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5. LAMENTATION OVER THE DESOLATED LAND (Chap. 7)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—In this chapter we have not so much an additional prophecy as a re-statement of principles and denunciations which had been already formulated. It affords abundant illustration of the tendency of Ezekiel to repeat his messages, and to use even the same forms of expression. But some of the repetition here must be, moreover, accounted for by the highly excited emotions under whose influence he wrote. That these emotions should take poetical modes—abrupt utterances, rhythmical combinations, refrains, and demand again and again an avowal, these are matters which may receive many confirmations from ancient and modern, from biblical and secular literatures. Especially might a prophet, who was abiding under the shadow of God and was suffering in the sufferings of His people, give forth the signs of strong feeling in his words, and they with appropriateness present hints of the mighty power which constrained him—of the divine voice which sounded in the chambers of his heart. We shall miss one purport of the message if we do not find it apprising us of visions suggesting the nature of the living and revealing Lord.
Ezekiel 7:1-4. The imminence of the land’s doom.
Ezekiel 7:2. “Thus saith the Lord God unto the land of Israel, An end.” It seems preferable to read, “Thus saith the Lord God. Unto the country of Israel an end.” By this reading it is more apparent that the prophet was not to address the country, but give a message respecting its impending downfall as a territory. This end was to be no minor end, but one in which many a past penalty culminated: “the end is come upon the four corners of the land.” Events in our own generation have shown that invading armies give birth to outrages on persons, waste of stores of food, outbreaks of pestilent diseases. The unearthed Assyrian sculptures may be taken as proofs that all such calamities were still more hideously evolved by the armies of Chaldea. Once and again that “bitter and hasty nation” had launched its hordes across the land of Israel. They would not spare age or sex; they would burn up crops and destroy grain which they could not carry away; they would leave behind them, where they did leave any, a depressed, impoverished population, amongst whom pestilence would find a wide field for its ravages. Every quarter of the region of Israel would have, as it were, come to its end when the Chaldean soldiers had made their last inroad, and there would be nothing more of a monarchy filled by the house of David.
Ezekiel 7:3. “Now the end is upon thee;” it is just at hand, and the harvest for which that and preceding generations has been sowing will be immediately reaped. Iniquity was full, and no more space for confessions and promises of amendment would be given. The end would come through the operations of the Lord: “I will send”—“I will judge” … “I will recompense”—give, or lay, &c.; but His operations would be instigated by the “ways” and “abominations” of the people.
Ezekiel 7:4. The three chief clauses have been stated before. The first agrees with chap. Ezekiel 5:11; the second with Ezekiel 7:3, except that the threatenings here intimate a closer connection between the painful consequences to the people and their doings; “I will lay upon thee thy ways,” is put for judging them according to their ways; and instead of laying on them all their abominations, as a burden external to them, “thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee,” affecting from within as well as from without. The third clause is another repetition of the purpose with which this terrible end as well as other moral punishments was carried out, “Ye shall know that I am the Lord.”
SOME ASPECTS OF GOD’S GOVERNMENT OVER MEN
Ezekiel, like the Hebrew prophets in general, saw the working of other than material forces among the inhabitants of the world, and that with a clearness which cannot be paralleled in any nation’s records. In this short paragraph the traces of such insight are perceived to be set in no ambiguous phraseology.
I. There is progressive spiritual development in human history. The whole Bible, when rightly considered, is a witness to this. Each part of it is laid as an organic accretion on that part which went before. Nor is this conclusion to be referred only to events: it is as certain in regard to principles and truths. Moral and religious ideas and practices contained in the doctrine of Christ are seen to be vaguely and inadequately appreciated before they are clearly and more fully perceived. And not a thing of His is stationary. It will, doubtless, take new forms in the mind of every believer as he passes through the normal stages of growth. He is first a babe using milk, and he has to go on unto the stature of a perfect man. As it is with individuals, so is it with a nation and with the race. They will learn the evil of sin and the obligation of holiness, not by a sudden catastrophe and revelation, but by slowly evolving processes of loss and pain, of yearning and hope. The development may seem very often retarded, “the divine event,” in which the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, may be far off, nevertheless the end shall come, for which other ends have been arrived at—the end at which all things shall be seen subjected to Him who is all in all.
II. There is a signal doom for progressive phases of wrongdoing. The Israelites had been again and again afflicted “very sore” because of their iniquities, but they had continued to possess something like a national life throughout those calamities. Their chastisement had produced no true amendment, however, and that judgment which should include in its operation the consequences of all their unrighteousness would entirely alter the aspects of the chosen people. They had been moving on to this catastrophe, and Ezekiel was enlightened to see its near approach. He understood the signs of his times; he interpreted their meaning, and pressed upon the understanding and consciences of the people the awful guilt in which they were involved, by the sins of their fathers as by their own sins. He declared that there would be no suspension now; the end of Israel as a society, organised according to forces which had been existing for generations, was reached. Whatever may be its influence in the world hereafter, it will be exerted under different conditions from that of its past. The lines over which its future will move must be projected into new scenery. In signifying this fact the prophet may be held to propose two principles—
1. All calamities are bound up in preceding events and tendencies. An effect is nothing but the sequence of causes. However different it appears from them, not one thing is in it which is not the product of that which has gone before. There was no weight pressing the Jewish people into the dust which they had not lifted upon themselves; there was no stripe inflicted but was drawn down by a disobedience. The punishment was only another form of the abomination indulged in, as the slag is but another form of ingredients in metals which have been exposed to fire. We are what we are, we suffer what we suffer, not by any chance, but by reason of what has already happened to us. There is judgment and mercy in this. We learn what our disposition and conduct lead to. We shall bear our own burden, whatever it be, because we have first put our shoulder under the yoke which makes that burden.
2. Calamities are specially painful in the last stage of critical changes. Israel had grossly belied its God, had practised debasing superstitions, had walked amid the festering swamps of what was lowest and vilest. There was no remedy unless it might come through a judgment which would fill them with terror and anguish. By sword, famine, pestilence, the land would be harried. Yet the terribleness of the inflicted evil was but the incoming of wicked ways and defiling abominations to roost.
“The wise gods seal our eyes
In our own filth, drop our clear judgments, make us
Adore our errors, laugh at us as we strut
To our confusion.”
The effort to turn unfair privileges into fairness for all, or to make bad laws into good, is never easy. The discomfiture of interests which are hurtful to the moral welfare of a people cannot be brought about without serious conflict and losses. The attempt to promulgate new land laws for Ireland, the struggle with the slave-power in the United States, the shattering of the ancien regime of France, the perilous turmoil of the Reformation, the destruction of feudalism throughout Europe, are witnesses that no revolution of thought or practice is painless. In a sense it is sin finding out the sinners, as in this end of Israel.
