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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ezekiel 33


According to the duty of a watchman, in warning the people, Ezekiel is admonished of his duty. God sheweth the justice of his ways towards the penitent, and towards revolters; he maintaineth his justice. Upon the news of the taking of Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesieth the desolation of the land. God's judgment upon the mockers of the prophets.

Before Christ 587.

Verse 2

Ezekiel 33:2. Son of man The reader will find in the third chapter, from Eze 33:17-22 what is here repeated in the ten first verses of this chapter. Instead of, Of their coasts, Houbigant reads, from among them.

Of their coasts Out of their borders: The proper places to station watchmen.

When the prophet had confirmed his predictions of evil both to the Jews and Heathens by exemplifications of the like predictions already fulfilled among the latter; he proceeds to apply home the conclusion arising hence, by an expostulation and pathetic address to the hearts and consciences of the Jews.—But to what Jews is this addressed? To the Jews who were already in captivity. In order then that this address might make the stronger impression on them, and produce its wished-for effect, he immediately subjoins an information, which he here presents as having been just then received, of the actual capture and destruction of the city of Jerusalem, agreeably to his foregoing prophesies against it: the accomplishment of which prediction against the Jews themselves, joined to his historic narrations before of the accomplishment of many others against the Heathens, both complete his arguments in favour of the credit and veracity of his predictions against Egypt or other nations, and also prove by a conspicuous example the truth of that maxim with which he had concluded his late address to the captive Jews, "That God will judge every one after his ways, both Jews and Heathens."

Verse 5

Ezekiel 33:5. But he that taketh warning But had he taken warning, he had delivered his soul.

Verse 10

Ezekiel 33:10. If our transgressions, &c.— Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can it be possible that we should live? These are supposed to be the words of impious persons, who, pretending to despair of God's mercies, take encouragement thence to continue in their sins.

Verse 13

Ezekiel 33:13. If he trust to his own righteousness "If he rely upon the good works which he has done, and think that some kind of worth in them will over-balance his evil deeds." This seems to have been the opinion of the later Jews, who lay it down for a rule in their Mishna, that all Israel shall have a share in the blessed world to come: and is it not too much to be feared, that many of those who profess Christianity, embrace this dangerous and absurd opinion?

Verse 15

Ezekiel 33:15. If the wicked restore, &c.— Robbery and violence would be too gainful a trade, if a man might quit all scores by repentance, and detain all he has gotten; or if the father's repentance might serve the turn, and the benefit of the transgression be transmitted as an inheritance to the son. If the pledge remained, it must be restored; the retaining of it is committing a new iniquity, and forfeits any benefit of the promise. If he have it not, nor be able to procure it, his hearty repentance will be accepted through the blood of the covenant, without reparation: but to enjoy and to look every day upon the spoil, and yet to profess repentance is an affront to God Almighty, and a greater sin than the first act of violence, when he did not pretend to think of him, and so did not think of displeasing him. Whereas now he pretends to reconcile himself to God, and mocks him with repentance, while he retains the fruit of his wickedness with the same pleasure that he committed it.

Verse 21

Ezekiel 33:21. And it came to pass, &c.— The news of the taking and burning of Jerusalem was brought to that part of the Babylonish dominions where the Jewish captives were placed, in about a year and four months after the calamity happened, though some say much sooner. Many commentators think that this messenger came not to Ezekiel, simply to announce the taking of Jerusalem and the ruin of the temple, but the entire desolation of the country, the death of Gedeliah, and the last transportation of the people to Egypt. See Calmet and Grotius.

Verse 24

Ezekiel 33:24. Abraham was one "If Abraham, being only a single person, had the whole country of Judaea given him, there is much greater reason to conclude, that God will preserve the possession of it to us, who are a numerous part of Abraham's posterity." These men speak after the vain manner of the Jews, who fondly presume that they have a right to all the promises made to Abraham, without considering the vast difference which was between them and Abraham, both in faith and practice. The appellation of one is given to that patriarch in other places of Scripture, because he was singled out from the rest of his family, to be the original or head of the Jewish nation. See Lowth and Calmet.

Verse 26

Ezekiel 33:26. Ye stand upon your sword You stand in your highway, or the corners of the streets, and commit your abominations. Houbigant. This expression seems to refer to their public and open profession of idolatry. Those who understand the expression as translated in our version, suppose the meaning to be, "You stand like soldiers upon guard, and under arms; you only seek for occasion to commit acts of hostility and violence."

