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3. FIRST INSTRUCTIONS BY SIGNS AND THEIR INTERPRETATION
(Chaps. Ezekiel 4:1 to Ezekiel 5:17).
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel is ordered to carry out certain specified processes. Their purport is expressed by the words (Ezekiel 4:3), “This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.” The use of such signs is partly to be accounted for by the circumstances of a prophet whose dwelling was in a country in which symbolical figures were striking and not unusual; partly by the psychological fact that his actings were to educate the people while as yet his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth. It is a mootpoint with students of prophecy whether to regard all actings of this sort as internal sensations vividly realised, or as taking form externally. “No general principle can be laid down by which to determine how far such actions pertain to the province of the external or internal.”—Oehler. To say, that all that was commanded to Ezekiel is to be accounted for by the vividness of his mental view, seems to contravene such statements as that he sat astonied seven days; that he removed his goods from one place to another in sight of his people; that he made no mourning for his deceased wife. To say, on the other hand, that all are to be taken literally seems to land us amid insurmountable difficulties, such as that he lay three hundred and ninety days without turning, while he is during that period to make and bake cakes of unprecedented ingredients; and also that he was to burn a third portion of his shaved hair in the midst of Jerusalem, though he was in Tel-abib. We need not be troubled at failing to find a satisfactory decision on this matter. What is of paramount interest is to find the meaning involved in each symbolical act. That that meaning will not be agreed in by every one cannot surprise us. A large element of indefiniteness exists in all symbolism, and men of different dispositions will create images of unlike contour through the haze of the indefiniteness. Nevertheless, thoughts may be expanded, and desires for light and guidance excited and heightened, as well as deadened, by the very uncertainty. Act-symbolism exists under similar conditions as word-symbolism. “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to others in parables.” “By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive.” With inwrought modesty, and prayers for the opening of our understanding by the Holy Spirit, should all Scripture-symbols be considered.
The four symbolical processes, which Ezekiel is here required to employ, form parts of one whole presented in varying phases. That whole is, Israel given up to punishment for sins. The coincidence of this section with Leviticus 26:0. is noteworthy. The most probable explanation thereof is that Ezekiel had thoroughly studied the picture drawn in the law and reproduced its salient features freely.
The siege of Jerusalem symbolised (Ezekiel 4:1-3).
Ezekiel 4:1. “Take thee a tile,” or a brick, shaped in clay and afterwards dried by the sun or burnt in a fire. Multitudinous specimens, of the kind which Ezekiel was to use, may be seen, in the British Museum, with letters and also warlike scenes depicted on them. “And pourtray upon it the city,” or rather a city, which is immediately specified as the one least likely, “Jerusalem.”
Ezekiel 4:2. “Build a fort against it.” An instrument of ancient warfare, so constructed as to overtop the walls of the besieged place, and so to give opportunity for the besiegers to reach the defenders with their weapons. “And cast a mount against it.” Raise an embankment from which to attack advantageously. “And set battering-rams against it round about.” Beams suspended so as to be readily driven against the walls. “At Kouynijik there is the monument of the siege of an important city in which no less than seven battering-rams are employed.”—Layard. The prophet is to regard himself as doing that which he pourtrays on the tile. He acts under commission from God, and so it is the Lord Himself who is to be viewed as operating against Jerusalem by means of the Chaldean army.
Ezekiel 4:3. “Take unto thee an iron pan.” A common utensil for cooking in the East. It was to be fixed perpendicularly, as “a wall of iron between thee and the city.” A separation was thus made between the prophet and the city, and the iron pan symbolised the barrier which had been produced between the Lord and His unfaithful people. “The decree and the sentence of God against them would be rigidly carried out, and God would not hear their prayers and complaints and bend to them in mercy. How far they must have degenerated for Him to deal thus!” “And thou shalt lay siege against it.” The siege would be in Ezekiel’s lifetime, and by him as acting for the Lord. So it is declared that “this shall be a sign to the house of Israel,” i.e., to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, both those in captivity and the remnant still in their native land. In the time of Ezekiel the distinction between the ten tribes and the two tribes was fast disappearing. A trace of its existence is still seen in Ezekiel 4:5-6, but rather as a relic from the past than a reality of the present. When the ten tribes were led into captivity Judah represented all Israel, and in the course of time the remainders of the several tribes were amalgamated with Judah. This event is not dimly predicted in Jeremiah’s words, “The house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers” (Ezekiel 3:18). All attempts to show that the lost ten tribes have been found, or hopes that they may be, must be dismissed as based on untenable surmises.
