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by Joseph Benson
THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET EZEKIEL.
EZEKIEL, being the son of Buzi, of the house of Aaron, was consequently a priest, as well as a prophet. He was carried to Babylon, with many other Jews, in Jehoiachin’s captivity, and therefore dates his prophecies by the years of that captivity. He began his prophetic office in the fifth year after it, and continued to prophesy about twenty years, namely, from the year of the world 3409 to 3430. His name, happily expressive of his character, signifies the power, strength, or courage of God. It appears he did not reside at or near Babylon, but by the river Chebar, many miles north of that city, great numbers of the captives being placed there. These, his fellow- exiles, as St. Jerome observes in his preface to this book, being disposed to repine at their condition, as more wretched, they supposed, than that of their brethren who had been suffered to remain in Judea; a principal part of the prophet’s design seems to have been to check these murmurings, by removing the cause of them, and showing them how preferable their circumstances were to those of their countrymen who had not yet been carried into captivity as they had been. For this purpose he sets before them that terrible scene of calamities which God was about to bring upon Judea and Jerusalem, which should end in the utter destruction of the city and temple: recounting and painting, in strong and lively colours, the heinous provocations of the Jews, which were bringing down these heavy judgments upon them. Jeremiah, it must be observed, was at the same time employed to the like purpose at Jerusalem, in persuading the inhabitants left there, and in the other parts of Judea, not to think themselves more the favourites of God than their brethren who had been carried into captivity, for that more grievous calamities would soon befall them, while those who were at present captives should experience God’s peculiar favour and protection. But these prophets were neither of them duly regarded by those to whom they addressed themselves; for the Jews who remained in Judea gave no credit to Jeremiah’s predictions against them, but thought meanly of those who had been carried into captivity, and believed themselves to be the peculiar favourites of God, and that they only should possess the land of Canaan, while their captive brethren should be for ever excluded from it. And the Prophet Ezekiel was little more regarded by those in captivity; for, notwithstanding all his declarations, they murmured against God, and thought themselves more hardly dealt by than their brethren who remained in their own land.
Although some frivolous objections, grounded on gross mistakes, have been started against the authenticity of this book, the prophecies contained in it, which have been very surprisingly fulfilled, and are fulfilling at this day, are a demonstration both of its truth, and that it was written by inspiration of God; especially the prophecies concerning Tyre and Egypt, chapters 26.-32. And as to the many predictions contained in it, which are not yet fulfilled, relating to the restoration of Israel, and the triumphs of the church over all her enemies, these, upon a careful investigation, will be found to coincide so entirely with many parts of Isaiah’s and Daniel’s prophecies, and those contained in the Revelation by St. John, that we can neither doubt their being given by divine inspiration, nor that they will be fulfilled at the proper season.
It appears from many parts of Ezekiel’s writings that, exclusive of his prophetic gift, he was a man of considerable learning and talents. “He had great erudition and genius,” says Grotius, in the Introduction to his Commentary on this prophet, “so that, setting aside his gift of prophecy, which is incomparable, he may deservedly be compared with Homer on account of his beautiful conceptions, his illustrious comparisons, and his extensive knowledge of various matters, particularly of architecture.” Rapin, in his Treatise on Eloquence, calls his style THE TERRIBLE, as having something in it which strikes the reader with a holy dread and astonishment. Bishop Lowth’s character of him is as follows: “Ezekiel is inferior to Jeremiah in elegance, but is equal to Isaiah in sublimity, though in a different species of the sublime. He is bold, vehement, tragical, and deals very much in amplification. His sentiments are lofty, animated, poignant, and full of indignation. His images are fertile, magnificent, and sometimes rather bordering on indelicacy. His diction is sounding, grave, austere, rough, and sometimes uncultivated. He abounds in repetitions, not for the sake of beauty or grace, but from vehemence and indignation. Whatever his subject be, he keeps it always in his eye, without the least deviation, and is so much taken up with it that he has scarcely any regard to order or connection. In other things he may perhaps be exceeded by the other prophets; but in that species for which he was particularly turned, that is, in force, impetuosity, weight, grandeur, no writer ever equalled him. His diction is clear enough; almost all his obscurity arises from his subjects. His visions are particularly obscure; which, however, as in Hosea, Amos, and Zechariah, are delivered in a plain and historical narration. The greater part of this book, but especially the middle of it, is poetical: but some passages are so rough and unpolished, that we are frequently at a loss to what species of writing we ought to refer them.” De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum, Prælec. 