the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
by Editor - Joseph S. Exell
The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic
ON THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET
By the REV. D. G. WATT, M.A.
By the REV. THOMAS H. LEALE, A.K.C.
Author of the Commentaries on Genesis and Ecclesiastes
By the REV. GEORGE BARLOW
Author of the Commentaries on Kings, Psalms, Lamentations, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY
LONDON AND TORONTO
THIS Commentary is the work of three different authors. The portion chapters 1–11 is written by the Rev. D. G. WATT, M.A.; 12–29 by the Rev. T. H. LEALE; 30–48 by the Rev. G. BARLOW.
The Exegetical Notes contain, in a condensed form, the results of recent Biblical criticism, and will be found a valuable help in the interpretation of the text and in furnishing facts of contemporaneous history to elucidate the prophecies. The Vision of the Temple (chapters 40–48) is treated in its ideal aspect, and, viewed in this light, it becomes full of suggestiveness to the practised homilete.
Every available work on this confessedly difficult book has been diligently consulted, and the choicest and most helpful passages of the best authors are condensed in the body of this Commentary. Of the 390 Homiletic Outlines all are original, except those which bear the names of their respective authors.
Among other works, the following writers on the Prophecies of Ezekiel have been carefully scanned:—W. Greenhill, E. Henderson, Patrick Fairbairn, Hengstenberg, Keil, M‘Farlan, Archbishop Newcombe, Bishop Horsley, Dean Stanley, Kitto, Dr. Frazer’s “Synoptical Lectures,” Geikie’s “Hours with the Bible,” Pool’s “Annotations,” Lightfoot on “The Temple,” F. D. Maurice’s “Prophets and Kings,” Guthrie’s “Gospel in Ezekiel,” and the following Commentaries—The Speaker’s, Lange’s, A. Clarke’s, Benson’s, Sutcliffe’s, Matthew Henry’s, Trapp’s, and Fausset’s.
Amid the wealth of imagery in the use of which Ezekiel is so lavish, and the dry facts of history, the aim throughout has been to detect and develop the great moral truths of which the thoughtful sermoniser is in constant search in his anxious study of the Word of God.
SHEFFIELD, August 1890.
BOOK OF EZEKIEL
No prophetical book sets the writer, the dates, the places of its contents so distinctly forth as that of Ezekiel does. It is not only a record of what the Lord spoke by His prophet, it is also a record of personal experiences during the period in which he was an organ for special divine impulses. The one is as instructive as the other.
The book shows that Ezekiel was the child of a priestly family, and had been taken into captivity when the king of Babylon carried away the wealth, the strength, the skilled industry of Jerusalem. No direct information is communicated as to his life before the captivity, or as to the first five years of his enforced exile. We cannot say that he had ever officiated as a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, though his movements show apparent familiarity with its compartments (chap. 8). He was one of a colony of his fellow-exiles who had been settled—why, he does not say—by the Chebar, somewhere among “the rivers of Babylon,” and had established a characteristic organisation for themselves. “The elders” once and again took counsel with Ezekiel in his own house; for he was a householder and married to a woman whom he warmly loved. He starts his narration from the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year, when the distinguished episode in his life, by which he became known, was commenced with his first vision of God.
That revelation affected his constitution in a remarkable manner. Mental conditions, of course, would be altered thereby; but bodily affections were still more palpably influenced. The sensation of eating the roll of writing, of being lifted up and carried away, of the strong hand of the Lord laid upon him; the sitting “astonished”—stunned—seven days, the lengthened duress, the loss of power of speech, except when authorised by the Lord to utter His messages, and other physical phenomena, betoken at once the action of God and of a disorder in Ezekiel’s health. Perhaps his nervous system was one of that highly sensitive kind whose conditions under excitement cannot be foreseen; and that it should have been upset could not be regarded as an unlikely thing. God’s instruments are not always such as man would employ. He chose, for an apostle, Paul, whose “bodily presence was weak;” is it impossible that He would choose, for a prophet, a man of a peculiarly nervous temperament? If the “abundance of revelations” given to the former affected his bodily frame, why should similar revelations not have affected Ezekiel’s physical constitution?
The symptoms did not disappear at once. Though he had recovered the power of walking (Ezekiel 12:3-7), yet the statement that the elders were accustomed to go to his house to hear his words (Ezekiel 8:1, Ezekiel 15:1, Ezekiel 20:1), indicates that weakness and physical disability clung to him for a considerable time—perhaps to the tenth month of the ninth year (Ezekiel 24:1). At that date he was confronted with something more than physical ailment. He endured the chastisement whereof all sons are partakers, and learned how “deep calleth unto deep” as they cross the sea of life. The wife whom his eyes liked to rest upon was cast down at his side by a sudden stroke. No open cry of anguish broke from his lips. Every sign of sorrow and mourning was sternly repressed; yet the pathetic reference to what she had been to him suffices to prove how hard it must have been to say “Thy will be done.”
