not well, whilst ye have hard thoughts of God and heavy thoughts of yourselves, as if your sins were unpardonable, and that ye were already ruined beyond relief; whereas true repentance is a ready remedy, a plank after shipwreck that would set you safe and render you right again. This they had been told before (chap. 18), but to little purpose. The word was not mingled with faith in their hearts, and did therefore run through them (Hebrews 2:1) as water runs through a riven vessel.”—Trapp.
—“It is common with those that have been hardened with presumption, when they were warned against sin, to sink into despair when they are called to repent, and to conclude there is no hope of life for them.”—M. Henry.
—“All in the end feel sin, but they hate it not.—The way of the unconverted in this respect is to look rather to the temporal than to the eternal life.—To despair, instead of turning to God, is but another form of the pride that is in the human heart.—Despair is another kind of impenitence.—How contrasts touch one another!—The godly also are sometimes on the brink of despair—David, Psalms 38:0, and Cain, Genesis 4:0. That punishment should always be heavier to us than sin!—He who would justify himself would perhaps throw the blame even upon God.—God always deals unfairly with the wicked, as they think.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:11. The Pitifulness of the Divine Mercy—
1. Finds no delight in punishing. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”
2. Yearns for the recovery of those who have abandoned the way of obedience. “But that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
3. Breaks forth in tenderest persuasiveness. “Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?”
4. Is declared with the most solemn asseveration. “As I live, saith the Lord.”
—“This is one of those precious places, those mellifluous honeycombs which we should go on sucking towards heaven, as Samson once did towards his parents (Judges 14:9). Here, if anywhere, we may find strong consolation. God when He swears desires certainly to be credited. O happy we for whose sakes God vouchsafeth to swear! and O wretched we if we believe not God, no, though He swear to us!”—Trapp.
—“The living God wills life, and also gives it to those who will; but unless men also wish it, He certainly does not give.”—Lange.
—“Why will ye die?”—“I have been to you a nursing Father. Will ye not love Me? I have opened a bleeding altar, even Calvary, that the foulest of sinners may approach. Why will ye stay at a distance in shame and sin? I have borne and had patience. I have stretched out My hands all the day long to a gainsaying people. My prophets have laboured and wept; they aver, being filled with My Spirit, that their hearts’ desire and prayer is, that Israel might be saved. Why will you resist the ministry of grace? I have aided the ministry with slow and gentle corrections. Why will you fight against Me? You are beloved for your fathers’ sake; you have been to Me a pleasant vineyard. I have planted you with the choice vine of Sorek; and what could I have done for My vineyard that I have not done? Why then will ye prefer idols to Me? Why will you prefer shame to glory, death to eternal life?”—Sutcliffe.
Ezekiel 33:13. “It was a widespread delusion among the Jews that they possessed a hereditary righteousness; that whatever they themselves might be, yet the righteousness of their pious fathers, from Abraham down, would avail them; and if they experienced the contrary in their misfortunes they held themselves justified in murmuring against God. The prophet teaches, on the contrary, that the fate of every generation is determined by its own relation to God.”—Hengstenberg.
—“Many eminent professors have been ruined by a proud conceitedness of themselves and confidence in themselves. He trusts to the merit of his own righteousness, and thinks he has already made God so much his debtor that now he may venture to commit iniquity, for he has righteousness enough in stock to make amends for it; he fancies that, whatever evil deeds he may do hereafter, he can be in no danger from them, having so many good deeds beforehand to balance them. He thinks himself so well established in a course of virtue that he may thrust himself into any temptation and it cannot overcome him, and so by presuming on his own sufficiency he is brought to commit iniquity.”—M. Henry.
—“Not that we are evil by nature is what finally condemns us, but that we remain evil in spite of the goodness of God which seeks our conversion.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:14-15. Genuine Repentance—
1. Is not only sorrow for sin, but a turning from it.
2. A striving to do the right.
3. Shown in the restitution of all wrongfully acquired goods.
4. A permanent blessing only by walking in harmony with the living Word.
1. Of heart.
2. Of conduct.
3. Of life.”—Lange.
—“Penitency is almost as good as innocency.”—Trapp.
Ezekiel 33:15. “Robbery and violence would be too gainful a trade if a man might quit all scores by repentance and detain all he had gotten; or if the father’s repentance might serve the turn, and the benefit of the transgression be transmitted as an inheritance to the son. If the pledge remained it must be restored. The retaining it is committing a new iniquity, and forfeits any benefit of the promise. If he hath it not, nor is able to procure it, his hearty repentance is enough, with reparation; but to enjoy the spoil and yet to profess repentance is an affront to Almighty God, and a greater sin than the first act of violence, when he did not pretend to think of God, and so did not think of displeasing Him. Whereas now he pretends to reconcile himself to God and mocks Him with repentance, while he retains the fruit of his wickedness. He who is truly penitent restores what he hath left to the person who was deprived of it, and pays the rest in devout sorrow for his trespass.”—Lord Clarendon.
