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Another interval follows, and then a fresh and fuller burst of inspiration, manifestly in close connection with Ezekiel 12:21-28, and to be read in combination with Jeremiah 23:1-40; which, as Jeremiah was in communication with the exiles (Jeremiah 29:1), Ezekiel may probably have seen. There were false prophets and prophetesses among the exiles as well as in Jerusalem, and an utterance is now found for his long pent up indignation.
Ezekiel 13:2, Ezekiel 13:3
Son of man, prophesy, etc. The sin of the men whom Ezekiel denounced was that they prophesied out of their own hearts (Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:16, Jeremiah 23:26), and followed their own spirit instead of the Spirit of Jehovah. All was human and of the earth. Not a single fact in the future, not a single eternal law governing both the future and the past, was brought to light by it. To one who was conscious that he had a message which he had not devised himself, and which he had not been taught by men (Galatians 1:12); that he had no selfish by-ends in what he said and did; that he was risking peace, reputation, life itself, for the truth revealed to him,—nothing could be more repulsive than this claim to have seen a vision of Jehovah, by men who bad in reality seen nothing. For foolish prophets, read, with the stronger Hebrew, the prophets, the fools, the words deriving their force from a kind of paronomasia of alliteration. The nabiim are also the n'balim.
Like the foxes in the deserts, etc. The points of comparison are manifold. The fox is cunning (Luke 13:32, where the term is applied to Herod Antipas). It spoils the vine and its fruits (So 2:15); it burrows among ruins (Nehemiah 4:3; Lamentations 5:18). So the false prophets were crafty, laid waste the vineyard of the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 5:7), made their profit out of the ruin of Israel, and made that ruin worse. The 'Reineke Fuchs,' in satirizing the monks and priests of the sixteenth century under the same comparison, presents a curious, though probably unconscious, analogue. In Matthew 7:15 and Acts 20:29 wolves appear as the types of the false prophet.
The verse contains two distinct images. There were breaches in the walls of Jerusalem, literally and spiritually, and the false prophets had not been as "repairers of the breach" (Isaiah 58:12; Psalms 106:23). The hedge of the vineyard of Israel had been broken through (Isaiah 5:5), and they had done nothing to restore it (Ezekiel 22:30). The day of battle, the day of the Lord, had come, and they were betraying the people instead of helping.
The Lord saith. The verb is that specially used for the utterance of prophets, and the deceivers used it without the authority of a true mission. For they have made others (or, men) to hope, etc; as in the Authorized Version and Revised Version, read, with the margin of Revised Version, they hope to confirm their word, taking the verb as in Psalms 119:43, Psalms 119:49; Job 6:11, et al.). So the Vulgate, persereraverunt confirmare. Through deceiving others, they came to deceive themselves, and were really expecting a fulfilment.
Mine hand shall be, etc. After Ezekiel's manner, the thought of verse 6 is repeated in an altered form in verses 7, 8. What had been a statement appears as a question to which there could be but one answer. The prophet, as it were, cross examines his rivals. Could they deny the charge? Was not every word of it true? Then, after the statement of the sin of the false prophets, comes the proclamation of the punishment. The hand of Jehovah would be upon them for evil and not for good. In the assembly of my people. The Hebrew word indicates not a large popular gathering, but a secret council of those who deliberate together to carry out their plans (Psalms 89:7; Psalms 111:1; Jeremiah 6:11). The prophets who had acted together, and been looked up to by the people as forming such a council, should lose that position of authority. The words that follow point to a yet lower degradation. They should be in the strictest sense of the word excommunicated. The city of Jerusalem, perhaps every city of Judah, had its register of citizens. In such a register were inscribed also the names of proselytes of other races (Psalms 87:6), and so men came to think of a like register as kept by the King of kings, containing the names of those who were heirs of the "life" of the true Israel (Exodus 32:32; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1). In neither of those registers, the earthly and the heavenly (but stress is probably laid upon the former), shall the false prophets find a place. Ezra 2:62 gives an example of the use made of such registers on the return from the Captivity. One notes the contrast between the "my people" which recognizes Israel as still the heritage of Jehovah, and the "thy people" used in Ezekiel 3:11 of the rebellious house of the Captivity. For the false prophets there should be no return to the land of Israel such as that which the prophet anticipated for the faithful and the penitent (Ezekiel 37:21; comp. Isaiah 57:13). Here there is no specific mention of the name being struck out. The prophet contemplates a new register, in which their names will never even have appeared.
Peace, when there was no peace. This, as in Micah 3:5; Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 23:17; Zechariah 10:2, was the root evil of the false prophet's work. He lulled men into a false security, and so narcotized their consciences. One built up a wall. The imagery starts from the picture of a ruined city already implied in Zechariah 10:4 and Zechariah 10:5, and expands into a parable in which we note a parallelism
(1) to Isaiah's picture of dishonest and unsafe building (Ezekiel 30:13);
(2) to our Lord's parable at the end of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:24, Matthew 7:25 : Luke 6:47-49).