The period of punishment symbolised (Ezekiel 4:4-8).
Ezekiel 4:4. “Lie thou also upon thy left side.” The posture which Ezekiel has to assume of lying continuously for a lengthened time on the same side is a picture of the low condition of the people, not only throughout the siege of Jerusalem, but in the whole period of chastisement. The prophet becomes their representative here, not, as in Ezekiel 4:1-3, that of the Lord. In taking that unshifting posture, he must be open to no slight suffering, “and,” so it is added, “lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it.” He is one of them, and shares the punishment of their guilty conduct for the allotted time—a symbol of penalty, not of expiation. Thus, too, “thou shalt bear their iniquity,” is not to be explained as meaning that his action was to signify the forbearance of God while the people were sinning, but the infliction of chastisement because of sins they had committed.
Ezekiel 4:5. “For I have laid upon,” or I have given, “thee the years of their iniquity according to the number of the days.” The Lord had defined the limit of time beyond which the punishment of Israel would not go, and He required the prophet to be subject to the constraint of lying on his left side for the number of days corresponding to the years during which Israel would bear their iniquity. A similar posture was to be taken for Judah.
Ezekiel 4:6. “Lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days.” Any explanations, referring the three hundred and ninety and the forty days to events which took place before the degradation of the Israelitish people from their national position, are forbidden by the fact that Ezekiel is to exhibit what is to happen. The children are to bear stripes for the unfaithfulness of their fathers. The duration of the punishment threatened—four hundred and thirty years—is obviously related to the bondage of the chosen people in Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness. The condition into which they would fall would involve a suffering for their sins comparable to that “hardship and discipline which had of old been laid upon their fathers,” and illustrative of the Deuteronomic prediction, “The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again,” &c. (Deuteronomy 28:68). Moreover, as the ten tribes had forsaken the worship appointed by their God, in a way that Judah had not, the period of suffering to the former is prolonged far beyond that designated to the latter. But no satisfactory elucidation of the two dates, as exact points of chronology, is forthcoming. It is best, perhaps, to regard both as symbolical of a lengthened time of punishment such as might be paralleled by the servitude in Egypt, and also of a brief term of punishment such as might be compared with the trials of the sojourn in the desert. And while the sojourn in the desert was the passage from slavishness to freedom, from ignorance to knowledge of God’s laws, so the privations and calamities befalling Judah for forty years would be an education out of which hope and peace would come. The captive Israelites would thus be taught that only in association with the captive Jews could they look for shortened suffering and following blessing. “I have appointed thee each day for a year.” A reference to the judgment passed upon the tribes of Israel for their murmurings on account of the report of the spies. “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years” (Numbers 14:34). Thus past history is used to represent the future—what God has done in respect to sins God will do.
Ezekiel 4:7. “Thine arm shall be uncovered.” The meaning of this figure, drawn from ancient habits in war, may be taken to be that action was to be proceeded with—that the allotted penalties were to be now begun. By this gesture and the preceding actions “thou shalt prophesy against it,” i.e., Jerusalem, as representative of the whole house of Israel.
Ezekiel 4:8. “Behold I will lay bands upon thee” (cf. Ezekiel 3:25). It was the Lord who put Ezekiel under constraint, and he could not act as a reprover till his mouth was opened by divine sanction. Was his constraint embodied in some form of disease, first in his left side and then in his right? Was it, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, an “infirmity” which the Lord would not cause to depart? “And,” so it is said, “thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another.” There will be no averting of the punishment and no relaxation of it, “till thou hast ended the days of thy siege,” accomplished the full time of being a sign to Israel.