21. A learned German professor, Eichhorn, quoted by Bishop Newcome, having, in his Introduction to the Old Testament, spoken of Ezekiel as a writer “distinguished by much originality; adding dignity to his relations, by lively fictions of his inexhaustible imagination;” and as “creating great artificial images, and by such means new worlds;” and having represented the prophet’s first two visions as being “accurately polished with much art,” and therefore “could not possibly be an unpremeditated work;” the bishop, with a reference to these sentiments, delivers his own judgment of Ezekiel as follows: “I do not consider him as the framer of those august and astonishing visions, and of those admirable poetical representations, which he committed to writing; but as an instrument in the hands of God, who vouchsafed to reveal himself through a long succession of ages, not only in divers parts, constituting a magnificent and uniform whole, but also in divers manners, as by a voice, by dreams, by inspiration, and by plain or enigmatical vision. If he is circumstantial in describing the wonderful scenes which were presented to him in the visions of God, he should be regarded as a faithful representer of the divine revelations for the purpose of information and instruction; and not as exhausting an exuberant fancy, in minutely filling up an ideal picture. It is probable that Buzi, his father, had preserved his own family from the taint of idolatry; and had educated his son, for the priestly office, in all the learning of the Hebrews, and particularly in the study of their sacred books. Josephus says, that he was a youth at the time of his captivity; and his first revelation was made to him only five years after that period. This is a season of life when a fervour of imagination is natural in men of superior endowments. His genius led him to amplification; like that of Ovid, Lucan, and Juvenal, among the Roman poets; though he occasionally shows himself capable of the austere and concise manner, of which the seventh chapter is a remarkable instance. But the Divine Spirit did not overrule the natural bent of his mind. Variety is thus produced in the sacred writings. Nahum sounds the trumpet of war, Hosea is sententious, Isaiah sublime, Jeremiah pathetic, Ezekiel copius. This diffuseness of manner in mild and affectionate exhortation, this vehement enlarging on the guilt and consequent sufferings of his countrymen, seems wisely adapted to their capacities and circumstances; and must have had a forcible tendency to awaken them from their lethargy.” It has been observed, as an apology for the roughness and incorrectness which appear in the style of this prophet, “that he lived in an age when the beauty, purity, and majesty of the Hebrew language were upon the decline, and that it would argue a great absurdity to expect the vigour of youth in the imbecilities of old age.” See Michaelis’s Notes, p. 110. St. Jerome hath more than once observed, that the beginning and latter part of this prophecy are more than ordinarily difficult and obscure, and may justly be reckoned among the things in Scripture which are δυσνοητα , hard to be understood.
In the first three chapters, Ezekiel describes a wonderful vision, whereby God confirmed and instructed him in his prophetic office. In the following chapters, to the twenty-fifth, he describes the horrible sins of the Jews, especially of those remaining in Jerusalem and Judea, and their approaching punishments. From thence to the thirty-third chapter he foretels the ruin of many neighbouring nations who were enemies to the Jews, as the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, the Philistines, the Tyrians, Sidonians, and Egyptians. From the thirty-third to the fortieth chapter, the murmurings and hypocrisies of the Jews, who were captives in Chaldea, are severely censured, with an exhortation to true repentance, and to a firm expectation of an approaching salvation; in which not only the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, but the far greater deliverance of all the world from the bondage of SIN and IGNORANCE by Jesus Christ, was signified. In the last nine chapters is related a grand vision of the building of a new temple. The liberty with which Ezekiel treated the idolatry of his countrymen is said to have so highly irritated the chief of them, as to have occasioned his being put to death: and in the time of Epiphanius it was a current opinion that his remains were deposited in the same sepulchre with those of Shem and Arphaxad; that his tomb was then to be seen; and that the Jews kept a lamp burning in it; who likewise pretended that they had this prophecy written by the prophet’s own hand which they read every year on the day of expiation. Calmet’s Preface to this book.
the Third Week after Epiphany