With an incisive sarcasm, Ezekiel describes what we should call the "scamp-work" of their spiritual building. They profess to be "repairers of the breach" (Isaiah 58:12) in the walls of the spiritual Zion, and this is how they set about it. One built up a wall. This may point to a false prophet, but the "one" (Hebrew, "he") is probably indefinite, like the French on, equivalent to "some one." Some scheme is devised, an Egyptian alliance or the like, to which the people look for safety. It is, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, a "slight wall," such as was used for partition walls inside houses. They make it do duty as an outside wall (kir in verse 12). It has no sure "footings," and materials and workmanship are alike defective. The false prophets would smear it over with untempered mortar (the Hebrew word is found only here and in Ezekiel 22:28, and is probably an example of Ezekiel's acquaintance with the technical vocabulary of his time)—with a stucco or plaster, which is hardly better than whitewash, used to hide its detects and give it a semblance of solidity. They come, that is, with smooth words and promises of peace.
In words which would almost seem to have been in our Lord's thoughts in Matthew 7:25, we have the picture of an Eastern storm, torrents of rain passing into hail (LXX; λίθοι πετρόβολοι), accompanied by a tornado of irresistible violence (compare like pictures in Exodus 9:22; Joshua 10:11; Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 28:2, Isaiah 28:17). And when the disaster comes men will turn to those who professed to be master builders and repairers of the breach, with derision, and ask, "Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed?" And then men shall see that through all this it is Jehovah's hand that has been working. It is he who "rends" the wall; he who "brings it down to the ground;" he who "accomplishes his wrath" (Matthew 7:13-15). That shall be the end of the false "visions of peace."
Set thy face against the daughters of thy people. Here we note that the formula, "thy people," of Ezekiel 3:11 reappears. The section which follows (Ezekiel 3:17-23) throws an interesting side light on the position of women in the religious life of Israel. For good as for evil, their influence was stronger there than in most other nations. Miriam had led the way (Exodus 15:21), and had been followed by Deborah (Judges 5:4). Huldah had been almost as prominent in Josiah's reformation as Hilkiah the high priest (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22). It was but natural that there should be women on the other side also, guiding their own sex; and it is probable that Ezekiel had in his thoughts some special leaders who headed the women of Jerusalem in their opposition to Jeremiah, as afterwards at Pathros (Jeremiah 44:15). So, later on, we have the prophetess Noadiah heading the opposition to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:14); and in the New Testament, on the one hand, Anns (Luke 2:36) and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), and on the other, the ill-regulated prophetesses of Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:5) and the woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess (Revelation 2:20).
Woe to the women who sew pillows, etc. Ezekiel's minute description, though it is from a different standpoint, reminds us of that in Isaiah 3:18-26. In both cases there are the difficulties inseparable from the fact that he had seen what he describes, and that we have not; and that he uses words which were familiar enough then, but are now found nowhere else. so that (as in the case of the ἐξουσία of 1 Corinthians 11:10) we have to guess their meaning. The picture which he draws of a false prophetess is obviously taken from the life, and the dress, we can scarcely doubt, was one that belonged to her calling. The word for "sew" meets us in Genesis 3:7; Job 16:15; Ecclesiastes 3:7; and the English is an adequate rendering. For the word rendered "pillows," the LXX. gives προσκεφάλαια, the Vulgate pulvilli (equivalent to "cushions"). The word here obviously denotes an article of dress, something fastened to the arms. For arm-holes read joints of the two hoods, which may mean either knuckles, wrists, or (as in the Revised Version) elbows. Possibly these may have been, like the phylacteries of Matthew 23:5, eases containing charms or incantations, and used as amulets. Something analogous to, if not identical with, these ornaments, is found in the "seeress wreaths," and "divining garments" of Cassandra, and in the "garlands" or "fillets" of the Pythian priestess in AEsch; 'Eumeu.,' 39. By some writers (Havernick) the word has been taken, as, perhaps, in the Authorized Version, for "pillows" in the larger sense, either literally as used in wanton luxury, like the "tapestry" of Proverbs 7:16, or figuratively, like the "wall" of the preceding section, for counsels that lulled the conscience into the slumber of a false security. Strangely enough, the Hebrew noun rendered "arm-holes" has the pronominal suffix "my arms," or "my hands." Keil accepts this rendering, and explains it as meaning that the prophetesses sought to "bind the arms," i.e. to restrain the power of Jehovah. On the whole, it is safer to follow Ewald and Hitzig, as I have done above. Make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature. The word for "kerchiefs" is again unique, but is, perhaps, a variant of the word in Isaiah 3:22, and rendered "wimples" in the Authorized Version. There is a fair consensus of interpretations that it means, as "kerchief" means, some covering for the head, a veil that hangs down over it, like the Spanish mantilla. Its use is, perhaps, explained by the words that follow, which suggest that the veils were not worn by the prophetesses themselves, but by those who came to consult them. The former had, as it were, a whole wardrobe of such veils adapted to persons of various heights, so that in all cases it shrouded their whole form. We may, perhaps, read between the lines the thought that their utterances, like their veils, were adapted to suit every age and every taste. Analogous usages present themselves in the tallith of later Judaism, and the veil worn by the Roman augurs. Ezekiel paints, we may believe, what he had seen. And in those veils he had seen a net cast over the victims of the false prophetesses, a snare from which they could not escape. Will ye hunt, etc.? The question is one of burning indignation. Omitting the words, "that come" (which have nothing in the Hebrew corresponding to them), the second clause will run, "Will ye make your own souls live?" and the question is explained by what follows. The prophetesses were living upon the credulity of the victims over whom they cast their nets.
