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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ ezekiel-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Them that prophesy out of their own hearts.
The false prophet
To be a false prophet seems to us, indeed, an enormity. To have the great gift and trust of prophecy, and then to misuse it; to be admitted, if we may so speak, of God’s council, and then to sink that heavenly teaching in earthly and sensual thoughts,--this seems so high a measure of guilt, that we wonder not at the “woe” pronounced against it. Nay, as we read, we set our “amen” to it, little thinking that in so doing we may be, in truth, sealing our own condemnation. We see not that this very sin is that which doth most constantly beset us also; that many a ministry which seems to man’s eye without reproach is indeed stained with the self-same guilt as that wherewith these prophets were defiled; that, in spite of its fair outline, the “woe” of the Almighty is gone forth against it. If we examine the testimonies against these false prophets which abound throughout the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we shall find that God does not charge them with altering His message wilfully and of set purpose to deceive. The charges are rather, that they are themselves deceived (Jeremiah 5:13; Jeremiah 10:9; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:3; Ezekiel 13:7; Ezekiel 13:9). It was not, apparently, that the false prophet knowingly altered the message he had received, but that for some cause or other there was this peril incident to his office, that he might be deceived and become a deceiver in some sense unconsciously; and then, if we look closer, we shall see that various causes are given for the fearful fall of the false prophet, and that they are all of one complexion--that they are what we call moral causes. Uncleanness of life, covetousness, softness of spirit, luxury, fondness for the pleasures of this life, these and many such like moral faults are expressly mentioned as the causes of this spirit of error and lies which filled these men and brought on them God’s fearful “woe.” The prophets prophesied lies, because they “followed their own spirit, and had seen nothing.” And now, if from the case of false prophets we turn to that of those who were faithful, we shall be brought to the same conclusion: we shall see, that is, that the distinction between them and the prophets of lies consisted not in their exclusive possession of those supernatural illapses of knowledge, to which we are apt to look, as making all the difference between one and another, but in the use which, from their spiritual and moral condition, they were able to make of these gifts. Look at the prophet who never “prophesied good” of the wicked king, but always “evil”; and see whether it was not in that noble gift of venturing all for the truth of God, wherein in very deed he differed from the earthly-minded sycophants, who made horns of iron, and prophesied, that as with them the Syrians should be pushed unto entire destruction. Or take, as a sufficient proof, the case of the prophet Jeremiah. To him was opened, by a special revelation, the speedy coming of God’s judgments upon Judah, which nothing but the absolute submission of Jerusalem to the King of Babylon could turn aside. So far he learned by revelation; but having learned thus much, mark his after history; see the constantly recurring moral temptation to tamper with this truth, to which he was subjected: the violence of the princes--the rage of the people--the feebleness of the king--their private interviews--the bribes offered to buy off his faithfulness--the miry dungeon of Malchiah; each of these was a temptation to lower down his message; to utter it less boldly, less frequently; less simply--to suppress it, to alter it. But against them all he stood firm, and why? Because a deep and abiding sense of God’s greatness and truth and awfulness lay beneath all other things, as the very foundation of his mind; and this kept him ever firm and constant. In an utterly unfaithful age and nation, remaining faithful when well-nigh everyone around him failed, he preserved untainted, amidst the crowd of lying seers, the truth of God’s anointed prophet. So that here we are brought to the same point: the blindness of the false prophet was the fruit of failing in his moral probation; the ghostly insight of the true prophet was kept quick and piercing, by his faithful cleaving to God amidst the ordinary temptations of life. And if this be so, surely this is exactly our condition, as far as concerns the ministry of the Word; and these woes against deceived prophets stand written on high, in their characters of fire, to warn us upon our ordinary way. For we also have our message: that which was given to the old prophets by special revelation we have plainly written for us in the page of Holy Scripture. Nor can we doubt that, if this message be delivered faithfully and wisely, it will produce an evident result in awakening sinners and building up the saints. We may see, moreover, that in our case the cause of failure is, in fact, the same as in the prophets of old. First, our own perceptions become obscured. For it is only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit that we can really enter into the deep mysteries of redemption. Impurity cannot lay hold upon purity. There are many doors of holy teaching, which open only to the key of love; and there is in love a marvellous power of understanding, a wonderful forecasting of the future; for love is a great reader of secrets. Even in earthly things, which are but a shadow of the true, we may see this. What an interpreter of hidden meanings is a loving spirit! how quick and piercing is it in reaching to the inner wishes, feeling, and intentions of another! And so doubtless it is where the love of God dwells in an earthly heart. The man is free, as it were, of the counsels of God. He reaches on to great things at unawares. In doing common duties, as they seem to him, he is sowing good seed for a distant day; he is reaching out far beyond the present, anticipating God’s future doings. Nor, secondly, can our own views of God’s truth become thus obscured without their impairing in an equal degree our power of conveying the message to others. First, this state of heart must destroy the reality of our teaching. We shall prophesy a lie; for we shall prophesy of truth itself as if it were a lie. There is nothing that our people feel more readily than this unreal declaration of God’s message. There is no close work with the heart or the life; but all is exhausted in mere form, or else in general appeals to the feelings, or in yet more fruitless addresses to the understanding, as the case may be. What., then, is this but to prophesy a lie? And this is not all. There can be little of a true loving earnestness in such ministry. There may be an apparent zeal as to forms, or as to preaching, and its other more external parts; but there can be little true sympathy with the wants and sufferings of man’s heart, because there is little knowledge of them. There can be little of that deep earnest casting forth of the inmost spirit to meet another’s wants, which oftentimes makes silent sympathy in one man far more expressive than a multitude of words in another; and which, as by some heavenly influence, soothes and opens and wins the sufferer’s heart. I may not detain you to trace out all the characters of that earnest seeking after God’s truth to which we are bound; its faintest sketch may supply us with much ground for profitable thought. First, then, if we would attain to it, we must live in the habitual and devotional study of God’s Word. The great importance of this habit is not so much that we may understand obscure passages, still less that we may be discoverers of new truths, as that our whole tone of thinking and feeling may be attuned to things Divine. But then, to this we must add an humble use of every means that God has given us for understanding His Word rightly. By the ordinances of the Church; the testimony of succeeding generations; the judgment of humble and holy men; the witness borne to various truths by all the saints, living and departed, reformers, fathers, and antiquity; by each of these in their place, we humbly hope that God may teach us better how to understand His Word. Secondly, we must watch earnestly for the leading of the Spirit of the Lord. We must believe that this gift is in the Church, and seek to use it lawfully; we must remember how the Spirit of God does teach us, not by conveying to our minds direct propositions, but by clearing off those moral clouds which would dim all our perceptions of truth; by teaching our hearts, by giving us reality, earnestness, love, and a bold humility,--those mighty masters of the secret things of God. We shall therefore cooperate with Him by watching diligently our own hearts; by guarding them against the beginnings of worldliness; by seeking after a deeper humility of spirit; knowing that pride above all things breaks and distorts the images of heavenly truth which are cast forth upon our minds; that pride in the heart of the learner makes all teaching vain; that humility can learn great lessons from any teacher. And lastly, as the bond which is to hold together all these various elements, we must, if we would be faithful prophets, seek after eminent holiness of life. This will give us an insight into God’s truth in its reality; this will open to us our own hearts, and so the hearts of our brethren; this will set us in the way of those blessed breathings of the Holy Spirit which fall ever upon the still waters of holiness, and waft on most noiselessly those who always haunt them into the secrets of the Lord. This will enable us to live ever with Him even in this world of shadows. (Bishop S. Wilberforce.)