This paragraph exhibits one of the characteristics of Ezekiel as a prophet, viz., his tendency to describe surrounding and future circumstances by terms and events found in the byegone course of the Lord’s people. The fact of his exile, and apparently cast out of the covenant which carried the destinies of Israel, moved him to dwell upon the past dealings of God to such a degree that he thought and felt about all the matters which came before him in the light and forms of preceding times. But this tendency does not warrant us to believe that the present and future should go on in the very grooves in which the past had left its traces: rather it helps us to see that He who had begun His wise and good work for Israel would carry it on without change of direction. Ezekiel is to show that the austere and stern aspects of God had not been obliterated by the years in which He had borne the sins of His people patiently, and that the light of His countenance had not been forever withdrawn because of their failures in obedience to His will. The commentator who would treat Ezekiel’s prophecies as if they must be expounded literally and not with great freedom, is least of all likely to unfold their true interpretation. “The eye that can look through the shell into the kernel may see the future things of God’s administration mirrored in the past—not, indeed, the exact copy and image of what is to be, yet its essential character and necessary result.”—Fairbairn.
GOD’S ACTION AGAINST INIQUITIES IN A PEOPLE
I. It is carried on by various agencies. The cloud, the fire, the implements, the composite beings of Ezekiel’s inaugurating vision, are all ruled from the sapphire throne, and Ezekiel is made as a central figure round which their operations proceed. By him and in him the Lord shows that pains and disabilities, soldiers and military materials, carry out His will and visit for iniquities. People professing His name must know that there is no such thing as chance, accident, human ambition, or forces apart from His directing word. The operator at the telegraph clock transmits the message which another person hands to him; so Ezekiel or the army of Nebuchadnezzar carries out what the righteous God has decided on. Whether the earth rejoices or trembles, everything that produces the one state or the other is “created” by the Lord who reigneth. For every sin there is not only an adapted penalty but a suitable agency for inflicting the penalty. How many a trouble, in State or Church or individuals, would lose its aspect of incomprehensibleness, if faith would but say, “The Lord is there and He is too wise to mistake.”
II. It is resolute. No secondary agent which He employs will fail in executing that whereto He has sent it. Ezekiel is laid under unrelaxing bands till he has fulfilled the time appointed, and the Chaldean forces will be kept persistently besieging Jerusalem till the sacred city is subjugated. The Lord will not be turned aside. He will not stop halfway to what He has purposed to effect. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, men’s hearts are fully set in them to do evil;” and should God refrain to strike when His righteousness and mercy have been set at nought, what would happen but that His people would become incredulous as to His sincerity in denouncing sin, and be uninstructed as to its real heinousness in His view? He does not spare the rod because of the mere crying of His children, since His hatred to sin and regard to holiness never change—change what else may. Whatsoever His hand and His counsel determined before to be done against His holy child, Jesus, He will accomplish, even though it be by wicked hands. God is faithful.
III. It is impartial. All who are involved in the common sin are the objects of suffering—rich and poor, free and bond, priest and prophet. Israel was His chosen people, Jerusalem the place where His honour dwelt; but great religious privileges did not shelter them from God’s “vengeance” when they neglected and rejected His ways. From the Churches of Christ, from the families of the godly, from private rooms and bended knees men have gone into paths of sin, and shall they escape? No; they shall be overtaken by suffering and woe in some form or other, as certainly, if not more so, than men who never heard of the Christ of God. Boast of being perfect in love, of divine right on your side, if you will; but be sure that no persuasion of sanctity or superiority will avert from you the messengers appointed by God to chastise you for evil yielded to.
IV. It is according to established order. Every generation of His children must learn that the evil He has hated He will always hate. What God has done God will do again when the same moral procedure is maintained by men. Our days of levity and hardness of heart and backslidings take us on to days of deadness and dishonour as indubitably as days of heat lead on to days of cold. We may see the consequences which shall follow our pride, our wrong companionships, our neglect of the ways of Christ, in the bitter griefs and pangs which befell Israel; the scenery in which we suffer, and the agencies which act there may be utterly unlike those of ancient Judea or Chaldea, but the Holy One of Israel is our Holy One. In the old centuries the judgment of God was according to truth: it is so in modern centuries. “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom.”
V. It is proportionate. It is the action of the Just One, and takes steps in proportion to the nature and persistence of the offences against Him. Light neglected or misused prepares for the greater condemnation. Sodom is under an easier punishment than Chorazin, Judah than Israel. Ezekiel could not apportion the just time of tribulation—that is ever the prerogative of the Almighty King—but Ezekiel could be made to state and display His holy sentences. No doubt He allows excuses where they can be legitimately made; but that is only another form of saying that He weighs the doings of His people in scales in which no undue element is present. Then He gives forth His decision for hundreds of years or for tens—for half a lifetime or for a few weeks. Not a day beyond what is right and fair will any transgressor be afflicted. What trust and submission should not be given to the God of all spirits!