Such an end, however, introduces a new process. The old passes away never to reappear. The suffering which characterises the transition prepares for another condition in which trouble and pain may still be, but which is the foretoken of richer blessings in coming days.
III. There is a divine will shaping events. Natural or social forces cannot, when regarded simply as natural agents, light upon the persons who have done wickedly. They are weapons held in the hands of the righteous Lord. They strike where He directs them to, and with the weight which He chooses to employ. It is the tendency of our modern thinking to set forth the external phenomena as all that requires attention—as if we were to be concerned with the powder which exploded, and not with the person who had laid it and lighted the match. But it is the living Ruler who, in the operation of moral laws, gives to them their power to punish and to improve. Individuals and nations are not atoms vibrating under unconscious forces and sequences; they are sinners judged for their sins, and judged if so be they will learn righteousness and turn to Him who smites them. When He destroys one house it is that He may build another. When He buries the worm-pierced shell, it is that by its decomposition a more fertile soil may be formed.
It is thus throughout all generations. The Eternal God manifests no change in His judgments on right and wrong. All events convey indications of His judgment and of the winding up of earth’s chequered story on the last day; and they also convey indications of His gracious purpose to make “the knowledge of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” How the judgment and the mercy will be worked into the changing thoughts of the world is too deep a problem for us to solve. But nevertheless we may hold unwaveringly to the principle that “the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 7:5-9. No necessity exists for supposing that the text of this strophe, on account of its close resemblance to the preceding verses, is corrupt. A better interpretation would make us believe that the deep feeling of the prophet’s Lord seeks again to utter itself through the feeling of the prophet. It is natural to repeat a cry of anguish or a complaint under the pressure of that which distresses us.
Ezekiel 7:5. “An evil,” which is placed in a specially distinct light by the epithet added, “an only evil, behold, is come.” The calamity about to befall Israel would be of a singular kind, for which no parallel could be found (chap. Ezekiel 5:9). “The Lord will make an utter end; trouble shall not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9).
Ezekiel 7:6. This unique evil would be folded up in “an end” of Israel’s state, which, now inevitable, “is come.” It had been slumbering, but “the end watcheth for thee.” It is wakeful and observant. It is, as a pent-up flood, held back by a sole remaining obstacle, and that also showing signs of giving way. The measure of iniquity is full and the condemnation will no more linger. “Behold, it is come,” and includes in itself the completion of all that is embraced in the divine, righteous judgments.
Ezekiel 7:7. “The morning.” The Hebrew word thus translated is of uncertain import. Besides here and Ezekiel 7:10, the only other place in which it occurs is Isaiah 28:5, and there it is translated by diadem. That meaning cannot be accepted for this chapter. A prophetical morning is generally applied to the breaking forth of light, deliverance, &c., yet an explanation seems requisite that is not in accordance with such an idea. The most favoured conclusion is that which connects the word with an allied root indicating that the word here means something which makes a round or circle, and is metaphorically interpreted of that which the revolution of time promotes: the turn, the fate, that which is destined “is come unto thee … the day of trouble is near.” The laws of Hebrew parallelism suggest that the word translated trouble is in a relation of contrast to the next clause of the verse, “and not the sounding again of the mountains.” This, as it stands, is somewhat unmeaning. To say that the phrase alludes to the joyous shoutings at vintage-time, and to understand it as intimating that there would be no more the exuberant joy of harvest upon the mountains, appears to be rather farfetched. More probable is it that the allusion is to idolatrous festivities upon the mountains of Israel, as was illustrated by the prophets of Baal when, sacrificing to their god upon Mount Carmel, they made loud and prolonged sounds. We prefer to translate thus: The day is near; a tumult—as in a panic of fugitives from the sword and famine (cf. Ezekiel 6:4-6)—and not shouts of idolaters when worshipping upon the mountains. The silence of death would fall upon the scenes where dishonour was done to the living God.
Ezekiel 7:8. The end cannot be retarded. “Now will I shortly”—immediately—“pour out my fury upon thee.” His judgment will not linger any more. The course of evil will take Israel into the woes and horrors produced by their own sins. The following clauses have been already presented, with slight verbal differences, in Ezekiel 7:3, and Ezekiel 7:9 is a similar repetition of Ezekiel 7:4. “The abominations stand in Israel’s midst not in their alluring, seductive form, but with all the woe which comes in their train” (Haev). The point of definiteness which is to be recognised is the unchanging purpose of all the Lord’s dealings. “Ye shall know that I the Lord smite.” The people were to realise that it was really not the Chaldeans, but their Eternal Holy King who was inflicting the punishment and claiming recognition and submission. The Lord “the life-giver, who would die to preserve His children, but would rather slay them than they should live the servants of evil.”
TROUBLE ON TROUBLE FOR SIN (Ezekiel 7:5-9)
Human experiences have caused the formulating of such proverbs as “It never rains but it pours,” “Misfortunes never come alone.” If many who use such words make no reference, when another weight of suffering is laid upon one already imposed, to the primal power which maintains this course of affairs, there was no omission in respect to that power among the statements of Hebrew prophets. They discerned the shadowy movements of a righteous Ruler, producing not only an isolated trouble, but also clusters of troubles. They were well aware that truth, if unpalatable, required to be enforced again and again, and that a true lesson, which might not be learned under the infliction of one pain, might be learned when pain was followed by pain. The same method was observed in Him who “spake as never man spake.” The stern repetition of “woe unto you,” which Jesus deemed it fitting to emit, must have made the ears of scribes and Pharisees to tingle; even to-day the awe and dread survive when they are read. It seems established as a principle of divine procedure that transgressors may learn righteousness by reiterated judgments. We may receive directions as to a becoming way of regarding repeated trials from our prophet. He suggests—
I. That sufferings for sins will be completed. An evil first comes, and afterwards an evil which will make a singularly deep impression,—“an only evil.” The end which utterly condemns the sin is not brought about at once. Stages of progress towards it are taken. Some of the sinners may repent, or may die before the last point is reached, but they who do arrive there have passed other stages previously. The suffering may be so slight that the individuals or nations affected can afford to make light of it and go on their usual way. It may be so serious that they stand for days or months in a sort of fear of doing wrong, then their goodness, like the morning cloud or early dew, vanishes away. The end of inflicting the various sufferings will, nevertheless, come. The house whose foundation has been laid in sand will be touched in successive years by casual floods, but not till the fatal year, when a dire flood will descend, shall the house be overthrown. A nation may continue for one century or more to indulge in luxurious living and to practise ungodly conduct; but the blows of truth and right will be repeated until the old evil state falls down. “Their feet will slide in due time.” They will reap what they have sown and the end of justice will be attained.