Verse 27

Ezekiel 33:27. They that are in the wastes They that [trust] in the swords. The forts and caves here mentioned, mean the strong-holds formed by nature in the rocks, or cut in the sides of the mountains. Palestine abounded with these, as we have had occasion to remark heretofore; particularly in the history of David.

Verse 30

Ezekiel 33:30. Also, thou son of man Bishop Pococke informs us, that the Coptics spend their holy days in sauntering about and sitting under their walls in winter, and under the shady trees in summer. This, doubtless, is to be understood of those of the poorer sort, who have no places more proper for conversation with their friends: the better sort of houses in the East having porches or gateways, according to Dr. Shaw, with benches on each side, where the master of the family receives visits, and dispatches business; few persons, not even the nearest relations, having farther admission, except upon extraordinary occasions. Now will not these two circumstances greatly illustrate the passage before us? It is somewhat strange, that our translators should have rendered the word בךֶ beka, against thee; when the LXX rendered it, of, or concerning thee; it is the same Hebrew particle that is used, Psalms 87:3. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God! and the following words incontestably shew, that they were speaking honourably of Ezekiel, and indeed assuming the appearance of those whom Malachi mentions, chap. Ezekiel 3:16. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, &c. It was winter, in the tenth month, answering to the latter end of December and first part of January, when these things were transacted; therefore they sat under the walls for the benefit of the sun, rather than under trees to avoid its heat, while they talked concerning Ezekiel; while persons among them in better circumstances sat in their porches or gateways. That they use their porches or gateways in winter as well as summer, appears from Bishop Pococke, who, waiting on a person of distinction in Upper Egypt [an aga of the Janizaries], found him sitting, according to their custom, under the gateway of his house, when he made him this visit on the 29th or 30th of December. The explication, therefore, of those commentators must appear something like inadvertency, who make this talking of Ezekiel by the walls, and in the doors of their houses, to signify the same thing with their talking of him in their public places of concourse, and in their private meetings. As this sitting and talking under the walls is particularly practised by the Coptics in their holy-days, may not these words of Ezekiel be supposed also to refer to such times? And if so, will they not shew that the Israelites observed their sabbaths in their captivity? And that so early as the time of the first destruction of Jerusalem, they used to assemble to the prophets on those days, to hear if they had received any messages from the Lord the preceding week, and to receive those advices which their calamitous circumstances made peculiarly seasonable? Those assemblies might be more ancient, but of this antiquity at least the passage here seems to make them. Such another assembly, it may be, was that mentioned in chap. Ezekiel 8:1. See the Observations, p. 16.

Verse 32

Ezekiel 33:32. Thou art unto them, &c.— That is to say, they come to hear thee solely for their entertainment, not for their edification and improvement. This, it is to be feared, is not a complaint peculiar to Ezekiel, but one which many of those who deliver even the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Saviour, have but too much reason to make. Of the numbers who sit attentively to a serious and well-delivered discourse, how few bring it home to themselves by a proper self-application! How many consider it merely as a lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice!

Verse 33

Ezekiel 33:33. And when this cometh to pass, &c.— Therefore when these things come to pass, (they shall come to pass immediately,) then, &c. "When you see my prophesies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem actually come to pass, as will immediately be the case; then you will be convinced of the truth of my mission, and of your own inexcusable fault in despising my predictions." See Eze 33:21-22 and Calmet.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Once more the prophet is sent to the rebellious house of Israel. And we have here,

1. The office of a watchman described. In times of danger and invasion, when the people set a watchman to descry the approaching enemy, his business is, to wake, look out, and spread the alarm wherever he sees the sword coming; in which case having discharged his trust, his own fidelity will be approved; and if others take warning, they will be safe; if not, their blood will be on their own heads. But if the watchman be negligent or asleep, and the sword comes, and any soul, surprised for want of warning, perishes in his iniquity, then shall his blood be required at the watchman's hands. An awful charge! and well may they tremble for themselves who undertake to be watchmen to immortal souls against surrounding spiritual foes.