1. What is the specific charge made against false prophets? That they speak out of their own hearts, and that they follow their own spirit. How prone are all men to do this!
2. Every man now prophesies out of himself. Let us beware how we degrade a right into a perversion of liberty and a mischievous use of independence. There is a right of private judgment, there is an individuality of conscience: but no judgment is complete that does not measure itself with other judgments, and no conscience is complete that is not in touch with other consciences; for the last conscience is the result and expression of spiritual chemistry, combination, intermixture, divinely conducted. There may come a time when personal testimony must be delivered with burning emphasis, and when a man is compelled to enclose himself within a solitary altar; all these concessions do not interfere with the central and dominant truth that no prophecy is of private interpretation, and that all secret prayer needs to be brought out into the open air of the Church, that there it may bloom in its completest beauty.
3. False prophets excite false hopes: what other could they do? “They have made others to hope that they would confirm the Word.” A liar is very careful to maintain some foothold upon the confidence of society. He who is all false himself can only live upon the trustfulness of others. So, then, the false prophet is the creator of false hopes; and if there be counterfeit coin makers in our neighbourhood, it would not be an unwise thing to put out our coin upon the table and look at it very carefully; and as there are false prophets who have excited false hopes, it would not be unwise to take our hopes one by one, and conduct upon each of them an unsparing analysis, saying, What is it? what is its reason? what is its purpose? what is its value? what is its origin? how is it supported by evidence? how is it ennobled by sacrifice? Any hope that will not accept the test of sacrifice is a false hope.
4. False prophets had, however, some little ground to work upon: they mistook the imaginary for the real: “Have ye not seen a vain vision?” That is the difficulty. If there was absolutely nothing, we should have a clear course; but we have lying definitions, we have occasional dreams, and peculiar impressions; and people who resent the idea of accepting a theology made by the Church adopt an astrology or a theology of their own, founded upon cobwebs, built upon mist, and pointing to nothing. Let us pray God to cleanse our vision, lest, seeing men as trees walking, or trees as men walking, we confound the reality of things; and above all, let us say to one another, Brother, help me, and I will help some weaker man, Let us have our strength common.
5. What course does the Lord pursue against such falsity? “I am against you, saith the Lord God.” We know, then, exactly what strength we have to encounter. It is only omnipotence. We have sometimes wondered how it is we do not succeed. There need not be any wonder about it; for our failure arises from one of two causes: either, first, that God is against us, in the sense of judging us to be false; or God is trying us to develop our strength. Let us adopt the second conclusion where we can, for it will cheer us and help us on many a weary day.
6. What further course will the Lord take against these false prophets? He will destroy them. They build a wall; He sends hail down upon it, and brings the wall all to pieces. We need not go to the Prophet Ezekiel to know if this is true. What walls we have built! What strength we were going to have! We had already drawn out a hundred programmes, every one of which ended in pounds, shillings, and pence; and a hundred more, ending in honour, fame, influence; and another hundred, ending in herds and flocks, and abundance of family connections and great peace, and long days: and whilst we were filling our mouth with the wind the Lord touched us, and we fell down as dead men. If the Lord, then, is so set against falsehood, what will He do for us? He will speak the truth, He will send angels of truth, messengers of mercy and love. Beware lest we have all our truth on paper, in propositions, innumerable and well detailed dogmas: we must first have it in our souls, hearts, lives; we must be prepared to live for it and to die for it, and then it will grow, accumulate, multiply; and we shall begin to see, with the ever excellent because ever modest philosopher, Sir Isaac Newton, that we have only gathered a few shells on the shore, while the great ocean of truth lies all undiscovered before us. Such modesty well becomes men who were born yesterday and may be forgotten tomorrow. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Thy prophets are like the foxes in the desert.
False prophets like foxes
1. These creatures are lovers of grapes, as we know by a common proverb; and consequently they did much damage in such countries as Judea, which abounded with vineyards, as is noted in Song of Solomon 2:15, not only by devouring the grapes but also by making holes in the walls and fences, whereby they laid open the vineyards to other ravenous beasts as well as to themselves. Just so did the false prophets to the cities of Judah: they did not only beguile people of their substance, by the character which they assumed, and the figure which they made among them; but by their false doctrines and subversions of the genuine will and Word of God they broke down the walls and fences from about them; I mean that blessing and protection of the Almighty which was annexed to the obedience of His own laws.
2. In another respect did these prophets resemble the foxes in the deserts, that they could make breaches, but had not the faculty of stopping them up again. They did not call the people to repentance; or if they did, it was but such a superficial fast as we read of (Jeremiah 36:1-32), at which they read his prophecy, and then cut it in pieces and threw it into the fire. Their making up of their breaches this way was but like the labour of unfaithful builders; one laid the stones in the wall, and others daubed it with untempered mortar.