II. That sufferings for sins are of varying degrees. Similar sins may be chargeable against different individuals, but similar sufferings are not endured in consequence. It is a perplexity in modern days, as it was in the days of Job, and as insoluble to us as it was to him and his friends. The messages of Ezekiel threw a streak of light into our perplexity. They indicate that the utmost suffering—that which will be recognised as greater than any other—comes as a result of loosening the ties which should hold men to God. Let there be disregard to divine rights, and sooner or later there will be disregard to human rights. And when both God and our brethren are sinned against, the penalty for the misdeeds may well be felt as singular in its intensity, and evoke comments in marts of business as well as in meetings for religious objects. Thus the observant eye is trained to see striking differences in the inflictions befalling men who go in wrong courses.
III. That sufferings for sin may be rapidly accelerated in their final stage. The Babylonian army kept hovering over Judea and now and then swooping down upon it; but at length, when that watchful foe came in aggravated wrath, the ruin of Jerusalem was speedily consummated, and the Jewish nationality was crumpled up as by a sudden blight. The Babylonian Empire in its turn, after resisting various shocks, fell to pieces as in a moment: “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Mede took the kingdom” (Daniel 5:30-31). Our generation has seen, in the war between France and Germany, how the Empire which had been raised by “gunpowder and glory” collapsed with startling abruptness. This event need not be taken to mean that the French Empire was deluding and wicked beyond all other governments; yet at least it may be taken to mean that “a short work on the earth” may be made with communities which allow themselves to be misled by interested and pretentious designs. They will not use time to repent till confusion seizes them. Whether that confusion will become ruinous, as was the case with Babylonia, or whether it will prepare for new conditions of national existence, as was the case with Israel, cannot be foretold by merely human perspicacity. Any way the contingency is instructive in showing that it is not wise to make light of troubles which are regarded as inconsiderable. The moans of the forest-trees presage an approaching hurricane: slight pains prognosticate the attack of a virulent fever; and the temporal and mental sufferings which come in consequence of sins should ever be taken as warning of an end that may be destruction. What though you can bear the uneasiness or disregard it, yet remind yourselves that that brings no pledge of safety from a sad and fearful aggravation of trouble some day. “How are they brought into a desolation as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.”
1. It becomes peoples and persons to be earnest in learning the lessons which are given by repeated disappointments, checks, pains, sorrows, lest evil come upon them from which they shall not escape.
2. It becomes them to stand in awe of the Invisible Worker whose varying processes manifest His will to restrain and to deliver from sin.
RENEWED ASSERTION OF THE APPROACH OF THE CALAMITY (Ezekiel 7:10-18)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 7:10. “Behold the day, behold it is come.” It is remarkable with what unity the various prophets speak of the troubles which they threatened as culminating in a day. It seems as if they saw in calamities an ever-recurring omen of that day in which earth’s story would be judged of as a whole. If that final judgment could not distinctly loom before their gaze, it cast its dark and troubled shadows across the scene in respect to which they had to utter the burden of the Lord. To us, as to them, all sufferings for wickedness are fore-tokens of the last great day, when the fire shall try every man’s work and consume all that is not fit to abide in a renovated world wherein dwelleth righteousness. Those recurring days and their phenomena were already determined. “The [morning] destiny goes forth, the rod blossoms, pride buddeth.” The reference of these words is not to an evil which germinated within the territory of Israel, but to an evil external to it, which was springing up and would become an instrument of execution. The rod is the rod of the Lord’s anger—the rod of the oppressor, represented in the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar. Like a shoot his power was growing, giving signs of vigorous vitality, rapidly taking the form which would render it fit to strike hard, and to do so with a will energised by boasting pride.
Ezekiel 7:11. “Violence rises into a rod for wickedness.” The cruelty and outrages of the Chaldeans, against which the prophets Habakkuk and Jeremiah deal out strong invectives, would be methods for punishing the wicked doings of Israel. At the sight Ezekiel becomes too deeply affected to fill up with verbs the four following brief sentences, and he merely prefixes to each a negative. We might render them literally, in terms of the English version, “not from them, and not from their multitude, and not from them of them, and not wailing in them.” The compression and uncertain allusions make the sense somewhat doubtful. Besides, the meanings assigned to the several words are not generally accepted, as marginal readings testify. The interpretation given in the Speaker’s Commentary is: “The furious Chaldean has become an instrument of God’s wrath, endued with power emanating not from the Jews, or from the multitude of the Jews, or from any of their children or people; nay, the destruction shall be so complete that none shall be left to make lamentation over them.” Though this comment scarcely satisfies the demands of linguistic accuracy, it sufficiently shows the bearing of the prophet’s utterances. The catastrophe would be such that no one would be left to resist. “Stroke will so come upon stroke that lamentation will be forgotten in despair. It is the highest degree of pain when the capacity to complain expires” (Heng.) The weight of scholarship, however, as to the last clause, gives for its translation, and there is no attractiveness in them; all that beauty of the Lord their God which had been upon them shall be consumed away and utterly disappear.
Ezekiel 7:12. In that state of affairs, property, upon which such high value is set, would produce no comfort. “Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn.” “It is natural for the buyer to rejoice and for the seller to lament,” but no ground of joy should be found in that which might seem to be a good purchase, because it will turn out to be a source of trouble and pain. There would be as little ground for grief in parting with property. The enemy would seize it all, taking goods, cattle, houses, land, without distinction of persons. “When slavery and captivity stare you in the face, rejoicing and mourning are equally absurd” (Jerome). And no one should be passed by, “because wrath is upon all its multitude;” upon all who dwell in the territory of Israel whose “end” is pronounced.