Under the dark shadow of this sad event his last prophecy concerning the state of undestroyed Jerusalem was uttered. Then for about three years he remained dumb, as if his bereavement had aggravated his previous disordered bodily symptoms. Only when the first part of his commission was fulfilled, when his position, as the sign of troubles impending over the Holy City, was no longer tenable, the turning-point of his affliction was reached. The news of the capture of Jerusalem became the signal for recovery of the free use of his organs of speech (Ezekiel 33:22), and no mention is made of any bodily infirmities when executing the second part of his commission. Thus he passes from view. Like Moses, like prophets and apostles, “he was buried, and no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Is this significant of a principle of the divine government, intimating that true conduct not outward appearances, that life not death, are to be perpetuated in the thoughts of men?
Ezekiel was profoundly conscious of the dates when he spoke by the Spirit, and might be said to keep a journal of them. For him “inspiration” was not merely an ecstasy of his own mind. From the fifth to the twenty-seventh year of his residence in Chaldea he knew that he was an organ which the Lord used to sound forth the notes of judgment and mercy.
The sphere of his prophetic activity was not only the captives, but also the Jews still remaining in Judea. Between the two portions there was no cordiality, and we might fancy that the property of the exiles had been somewhat dishonestly or forcibly appropriated by the others (Ezekiel 11:15). The task of Ezekiel was hard. He saw that both divisions were oppressed and depressed, and open to the glitter of flattering prospects presented by unworthy men. He had to dispel vivid illusions, to expose clamant evils, to render patient under the hard facts of punishment, to urge unpalatable truths which were no more agreeable to them than to other people. More than other prophets he was ordered to watch for souls; more than to others the modelling of the future Israel was intrusted to him. The last fortress of Judaism as it had been is to be trodden under the feet of the heathen, but out of its ruins a new one is to be raised, and he has to make a sketch of it. More magnificent and moving symbols of the glory of the Lord than had been given in the Temple of Jerusalem came to the exile by the Chebar, and testified that He could preserve there a people for Himself. His gifts and calling are without repentance, yet he means to bring the people to perceive their unfaithfulness, that they had to do with the living God, that the eternal holiness is unchangeable, and that each soul is responsible for its own sins. Buried seed does not rot though ungenial weather may prevent it sprouting for many a day, and out of this period of banishment were to spring forces for the creation of a new Judaism to which idols and idol-worship would be altogether abhorrent. A new theocracy would be constituted, and Ezekiel is the pioneer of this new phase of divine education. He “was to point to an inauguration of divine worship far more solemn than was to be secured by the reconstruction of the city or Temple on its original site in its original form; to point, in fact, to that dispensation which Temple, city, and nation were intended to foreshadow and introduce” (Speaker’s Com.). Thus was he given one of the highest places among the men of the Old Testament. It is not absurd to make a comparison between Moses and this prophet. Moses had visions of God and instructed the tribes of Israel to build a sanctuary according to the pattern shown to him; he gave details of the services to be rendered therein; he set before the congregation life and death; “he heard the voice of One speaking unto him from off the mercy-seat, … from between the two cherubims.” Did not Ezekiel hear a voice from above the cherubim? Did he not stand between the people and the Lord? Did he not prepare them to sanctify God, and so to be fitted for the future position they were to occupy in their own land and before all nations? Did he not appear like a lawgiver, who, in chaps. 40–48, was authorised to prescribe Temple and worship for future times, and so place the crown upon his prophetic service?
The manner in which he carried out his service is instructive and stimulating. All his faculties are put at the call of the Lord—his eyes, ears, feet, tongue. He sets forth plainly and amply that which he has been inspired to do and teach. He goes on to the appointed duty, unheeding what its consequences to himself may be. He will bear any burden, expose himself to any risks, confront any fear or the dislike and hatred of his own people, if thus he may promote their welfare or be exculpated from their woe. If his forehead is “as an adamant, harder than flint,” it is not from indifference to the moral conduct and disastrous fate of his countrymen, it is from a burning wish that the divine word should find a faithful and adequate representation (Ezekiel 3:9-10). He is “a spiritual Samson,” “of undaunted and audacious courage,” one of
“The dead, but sceptered sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns.”