3. These false prophets resembled foxes in their fraudulent practices. By crafty speeches and cunningly devised fables they misled the hearts of the simple. They studied how to suit their discourses to the various tempers of the people whom they conversed with; to prophesy smooth things to the stout-hearted, and terrible things to the timorous, that they might keep them all in the way which they would have them to walk in.
4. These false prophets had another property of foxes, which was a prowling ravenous appetite. When they came out of their colleges into the vineyard, they resolved that the making of their fortune, the arriving at a plentiful condition, a goodly heritage, should be the first and greatest of all their cares. So little were they concerned for the welfare of the people over whom they pretended to be guardians and spiritual watchmen, that they would sell their souls, as God complains here, for handfuls of barley and morsels of bread.
5. As foxes are of the number of unclean beasts, so these prophets were men of corrupt minds and loose morals. How prone they were to prevaricate with God, and seduce the people, to counterfeit a Divine mission, to run when they were not sent, to prophesy out of their own heart without a revelation, to proclaim their visions of peace when there was no peace, is abundantly set forth in this chapter. (W. Reading, M. A.)
False prophets like foxes
The prophets are like foxes: ruins are congenial to them; a condition of decay is their proper sphere; there they can burrow as their instincts prompt them. The main idea, however, is that their operations only increase the devastation, and Undermine and bring down anything that may yet be standing. In a declining and disastrous time the minds of men are excited and feed on the wildest schemes; and, feeling themselves helpless, they readily turn to those who pretend to speak to them in God’s name. And it only adds to their ruin when those to whom they turn have no higher wisdom than themselves. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
One built up a wall, and lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar.
The wall daubed with untempered mortar
I. The text speaks of a wall. Men look about them to discover some sort of wall or other behind which to shelter from conscience and Divine threatening. I suppose this is because conscience is not quite dead in any man. In some men it has been so drugged and chloroformed that it never seems to act with anything like vigour, and when it speaks it is only with a still small voice, and not at all with the thunder which its voice ought to have to the mind of men; yet that little relic of conscience, which with a microscope you can detect in all men, needs to be pacified, and men are glad if by any lie, however barefaced, they can create an excuse by which they may go on quietly in their sins.
1. Perhaps the greatest wall behind which men shelter themselves is that of utter indifference to anything like Divine truth. Some silly dancer at the opera, some new invention, some novel trick of legerdemain, some fresh anything or nothing, and the world is all agog; but as to things which will outlast sun and moon, and stand fast when yon blue heaven, like a scroll, has been rolled up and put away--these all-important things our wiseacres think but trifles, and they continue trampling God’s eternal truth beneath their feet, as swine do trample pearls, and rushing madly after the bubbles of this world, as though they were all that men were made to hunt after.
2. Numbers, however, are not quite so stupid, so besotted, so blind, so brutalised as to put up with this. Like a crying child, their conscience will be heard. Like a horse leech, it ever cries “Give, give,” and will not be content. Who comes next? Who is the anointed one of Satan to quiet this spirit? Who will yield a quietus to a mind alarmed? See the wall of ceremonies behind which many rest so contentedly.
3. You may be building another wall, namely, that of self-righteousness. How many have been piling up their wall, and gathering their wood, their hay, their stubble, with which to erect a defence to screen themselves from God by their own doings?
II. Whenever a man tries to build a wall behind which to shelter, he always finds a volunteer band of ready assistants.
1. For instance, a man who is easy in his pleasures, how many will help him to continue at his ease! “He is right,” says one; “You are a good fellow,” says another; and they both try to keep him in countenance by their company.
2. Another company of scoffers will loudly boast themselves, and cry, “Yes, you are all right in continuing in neglect of God and of Divine truth, because the saints are no better than they should be. I remember what So-and-so did once--he was a deacon; and I know the inconsistencies of Mr. Zealous, and he is one of the parsons.”
3. A numerous body of daubers gather at the sign of the “Sneerer,” in Atheist Street; and with their doubts, or their supposed doubts, of inspiration and biblical authenticity, are ready to daub and plaster any amount of wall an inch thick.
4. If the wall be built of ceremonies, how many are busy daubing that! What multitudes of books are streaming from the press, books of ability, too, all going to show that salvation is infallibly connected with a mechanical process, conducted by specified officials, and not a spiritual work independent of all outward performances!
III. The Word of God declares that this wall will not stand. The wall to which Ezekiel alludes is one of the cob walls in the East, daubed with bad mortar, which had not been well tempered, that is to say, not well mixed with the straw which they use in place of the hair which we use in England; when the rain comes, it softens the whole structure of such a wall, melts it, and washes it quite away. Such a deluge as that is coming ere long to try and test every human hope.
1. It comes to some men when they enter upon times of spiritual trial.
2. But if the test come not thus it will usually come at death.
3. And if death does not do it--for some men die like lambs, and like sheep are they laid in the grave; but the worm shall feed upon them--if death does not do it, the judgment shall.
IV. If we shall be found lost at the last, it will be an everlasting reproach to us that we once accepted the false helps of our friends. “Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?” That voice may proceed from many lips.
1. It may come from the lips of Jesus. “I said unto you, ‘Come unto Me and live,’ but you would not come; you refused the refuge which I presented to you, and you chose your own works, and rested in ceremonies of your own devising, and now where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?”
2. I could imagine such a voice as that coming from a faithful minister, or other Christian labourer, who may have honestly pointed out to you the one and only way of salvation.
3. And there shall come another voice, with quite another tone-a hoarse and horrible voice--a voice full of malice and grim laughter, which shall say, “Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?” You shall understand it to be the voice of him who once deceived you--the fallen spirit, the devil.
4. There shall be heard amidst that thick darkness and horrid gloom, that never shall be broken by a ray of light, another voice which once you knew. Perhaps the husband shall hear the voice of the wife, who shall say, “Ah! where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it? You would not let me go to the house of God; you laughed me out of my religion. I was once a young woman unmarried, who cared for the things of God in some respects; you courted me and enticed me away from my father’s God, and then you laughed me out of my prayers and Sabbath worship; you have laughed me into hell, but you cannot laugh me out of it again.”