Ezekiel 7:13 is to be regarded as a development of what was just said concerning the universality of wrath. “The seller” is not to mourn, for he “shall not return to that which is sold.” He may have become an exile; the fall in the value of property may have made it burdensome to hold; there may have been forced sales of substance which had been prized by the seller—he need not allow one regret. He will never find an opportunity to get back what he had thus let go: not “although they were yet alive,” i.e., whoever of the sellers might be counted among the living were not to cherish any hope that in time they should recover the property which they had sold. As parts of the surviving remnant they would be in a captive state from which they would have no restoration, or the waves of Chaldean rapine would so beat upon the whole territory as to obliterate every trace of former arrangements. Life would not bring back again past enjoyments. Again Ezekiel emphasises the indiscriminateness of the punishment: “for the vision” which he has described as shadowing forth the imminent evil “is upon,” has reference to, “all its multitude.” In the words which immediately follow, the prophet does not intimate a possible event happening to the multitude, but repeats that which had been already said of the seller—“he shall not return.” Yet should any one suppose that, by fraud, violence, or other immoral way, he would be able to reassert his title to the possessions he once had, he must disabuse his mind of the folly, “neither shall any strengthen themselves in the iniquity of his life;” or, to put it literally, and a man in the iniquity of his life—they shall not strengthen themselves. The same movement, viz., from a single representative to all the individuals, which we see in the first half of the verse, is repeated in this last clause, and scope is given for variety of translation. Keil’s is, and no one will strengthen himself as to his life through his iniquity. But whatever order the words may be put into, the meaning is conveyed that no one whosoever, so long as he is alive, will have any ease by his iniquity; he will be weak and crippled still, unable to escape the doom of wrath.
Many commentators find in these two verses distinct references to the continued vigorous usages of the law for the jubilee year, according to which land and houses reverted to their original owners. It is, to say the least, doubtful if this idea can be sustained. That the phrases of the prophet are moulded by principles inherent in the law of jubilee is not at all unlikely, but that his popular phraseology should be held to intimate that the processes incident to that law were validly maintained is more than can be granted. It is very questionable whether the law was observed at all in the later periods of Jewish history, if in the earlier. The remarkable omission of any satisfactory indication of its operation, of course, cannot be pleaded as a proof that the enactment had become altogether obsolete; but it may be taken to show that, like the community of goods in the primitive Jerusalem Church, the plan became unworkable in a society fermenting with the elements of social changes. With the exception of a very few indecisive expressions in Isaiah and Jeremiah, as well as this one here, not a single prophet has condemned neglect of jubilee enactments or acknowledged their fulfilment. Perhaps it should be regarded as a collateral proof of the law of jubilee being in abeyance, that that section of the law, which required Hebrew bond-servants to be set free in the jubilee year, was certainly disregarded in practice. Jeremiah (chap. 34) shows that there had been a momentary reaction towards obedience to the aforesaid section; but that unbrotherliness and greed had soon brought a return of the prohibited oppression. Man’s failure to carry out such a law is not a sign that its principles are unsound or its practice impossible in human societies. Both it and the having all things common in Christian Churches have these characterising features, that God’s authority is placed over all things, and that all men are brethren. We look for an age in which these shall be supremely prominent—the good time coming, when love shall reign over all the earth. Ezekiel mentions the development of the slighted principles of those old decrees as sure to appear in that new theocracy, whose details he will afterwards set forth (chap. Ezekiel 46:16-18).
Ezekiel 7:14-15. A more disastrous result than the depreciation and abandonment of property would be evident in the unhinged and demoralised spirit of the people. The biblical history of the Jews goes to prove that on the whole they were brave and courageous, ready both to defend themselves and attack others. This characteristic would be lost in the grievous period of the end so close at hand. “They have blown the trumpet, and,” with the view “to make all ready”—a call to all capable of bearing arms is sounded, and they are summoned to stand equipped in every particular for meeting the foe. It is in vain; there is no martial response. It is not for want of men, money, weapons. Besides country, property, religion, life are at stake, “but none goeth forth to the battle.” The consciousness of lying under divine punishment unmans them: “for my wrath is upon all the multitude thereof.” This would be shown in the fatal sufferings which they would endure. They would be cut down in the open by the sword of the enemy. They would perish in pent-up streets or closed houses by hunger and disease. “The issues of death” would fatally work upon them.
Ezekiel 7:16. Yet the door of mercy will not be utterly walled up; some fugitives will reach safety through it, though they may be few. For them it is provided, and they “shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys.” Those survivors will seek refuge in elevated, retired districts, acting on the idea which was enunciated at a later day by Jesus of Nazareth, “Let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains.” In such a condition of hardship they will keep together—be like flocks of pigeons which have been disturbed in their resorts on the lower ground, and maintain a continual cooing among the rocky heights up to which they have flown for safety—“all of them mourning.” Similar expressions used by other prophets indicate that the sound natural to doves was regarded by the Hebrews as suggestive of sorrow. Ewald says, “The Arabian poets still find in cooing the sounds of lamentation, as if the bird’s notes came from a feeling of pain.” In English poetry we find—
“The stockdove only through the forest coos, Mournfully hoarse.”
This mourning, on the part of all those who had escaped from the terrors of death, would be aggravated by an element for which there was no alleviating counteractive in earthly means; “every one for his iniquity.” Each sees not only that sin had been no defence, but also that it brings bitter regrets, and he could complain of its deceitfulness. This recoil from iniquity was not an unusual course for the Israelites. Successive eras of their national history furnish illustration of those words of Isaiah, “In trouble have they visited Thee; they poured out a prayer when Thy chastening was upon them.” They could perceive, in the evils which befell them, tokens of the wrongs they had been guilty of, as no other people contemporary with them, and perhaps no people of any period whatever, could do. The rights of God over them were again and again brought into distinctness after seasons of effacement. They then recognised that relief was to be sought nowhere save in God alone, and they afflicted their souls before Him. Too often, with the majority, it was not with godly sorrow, but with the sorrow of the world. They grieved over the hard consequences of sin rather than over its dishonouring of the Father. They longed for the removal of its punishment rather than for deliverance from its power and guilt.
Ezekiel 7:17-18. The weakness and general helplessness of the fugitives are depicted in strong figurative terms, “All hands, all knees,” as inadequate for their functions as if their strength had wholly slipped away—a repetition of the scene in the wilderness, when the children of Israel were smitten by the men of Ai and “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5). In addition to this, demonstrative expressions of defencelessness would be displayed. The conspicuous parts of their bodies would be visibly made to show their utter abandonment to fear and grief. “Sackcloth” would “gird” them; “trembling” would “cover” them; the “shame” of vexation and punishment would suffuse itself over their countenances, and “BALDNESS” overrun their “HEADS.” The baldness might be self-inflicted in the manner narrated by Ezra. (Ezekiel 9:3), when he was overwhelmed with horror for the transgression of his people. It has been often said that such baldness was prohibited to Israel, but the reference usually made for that statement (Deuteronomy 14:1) does not prove it. That verse speaks of taking hair from a certain part of the head only. At any rate, allusions in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah signify that depriving the head of its hair was not an uncommon procedure in seasons of deep grief.