There is another side of his service. He is the most practical of prophets; he can cook, draw, dig, calculate, and measure. He is not a recluse; he sits among his captive countrymen for days and freely receives them into his house. He is informed as to the history and state of his own nation, and as to the religions, the politics, the trade of other nations too. Had he watched the sea and its sailors; looked upon the many articles of commerce that were found in the busy marts of ancient Tyre? Each of his features assures us that he was fitted to point the way into a new position in which men should be required to reconsider and rearrange the practice of their forefathers.
The style of Ezekiel is clear enough on the whole. At times “a sublimity, tenderness, beauty, melody wholly his own” distinguish it. “Strange combinations and grotesque forms are resorted to, when by means of them he can add to the graphic power and moral force of his delineations, and invest his imagery with such specific and minute details as are naturally connected with a felt and present reality” (Fairbairn). The stir and pomp of Babylonian life are within his scope, and some of its colossal symbolic figures, which have been unearthed to the wonder of our generation, show how his thoughts had been coloured. His parables, proverbs, pictures are all used to present and impress the truths he had to deliver, and in this view he freely repeats himself, so as to produce sometimes the feeling that he is too prolix. (Comp. chap. 1 with 8–11; Ezekiel 3:16-21 with Ezekiel 33:1-9; Ezekiel 6:0 with 36; 16 with 22 and 23; 18 with Ezekiel 33:10-20). He has favourite and peculiar expressions: “The word of the Lord came,” “The hand of the Lord was upon me,” “Thou son of man,” “Thus saith the Lord God;” and a tendency to sum up with, “So shall ye, or they, know that I am the Lord.” Individuality and unity mark his whole work, and help us to perceive what he was whom the Lord moulded into a vessel fit for that juncture of affairs in which he lived and acted as a spiritual force.
A considerable likeness of phraseology is to be noticed between Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and is an indication, not that one borrowed from the other, but that a similar mission had made for itself a similar verbal garment. A much more remarkable parallelism, however, is found between Leviticus 17-24 and the early portion of Ezekiel’s prophecies. To account for this by saying that Ezekiel wrote both, or that some scamp interpolated Ezekiel’s words into the book of the law in order to give the former or the latter a factitious authority, is an explanation quite worthy of those who can tell to a line what Isaiah wrote or did not write; or who can clear out of the Four Gospels the many words which Jesus of Nazareth did not speak, and actions which He did not do! I have no skill for such legerdemain. I can do no more than suppose that Ezekiel had so closely studied the condition of affairs described in Leviticus that he, perhaps unconsciously, adopted its expressions in reference to a rebellious and gainsaying people.
Scanty justice has been meted out to Ezekiel and his work. Not only was he treated harshly at the outset of his prophesying, but the Jews of later times, we are told, at the last revision of the Hebrew canon, disputed as to whether the Book of Ezekiel should be included therein, and in after-days forbad that it should be read until thirty years of age had been passed. If it has not fared quite so badly among Christians, yet Jerome, 1500 years ago, applied epithets to it which are re-echoed by unnumbered commentators, and do not encourage its study—Scripturarum oceanus et mysteriorum Dei labyrinthus. A certain class of moderns are still less respectful, and therefore less likely than Jerome to find the spiritual power of the prophet. Preachers of our day say that they have never taken a text out of it, or but three or four times during the course of a lengthened ministry. Reuss suggests, as a ground for this neglect, that “Christian commentators have found less in him than in others of what they sought for, viz., Hebrew texts, direct relations, true or pretended, with the facts and ideas of the gospel.” Still there are testimonies of another kind. Hengstenberg writes, “Whoever penetrates into Ezekiel will be deeply stirred by his earnestness, and … if it please God to bring great sifting judgments upon us, to pull down what He has built up, and to root out what He has planted, we may gain from him an immovable confidence in the final victory of the kingdom of God, who kills and makes alive, who wounds and heals, and who, after He has sent the darkest cloud, at length remembers His covenant and displays His shining bow.” “What things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through comfort and patience of the Scriptures might have hope.”
The book is divided into two halves, which have striking parallelisms with one another. In the first the carnal confidence of Israel in Jerusalem is buried, in the second a new Temple is built up. The first part embraces chaps. 1–24, and treats of the obstinate wickedness of the people and the approaching overthrow of Jerusalem. The second part embraces chaps. 33–48, and treats of the new life to the people and the future modified Temple and its worship. Between these two parts stand chaps. 25–32, which treat of seven neighbouring heathen peoples. They are warned of the righteous judgment of God against them, and their number, seven, probably conveys the intimation that the principles applied to them are applicable to all the ungodly nations.