Will ye pollute me, etc.? rather, with the Revised Version, ye have profaned, the interrogative form not being continued in the Hebrew. The prophet dwells with scorn on the miserable pay for which the prophetesses were guilty of so great a sin. Not for rewards of divination, like those of Balsam (Numbers 22:7), but for gifts like those bestowed on the harlot or the beggar (l Samuel 2:36; Hosea 3:2)—for handfuls of barley and pieces of bread—they plied their wretched trade. For examples of the lower gifts in kind offered to prophets, compare those of Saul (1 Samuel 9:8), of Jeroboam's wife (1 Kings 14:3), the false prophets in Micah 3:5. And they did this in direct opposition to the will of Jehovah. They "slew," i.e. drew on to destruction, the souls that were meant for life. They "saved the souls alive," i.e. "their own, which were worthy of death." That was the outcome of their "lying" divinations.
To make them fly, etc.; rather, with the Revised Version and Ewald, as if they were birds, carrying out the thought that the amulets on the arms of the prophetesses, and the veil cast over the heads of the votaries, were like the snare of the fowler. So the threat that follows, that the amulets should be torn off and the veil rent, is practically equivalent to the promise that the victims should be "delivered out of the snare of the fowler" (Psalms 91:3; Psalms 124:7). They should no longer he in the power of those who traded on their credulity. They too shall know that he who speaks is indeed Jehovah.
Because with lies, etc. What specially stirred Ezekiel's indignation was taut the false prophetesses saddened the hearts of the righteous (of those who looked to him and Jeremiah for guidance) with prophecies of evil and deluded the evil door by false hopes, so that he should not turn from his evil way and live. For by promising him life, read, with the LXX; Vulgate, and Luther and the Revised Version, that he should live, as he would do, if he turned from his wickedness (Ezekiel 3:21; Ezekiel 18:9, Ezekiel 18:17).
Prophesying against the prophets.
I. THEY WHO TEACH OTHERS NEED THEMSELVES TO BE TAUGHT. No man is a perfect fountain of original knowledge. The teacher must not only be a scholar in his early days, he must be a learner all through his life. Moreover, in regard to his own experience he needs light and help. He is not merely a voice for other souls. He too has a soul which may be in darkness, even while he is striving to illumine his hearers. There is great danger in the professionalism of the pulpit. It comes to be taken for granted too readily that familiarity in handling the words of eternal life presupposes a healthy possession of that life. Preachers hear but few sermons. We want missionaries to the pulpit of our land, that the leaders of the people's religion may be led by the truth of God.
II. THEY WHO TEACH OTHERS MAY BE WHOLLY WRONG THEMSELVES. The professional prophets of Israel were many of them false prophets. They were not simply blind and m error. They made lying pretences to an inspiration which they did not possess, and they flattered people with vain visions which they bad themselves cunningly devised. Their's was guilt of deepest dye. The teacher may fall into error unintentionally, for he is a fallible man; and then his mistake will not be culpable. But deception and moral failure are fatal sins. Surely every one who stands in the responsible position of a leader of others has a double motive tot searching his own soul to see that he is not a false prophet.
III. THEY WHO TEACH OTHERS WILL BE CALLED TO ACCOUNT BY GOD. God has been watching the false prophets, and now Ezekiel is sent with a special message to them. What, then, is the advantage of prostituting the high mission of a servant of God for the sake of popular favour? The flatteries of a deluded multitude will not save the deceiver when he is called to account by his great Master. Nay, those flatteries will turn to curses when the victims of his base deception have their eyes open to the snare which he has laid for them. Of all pursuits, that of preaching simply for popularity is the most dangerous and degrading.
IV. THEY WHO TEACH OTHERS ONLY THEIR OWN IDEAS IN THE NAME OF GOD ARE THE MOST FALSE TEACHERS. The prophets of Jerusalem did not only flatter the people with popular teaching, they carried that teaching out of their own hearts, and then ascribed it to God. Now, the prophet was an inspired man, or he was nothing. His sole business was to declare the Divine message—"Thus saith the Lord." But in speaking only out of his own heart he knew that he had no such message. Yet by professing to be a prophet he claimed to be giving it. Here was his great sin. He was forging the name of God for his own inventions (see verse 6). Similar is the sin of the preacher in a Christian pulpit who uses that vantage ground to expound his own private ideas to the neglect of, or even in opposition to, the teachings of the Bible, and yet on the authority of the Christian ministry. This is treason against Christ.
Ezekiel here likens the false prophets to foxes in waste places. This cutting comparison shows the daring of the true prophet, the extremity of the evil of false prophecy, and the crying need of exposure of this evil. There is a limit to the reserve of politeness when truth is dishonoured and God insulted by those whom a culpable charity still flatters with terms of friendliness. Christ called Herod a fox (Luke 13:32). Still, it needs the grace of Christ or the inspiration of an Ezekiel to be sure that one's use of such a title for a fellow man is not misapplied. Consider in what respects false teachers may be compared to foxes.