HOW MAN’S DESTINY IS BROUGHT ABOUT
“The destiny goes forth, the rod blossoms, pride buddeth, violence rises into a rod for wickedness” (Ezekiel 7:10-11).
These words allude to the Babylonian monarchy as growing in power, and having in it the destiny to shatter the Jewish state for its persistent wrong courses towards its covenanted Lord. We read them and see how, “to the sprouting of power which can, corresponds the blossoming of pride which will,” be a terror and destruction. We are furnished with a representation in outline of the methods by which straying souls are recompensed according to their ways and abominations.
I. Their destiny is not a fortuitous event. It is a growth—a product of, it may be, hidden and manifold causes. Generally, we cannot tell how we had become liable to a cold, a fever, a face-ache or heart-palpitation; but our inability to trace the movements which culminated in the attack does not make us hesitate to say that we had come under influences sufficient to produce the indisposition. It was not a random blow. We have reason to take the same position in reference to all personal, to all national fears, losses, defeats. There is no such thing as accident, chance in human affairs. If we have to pass through fire and through water, they were in our way. If men ride over our heads, they were mounted on horses spurred to do so.
II. Destiny is not from the mere fiat of God. He works by law. He begins to act because of righteousness and truth. He continues to act for righteousness and truth. The nature of things moves towards the punishing of evil by operations which may be said to be outside of God, that is, by using forces which the Almighty One has called into existence. Every decree of His is therefore adapted to antecedent conditions. Violence rises up into a rod by no arbitrary will. The moral government of God may tend to an inevitable fate, but it is a reasonable one.
III. Destiny is accomplished by fitting instruments. I said, in agreement with the phraseology of the prophet, that destiny is a growth. Each kind of tree in growing appropriates those elements in the atmosphere and soil which are suited to its nature. The bread-fruit tree prepares to support the life of man, and the upas-tree to poison him. And in the moral realm the elaboration of good things to save man and of evil things to destroy him is always proceeding. When the time is ripe they arrive at their suitableness for use, and are capable of carrying out the destined event. But “the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous.” Pride will smite pride, violent dealing will be crushed by violence. When men sin they set briers and thorns against the Lord who is in conflict with them; but it is only to see that He goes through them, that He burns them up together. He never stands perplexed because He has no instrument at hand to execute His holy law.
IV. Destiny is the summing up of previous actions. We say that violets are gathered for their sweet perfume and wheat for its nutritious qualities, and we mean that the different lots which befall them is due to those antecedent chemical operations which form their properties. We should say the same of every individual and every nation on whom scares, and pains, and loss, and ruin spread their blight. They took a course in which they gathered up certain materials. Whether those materials were drawn from the external or the internal world, both sorts became the means of bruising, tearing, killing those who had gathered them. “Hast thou not procured this unto thyself?… Thine own wickedness shall correct thee and thy backslidings shall reprove thee” (Jeremiah 2:17; Jeremiah 2:19). It is foolish to speak of an evil destiny except as a consequence of foregoing faults.
1. Punishment for sin comes slowly. It is not the result of a force which appears suddenly on the stage of life. It is no hasty stroke for which there was not sufficient justification, and the incidence of which might cause valid regrets. It is a growth. The evil-doers may escape for a season, but in due season, sooner or later, according to the nature of the sin, they shall receive the just award on their deeds. Let not your hearts be set towards evil because the sentence against it is not executed speedily. Use the space given for repentance.
2. Punishment for sin comes surely. Human strength, wisdom, sympathy cannot stay the reproductive powers of nature, and they cannot annihilate the accumulating energies of moral evil. The cotton which will form the shroud for some of you who are enjoying good health is to be plucked off sun-lit fields. The weather which will bring famine to you, prodigals, has begun its action upon the scenery begirding you. The disease which will render offensive the debauchee is finding nourishment in him for its germs. The death which will destroy those who are ungodly is on their foot-tracks, and will not miss its aim. Inevitable is the woe which will fall upon the head of the wicked. Nothing can interfere; nothing can save—nothing except a change of mind; nothing except submission to the love and power of God manifested in Jesus Christ our Lord!
WEAK POINTS IN HUMAN LIFE (Ezekiel 7:11-18)
Nature in its various forms—in himself and in what is external to himself—occupies man’s interest and efforts. He is disposed to rest in its use. He does not “look through nature up to nature’s God.” But nature is from God, and man must be taught that in every one of its characteristics it is subjected to the authority of God’s laws. If used according to His will, it is glorified: if contrary to His will, it must be made to appear weak as a prop for life on earth. Observe this weakness—
I. In the common fate of men. There is no abiding. We must needs die. The place that knows us now shall soon know us no more. Our beauty will consume away. Where is “populous No”? What has become of the Israelites of all generations? Whatever be the power of the forces which hold the activities of a single life, or whatever be the forces which go to constitute the life of a puissant nation, in either case the power is helpless to safeguard its subjects when they do wickedly. Iniquity, that is the poison which destroys strength, that the traitor which opens to the rod which brings death. The nature of man succumbs before the righteous fiat of God.
II. In the precariousness of property. Men make gold their hope, which is digged out of nature’s reservoirs. They pride themselves when their goods are increased. They call their lands by their own names. Many are willing to sacrifice truth, honesty, peace, so as to get unrighteous gain in buying and selling. But no products of nature, however largely estimated and depended on as a security, can be retained in use. A time comes when they may be counted a burden and sorrow, and buyers and sellers be equally conscious that the possession of them is untenable, that they are too evanescent to give help in danger, and must take rank with the weak things of the world.
III. In the failure of courage. Human nature can furnish proofs of courage which dignify it, but fears of injury or death can cause the stoutest to lose their presence of mind, and panics fall upon individuals and bodies of men. Appeals to honour and patriotism and care for property are vain. The stirring notes of the trumpet are altogether powerless to incite to conflict. “None goeth to the battle.” Before the wrath of God the multitude has no spirit left in it.
IV. In the insecurity of a retreat. The fugitive Israelites who had escaped sought a safe hiding-place, and that brought experiences which were almost worse than death. Our bodily nature cannot be hardened or protected against increasing troubles, nor does one kind of calamity guarantee us freedom from every other kind. Life may be preserved from extinction by sword or famine or pestilence, but the circumstances into which it is thrown may be full of fear and grief and torment. Ah! if men could only get away from all tribulation by fleeing from one form of it, how different would our natural life appear! But the pains which follow sin are not voided by any temporary punishment. Our wrongdoing may be seen and regretted; that does not avert sure penalty. Youth spent in sensual pleasures may be deeply and sincerely lamented, but the “wild oats” then sown leave seeds on the heart’s soil which are not eradicated even after many a ploughing and harrowing. A ticket-of-leave convict finds his crime, however he may stand clear from it now, will prevent any confidential employment. And when God rises up to punish, “mourning, sackcloth, horror, shame,” go to show that the stripes needed, therefore just and suitable, will be inflicted “to the utmost lash.” None can hide so as that God will be deceived.