5. And then, last of all, your own conscience, from which you never can escape, which is, perhaps, the worm that never dies, and the flame which kindles the fire of remorse that never shall be quenched, your conscience will say to you, “Where is the daubing wherewith you have daubed it?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prophets feeble and yielding
The figure incisively describes the futile projects of the people and the feeble flattery and approval of the prophets. When a weak man cannot originate anything himself, he acquires a certain credit (at least in his own eyes) by strong approval of the schemes of others, saying, “Right! I give it my cordial approval, and, indeed, would have suggested it.” What made the prophets whitewash the wall which the people built was partly the feeling that from the place they occupied they must do something, and maintain their credit as leaders even when being led; and partly, perhaps, that, having no higher wisdom than the mass, they quite honestly approved their policy. Being sharers with them in the spirit of the time, they readily acquiesced in their enterprises. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
I. What are the foundations of this fabric?
1. It is built upon falsehood. Observe, it is here imputed to these false prophets that they led the people to suppose that their state by nature was not one of enmity with God,--that, in fact, they were at peace with Him. Now, this falsehood is manifest. We are not at peace by nature. We all know that God has a strife with man, a righteous ground of controversy with every man born into the world. Our first conscious thoughts are those of disaffection and dislike to holiness; and our first voluntary actions are to take up arms against God. We, then, are not at peace, but at enmity with God. How was this breach to be made up? Usually, a vanquished foe expects to buy peace at a large price; but we had nothing to pay. It remained, therefore, that the benignant Being with whom we had been carrying on this fruitless and ungrateful warfare should Himself originate a scheme of reconciliation. We know that Christ is our peace, and our only peace. He brings peace, He preaches peace, He bestows peace. “To as many as received Him, gave He power to become the sons of God.” “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” This is the foundation, and other can no man lay. He who shall dare to build on any other shall see the fabric perish before the overflowing shower, and the stormy wind shall rend it.
2. It is not laid deeply enough. In the fourteenth verse it is said, with regard to this foundation, “The foundation thereof shall be discovered,” laid bare, open to the sight of the beholder. The image is commonly used in Scripture to denote that which is superficial and unsound. Everything that is to be firm strikes deeply into the ground. Job speaks of having “the root of the matter” in himself; and the stony ground, hearer, fell, we are told, because there was in him no depth of earth. What is the kind of foundation here spoken of? Doubtless, we must take it as applying here to a religion which rests upon slight convictions of sin,--little sense of its heinousness and guilt. The Spirit convinces of sin, to lead to Him that shall take all sin away. The Spirit of God opens no wounds, except with a view the more effectually and kindly to bind them up.
3. Another element of this unstable foundation is presumption, an unwarrantable appropriation of the promises; as if the benefit of an amnesty could be extended to those who were still in an attitude of rebellion; as if the promises of salvation could still be held out to those who continued in unrepented sin. This is strongly marked in the latter part of the twenty-second verse. It may be a grievous error in a teacher, according to the first part of that verse, to make the hearts of the righteous sad, whom God hath not made sad; but surely it is a much more grievous error to hold out the promise of life to those to whom, as yet, God has not given peace. Our Lord must be our example here.
II. What are the walls of this fabric? In other words, by what supports and excuses do men keep this unsound and unscriptural hope together? “One built up a wall, and others daubed it with untempered mortar.” The meaning of the prophet’s allusion will be best explained by a reference to Jewish domestic architecture. Although hewn stones were employed for the purpose of very large buildings, for small houses a tile was commonly used, formed of white clay and baked in the sun. These tiles were cemented together by mortar, which, as among ourselves, was made to acquire a certain adhesive property by means of straw and chaff. Travellers tell us that whole villages are formed of houses built with this white clay or tile, and they tell us, further, that after rain the filth occasioned by the dissolving of the cement will make the ways in front of the houses perfectly impassable; whilst, if the mortar which has been used has been very badly tempered, that is, very imperfectly mixed with the straw or the chaff, it is no uncommon thing to see the house fall down entirely, under the violence or dissolving action of the rain, the very effect which we see alluded to in the text. What a picture have we here of the refuges which worldly men make for themselves against that day, when judgment shall be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet! Oh, how many of these slight walls are people running up every day! There is the wall of evil example, by which a man fortifies himself in his low standard of personal and practical godliness by what he sees in someone around him. There is the wall of pretended necessity; the urgent claims of daily life making it, as he alleges, impossible for him to attend to the cares of his family and the interests of his soul. There is the wall of constitutional impediment, the pretence that something in our peculiar temperament and constitution or circumstances makes it so difficult for us to attend to the things of our salvation. There is the wall of perverted doctrine, where men, waiting for some impulse from above, knowing that Divine grace must begin the work, say, they can do nothing themselves, they must wait till God by His Spirit changes their hearts. And then there is the wall of good intentions, the purpose of serving God, but not now, the miserable promise that we will give to God the remnant of our days, that He shall have the reversion of our “convenient season.” Oh, how many of these flimsy fabrics will fall, and do fall daily, before the first breath of the Divine displeasure. But observe, further, it is said that when one built the wall, another daubed it with untempered mortar. This seems to intimate to us that foolish and unconverted men are in the habit of encouraging each other in their foolish hopes: justifying one another in their vain excuses; each confirming the reasonableness of the other’s pretences, and then going away confirmed and strengthened in his own.
III. These false hopes shall be thrown down. This false builder shall wake and see the crumbling of his own wretched wall; this mere dauber shall see the melting and dissolving of his own untempered mortar, that God alone may be exalted in that day, and that every unscriptural and unauthorised, unsanctioned hope may perish. And oh, will not the weakness and instability of this wall appear before this hurricane of Divine indignation comes upon us? When the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken; when the pitcher is broken at the fountain, shall we not then perceive that we have been building upon a treacherous foundation? But then, if we feel it in that day, what shall we feel in that remoter time, when the storm of the Divine indignation shall come upon the whole world? (D. Moore, M. A.)