1. FOXES ARE WILD ANIMALS. The comparison is with creatures untamed and practically untamable. Now, to all appearance the false prophets were very different, were the very opposite in manners and demeanour. They were the trained sophists of an ancient civilization, court preachers well skilled in the use of oily phrases, masters of polite diction. To call such men foxes would seem to be an extravagant insult. Nevertheless, beneath the gracious exterior there was the heart of the untamed animal. These teachers were not submissive to the guidance of the Spirit of God. All who refuse that guidance are wandering in the wilderness of life. They are not the sheep of God's flock, but like the foxes that range at large outside the fold.
II. FOXES ARE DESTRUCTIVE ANIMALS. Among the Hebrews they were not celebrated for the cunning for which they were famous in Greek fables, but for their wasting mischief. False teachers are compared to these ravenous beasts. The wilful teachers of error are like the wreckers who hang out false lights to draw ships to the rocks. The destruction is twofold. 1. By driving from the true pastures. Thus the flock is starved in the wilderness. Error draws men off from the wholesome food of truth. 2. By direct injury. The foxes tear and devour the Iambs of the flock. Error has deadly fangs in spite of its gracious aspect.
III. FOXES HAUNT RUINOUS PLACES. Ezekiel imagines the foxes among ruins. False teaching flourishes when the Church has fallen into decay. A low moral tone prepares the way for error. If the soul were in a vigorous condition, the deceitfulness of an unworthy teacher would be speedily detected. It is only spiritual degeneracy that can give an opportunity for the religious charlatan.
IV. FOXES ROAM ABOUT IN THE DARK. They are creatures of the night. Deceitful teachers prey upon the ignorant and superstitious. Like the wild animals that only creep out under shelter of night, they prowl about in the shadows of dark times. They dread the day. Therefore the remedy is to be found in the spread of light. We cannot conquer error by directly refuting it so well as by fortifying people against it with a clear, strong teaching of truth. The foxes of error are on the look out liar their victims. Let the shepherds of light be to the fore in keeping the pure truth of the New Testament well in the minds and hearts of the people.
"Peace; and there was no peace."
I. MEN CRAVE PEACE. A city is alarmed at the prospect of an attack. War stands with famine and plague as one of the three great scourges of man, and it is the greatest of the three. There is a worse war than that of man with his fellow—the war of sin against the soul, the war of the soul against God. This spiritual war wounds, slays, devastates, terrorizes. It is true that many who wage it never confess its hurtfulness, and even profess a joy in their condition. But when men retire into the silence of their own souls they must feel that the unrest within, which perhaps they do not yet ascribe to their sinful alienation from God, is a source of utter weariness, perhaps even of soul agony. Cowper exclaims—
"Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more!"
II. THERE ARE FALSE PROMISES OF PEACE. Ezekiel's contemporary prophets promised peace, though Jerusalem was threatened with destruction by the true prophets of God.
1. The peace of unbelief. The threatenings of judgment are discredited. Future punishment is regarded as an invention of the priests to keep their dupes in subjection.
2. The peace of self-satisfaction. The true prophets denounced sin; but the false prophets flattered with smooth words. There is a teaching which minimizes sin and guilt, and so lulls the alarmed conscience to sleep.
3. The peace of presumption. The false teachers taught their hearers to presume on the favour of God, and to assume that God would never suffer Jerusalem to be destroyed. So men now abuse the revelation of God's love by assuming that he will never smite in anger.
III. WORDS OF PEACE WILL NOT CREATE PEACE. The prophets might say "peace;" but there would be no more peace for all their reiteration of the pleasant message. Smooth doctrines do not make smooth facts. We may enjoy a rosy theology with no shadows in its ideas; but if there are shadows in life, they will not be softened thereby. The future is not shaped by our notions of what it should be; neither is real peace given in the present by mere words of peace. The need is deeper than that which any assuring language can satisfy. The unrest of the soul calls for an active, powerful pacifying. Till that is experienced the soul will be restless still.
IV. CHRIST ALONE BRINGS TRUE PEACE. There is a peace of God, but it is not to be got through flattering words and pleasant assurances. Perhaps storms and trouble will precede it. At least there must be the break up of the false peace in the revolution of complete repentance. Then Christ will not only speak peace; he comes to make peace (Ephesians 2:15). His peace is brought about by his victory over sin, which is the one fundamental cause of war between the soul and God, and of unrest in the soul itself. Christ reconciles us to God by his cross, and brings our souls into harmony with the will of God. This is the only sure and solid peace.
The teaching of the false prophets of peace is here compared to a wall built of untempered mortar, which is overthrown in a tern pest.
I. A FALSE HOPE IS LIKE A WALL BUILT WITH UNTEMPERED MORTAR.
1. It offers protection. The wall is built, and it endures long enough to invite the threatened people to take shelter behind it. It stands between them and the enemy. So a false hope is planted between men and their danger, like a city wall, and it encourages them to despise the danger.