Ezekiel 33:17; Ezekiel 33:20. False Estimates—
1. Inevitable when Divine things are measured by a human standard.
2. The product of a mind warped with error and sin.
3. Recoil in punishment upon those who are blind to their own falseness and injustice.
Ezekiel 33:17. “When men find fault with the ways of God as not equal, it is because their own ways are not equal. On the other hand, God says, ‘Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?’ (Micah 2:7). God ‘meeteth him that worketh righteousness; those that remember God in His ways’ (Isaiah 64:5). The cause of sceptical cavils at the ways of Divine providence and grace lies in the unbeliever’s faulty state of heart which corrupts the understanding.”—Fausset.
THE INFATUATION OF UNBELIEF
I. Blinds the soul to the significance of passing events.
1. The greatest calamity is not understood. “The city is smitten” (Ezekiel 33:21). No greater disaster could happen to the Jew. The impregnable, the invincible Jerusalem in ruins, the sacred Temple violated and destroyed—impossible! Yet the impossible had happened; and the people, stupefied by the greatness of the calamity, or by the inveteracy of their wickedness, failed to grasp the meaning. In their unbelieving infatuation they could not see that the Divine guardianship that encompassed the city with a shield that no mortal enemy could pierce had been withdrawn, because of their sins.
2. The plainest evidences of faithful warning were ignored. Ezekiel predicted that he would be silent for some time on matters affecting Israel until news of the downfall of Jerusalem came. The prediction was exactly fulfilled, and he once more opens his mouth concerning Israel (comp. chap. Ezekiel 24:27 with Ezekiel 33:22)—another proof of the Divine sanction to the warnings of His servant; yet this, like many other similar evidences, was unheeded. We are infatuated indeed when passing events cease to interest us and suggest no lessons of either warning or counsel.
II. Intensifies the practice of the grossest sins (Ezekiel 33:24-26).
1. Covelousness (Ezekiel 33:24). They cling in a spirit of desperate covetousness to the land already lost, and which now belonged to their conquerors. The savage greed with which the scattered few held by the land of their forefathers might excite compassion did we not know how hopeless was their task and how utterly selfish their aim. They wished to keep the land not to reform but to indulge abuses.
2. Idolatry (Ezekiel 33:25). The sin which had been the occasion of all the distresses that now afflicted the land, instead of being put away, was carried on with aggravated enormities.
3. Tyranny. “Ye stand upon your sword” (Ezekiel 33:26). They do not seek to rule on principles of right and equity, but by the tyranny of force and arms. It was the wild anarchy of reckless desperadoes. The tyranny was all the more cruel because of the unprotected and helpless condition of the few that still remained in the land.
4. The worst form of immorality (Ezekiel 33:26). Adultery. How deep was the degradation of the chosen people of God when they descended to the worst practices of the heathen, and veiled them under the sacred name of religion! Unbelief is immorality, and abandons man to the tyranny of all kinds of abominations.
III. Invokes a more terrible punishment (Ezekiel 33:27-29). Ruin shall be piled on ruin; the wastes shall be reduced to more hopeless wastes; desolation shall reign supreme. By an inevitable retribution, the sword on which they placed their chief dependence and with which they had oppressed the weak shall be the instrument of their own destruction, and the pestilence shall finish the work left undone by the sword. The desolating ruin shall be so complete that the fields and vineyards, once so peacefully cultivated and so abundantly productive, shall be the haunts of wild beasts and the terrified inhabitants become their prey. Travellers will be careful to avoid the infested region: “None shall pass through” (Ezekiel 33:28). Terrible indeed will be the punishment that shall overtake the obstinately unbelieving.
IV. Makes mockery of the most earnest utterances of the Divine message (Ezekiel 33:30-32).
1. There is the show of charmed interest in the messenger. “They come unto thee as the people cometh; they sit before thee as My people. With their mouth they show much love. Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). Their interest in the preacher is superficial, like that of many present-day hearers. They are pleased with a rich, musical voice, with oratorical eloquence, with dramatic posturings, with ritualistic display and full choral effects; and that is all. It is the same kind of pleasure they have in listening to a well-rendered song, or a solo on the violin by an accomplished performer. The serious meaning of the message and its application to their practical life they have no desire to understand.