The false prophet
The false prophets are much in evidence up to the point of the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel accuses them of the crime of the hireling shepherd: they used the flock to make wages, and so became the type for all time of those who make
“The symbols of atoning grace
An office key.”
The false prophet gained favour with the military party in the nation, by his telling advocacy of a vast and well-prepared army and of brilliant foreign alliances, he won favour with the clerical party by not demanding too much virtue, either from the individual or from the State. As a class they had a ready apology for every shifting policy. True, the apology, although always ready, was only an apology--or, to use the prophet’s own figure, it was only a daubing of the ill-built wall with untempered mortar (Ezekiel 13:8-16)--“that is to say, when any project or scheme of policy is being promoted, they stand by glozing it over with fine words, flattering its promoters, and uttering profuse assurances of its success.” The daub, in hiding the infamy, hurries the disaster. “Ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it.” When the scheme has failed, when God has suddenly intercepted a people’s mad pride, the false prophet may be--may be--called to account: “Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?” But it may happen, in a nation’s downfall and the daze of its calamity, that the moral collapse is so complete that the man who daubed the wall escapes unblamed--but not the man who was honest enough to say plainly from the first that it was a mere daub! But, blamed or not of the men he has misled, the false prophet shall not go unpunished. “I the Lord will answer him by Myself.” Above all things, may God’s mercy save us from having, under such conditions, to bear God’s answer, by Himself! (H. E. Lewis.)
Which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace.
Peace, and there is no peace
I. They “see visions of peace” who preach and speak what is pleasing rather than what is of truth and of God. A people’s folly will find exponents. But truth perverted will be avenged. False doctrine is but untempered mortar.
II. They “see visions of peace,” and “there is no peace.” Who neglect duty and still hope for reward. Foolish dreamers are they who look for fortune, or learning, or piety without careful attention and unremitting diligence.
III. They “see visions of peace” when “there is no peace” who live in sin and worldliness, and hope for everlasting salvation. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes.
Pillows for all elbows
There is often something very quaint and forcible about the imagery of the old prophets. It lays hold upon you and impresses you much more effectually than if they had delivered their message in plain though powerful language. The image of the text is easily understood. Ezekiel has been commissioned to lift up his voice against the many false prophets who both in Jerusalem and among the exiles are misleading the people by announcing salvation without repentance, and grace without judgment. He is so indignant at their feebleness and effeminacy, that he describes as women, and pronounces his woe upon the persistency of their endeavours to accommodate themselves and their teaching to the wishes and desires of the community. A true peace, real security, genuine tranquillity, could be obtained only by fearlessly and bravely laying bare the truth, however stern and uncomfortable it might be, and not by covering it up with devices calculated to hide its hideousness and soften its painfulness. Now, this old trade of sewing pillows, of making cushions for all elbows that feel the hardness and uncomfortableness of unwelcome facts, is not yet extinct. In truth, it is specially prosperous at the present time. Let me, however, not be misunderstood. Discomfort has no merit in itself. You come across people occasionally who evidently think it has--irritating, troublesome people, with certainly nothing in them of the spirit of Ezekiel’s false prophets. They glory in making you uncomfortable. Every painful incident or troublesome piece of news that comes to their knowledge is seized upon with avidity, eagerly communicated, and secretly gloated over. Your distress and anxiety is meat and drink to them. The only excuse for the infliction of pain, whether of body or mind, is the sincere desire to bring about thereby a more thorough and lasting immunity from it; the earnest wish to show a man that the position he is occupying may for the time be pleasant, but, being deceptive, it can end at last only in trouble more serious than that which you unwillingly bring upon him. Our times, I have said, are effeminate. We dislike everything that disturbs our peace of mind, or ruffles the serenity of our conscience. We are adepts at hiding unwelcome facts, and toning down unpleasant truths. Let me just indicate one or two directions in which we are specially ingenious and industrious in sewing pillows for our elbows. We are so, I think, in regard to the doctrines of our Christian faith. The Christianity taught and professed nowadays is, it seems to me, often of a very emasculated character. I very much doubt if the great mass of professing Christians have any other creed than a vague trust in the mercy of God, which they hope will save them from all ill in the world to come, but which allows them to go on with comparative comfort, satisfying their desires in the world that now is. If Christ had anything to do with their salvation, they do not see clearly what it is; they may believe He was a good man, more than a man, perhaps, whose words they gladly accept, so far as they are agreeable and comforting, and whose example they cannot but admire, though they make no serious effort to imitate it. Just let a man live a fairly decent and respectable life, outraging in no gross manner the properties and standards of civilised society, and they believe all will be well with him; God will not be hard on him. They know little or nothing of a complete surrender of the soul to God as their Father, to Christ as their Saviour, to the Holy Ghost as their Sanctifier; of the necessity of that new birth which gives an entire change to the bias of the will, and which makes life henceforth one long endeavour, even amid failure and weakness, to conform to the pattern of the perfect Christ; they do not apprehend the bearing upon human life and destiny of the momentous facts of our Lord’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. Life would scarcely be one whir poorer to them if these events had never taken place, This being so, they have none of the Lord’s anxiety, nor the anxiety of His apostles, to bring the world into the kingdom of God. There is another direction in which our love of ease and comfort continually shows itself--the manner in which we persistently hide from ourselves the misery of the world around us. Everywhere pain is racking fair human bodies; secret anguish is tormenting human souls; sin in its hydra-headed forms, through drunkenness and lust and anger and godlessness, is working ruin incalculable. At our very doors it is so; in every city of the empire it is so; in distant lands it is so. The cry of perpetual torment rises to heaven; the wail of woe ascends day and night from the trampled and despairing, from the suffering and the dying, from the sinning and sinking of our kind, our brethren and sisters for whom Christ died. You know this; secretly you know it; but you do not want to know it, so you lock up the knowledge of it, like the gaunt skeleton it is, in the inmost chamber of your mind, and act as if you were aware of no such hateful presence. It is marvellous what power we have of putting out of sight, and even out of mind for a time, what is disagreeable to us, of shutting our ears to what we do not wish to hear, of persuading ourselves that, after all, things are not so bad as some would have us believe, of settling down comfortably on our cushions, and taking our ease. But the skeleton will not always remain in its inner chamber; it will stalk abroad in due season, whatever we do, and overwhelm us with fear and shame. And there is one other direction in which we are in constant danger of weakly sewing pillows for our elbows, of concealing from ourselves painful facts--that is, as regards our present condition and future prospects in the sight of God. We quieten ourselves by saying, “Let not your heart be troubled, all is right; sin cannot be the dreadful thing it is made out to be; do as well as you can; God is merciful.” As for the inevitable and dreaded future, we shut it off from view. Nothing is to be gained by concealment but temporary peace of the most delusive kind. If we were so hopelessly sunk in sin that there was no rescue from it, if death were for us the end of all things, if at the last judgment we had no Advocate with the Father, then there might be some reason for seeking to bury out of sight facts so hateful and irremediable; but with the blessed Gospel of our Lord proclaiming salvation from sin, with the great fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead attesting that death is but the gate into a higher and nobler life, with the promise of His perpetual intercession at the right hand of the Eternal Judge, why should we hesitate to know the worst that can be known? It is not incurable. The quicker and the better we know it, the more curable it will be, and the sooner will come our true peace. (James Thomson, M. A.)