What repentings should be kindled when we see the helpless character of the things we are so prone to trust! What fear lest God should be neglected and disobeyed!
It may be doubted whether the next verse should be connected with the preceding or the following verses. Though the casting away of all valuables would be a natural act in those who were fleeing for their lives, yet it is as natural in those who were exposed to death by famine in the siege. However, as reference is made hereafter to other precious things which had been employed as instruments of evil, it is preferable to consider that a change occurs here in the line of the prophet’s thought. If the change seems abrupt, that is far from being out of harmony with the features of this chapter.
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 7:19. Valuable things will be rejected. “They shall cast their silver in the streets.” Retaining it in their houses would present inducements to the greed and cruelty of the foemen, and expose their persons to outrage: it will be put away: “and their gold shall be discarded, treated as an uncleanness and not to be touched—more precious than silver, it will be more vilely cast away. It is probable that their idols are included in this rejection if we take an illustration from Isaiah: “Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold; thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence” (Ezekiel 30:22). This utter repudiation of things so highly prized is grounded on the fact that no amount or form of the precious metals will help to safety, or protect from pain, fears, destruction: “their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord; they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels.” Neither mental ease nor sufficient food would be attainable in those closing days of tribulation—“because it is the stumbling-block of their iniquity.” They so applied the substantial wealth entrusted to them as to gratify their lusts; they made it into a means of sin, and fell over it into fearful woes.
It is questionable whether the words “silver and gold,” when associated in this manner, are ever applied in the Old Testament to money only. We must not read into its usage a modern idea. It refers them to money, and also to plate, ornaments, idol-images. And this is an indication that Ezekiel must refer to some other object than the precious metals in the following verse.
Ezekiel 7:20. Another feature of their guilt comes into view, “As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it for pride.” We do not see in these expressions anything but the signs of wealth made into a matter for boasting. That people boast themselves in the multitude of riches is true; but if the Jews had some special glory, it is far more likely that they would pride themselves in that. And they had. If Canaan was “the glory of all lands,” assuredly the Temple at Jerusalem was the summit of that glory. Ezekiel himself might be quoted to establish this application of the words, “I will profane my sanctuary, the excellency of your strength” (Ezekiel 24:21). The thing which was the most glorious feature in Israel had been made into a thing for mere brag! “and the images of their abominations, of their detestable things they made therein.” Examples of this degradation and abjuration of their most eminent privilege are found in the next chapter, “therefore I give it to them as an unclean thing,” the glory of their ornament is changed into that which is repulsive and unfit for the Lord.
Ezekiel 7:21. “And I give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, &c., and they shall profane it.” The heathen shall take possession of the city, the outward tokens of God’s special dwelling with Israel be desecrated, and its glory be obliterated.
Ezekiel 7:22. “And I turn away my face from them”—from the people of Jerusalem probably, though reference may be to the foreigners, for whose doings He would seem not to care,—“and they profane my secret.” It is unnecessary to supply place to the last word, whose meaning must be that which had been guarded by the Lord as His and fenced against all intruders. Hengstenberg understands it of their treasures, “the means of Israel, which are, as it were, the treasure of the Lord;” but it is, surely, more appropriately to be understood of the Temple with its Holy of Holies: “and” this shall be brought about when “the robbers,” lit. those making breaches, “enter into it”—the city—“and profane it.” The repeated references to the profanation of what had been holy to the Lord signify how completely Israel had been estranged from Him, and how all places, even the holiest, would be open to the unhallowed presence of the ungodly nations.
Ezekiel 7:23. Ezekiel is addressed. The Lord, as it were, “indignant at the profanation, commands him to put an end to the doings of the enemy by the deportation of those who were left behind” (Haev.) “Make the chain,” that which was the badge of subjugation and with which the exiled Jews were fettered. Jeremiah records how he was let go by Nebuzar-adan from “being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive from Jerusalem and Judah” (Ezekiel 40:1). City and land had brought the evil upon themselves, “for the land is full of deeds of blood,” not applied to acts of murder only, but to all acts which were counted as mortal sins, “and the city is full of violence.” The prophet Micah had declared that Zion should be ploughed as a field because the Lord withdrew His presence, and among the causes of that desolation he puts, “They build up Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity” (Ezekiel 3:10).
Ezekiel 7:24. “And I will cause the evil ones of the nations to come,” the worst of the heathen, those who were most notorious among surrounding peoples for their evil tempers and ways. The expression is similar to that in Ezekiel 7:21, “the wicked of the earth,” and gives an indication of the strong and bitter feelings engendered amongst the Hebrews towards the Chaldeans, instances of which are found in other prophetical books also. Ewald regards such expressions as signifying that at this time the Babylonian Empire contained in it an element of rude, rough, and uncultivated warriors, while, at the same time, there must have been a highly civilised population long settled in Nineveh or Babylon; “and they shall possess their houses,” a justification of the counsels given in Ezekiel 7:12-13; “and I make the pride of the strong to cease.” If it is felt that it would hardly do to regard the Jews as meriting this description “the strong,” the reading of the Septuagint, which finds a confirmation in chap. Ezekiel 33:28, suggests an explanation, the pride of their strength. This is neither to be transmuted into strong pride nor into proud splendour, but to be taken as intimating that there was that belonging to them which they esteemed their special strength as a people. That that was their relation to the Lord God is confirmed by such phrases as these: “Thou art the glory of their strength;” “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion.” That men may take pride in Him whom they do not obey is testified by the words of Jesus, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Their pride in that would fail, “and their holy places shall be profaned;” their, as if He would not acknowledge them as His even nominally.
“In these verses a threefold example is given of the divine lex taliouis.… The people have abused their wealth by making idols of gold and silver, and all manner of ornaments for vainglorious display, so that it has become “the stumbling-block of their iniquity;” now it was to be seized as a spoil by the enemy, and, in respect to their deliverance, should be found worthless as the mire of the streets. They have carried their abominations into God’s sanctuary and defiled the secret place of the Most High; now the whole is to be laid open to the unhallowed feet of the stranger, and robbers are to be sent to walk at liberty where saints only should have been permitted to enter. They, by their daring wickedness, have made the land full of violence and blood, therefore shall they themselves be bound with a chain by the ungodly heathen, and their best possessions be turned into the prey of the lawless and the profane. ‘Their holy places shall be defiled,’ as they have already defiled mine.”—Fairbairn.