Scanty means of subsistence symbolising punishment (chap. Ezekiel 4:9-17)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 4:9. The several sorts of vegetable food—the richest and the poorest in nutritive elements—being placed “in one vessel,” signified that all classes of the population would be obliged to gather every particle they could, and then find it difficult to obtain sufficient provisions. The “bread” from such a mixture was to be made by Ezekiel in a quantity corresponding to “the number of the days that thou shalt be on thy side, three hundred and ninety days.” This is the period of Israel’s punishment as referred to in Ezekiel 4:5. It is a sign of the time during which the ten tribes should remain in captivity among the Gentiles, and of the low estate in which they would be there.
Ezekiel 4:10. Of the prescribed food Ezekiel was to “eat by weight twenty shekels a day,” somewhere about ten ounces of English measure, and a very scanty portion for ordinary healthful nourishment; but, as in instances of shipwreck and sieges, meant to maintain life as long as possible—“too much for dying, too little for living.” “From time to time shalt thou eat it:” not to make one poor meal, but to take a “ration” at stated intervals.
Ezekiel 4:11. So also “thou shalt drink water by measure, the sixth part of a hin”—about a pint, and sadly insufficient for a climate like that of Central Asia.
Ezekiel 4:12. The food was to be eaten, as common “barley cakes” still are in the East, after having been baked in hot ashes; but with a strange peculiarity, “thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man” (cf. Isaiah 32:12). The dung was not to be used as an ingredient of the cakes, as has been strangely supposed, but of the fuel. The use of human ordure in fuel was not practised, and the order to employ it was meant to indicate “in their sight”—for clear and deep impression—that which is stated in
Ezekiel 4:13. “The Lord said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles.” The children of Israel would find themselves, during the period of their captivity, in such a condition that the laws of Moses in reference to foods could hardly be kept. They would have to eat their bread defiled—what their souls might loathe—and so would become almost as the heathen. They would not be able to boast of their special separateness.
Ezekiel 4:14. Ezekiel had submissively accepted the divine appointments hitherto—he makes a protest now. “Then said I, Ah Lord God! behold, my soul hath not been polluted;” and he goes on to specify certain kinds of forbidden food from which he had rigidly abstained. The rigidness was all the more appropriate in that Ezekiel was dwelling in a heathen country. By means of adhering to all ritual observances a fence was planted round Israel against the encroachment of conquering heathendom, and the prophet was a rallying-point for strength to the exiled people when they strove to live not as did the heathens. The observance of legal institutions that could be observed outside of the Holy Land was consistently maintained by Ezekiel, and he argues from the particular commands in reference to foods to the general obligation which he acknowledged in reference to everything by which he would have been consciously defiled. It is the appeal of a servant who has gone far beyond obedience to the mere letter—who is sensitively alive to being clean in heart as well as in act—who would shun the appearance of evil. For he could not plead any commandment prohibiting the use of the prescribed fuel; he could make a plea only from his own disgust, which was not simply that of his senses, but also of his moral feelings. It is no sign of priestism in Ezekiel. Peter the apostle, who was not a priest, showed something of the same spirit. But the case of Peter (Acts 10:14), who was not a captive, is not altogether parallel to this. The only point of similarity is that Peter had “not eaten anything common or unclean.”
Ezekiel 4:15. The answer to Ezekiel’s protest is a relaxation of the original order. “Then he said unto me, Lo I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung.” Nothing is more usual in those parts of the East than to observe cow’s dung, mixed with grass, straw, &c., made up into fuel for cooking. It is not likely that Ezekiel, any more than his neighbours, would consider himself polluted by eating cakes baked with this inodorous material, and so he makes no objection to the command, “Thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.”