2. It presents a fair appearance. The wall may be well designed with towers, and bastions, and battlements, and all the latest improvements in plans of fortifications. It has a certain mortar holding the stones together, which may appear to be of the very best quality. So false hopes charm with an appearance of solidity.
3. It contains solid materials. It is not a mere mound of earth. There are good hewn stones in the structure. Hence its deceptive appearance. A lie that is half a truth is the most deadly lie. We may have certain solid truths of the Christian religion. Yet if these are not united by personal faith they hang loosely together, and will not save us.
4. It lacks an essential element. The mortar is rotten. Then all the rest goes for nothing. "One thing thou lackest" (Mark 10:21). Yet that one thing may be so vital that the absence of it may lead to utter failure. Our system of religion, like the teaching of the false prophets, may have every commendable element, beauty, symmetry, fulness, etc; except one—truth. Then, alas! there is nothing to hold it together, and the whole is no better than a heap of rubbish.
II. THE TEMPEST OF TRIAL WILL SHATTER A FALSE HOPE. When we see people who are comfortably ensconced in a neat little system of religious conceptions, though we know that that system is only held together by the friable mortar of fancy, not by the Portland cement of truth, at first it might seem cruel to unsettle them. But it should be remembered that they are certain to be unsettled at length, and the only questions are as to when and how this will take place. If the rotten wall is not pulled down, some day it will be thrown down.
1. The tempest of tribal will come. God sends his hailstorm, his hurricane. It came to Jerusalem in Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. It visits every soul at some time, for "man is born to trouble," etc. If our bark is only made for fair weather, it is doomed to shipwreck, because the storm will break at last on every life. If it dues not come during our earthly course, it will visit us at the close. Death will then come as a howling tempest.
2. The false hope will then crumble away. Hail and hurricane dash down the feeble, pretentious wall. Trouble overthrows false hopes. We may be content to live in the dreamland of illusion during the drowsy summer days of prosperity. But trouble compels us to be real. Then we are forced to ask ourselves in solemn earnestness, "What is truth?" Then the refuge of lies tumbles into a hopeless ruin.
3. The builder of the false hope will suffer in its overthrow. "Ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof." False teachers will suffer with the overthrow of their teachings. They who take refuge in falsehood will be buried in the ruin of their delusions. The greater the hope, the more fearful will be its fall, and the more dreadfully will they be bruised and crushed who take up their abode in it.
4. The false hope is overthrown that we may turn to the true Hope. "Christ our Hope."
If Ezekiel is not to be read with prosaic literalness as referring to the women of Jerusalem, but is to be understood to describe, in scornful metaphor, the false prophets as daughters of Jerusalem sewing pillows, he has here given us a picture of effeminate religion.
I. THE RELIGION WHICH IGNORES STERN FACTS IS EFFEMINATE.
1. There is a noble sphere for woman in religion. The women of the Bible give us many a fine example of exalted piety. From Deborah, "the mother in Israel," to the Marys of the gospel story, women have appeared on the sacred page as inspiring examples. The Bible elevates the position of woman, and teaches us to treat her with reverence.
2. There is something feminine in the highest character of men. We see it in Jeremiah and St. John. Christ combines in his own Person the perfection of a woman's character with the perfection of a man's.
3. Nevertheless, there is an effeminacy of religion. "Effeminate," says Hengstenberg, "is all accommodation theology." The present inclination to shun the stern facts of revelation, and confine attention to what is pleasing, runs in the direction of effeminacy. If we adapt our religion to the inclinations of people, instead of declaring the whole counsel of God, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear, we betray a sad lack of virile strength.
II. EFFEMINATE RELIGION AIMS ONLY AT EASE AND COMFORT. These "daughters of Jerusalem," the effeminate prophets, spent their time in sewing pillows when they should have been forging swords or building solid walls; for they were only whispering soft words of hollow consolation when they should have been renouncing sin and preparing to face calamity.
1. There are pillows for evil consciences. Men desire to escape from the stabs of conscience. They would lay the restless conscience at ease. An effeminate religion helps to do this by lulling the alarmed sense of guilt and danger.
2. There are pillows for indolence. When called to action effeminate souls prefer ease and comfort. We meet with consoling promises in Scripture, but not for such. It is the mistake of many that they convert the religion which should be a stimulant into an opiate.
III. EFFEMINATE RELIGION MUST BE DENOUNCED AND OPPOSED.
1. It is cruel. The prophets of Jerusalem were fattening themselves at the expense of their neighbours, and preserving their own lives by destroying the lives of other people (verse 18).
2. It is mercenary. God is "polluted" for "handfuls of barley and pieces of bread." This "preaching to the times" in meek submission to the zeitgeist is a profitable thing for the popular preacher, but it means unfaithfulness to the Master when pleasant words only are spoken, and bard truths are hidden in order to bring "grist to the mill."
3. It is fatal. God says, "Behold, I am against your pillows." The present age has a horror of pain. But sin is worse than pain, and rough dealing which saves from sin is better than pillows of ease for impenitent souls. They who trust to artificial comfort now will be awakened by the terrible arm of judgment. The pillows are supposed to be made for God's arms, so that he may act softly. But no softened doctrine will destroy the stern facts of judgment.