Ezekiel 7:25. On the existence of the Temple depended that of the Levitical priesthood, and when the former was desecrated, the means of expiation, which by that was connected with the priesthood, were withdrawn from Israel. So we read “destruction comes,” lit. a cutting off comes. We might translate, with Fairbairn, a close comes, or with Hengstenberg, who says, “properly contraction, in contrast with the expansion that is connected with all joyful prosperity—the state of restriction and diminution:” “and they shall seek peace, and it is not.” Peace—hardly with Nebuchadnezzar, but that which could be attained by the methods referred to in the next verses.
Ezekiel 7:26. The condition will be one of constant uncertainty and disappointment. “Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour.” “Stroke upon stroke does the ruin come, and it is intensified by reports, alarming accounts, which crowd together and increase the terror” (Keil); “and they shall seek a vision from the prophet.” They are at their wits’ end; they do not wait on the Lord, but endeavour to make solace or encouragement come from prophets such as had spoken to them visions out of their own heart; but the prophets are either dumb, or, if they were told “Speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits,” they failed to present the visions that were sought for: “and the law shall perish from the priest.” The prophet Malachi makes it appear as an understood thing that the people “should seek the law at the priest’s mouth.” It is an inadequate interpretation which would confine “the law” which was sought from the priest simply to his reading out of that of Moses. He was to have reference made to him for his judgments on the rules which were given to be guides to right conduct and worship. Thus Deuteronomy 17:10, “Thou shalt do according to the sentence which they shall declare unto thee from that place which the Lord shall choose.” The priests gave decisions, by oracle or otherwise, in the sanctuary as to what was intended by the law. However, that function of the priesthood would altogether pass from it: “and counsel from the elders” shall also perish; wisdom and experience would not avail for giving suitable advice.
Ezekiel 7:27. All the population in its three classes would be dealt with in judgment. “The king shall mourn, and the prince”—the chiefs of the tribes and heads of families—“shall be clothed with desolation, and the hands of the people of the land,” i.e., the commonalty as distinguished from the rulers, “shall be troubled. I will do to them after their way,” lit. from their way, i.e., the Lord will take the cue for what He will do from what they have done; “and with their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.” By sufferings which flow from their own decisions they will be forced to acknowledge Him as Lord. “With these words, recurring in Ezekiel like a refrain, the first cycle of his prophecies closes.”—Hengstenberg.
THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE LORD’S PRESENCE
To walk with God is man’s highest privilege, to be forsaken by God is man’s deepest woe; his history furnishes abundant evidence that he has been the subject of both contingencies. Yet a people professing to serve the living God should not allow it to be doubtful what kind of answer must be returned to the questions, Is the Lord among us or not? Are we conducting ourselves so that He lifts up the light of His countenance upon us, or so that He hides His face from us? For the response does not relate merely to our comfort or the reverse; it relates to the feelings of God and the rights due to God from every faculty and condition of men. A help to indicate the position at which a true answer may be received is suggested by these closing sentences of Ezekiel’s dirge upon downfallen Israel.
I. We learn what provokes the withdrawal of God’s presence.
1. It is not any arbitrariness on His part. Deep experiences in spiritual things—experiences which it is to be feared are not so common now as then—led former generations of God’s servants to coin this phrase, “The sovreign withdrawal of God’s countenance.” It has been handed on to us among the traditions received from our fathers, but it is a phrase we should be very loath to employ. They indeed explained it with provisos which sometimes shaded its objectionable features, but they left enough of it in view to make us feel that it cannot depict a true idea of God’s action. To say that there are occasions when we cannot surmise the reasons why He should make us walk in darkness and have no light, is a very different statement from that which intimates that there is no call in our proceedings for His righteousness and love to rise up against us. “Thou art clear when thou judgest.” In ourselves, in the conditions of His kingdom, will always be the latent if not obvious causes for the hiding of His face—never in any divine waywardness.
2. It is incited by unholy demeanour. There were iniquities among the Israelites of Ezekiel’s time of no insignificant character. We might be disposed to ask, How could they fancy that, while doing such things, they would still be in the light of God? The answer comes to us from the true Judge of human ways, “They come not to the light lest their deeds should be reproved.” But we do not need to inquire of Ezekiel’s people respecting this inconsistency. Similar facts are manifest among our own people.
(1.) There is excessive appreciation of wealth. Before it the truth and purity of many promising young persons go down into darkness. The honourableness and the attachment to Christian causes of maturer age have been discarded. Reports of proceedings in law-courts, less public reports of dealings in offices, warehouses, shops, go to prove that silver and gold, in some of their forms of value, lead into not a few “pernicious ways.” When Mammon is loved and held to, what must be done with God?
(2.) There is immorality. Sins which are liable to capital punishment, sins which seduce others, sins which stir up wearied hearts to cry to the Lord God of Sabaoth, “Do me justice on my adversary,” are narrated day by day in our newspapers. How many more never find a record in earthly pages! When deeds of violence are rife they prove that the whole condition of a people is demoralised. When they may not be rife, but when the guiltless do not condemn unequivocally such as do take place, do not wage continual war against them, lest they should get themselves into trouble or soil their hands by the pitch of wickedness, then too is the condition unwholesome and the words come true, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2).
3. It is brought about by trifling with religious belief.
(1.) For people to set it as a matter for pride is to trifle with it. They treat it as a thing which adds to their importance or self-conceit; they do not humble themselves to it as to their master; they drive it from its rightful position, however beautiful they esteem it to be as an ornament. Hear the numbers who boast that they are Christian and not heathen, Roman Catholics and not Protestants, Church of England and not Nonconformists, Church-goers and not Sunday-excursionists, and their boast carries with it this undertone, “We do not understand the rights of God.” The lonely glory of His service—presenting aspects which make it excel all other objects of thought—is veiled and made comparatively trivial when regarded as a matter for self-glorification.
(2.) To adopt unauthorised observances is to trifle with it. The Israelites did not turn the Lord out of His Temple. They did abandon acknowledgment of Him as their God above all. “They served the Lord and Baai.” They made images of abominations and detestable things in the Lord’s house. Such a course betokened that they could not seriously accept that which was their distinguishing knowledge, that the Lord was the only God. They ignored the truth, that to pay the semblance of worship to idols was rebellion against His claims which He could not condone by His presence remaining among them. Isaiah represents His decision thus, “When ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers I will not hear” (Ezekiel 1:15). He did not want “vain oblations” then, and He does not want them now. If we use prayers, sacraments, special rites and services which private or churchly judgments institute as an indispensable addition to the faith on which we act for acceptance with God, we may not erect an idol-shrine in church or chamber, but we ascribe to the created a seat of honour along with the Creator, we show that we do not desire really to know what is His due, and our wilfulness becomes an offence which impels His withdrawal. In our days, as in former years, His Spirit is grieved, vexed, quenched by the provoking of those sons and daughters, “who have a name to live and they are dead,” who have “a form of godliness and deny the power thereof.” Truly they are triflers with what is most sacred and walk in darkness.