2. They make sport of both messenger and message in public and private. “The children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying—(with a chuckling contemptuousness that reveals the hollowness and baseness of their hypocritical concern)—Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord” (Ezekiel 33:30). An invitation, not to ponder the Divine message, but to listen to their garbled version of it, as they reproduce it with flippant sportiveness and grotesque caricature. It is a sad evidence how completely unbelief has degraded and infatuated the soul when the message that deals with its eternal interests is made the subject of fun and ridicule.
3. They are too far steeped in infamy to attempt to practise what they hear. “They hear thy words, but they will not do them; their heart goeth after their covetousness” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). They love sin more than godliness. To give heed to the Divine message would break in unpleasantly on the round of self-indulgence with which they are encircled as with an iron band. They have resisted so many appeals that the heart has become as hard as adamant. “How dangerous it is,” wrote John Foster, the celebrated essayist, “to defer those momentous reformations which conscience is solemnly preaching to the heart! If they are neglected, the difficulty and indisposition are increasing every month. The mind is receding degree after degree from the warm and hopeful zone, till at last it will enter the arctic circle, and become fixed in relentless and eternal ice.”
V. Will one day receive a rude and painful awakening. “When this cometh to pass (lo, it will come), then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33). The threatened judgment fell on Israel, and, when it was too late, they saw the value of the opportunities they had despised. Those who do not know the preciousness of their privileges by using them aright shall here after be made to know by being deprived of those privileges for ever. It is the wail of many that they did not know the value of their blessings until they were lost.
1. The lowest depth of unbelief is not reached without many faithful warnings.
2. Unbelief is subtle and deadly in its progress.
3. The cure of unbelief is a merciful act of God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ezekiel 33:21. Bad News—
1. Always travels fast.
2. Its lesson should be seriously pondered.
3. Is disregarded only by the infatuated.
Ezekiel 33:22. “The opened mouth of a servant of God is his frankness; the contrary is trimming and flattery; and it is also distinguished from sarcastic witticisms, evil speaking, and insult. The servants of God should be frank in speech, yet not like insolent fellows who believe they may say everything because no one can contradict them, at least when in the pulpit.”—Luther.
Ezekiel 33:23-29. “The new discourse here first takes up again the former threatening and meets those who, still giving themselves up to illusions, thought that the judgment would not inexorably run its course. But before the seed of Divine hope could be sown, the last thorns and thistles of false human hopes, and of the efforts that grew out of them, had to be destroyed, which even now, although against all appearances, were convulsively grasped by those who avoided the passage through the strait gate of repentance which is the condition of participating in the Divine hope, and did not wish to put off the spotted garment of the flesh.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:24-29. The Inheritance of the Wicked—
1. A desolate waste. “They inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:24).
2. Yet held with a dogged pertinacity. “We are many: the land is given us for inheritance” (Ezekiel 33:24).
3. The scene of unrestrained riot and wickedness. “Ye shed blood: ye work abomination” (Ezekiel 33:25-26).
4. Defies the most desperate efforts to retain it. “The sword, devouring beasts, the pestilence,” are beyond their power to vanquish (Ezekiel 33:27).
5. Is finally swept by the desolating vengeance of outraged justice. “I will lay the land most desolate—because of their abominations” (Ezekiel 33:28-29).
—“Such was the infatuation of the escaped remnant in the now wasted lands of Judea that they were even still full of self-sufficient confidence. Had this confidence been resting on the restoration of God’s favour through their repentance, it would have been a reasonable confidence; but it rested on utterly false reasonings as to the relation in which they stood to Abraham. Abraham, they reasoned, obtained from God the inheritance of Canaan, and we are his children, and therefore are entitled to succeed to his inheritance. Abraham was but one when he obtained the grant of the land; much more shall we retain it as our own who are many. But they utterly shut their eyes to the fact that Abraham pleased God in all his ways, and was therefore called the friend of God; they, on the contrary, displeased God in all their ways by ‘working abominations’ and ‘standing upon their sword,’ as if might made right.”—Fausset.
Ezekiel 33:24. “Strange infatuation! That when the sign of God’s displeasure had been so strikingly displayed against them for their sins, scattering all their vain confidence to the wind, they should still, without abandoning those sins, hope for the peculiar tokens of the Divine favour! Yet in a more subtle and refined form we find the same flagrant inconsistence practised by the Jews of our Lord’s time who, in like manner, reckoned with confidence on being children of Abraham, as if that alone were enough to secure them in all covenant blessings, while He charged them with being in spirit children of the devil, and consequently entitled only to look for the portion of the lost (John 8:33-44).”—Fair bairn.