Ezekiel 4:16. “I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem.” This alludes to the forty days during which Ezekiel was to lie on his right side, and signified that, in the period of Judah’s sufferings corresponding thereto, a lack of sufficient nourishment to sustain activities with energy would be experienced. The bread would not be polluted, as the bread given in the wilderness was not polluted, by the place; but as the natural supply found there was not sufficient for the wants of a multitude, so the supplies for Judah would be marked by scantiness: still the punishment would not be so severe or so continuous as that of Israel. It was that of a remnant, and would be “cut short in righteousness.” In the besieged city “they shall eat bread by weight and with care,” as those who are hard put to and auxious; “they shall drink water by measure and with astonishment,” as in perplexed wonder whether and when the sources would run dry.
Ezekiel 4:17. The Lord had reason for this procedure. His broken covenant necessitated that they should feel a deficiency of “bread and water, and be astonied,” be in perplexity and wonder, “one with another,” each and all, “and consume away,” become gaunt and offensive, “for their iniquity.” Hunger and thirst, sorrow and dismay, would fall upon the sinners in Zion, as the ancient book of the law had threatened (Leviticus 26:39).
GOD’S ACTION AGAINST INIQUITIES AFFECTING HIS SERVANTS
1. Servants who know the Lord’s will and do it not sink into destitution and perils similar to theirs who sit in darkness and have no light. This aggravation of the misery cannot but be experienced, viz., contrast with the blessings which they have forfeited by misuse. Israel had rejected its God, had chosen the way of the heathen, and having thus broken the conditions of its covenant with God, nothing remained but that it should be treated as the heathen. The son has left his father’s house, wasted his substance, fallen into want, and is on the verge of perishing with hunger. Not the worthiness of godly friends, not the calling ourselves Christians, not observance of the external rites of worship can hinder from entering into the state of those who live as without God in the world. A professedly Christian nation may be largely affected by commercial depression, sorrow, despondency, doubt, and dark fears for the future, if it is not true to God. The statement is sometimes made that Christian nations are no better than heathen nations, and the grounds for it, if we could see clearly, might be perceived in some indifference, neglect, antagonism to the holy, just, and good law of God. All evil things which transpire prove that He will not be mocked; least of all by those to whom He has manifested His righteousness and love. They must bear the fate of the heathen, whatever be their surprise and repugnance at what is undergone.
2. Servants who do His will are subjected to trials in common with those by whom they are surrounded. The bands which bind men into society are not forged so as to allow an escape, from evils which are rife in the community, for one of its constituent parts. They who fear the Lord fall into straitness, hunger, become weakly, if the circumstances in which they dwell are replete with the influences which produce such effects. Innocent children suffer from famine as well as men whose actions have contributed to the intensity of the famine; so does the man who humbly prays for relief as well as the man who curses the hardships he has to put up with. It is not in freedom from the troubles which stir in their environment that the sons of God are to find their comfort; it is in the conviction that they have not gone with a multitude to do evil, and that God writes their names in His book of remembrance. If they receive good in society from the hand of the Lord, shall they not receive evil also?
Every one who wants to be where the Supreme Will directs him to be, and to help the brothers who are within his power to reach, must be ready to encounter pinchings, disgusts, wearying hopes, anguish as well as sufficient grace. The Christ must needs “suffer many things” by coming amongst men, and His servants who would walk in His spirit may look for trials which, in a sense, they do not deserve. Let them see in Ezekiel one who, like themselves, had neither the mission nor the resources of Jesus Christ, and be instructed to take up and endure galling burdens for the welfare of the people in whose sufferings they are associated. Not in vain shall they suffer according to the will of God.
“Those periods of tribulation and chastisement, which the prophet here represents, have they not a voice for other times?… The lukewarm and fruitless professor—so long as he cleaves to the way of iniquity, and refuses to yield a hearty surrender to the will of God—is in bondage to the elements of the world, and therefore can have no part in that good land which floweth with milk and honey. The doom of Heaven’s condemnation hangs suspended over his head; and if not averted by a timely submission to the righteousness of God, and a cordial entrance into the bond of the covenant, he shall infallibly perish in the wilderness of sin and death.”—Fairbairn.