2. God applies this to Ezekiel. He is by divine commission appointed a watchman to the house of Israel; his business is, attentively to hear, and faithfully to report, the word of warning which God shall deliver to him: particularly he must say to the wicked, without distinction of persons, or fear of men's faces, O wicked men, thou shalt surely die. Wherever unrepented iniquity is found, there the heavy wrath of God will lie; and neither the greatest will be spared, nor the meanest overlooked. Death eternal will be the assured wages of sin; and wicked men are warned of this, that while there is yet hope they may fly from the wrath to come, to him alone who can and will abundantly pardon. If he neglected his duty, then the wicked should perish in his iniquity; for it will not excuse the careless sinner that he lived and died under a negligent pastor, when he had God's word in his hands; but his blood will God require at the prophet's hands; and terrible will be the cry of the blood of lost souls in the ears of unfaithful ministers in a judgment-day. But if he was faithful, however obstinate the sinner might be, he would at least have the comfort of delivering his own soul; and though Israel be not gathered, he shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord. And this was not merely directed to him; but is also written for our instruction, and equally applicable to every one intrusted with the care of immortal souls; on whose fidelity so much depends, and whose unfaithfulness must be attended with such aggravated guilt and misery.

2nd, The substance of a considerable part of this chapter we had in chap. 18: and we need repeatedly to have such important truths inculcated upon us.
1. They quarrelled with God's dispensations of providence and grace, as if they were unjust and unequal; and would argue from the words with which the prophet concluded, chap. Eze 24:23 that it was in vain to call them to repentance and life, when their sins were bound upon them, and they must necessarily pine away in their iniquities; though the prophet had spoken continually of what would be the case, if they did not return to God, and with an express view to lead them to repentance. Note; (1.) They who choose to err, will pervert the glorious truths of God, that they may have a plea to harden themselves in iniquity. (2.) Many, through hardened despair of pardon, rush presumptuously on their sins, and render their hearts thereby utterly obdurate.

2. God silences their unjust reflections.
[1.] Their despair had no foundation from God's word, but arose from their own wilfulness. Far from delighting in the death of a sinner, vengeance is God's strange work. He assures them, nay, by an oath confirms his word, that he would rather they would turn and live; nay, he warmly expostulates with them on the folly and perverseness of their conduct, and with repeated earnestness urges them to consider their ways, and turn from their iniquities, that they may not die, as otherwise they infallibly must. Note; (1.) Sinners must repent, or perish. (2.) God is grieved, speaking after the manner of men, when they perversely reject the calls of his word. (3.) The damnation of the sinner lieth at his own door; in the day of judgment he will have only himself to blame.

[2.] Their charge against God, as dealing unequally, is refuted, they themselves being judges; for what can be so evidently equitable as his procedure? 1. When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live: if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity—he shall die for it. The grand source of their ruin is their pride; they trust to their own righteousness, the most fatal rock against which a soul can split; for the moment a person places confidence in his own doings and duties, and fancies himself strong enough to resist any temptation, he is already fallen. This high conceit is his mortal sin, and the sure forerunner of his ruin: puffed up with pride, he falls into the snare of the devil; commits iniquity, lives and dies in the practice of it; and the consequence of this is, he perishes everlastingly: all his pleas of former goodness will stand him in no stead at God's bar; he is found in unrepented guilt, and sinks under the curse into the belly of hell; and the more confident his former hopes were, the more dreadful will his disappointment be, and the more aggravated his guilt. Be not therefore high-minded, but fear.

2. The wicked shall surely die, such is the decree of the unchangeable God; not that this terrible sentence is designed to bar the door of hope against sinners, far from it; but to warn them of their danger, that they may escape from it. For, whenever a sinner turns to God, however aggravated his guilt, and numberless or enormous his transgressions, he shall, through Jesus, be accepted, and find that the Lord can as easily pardon many transgressions as few: and, for the encouragement of the trembling soul, God is pleased to assure us, that his arms are open; and, so far from upbraiding us with our rebellions, he will not so much as mention them in the day when we return to him. The past shall all be cancelled, the present blessed change shall only be remembered; and walking perseveringly, through the power of divine grace, in the way of truth and holiness, we shall assuredly find eternal life.

The conclusion from the whole is clear. God's ways are equal, theirs unequal; he will not own, therefore, these unreasonable and wicked men as his people, but turns them over to the prophet, determined to judge them according to their ways; and, however they dispute against him, he will glorify his righteousness in the destruction of the impenitent and apostates, and in the salvation of the penitent and faithful.