We have here set before us the twofold mischief of the false preaching of peace. The righteous are made needlessly sad, and the wicked are spared the sorrows which they need to drive them from their evil ways, and are thus confirmed in their wickedness.
I. FALSE IDEAS IN RELIGION BRING NEEDLESS SORROW TO GOOD PEOPLE. One particular aspect of this mischief is here brought before us—that of the triumph of sin and the prospect of its immunity, together with the persecution of men who resist it. Such was the condition of things at Jerusalem under the influence of the popular prophets in the days of Jeremiah; and a similar state appears to have prevailed when Ezekiel was writing. But we may see other aspects of the same mischief.
1. Doubt as to Divine justice. If sin is to be unrestrained, goodness may fail. It looks then as though the world were left to drift without control.
2. Doubt as to the Fatherly care of God. This is an opposite mistake in appearance, and yet the two lie near together. They both come from losing the perception of God's active presence. In the second case, however, good people may trouble themselves by dwelling exclusively on the stern features of judgment, through a reaction against the laxity of popular notions.
3. Misapplication of the doctrine of election. Good people have feared they might not be among the elect. A false fatalism has hung like a pall over their hopes. They have not seen the freedom of grace, the perfect love of God forevery soul, the open door for return.
4. A horror of the unpardonable sin. Yet they who fear they have committed this sin prove by their very distress that they have not, because that distress shows that they are not dead to spiritual things.
II. FALSE IDEAS IN RELIGION KEEP AWAY NEEDFUL SORROW FROM BAD PEOPLE. Sorrow for sin is a wholesome experience, and nothing can be more dangerous than to be able to do evil without experiencing any feeling of compunction. The flattering theology which would encourage such a condition is the most deadly enemy to its dupes, and while it professes kindness to the sinners whom it lulls to sleep as they float down the rapids of increasing wickedness, it is really murdering their souls by rendering them deaf to the thunders of the cataract. Let us note some of the delusions which lead to this fatal result:
1. Disbelief in judgment to come. Soothed by such a notion, reckless men imagine that they can sin with impunity. It would be better for them if they were pained by visions of judgment. No doubt the extravagant, coarse pictures of a medieval hell have led to a revolt against the idea of future punishment. Yet whatever may be the nature of that punishment, justice requires some terrible retribution for terrible sin.
2. The belief that God is only mild. His love is infinite. But therefore it must include wrath against sin. Soft-hearted benevolence is not perfect love.
3. Light views of sin. The evil being slightly regarded, its punishment is not expected to be great. Moreover, apart from slavish fears of future suffering, sin itself should be sorrowed over as a hateful thing. But while it is painted in flattering hues it will not be followed by wholesome compunction.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
There is no institution in itself so good but it may be corrupted and turned to evil purposes. Prophecy was given to the Hebrew people as a token of Jehovah's interest in them and care for them. The intention was to afford national guidance and consolation, to give to religion an intellectual character, and to counteract any tendency to formalism which a misunderstanding of the sacerdotal and sacrificial system would naturally encourage. Prophecy was especially adapted to those Israelites who were far from Jerusalem, the scene of sacrifices and of festivals; and the children of the Captivity were, in an especial manner, indebted to the prophets for the counsel, the inspiration, the encouragement, which they needed in their banishment from the land of their fathers. Amongst these exiles in the East there arose self-seeking, ambitious, hypocritical, and pretentious men, who assumed the prophetic office, ministered to the prejudices of their fellow countrymen, and often led them astray by their erroneous advice. Against such men Ezekiel was commissioned to raise his protest, in language of severe denunciation and warning.
I. THE PROFESSION AND CLAIMS OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. The men here exposed were not prophets of any heathen deity, ministers of any idolatrous religion. They claimed to be servants of Jehovah, and to speak in his name to their fellow countrymen. They prefaced their statements and their advice with such language as Ezekiel here quotes: "Hear ye the word of the Lord;" "The Lord saith." Doubtless there were those who were conciliated and attracted by such claims, but who would have resented any summons addressed to them in the name of a heathen deity.
II. THE PRACTICAL CONTRADICTION OF THEIR PROFESSION AND CLAIMS. In terms figurative, yet impressive and conclusive, Ezekiel exhibits the hollowness of the pretences advanced by these lying leaders of the people. They are "like foxes in the waste places"—cunning, crafty creatures, who make their dwelling in the ruins and the wreck of a deserted city. So the prophets who profess to guide the people really prey upon them, and are most at home in the destruction and desolation which they have bellied to effect. They have not taken their place in the breach, they have not helped in the defence of the city, they have not stood in the van of the battle, when the enemy has made an assault. Here is the practical test, which reveals the worthlessness of all professions of patriotism, of all claims to leadership.
III. THE REAL INSPIRATION OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. The secret is disclosed; the explanation of the illusion is given. The false prophets prophesy out of their own hearts; they follow their own spirit; they have seen nothing; the Lord hath not sent them; theirs is a lying divination; they have spoken vanity, and seen lies. In a word, professing to derive their commission and their message from the Eternal, the All-wise, they simply utter what commends itself to their own opinion, what serves their own interest, what agrees with their own sinful prejudices. This accounts fur the unwisdom and worthlessness of their advice. They who follow them may expect to be misled.