Pillows for armholes
The people of the East are generally indolent and voluptuous. The art which they most study is the art of making themselves comfortable. Enter an Eastern divan, or the saloon of the more aristocratic mansions, and you will be struck with the ingenuity and expense with which provision is made for bodily ease and sensual enjoyment. Odours and perfumes of sweetest fragrance are diffused through the room; fountains or vases of coldest water help to cool the heated air of the tropics. The sides and corners of the room are cushioned all round, whilst movable cushions of every form and size, richly embroidered and ornamented, are spread on the couches and chairs, and even on the carpet. When this love of ease and luxury was carried to excess, cushions were provided not only for the head and shoulders and back, but for the arms and for every joint, that every part of the body might lie softly and feel comfortable. The words of our text might be rendered “pillows for all arm joints”--including the armholes, the elbows, and wrists. And their use is significant of the greatest ease and luxury. Some suppose that Ezekiel refers to the abandoned women whose vile and detestable ways are graphically described in the Book of Proverbs (chaps. 6, 7). These interpret the words of the prophet almost literally; they regard these “pillows and kerchiefs” as literal pillows and kerchiefs with which they furnished their chambers and decked their persons to allure souls into their snares, and ruin them. They represent these women as of the class who, for a pittance of remuneration, sell themselves to the lowest vice. But whilst, no doubt, some were of this dissolute character, I do not think that the passage is to be interpreted literally; I believe it is best interpreted figuratively. The meaning is almost identical with the “wall of untempered mortar.” The prophets predicted safety when there was none. The prophetesses predicted ease, prosperity, and luxury when there should be none. They did, as it were, sew beautifully soft pillows and cushions, to put under every limb and joint of the sleepers, to make their repose more undisturbed and their sleep more profound; and, singing their lullaby o’er the lethargic people, they said,--“Peace, peace, when there was no peace.” Therefore, saith God,--“Woe to the women who sew pillows to all armholes.” We may vary the figure a little, to adapt it to modem times and this Western region. Activity and motion characterise our times and country. Let us, then, change the figure, and adapt it to our customs. We do not lounge in luxurious divans and voluptuous saloons: we are in the hurry of business, bustling hither and thither. A large proportion of the people are always on the roads and thoroughfares of the land. And what an accommodation to us are these ever-multiplying railways, linking together not only the larger towns, but even the populous villages, into a network of iron roads. And what a comfort, to those who can afford it, are our first-class carriages, with their softly cushioned seats, their resting plates for the arms, and “pillows for all armholes.” One could almost sleep there as in his own bed, and travel hundreds of miles without seeing the inside of a house. Now, all this is very well, when one can afford it, and the place of destination is such as you desire. But supposing you were allured and enticed into such a conveyance by fair speeches and flattering promises; supposing it were made so comfortable on purpose to allay your fears and deceive you as to the probable end of your journey,--would all this comfort satisfy you, were you apprised by some kind angel that you were in that easy, smooth fashion to be conveyed to a lunatic asylum or a prison, to end your days amongst madmen or felons, or to be launched headlong over a steep precipice to sudden destruction? I trow not. No; you would one and all start up, and indignantly seek to be set down, if possible; feeling that for such an end, the ease of the conveyance and the smoothness of the path were no compensation whatever. “Ah yes,” I think I hear someone say,--“yes, I see; you mean the rich sinners, who fare sumptuously every day,--who never know what it is to want a luxury or a comfort,--who have little work and much pay,--who spend on an article of fancy more than would keep a poor family for twelve months,--who can commit great and many sins, and cover them over with gold and silver, so that they shall never be mentioned,--who pacify conscience with wine or alms, and appease society by their high social standing.” No! I rather mean you than them. Those you have mentioned may be included in the list; but so, in all probability, are you. Of course you may be startled, you may be offended when I say so,--mean you. The rich sinner may have his pillow,--you have yours. There is no more common pillow for sinful and fatal lethargy than the one you are sleeping on, which has this inscription: “It is not I.” “I am not the person meant; it is the rich man; it is the hypocrite; it is my neighbour; anybody but me.” In other words, thousands are continuing in their sins and vicious career, because they never apply the warnings and descriptions of God’s Word and servants to themselves. Tell them, “Except ye repent and be converted, ye shall all perish,” they say, “It does not mean me; I have nothing to repent of, or if ever I had, I have long ago repented; it must be some other sinner.” You will now see what I mean by the use of pillows, after a figurative sense. I mean the various devices and delusions by which sinning is rendered easy, and the way to perdition made smooth. So common are these pillows, that it is rare indeed for any person to be without one of some kind, and many have more than one. I have already described one. A second is a misappropriation of heavenly material to earthly and wicked purposes. It is made from a perversion of the eternal decrees of God, and mistaken notions of Divine sovereignty. This is a pillow on which many a sinner has slept soundly and fatally. The cushion has two sides: on the one side is Election, and on the other is Reprobation. And nosy they lie on one side, and now on the other, and all your preaching and warning cannot rouse them. Where shall we look for a third pillow? There is the pillow of Procrastination. I speak of this in general; no pillow is more frequently used, more comfortable to lie upon, and sin upon, than this: “I admit the Bible is true, the minister is right; I am a sinner; Christ is a Saviour; I am a dying man; I must stand before the judgment seat of God; I must go to heaven or hell, according to my faith and character here. But then, the trump is not yet to be sounded; I am not expecting to die at present; I hope to live a good while longer; I should like to enjoy the pleasures of life as long as possible, and at some more convenient season I will repent; I will seek Jesus as my Saviour, and I hope through Him to die happily, and ultimately reach heaven.” But what if your sleep become heavier and deeper every day, so that the voice of warning or mercy no longer can reach your heart, and you perish in your sins? A fourth pillow is the hope of escaping detection. “No eye saw me; it will never be known.” This is a most wretched, yet common delusion, Sin will out. You cannot long tamper with the intoxicating cup, and not give evidence of intemperance. You cannot long prove unfaithful to your marriage vows, and not be looked down upon as a base and abandoned man. You cannot long embezzle the money entrusted to your care and rob your master, but soon suspicion will be excited, and proof sufficient to convict you transpire. You cannot long live inconsistently with your Christian profession as a member of Christ’s Church and keep up the semblance of godliness, but soon some act of dishonesty or immorality will declare that you are but a whited sepulchre and a vile hypocrite. Or if you do escape the detection and chastisement of your fellowmen, you cannot escape from the omniscience of God, who will judge everyone according to the deeds done in the body. (R. Bruce, M. A.)