3rdly, Ezekiel had been informed, chap. Eze 24:26 that one of those escaped out of the flames of Jerusalem, should give him an affecting narrative of the miseries which that devoted place had suffered; and lo! the messenger arrives. According to some, this was a year and four months after the fatal catastrophe; though others, by a different method of computation, suppose it only a month from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.

1. The prophet, the evening before the messenger arrived, by a divine impression, being made acquainted with the sad news that he brought, chap. Eze 24:27 had begun anew, after a long silence, with earnestness and zeal to address his unhappy countrymen; taking occasion from this sad event to warn them of the dreadful consequences of sin, and call them to repentance.

2. After he had heard the particulars of the siege, and destruction of the city, with the ravages of the Chaldean army through the country, he has a word sent unto him from God, to be delivered to the miserable remnant who inhabited the wastes of Judaea, who, so far from being humbled with all the judgments that they had seen, and the sufferings that they had felt, continued just as bad as ever: and these were either Johanan and his associates, or some others who might still have continued in Judaea after he and his company were departed into Egypt.
[l.] Their pride was insufferable. Far from lamenting their sins, which had caused the desolations of the land, they count themselves as high in God's favour as Abraham; yea, in some respects they think they exceed him, possessing their inheritance by as good a title; and, being many, expect to keep possession of it against opposers.
[2.] Their other sins were great and aggravated. (1.) Ye eat with the blood, contrary to the divine prescription, Lev 19:26 or upon the blood, referring to the idolatrous practices of the heathen, who sat down round the blood of the sacrifices which they had offered to devils, and fancied they held communion with them thereby. (2.) Ye lift up your eyes toward your idols, worshipping these abominations. (3.) Ye shed blood, the blood of innocents. (4.) Ye stand upon your sword, place confidence in an arm of flesh. (5.) Ye work abomination, slaves to vile affections and unnatural lusts. (6.) Ye defile every one his neighbour's wife, which is justly reckoned among the most atrocious crimes.

[3.] The consequence of such wickedness could not but be fatal to them. Shall ye possess the land? such miscreants as the earth groaned to bear? No. The sword of vengeance will pursue them in the waste places; those who are in the open fields the beasts shall devour, and they who have fled to the forts and fortresses for shelter, shall die of the pestilence. One judgment shall follow upon another, till the land is completely desolate, their remaining strength they boasted of utterly ruined, and the very mountains desolate, without flocks or herds feeding on them: nor shall a traveller pass through the land; so uncultivated, so depopulated would it be, and filled with wild beasts. Such judgments would make them know an avenging God, who, having sworn to punish, will execute his threatenings, and give them the just recompense which their abominations deserve.

4thly, The Jews who remained in the land were, we find, bad, very bad: nor were many of the captivity much better, as evidently appears from the latter part of this chapter.
1. They were hypocritical mockers and revilers. They came with other worshippers, and sat, to appearance, gravely and attentively, as if desirous to hear the prophetic word; and in their professions before the prophet pretended much love: but their hearts were in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; covetousness reigned within; they were pleased with the prophet's manner, his expressions and elocution as a speaker, but paid no regard to the matter. It was the amusement of an hour; and when they were gone, they could readily join in the abuse cast upon him; and among their own party ridicule and revile the preacher, his doctrine, and his hearers. Note; (1.) Public persons, especially faithful ministers, will be the butt of obloquy. If they knew but half the evil said of them, it might discourage them; but God knows their revilers, and will punish them. (2.) It is a serious matter to hear God's word; they who make a jest of things sacred, will find by-and-by that God is not thus to be mocked. (3.) Many come to the ordinances in formality, and for fashion's sake, who never so much as expect edification from them. (4.) We often see a smooth tongue cover a malignant heart; externally, all is profession of love and regard, but rancour and enmity rage within. (5.) Many take pleasure in hearing the man and the minister, who pay no regard to the message; and while their ears are delighted, their hearts are untouched. (6.) Even among professors of religion, covetousness is a reigning sin; and nothing more effectually quenches the good impressions of God's word than this.

2. God's word will stand, when all contemners of it shall perish together. When this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) however now scoffers despise the wrath of God, they will too late rue their folly; then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them, when the event verifies the prediction, and the threatened vengeance overtakes them.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.