—“Walls, cities, go to ruin, but a fool will still plant himself on the ruins (Proverbs 27:22). When the mask falls from the hypocrite, then will the beast of prey which lay behind become manifest; and we shall all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ: then the masquerade will be out.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:27. “The Divine vengeance does not need to rush upon its victim from behind in order to lay hold of him, nor does it require to make a long and laborious search after him; but where he has fled to and fancies himself hidden, whether it be in the heights or in the depths, there the vengeance of God lies in readiness, and has been expecting him to come to it. In the end we all come to God. Alas that so few should fall into His arms, while so many fall upon His sword! If the wild beasts of passion do not tear a man, the pestilence of his natural corruption will gradually consume him.”—Ibid.
Ezekiel 33:27-29.“The small remnant in Judea being so far from righteousness, the prophet could only speak to them as a minister of condemnation. What they had to expect was only judgment still more severe and exterminating than what had yet been appointed. For them the desolations of the land must become still more desolate, and new horrors be inflicted by the sword, the pestilence, and the wild beast. All must be reduced to a howling wilderness, as it really was, that the new hope for Israel might spring from another and better root, and that the people might know how impossible it was to attain to blessing from God without first separating from sin.”—Fairbairn.
Ezekiel 33:28. “Desolate shall it be at last about every ungodly man; for as the heart so is the life. First of all sin desolates, then come desolations through death; finally, we pass into the desolation of an eternity without God.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:29. See chap Ezekiel 30:19.
—Those are intractable and un-teachable indeed that are not made to know their dependence upon God when all their creature-comforts fail them and they are made desolate.
Ezekiel 33:30-33. The Preacher’s Critics—
1. Use every opportunity in public and private to hold him up to ridicule. “Thy people still are talking against thee by the walls, and in the doors of the houses” (Ezekiel 33:30).
2. Are eager to give their own garbled version of his message. “Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord” (Ezekiel 33:30).
3. Observe the outward decorum of worship. “They sit before thee as My people, and hear thy words” (Ezekiel 33:31).
4. Show a fondness for the word which the state of their hearts contradicts. “With their mouth they show much love; but their heart goeth alter their covetousness” (Ezekiel 33:31).
5. Are charmed with the music of eloquence. “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument” (Ezekiel 33:32).
6. Listen not for profit, but to pick up material for scornful gossip. “They hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezekiel 33:32).
7. Only when calamity comes do they learn the value of what they despised. “When this cometh to pass shall they know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33).
—“In making use of human agents to reveal His will to men, the Lord teaches us to look for no external perfection. There may be found all the diversities of manner and nearly all the imperfections which distinguish ordinary speakers, for the Spirit, even in His highest operations, must still leave free-play to native peculiarities of thought and utterance. But in regard to its substance God’s Word is perfect, and stands nobly apart from all that is of man. Let it ever be ours, therefore, to hear it with reverence and bow to its requirements with child-like submission. It is we who must fall in with its terms, not it that must accommodate itself to ours.”—Fairbairn.
—“The Word of God is a very serious matter. Let every one take heed how he hears, that he be not a hearer only, but a doer. What the prophet announces comes to pass, and if the fulfilment takes place the mere hearer will be the loser; he is overtaken by the threatened punishments and excluded from the promised blessings. He has not to deal with an excellent orator; but behind the Son of man stands the Lord, mighty to punish and to save.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 33:30. “Public persons are a common subject of discourse. Every one takes liberty to censure them at pleasure, and faithful ministers know not how much ill is said of them every day. But God takes notice, not only of what is decreed against them, or sworn against them, or written against them, or spoken with solemnity and deliberation, but of what is said against them in common talk, and He will reckon for it. His prophets shall not always be made the song of the drunkards.”—M. Henry.
Ezekiel 33:31. “Merely to hear without doing makes all preaching unprofitable. Strange that sermons of rebuke should be more attractive than grace-sermons. Men would rather be smitten than caressed. They think, perhaps, that in the love there is too much of design. If one has been struck by the cudgel, it is still possible to preserve one’s heart and head; but love leaves nothing to one’s self, it demands all—the whole man and the whole life.”—Lange.
—“Their heart is on their halfpenny, we say; neither can the loadstone of God’s Word hale them one jot from the earth. As serpents have their bodies in the water, their heads out of the water, so here: as those Gergesites, they mind a swine-sty more than a sanctuary.”—Trapp.
—“With all their loud mouth-professions of love to God and His ordinances, the love which reigns in their heart is love of self, of fame, pleasure, and gain. Covetousness is a grand rival to the love of God, so that where the love of Mammon is, there the love of God is not.”—Fausset.
Ezekiel 33:32. “Mere habit as regards the hearing of sermons makes people indifferent, and at last stupid. Pious sentimentalism is spiritual adultery. Satan goes with us into church. Edification and the capacity for it are two different things.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 33:33. “A true prophet will always leave beind him the impression of a true prophet.”