Judgments denied none the less sure
The Chaldeans were to capture Jerusalem. God said so. False prophetesses denied it, and to quell the anxieties of the people employed a significant symbol by sewing little pillows under the arms, as much as to say: “Whenever you feel these soft pads at the arm sleeve, bethink yourselves all shall be easy and well.” But alas for the delusion: Notwithstanding all the smoothness of the prophecy, Jerusalem went down in darkness and fire and blood. It is not more certain that you are here this morning, not more certain that that is a window, not more certain that that is a ceiling, not more certain that that is a chair, not more certain that that is a carpet, than it is certain that God has declared destruction to the finally impenitent. Universalism comes out and tries to quell this fear, and wants to sew two pillows under my arm sleeves, and wants to sew two pillows under your arm sleeves. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad.
The baleful influence of infidelity
I. Infidelity exerts a baleful influence upon the righteous. Note the charge, “Because,” etc.
1. It casts a shadow upon his pathway. It is the shadow of midnight. Leaves him to grope his way in darkness. Ignoring God’s Word, it points to “the light of nature,” and says, “This is sufficient, walk here!” But these are questions that the voice of the winds, the hills, the stars do not answer, “Can sins be forgiven? If so, how?” In the hour of trial nature’s light grows dim. The mariner may follow the stars till the storm at midnight; then the lighthouse.
2. It is a blight to his sweetest joys. “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad.” God makes the righteous glad, not sad. True religion is as the oil of joy to the heart. The righteous have “songs in the night.” But as frost is to the flower, so is unbelief to the better impulses of the heart. What ray of hope, what ground for rejoicing does infidelity afford? Ah! it is the ruthless hand that snatches away the staff upon which the struggling soul rests.
3. It seeks to undermine his hopes--strikes at the very foundation of them (Psalms 11:3). Ah! he may sit down in sadness and heave an unending sigh. He may hang his “harp upon the willows.”
II. Infidelity exerts a baleful influence upon the wicked.
1. It encourages him to follow his own inclinations as his guide. The false prophets are described as those “that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing.” So they taught all to do. And so is the spirit of infidelity in all ages of the world. The depraved heart is its criterion.
2. It encourages him to continue in sin--“That he should not return from his wicked way.” It advocates no such return. Nothing to turn from--nothing to turn to. Nay, it rather “strengthens his hands.”
3. It encourages him to dismiss from his mind all thought of the future. It cries to the sin-stricken soul, “Peace, peace. Think not of the hereafter; there may be none, no heaven to gain, no hell to shun. Be at peace!” It is opposed to God, good men, and bad men. It must be destroyed--Wall of bulrushes must fall--“There shall be an overflowing shower.” “And ye shall know that I am the Lord.” (M. L. Bibb.)