IV. THE CONDEMNATION OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. "Woe unto the foolish prophets, saith the Lord God;" "I am against you." This condemnation is apparent from several facts.
1. Their predictions are falsified, and their counsels brought to nought.
2. They mislead the people to destruction.
3. They bring confusion upon themselves. This sentence is pronounced in language very plain and very smiting. The hypocritical pretenders to a Divine commission are excluded from the register of the house of Israel, and are denied entrance into the land of Israel. All their plotting and lies are not only unmasked; they issue in confusion and destruction to themselves.—T.
The vanity of flattering counsel.
It has often been observed regarding the recorded discourses of the Lord Jesus, that his severest denunciations were directed against the hypocritical professors of religion, especially such as misled their fellow men into error and sin. The same may be said of Ezekiel; his language, when exposing the hollow pretensions of the false and foolish prophets, who by their advice were leading the people into destruction, becomes almost invective. The particular offence of which these hypocrites were guilty was this—they encouraged the people, in opposition to the declarations of Jehovah by his prophets, to believe that the nation stood in no special danger; they professed to "see visions of peace" for Jerusalem; and they by this means hindered the people from repentance and reformation, in which alone lay the possibility of salvation. In Ezekiel's view these false prophets pretended to build up the edifice of national stability and prosperity upon unsound foundations and with untempered mortar; all defects were smeared with plaster and concealed from an ordinary observer. The prophet, however, foretold the approach of torrents of rain and hailstones, by which the worthlessness of this pretentious work should be revealed, and the work should be utterly destroyed.
I. AN INSECURE FOUNDATION AND STRUCTURE. Spiritual work is often compared to the labour of a builder. The wise and faithful teacher and counsellor lays a sound foundation, builds with strong and approved material, carries out a wise plan with patience and efficiency, and brings his work to a prosperous issue when the topstone is laid with rejoicing. Far otherwise is it with the worldly and crafty, who build for their own selfish purposes, who are careless as to the basis upon which they rear the edifice, as to the substance, and the workmanship. All they care for is the appearance presented by their work. When they labour professedly for the good of their fellow men, they are like the builder who uses rotten stone and daubs it with untempered mortar. The structure is for a time imposing to the eye of the beholder; defects are hidden, and all looks well. Those who mislead the Lord's people are in the habit of saying, "Peace!" when there is no peace. Their visions are illusive, and their prophecies are falsehoods.
II. STORM AND RAIN. The plausible appearance is but for a season. Time tries all. There is ever a day of reckoning at hand. The prophet of the Lord reminds pretenders and hypocrites that an overflowing shower, great hailstones, and a stormy wind shall come. The anger and fury of the Lord wilt not always be restrained. It was so in the history of the Jewish people. Smooth things had been prophesied, but not with Divine authority. The peace was superficial and brief. The calamites which false counsellors had represented as imaginary proved to be an awful reality. What, then, became of the work which had been carried out with loud professions of authority, and which had appeared to the unobservant so fair and sound? The wall was broken down, the daubing disappeared, and they who daubed it were no more seen. "Who can abide the day of his coming.?" In the hour of trial there is no security save in a Divine foundation, in workmanship wrought upon Divine principles and in accordance with Divine plans. The building which is of God shall stand. But the worthlessness of all beside shall be made manifest. What is not of God shall be swept away by the flood and tempest of inevitable judgment.
1. The solemnity and responsibility of the ministry to souls are impressively taught in the imagery of this passage. Let every man take heed what and how he builds.
2. The importance is made apparent of applying to wise and faithful counsellors It is not the learned, the prudent, the pretentious, who must needs be right and trustworthy. Let every man try the spirits, whether they are taught of God.—T.
Women have always played an important part in the religious history of every nation, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. The Scriptures, with their proverbial impartiality, record instances of both kinds—of women who rendered signal service to their people by their fidelity to God, and of women who used their influence to corrupt and to mislead those over whom their power extended. Of the prophetesses whose pretensions are exposed in this passage we know nothing from other sources of information. But if curiosity is unsatisfied, enough is here revealed to justify us in thinking of these women as a very pernicious element in the Hebrew nation at the era of the Captivity.
I. THEIR SEDUCTIVE AND IMPOSING ARTS. It is not important for us to understand all the allusions in this passage. Whatever were these pillows and kerchiefs, it seems char that they were used in connection with superstitious divinations, and were intended to impress all beholders with a sense of the dignity and mysterious powers of these sorceresses. The mystic veil that robed the tall form of the prophetesses, the paraphernalia with which such persons were wont to invest themselves, tended to inspire reverence and awe, as if for a supernatural power revealed in the stately presence and authoritative voice.
II. THEIR MERCENARY ENDS. There is something picturesque and striking in the description given by the prophet of the poor, deluded victims who resorted to the sorceresses, carrying with them "handfuls of barley and pieces of bread"—the common tribute paid in such cases and to such persons. Probably the women loved to exercise power and to exact respect; yet with most of them the motive was mercenary, and they were content to deceive others if they could enrich, or even support, themselves.