II. We learn what follows the withdrawal of God’s presence. Ezekiel depicts the consequences as developed in body, temple, minds. They cannot be literally applied to other and Christian people, but they hint sufficiently at results which are likely to happen.
1. Temporal distress. Because God has turned away His face, money may be felt as a burden, houses be lost, prostration of physical health or courage unman us. He is the Lord of the body; He is the ruler of weather, germs, gases, trade, and certainly amongst us, as amongst men of old, temporal sufferings are made a means of showing that we have offended Him. Not that all such troubles are signs that He has withdrawn from us—Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a proof of something else—but a painful experience of the first Church in Corinth had its source in trifling with God’s presence. “For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.” “Thou didst hide Thy face and I was troubled.” What the weight and the extension of the distress may be time only will manifest; but the fact that Israel was shaken by panics, obliterated as a nation, the survivors bound with chains and taken into a strange land, is a solemn warning as to the dire consequences which come from a withdrawal of God’s gracious presence.
2. Religious degradations.
(1.) The worshippers will be counted unworthy to come before the Lord. The sense of His presence being deadened, their hearts must become disqualified for His holy service. They may still give thanks at meals, they may still enter into a place for worship, they may still name themselves by the name of Christ, but they have lost faith, love, joy, peace, if ever they had one or other. The duty which might have been pervaded with the holiness of God is nothing but an engagement carried out really for the doers alone—theirs now, if formerly His. And what can be a man’s religion when God is left out of it? What but “a delusion and a snare to men—what but a grief and offence to Him? Peace, they may say, but there is none. Woe be to us when our sanctuaries are nothing but our sanctuaries!”
(2.) Corrupting and destructive influences will dominate them. “The wicked of the earth, the robbers enter in and profane” the place where His honour dwelt. “The profanation by the enemy is, alas! always preceded by the profanation on the part of the friends.” And so has it happened in the Christian centuries. Churches abounded in Western Asia—enemies possess their heritage. Old creeds for whose truth men were once content to suffer and die are sneered at and neglected. “An unknown God” is not dignified with an altar, but coolly relegated to an unapproachable cloudland. Men who wear the uniform of Christ’s service decline to place themselves on the hill where His standard waves, and even supply ammunition to the opposing host. Thus do “those who make breaches” pass into the domain where God had professedly reigned. His ostensible religion is discredited and covered with shame. Holy things are profaned because He is displeased and hides His face.
3. Collapse of social helpfulness. Secular and spiritual persons will be useless to one another. We naturally betake ourselves to those persons whom we consider superior when we are in perplexity, sorrow, pain, accumulating difficulties. Such resort will be in vain if “the glory of God in the face of Jesus” is not beheld. Then religious intuition will fail to grasp any inspiration; theologians be unable to communicate real instruction, and men of experience suffer a stagnation of thought. Preachers, teachers, and tried believers are weak in themselves and powerless upon others so far as relates to the growth of the divine kingdom when they do not walk in the light. So it comes to pass that that which should be the religion of God is trodden under foot of men.
(1.) We should be impressed with fear of the withdrawal of the Lord. When Jesus is not with His professed people they are in dreary scenery. It is a dry and thirsty land where no water is. It is the desert in which rest may be sought for but cannot be found by those who have had deliverance from some unclean spirit, and out of which place they come to take up with seven other evil spirits, and so the last state becometh worse than the first. There is cause for fear.
(2.) We should become very watchful. If we perceive little or nothing of the anguish of our Shepherd as He prays for the lost sheep; if we are so cold or lukewarm in our affections as hardly ever sacrificing for Christ an earthly pleasure, or an hour of business, or a sum of money, then it is time for us to listen to the tender and poignant rebuke, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.”
WEALTH UNSERVICEABLE (Ezekiel 7:19)
I. The creatures which promise the most help and raise expectations highest, in times of trouble can do little or nothing for us. Judas’s thirty pieces of silver could not still one throb of his conscience. Herod’s royal robes, sceptre, crown, greatness could not protect him from the teeth of a few feeble worms. Not all your wealth can keep the plague out of the city, or secure your lives when it is come.
II. Men tainted with covetousness lay up for they know not whom—for their enemies. The Jews had vexed their heads, hearts, and hands to get houses and vineyards, silver and gold, and now strangers, men their souls hated, must possess their treasures. This misery is upon all accumulators, that they may spend twenty or thirty years in gathering that which a Babylonian, a bitter enemy to God and His people, may possess in an hour.
III. Abuse of our estates defiles them and brings the wrath of God upon them. When silver and gold maintain pride, lusts, and other ends than God hath appointed them, they are wronged and imbondaged, and are as an unclean thing. Therefore is the curse brought upon all.—Greenhill.
INCREASE OF EVIL REALISED (Ezekiel 7:26)
I. When a people is under divine displeasure there is a succession of evils for them. Saul and Pharaoh were so treated, and the misery of the wicked is that they shall perish rather a hundred times over than go unpunished.
II. God proceeds by degrees and steps to severity of judgments. First come drops, then some little streams, after that the strength. “He did not stir up all His wrath;” but if sin grow God’s anger grows. He begins with a little finger, if that do good He will stop; if not, you shall feel His hand, His arm, and weight of His loins.
III. Truths are not confined to any sort of men. Truths are not the inheritance of priests, prophets, popes, councils. The Lord is not tied to any rank, but is free to be where He pleases, to impart truth to whom He pleases, and to as few as He pleases. Ubi tres sunt, ecclesia est, said Tertullian, and they may have truth among them and more given to them.
IV. God gives and takes away vision, law, counsel. He creates light and darkness. If you spurn at any light, any truths of God, you may lose them all. He sends “strong delusions,” but He says also, “Come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
V. Those who will not do what they know shall not know what to do. Adam, Saul, and others. Jeremiah bade Zedekiah and the rest go forth and yield themselves, but they did it not, and quickly after no vision, no law, no counsel, and they knew not which way to turn.
VI. They that will not know God in the way of His mercies shall know Him in the way of His judgments.—Greenhill.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14