Making the righteous sad
That is a severe indictment. It was brought by God, and was addressed to the false prophets, and especially to the lying prophetess, who exercised their evil ministry in the days of Ezekiel. In holy wrath, the Lord hurls this flaming impeachment upon these cruel and deceitful ministrants, “Ye have grieved the heart of the righteous: whom I have not made sad.” (Revised Version.) We are here introduced to sad people. They were righteous--God declares them such. But they were full of grief. Grief and righteousness are often associated. But the sadness of these grieved ones was not imposed by God. He recognises the sorrow, but disavows it. “I have not made” them “sad” is His express word of repudiation. Sometimes sadness is from God. He doth not willingly grieve the children of men. Especially reluctant is He to grieve those who are covenanted unto Him. But anon He does it. Sadness is one of God’s methods of education for His righteous ones. “Thou didst it,” the saddened righteous can confidently and resignedly say in certain of life’s calamitous hours. Let all the sad inquire whence cometh their sadness. From what fountain does the dark and turbid stream arise? It may spring from yourself. Has some strong besetting sin wrecked your gladness? Sadness often originates in temperament. Do not blame God if you are melancholic; blame your yielding to your temperament. Grace can enable a man to rise above his temperament. If self makes a man presumptuous, it full as often makes him despondent. The worry of these worrying days frequently issues in sadness. O righteous one! Thy sadness is not the frown of thy God. Thou art cumbered with much serving. The pace of life is exhausting thee. God has not made you sad. Nerve and body and brain are overwrought. Sadness is wrought, all too often, by our fellow men. Why are you sad? “An enemy hath done this.” An ingrate friend is responsible. A prodigal child. A remorseless creditor. A thankless debtor. Oh, the inhumanity of humanity! Charge not God foolishly because of sadness. Asperse not the kind Lord. Satan often seeks to ruin us by sadness. Quite as often as by pleasure he seeks to spoil us by grief. Sadness is one of the fiercest of his “fiery darts.” Beware of Giant Despair, O pilgrim. I am sure we far too often charge God with our sadness. It is well we should weigh this ancient disclaimer of His: “Whom I have not made sad.” Trace your sadness to its true source. It may be that God has done it. But it may be He is in no wise responsible. Some impose sadness upon the righteous in God’s name. That is exactly what these false prophetesses did. The Almighty charges them with the high crime. He says, “Ye have made the heart of the righteous sad.” They had spoken in Jehovah’s name. They professed to be His forthtellers, but they lied. They spake “out of their own hearts.” What awful things have been done in God’s name! Men have stolen the livery of heaven to serve the devil in. In the name of God mankind has accomplished its worst infamies. Men have lied and persecuted and slain, claiming the while that they thereby fulfilled the counsel of God. Let us see if this wrong-doing is not perpetrated even in our time. Do not some confound religion and sadness? Assuredly they do. But, thank God, they are not synonymous. Religion and seriousness are essentially allied, but not so religion and sadness. “Say ye to the righteous, It shall be well with him.” The work of righteousness is not sadness, but peace and assurance. Do not measure the depth of a man’s piety by the length of his face. Sadness is far oftener the consequence of a disordered liver than of a righteous heart. Beware, above all things, of prophet or prophetess representing righteousness as essential sadness! Here is a great test of a ministry. Is it generally saddening to the righteous? Then it is undivine. They are no true prophets who make the heart of the righteous sad. Sadden the evil-doer by all means. Make him to pierce himself through with many sorrows. But do not sadden the righteous. Dr. A.B. Davidson renders my text, “Ye have discouraged the righteous.” So they showed how essentially ungodlike was their ministry. God never discourages the righteous. He is “the God of all encouragement.” He ministers every form of legitimate encouragement. God is the supreme encourager. Fellow servant of God, is yours a saddening ministry to the saint? Then there is surely a grave wrongness in it. Let all whose ideal and endeavour it is to be righteous be of good cheer. Refuse to be loaded with sadness in God’s name. “Be glad in the Lord, ye righteous, and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” How had these godless prophetesses accomplished their beglooming ministry? The Lord supplies the answer, and in no measured terms: “With lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad.” They had uttered false predictions of calamities which were to descend upon the godly. False teaching usually has a saddening effect upon the righteous. Truth sometimes makes God’s people sad, but it is not intended to do so. But “lies” palmed off as religious truth make the heart of the righteous sad. They often encourage and delight the evil-doer. They give him warrant to take his licence. Today, as in days past, we can readily see false teaching working upon the righteous its unkindly work. This is true of teaching which is intrinsically false. Inveracious theologies sadden the righteous. What evil presentations we sometimes hear and read! He is represented now as a despot, and now as morally indifferent. A false theology makes the heart of the righteous sad. Has not erroneous teaching concerning the Bible the same effect? If its inspiration were the dubious thing it is sometimes declared to be, it would indeed be a miserable estate in which the righteous are found. When the Word of God is described as a farago of myths and legends and forgeries, is not the heart of the righteous sad? False teaching regarding the atonement works kindred sorrow. Paul said, “We joy in God, by whom we have received the atonement.” Destroy that cardinal truth, and you make the heart of the righteous sad. Resolve the death of Christ into a martyrdom, an ethical example, the supreme historic instance of altruism, and you dry up the freshest spring of gladness which humanity knows. Preach the doleful tidings that our moral chains must weight us long as we live beneath. And by such erroneous teaching the heart of the righteous is fatally saddened. Proclaim that there is no privilege of assurance for God’s children. And again you plunge the righteous in nocturnal gloom. But this sadness is evoked not alone by indoctrination which is inherently false, but by that which is such relatively. When true teaching is perverted in its application, it has the value of false teaching. This was the fallacy of which Job’s comforters were guilty. They were capable theologians. Their theology was true in its essence, but false in its application. Thereby they made Job’s heart sad with sore sadness. We must study the relativity of truth. Truth misapplied is as untruth. Assurance is a glorious truth, and a radiant possibility for all, but preach it as essential to salvation, and you must make the heart of the righteous sad. There is a Divine retribution for such as give sadness to the righteous. In the two verses which precede the text, the particular punishment of these false prophetesses is described. And the verse of my text adds that it is “because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad.” In the verse which follows the threat of God is repeated. All who effect this saddening of the saints shall suffer for their deed. This principle has worldwide application. Let ministers and teachers of religion beware lest God judge them for this disservice to His people. Oh, the delicacy of our office who speak God’s messages! Masters and mistresses need to watch their ways in this regard. Take heed lest inadvertently you make the heart of a righteous servant sad. Friends and acquaintances should be alert to prevent this evil. A thoughtless word may arouse the anger of God by creating sadness in His righteous ones. Restrain unkind speech. Parents may grieve right-doing children. Oh, pray that the judgment of God may never light on us because we have made the heart of the righteous sad! We do a godly deed when we cheer the righteous. Is not that plainly implied in this word of Jehovah which we are studying? We are never more clearly “God’s fellow workers” than when we hearten God’s people. Be sure you are a true minister of Christ if you encourage the righteous. They greatly need good cheer in these strenuous days. They have grievous burdens to bear. Covet to be an encourager! Strive to uplift the heart of God’s people. Do you ask how you can accomplish this grateful ministry? Speak cheering words. We can hearten the righteous by kindly acts. Eloquent deeds have a sonority which no eloquent speech can attain. A timely gift may fill a sad heart with melody sweeter than an angel’s song. Our very deportment may accomplish the service of God upon sad souls. There is a Gospel in some men’s smile. Faces may be benedictions. Righteousness is the ultimate cure of sadness. Does not this text proclaim that gospel? Character is the final secret of gladness. They who hate evil and do righteousness are anointed with gladness above their fellows. The righteous have a right of gladness. This is especially true in the Christian dispensation. Christian righteousness is realised by faith in the crucified and risen Lord. Such as believe rejoice in the Lord, and this joy none can take from them. (D. T. Young.)