SENSITIVENESS TO SPIRITUAL EVIL (Chap. Ezekiel 4:12-15)
Burden-bearing with others, and to any extent for them, may expose to unpleasant associations and proceedings. Past habits and confirmed tastes may receive shocks which are hard to withstand. Yet the duty has to be done for the Lord. In such difficulties against service we must not accept their darkest aspects. We must learn to apply our natural shrinking from what is unpleasant to the case before us, and proceed according to the light which may be given to us. Our sensitiveness to anything that we feel unbecoming should inform us—
1. That we have to maintain past faithfulness to duty. Ezekiel did not like the thought of turning out of the way in which he had hitherto walked and kept himself pure. It was no ignoble consistency he was desirous to preserve. Consistency may be a fault when it weds us to what is unwise and not truly kind. It is a grand thing when it impresses the need of being able to hold ourselves in self-respect by being obedient to what we regard as right and sacred. What more honourable in a young man than that he will say, “I have not been discredited by low and offensive habits, and I shrink from them with loathing”? Or for a man, who is known to profess allegiance to Christ the King, to say, “I have not been contracting the taints of the spirit of the world; I have not been a cause of reproach to the Blessed Name by my cold disregard of the interests of the kingdom of Christ, and I shudder at the idea of doing anything which will seem contrary to my past conduct”? Yet there may be something more. There may be such a susceptibility to the appearance of evil that men will deprecate being taken into a course on which they may have to touch that which is not morally wrong, but which offends their taste for what is spiritually pure. It is bad to have one string out of tune. In seeking our own improvement, a book whose suggestions are not altogether true and holy could be read; in seeking the best way of helping others we might see unclean courts and houses, and contact with smutty persons might appear in view. What man or woman, sensitive to the continuance of their pureness of thought and conduct, would not rise up with the cry, “O my soul! come not thou into their secrets; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united”? By past separateness from evil becomes a ground from which to act against approaching, apparently defiling influences. The man who has lived “unspotted from the world” will not readily reconcile himself to step into a place where his garments may become soiled. His faithfulness heretofore to the requirements of the holy law will impel him to repudiate what might seem to defile him now.
How blessed would this earth be if the hearts of all people deprecated everything which would lower the standard of moral taste or shake confidence in the prosecution of the high prize of a stainless life!
2. That we should regard our inward feelings as well as the external act in respect to what is required of us. The inward is not to be sullied. The Master’s decision has for ever placed the state of men’s hearts in a more important position than that of their words and deeds. That which comes out of the heart is that which defiles, and every one who would be as his Master must endeavour to keep the heart so clean as that no pollution shall mingle in its movements. It is a true stimulus to struggling believers to hear, from the lips of one of ancient days, such an appeal as this of the burdened prophet. How it may urge us to guard our acquired sensitiveness to defiling acts, to keep that which we have already attained, and long to be prevented from all filthiness of the spirit, so as to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord!
The outward is not to be accepted without appeal. The hard and irksome processes appointed for Ezekiel might be entered into by him, but he wanted part of them to be less unpleasant and trying to his tender conscience. So he sought for an alteration in the requirement. Thus it seems that what is the present will of God may not be followed by immediate acquiescence. An attack of disease does not compel the patient to say, “I must submit, without an effort to get rid of it.” The disobedient act of a child, which must be punished, does not demand the parent to inflict that kind of punishment against which the child revolts. The contents of that cup, in which the venom of the world’s sins was concentrated, could not be drank, by Him who came on purpose to drink it, without a cry of aversion towards the awful task of love. And we are bound to make every attempt at extrication from external proceedings with which we have to do, if we are likely to suffer any moral defilement by them. “It were better for me to die than that any man should make my glorying void.” But no outer event can hurt our souls unless our souls turn it to evil.
3. That alleviation to our souls will be granted by God. No command of God to His servants can have an element in it which will really deprave their souls. Still that fact does not dim His fatherly pity so that He cannot see their shrinkings. Let a change not disparage His justice, holiness, truth, and He is willing to alter the conditions of His instructions, and make them less dreadful to the moral fastidiousness of His own. He has a respect even for their exaggerated feelings, and in His wisdom and love mitigates that which pains them. He pities them “like a father.” He does not desire to impose one unnecessary pang upon them. They may ask Him for whatsoever alleviation might ease their trouble and revulsions, in the hope that He will relax the stringency of His demands, if He does not renounce them. We have to do with God, who has tender compassion for every one who wants to be pure in heart. He does not quench the smoking flax.
“Let it teach us not to be rigid and stick to our wills, and think it disparagement to abate of our wills and right, and yield to others, when God, who is infinitely above us, can yield to us, and doth so daily, bearing our infirmities.”—Greenhill.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19