III. THEIR PROPHECIES. The term could only have been applied to their utterances in irony. For it is evident
(1) that their inspiration came from their own heart, and
(2) that the substance of their so called prophecies was false.
They were animated by a desire to please those who resorted to them; and this they did to gratify their own prejudices or to display their own worldly wisdom. In such communications there was nothing that deserved the name of prophecy; for a prophet is one who speaks in the place of God, and who shows no regard to the person or to the wishes of those addressed. It was no spirit of rivalry or of jealousy which induced the Prophet Ezekiel to speak thus severely of these female impostors; it was for the public good that their deceptions should be exposed.
IV. THEIR PERVERSION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. They are said to have hunted the souls of the Lord's people; and this they did by their perverse and unjust oracles. The language used concerning them is very remarkable, and it could not have been used through mere delight in antithesis. It is said that the ministry of the "prophetesses" was "to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live." They were reproached with their attempt to subvert God's righteous providence: "With lies ye have grieved the heart of the righteous, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way." A more scathing denunciation could not have been uttered than this; these women strove to overturn the moral order, to encourage the rebellious, and to depress the just and godly!
V. THEIR UNMASKING AND EXPOSURE. The God of truth and rectitude declared himself opposed to these seducers of his people. The symbols of their delusive arts should be stripped from them. Their hypocrisy should be unveiled, and their pretences should be ridiculed. The means by which they had been wont to ensnare men should be taken from them. Their reputation and their power should be destroyed, and their influence should come to an end.
VI. THE DELIVERANCE OF THEIR VICTIMS. Those whom the false prophetesses sought to entangle and to capture were the Lord's people; and the Lord claimed his own. It was his purpose to deliver them out of the hand of their spiritual toe, and to let the hunted souls go free. The means by which this result was to be brought about are not stated; but the resources of the Omnipotent were sufficient to ransom and liberate his own. Thus it should be made apparent to all observers that the Lord reigneth, and that he is ever mindful of his own.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The perils of falseness.
The work of God's prophets is made more difficult by the competition of pretenders. They cater for popularity by predicting only what is pleasing to flesh and blood. Hence they bring discredit on all God's revelations. In Ezekiel's day the false teachers were specially busy in Jerusalem, confronting and counteracting Jeremiah; and the sad effect of false hopes was felt at Chebar as well as in Judaea.
I. CARNAL AMBITION IS OFTEN THE PARENT OF FALSEHOOD. The prophecies and counsels of Jeremiah ran counter to all the prejudices and predilections of the people. Their fleshly nature rose in arms against such possible disaster. Heedless of God and God's plans, they would create for themselves a better fortune. The worldly wise among them, gifted with superior speech, resolved to outrival God's prophets—to become candidates for popularity—to aspire alter political power. Amidst a nation's disaster and weakness there is always opportunity for the crafty to gain some sinister end. They countenanced any intrigue that promised temporary advantage. Under pretence of patriotic zeal, they sought mainly, if not wholly, a personal elevation.
II. CAUSAL AMBITION LEADS TO SELF-ASSUMPTION. It is very likely that, at the outset, these false prophets deceived themselves. They imagined that they saw a way out of the catastrophe, and urged the rulers, against Jeremiah's advice, to pursue that way. If it was pleaded that God had ordered otherwise, these men set up a counter authority. Stung by the suggestion that their counsel was not equal in value to that of Jeremiah, they boldly claimed to be the messengers of God. In their fanatic zeal they deemed their sagacious plans to have been given them from heaven. They were too much bent on gaining their end to inquire carefully into this matter. Where was the proof that Jeremiah or Ezekiel was more favoured to receive Divine intelligence than they? The end would justify the means! Heedless of consequences, they would publicly claim to speak as the ambassadors of God.
III. SELF-ASSUMPTION EMPLOYS SOPHISTICAL ARTS OF SPEECH. They are described as foxes—notorious for cunning—yea, cunning as hungry foxes in the desert. All their wits were exercised to weave the most plausible web of argument. Every possible circumstance favourable to their designs was seized upon, and made to prop their nefarious policy, until what they had induced others to believe, they believed also themselves. They ensnared themselves in their own nets. From knaves they gradually became fanatics. Careless about the exact truth at the beginning, they lost at length the power to discern between truth and falsehood.
IV. SELF-ASSUMPTION IS DEAD TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS. In the fifth verse the prophet accuses them thus: "Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle." They used others, as the monkey did the cat's paw. Where arduous toil, and especially where serious danger, appeared, they were conspicuous by their absence. Truth makes men at all times courageous, but falsehood corrodes the metal of a man's bravery. These pretentious prophets desired the honour and the advantage; the risks they devolved on others. Honest men were made the ladder by which they sought to climb.
V. SELF-ASSUMPTION IS SURE TO COLLAPSE. Vaulting ambition overleaps itself. The frog that would swell its dimensions to the size of a bull destroyed itself.
1. False teachers make God their direct enemy. "I am against you, saith the Lord God." The God of truth hates hypocrisy. All falseness shall be like empty thistle down, which the wind scatters.
2. They shall be excluded from the circle of honour. They had assumed to be heads and leaders in the councils of the nation; they shall be dishonoured, and cast out of the deliberative assembly. The false shall be, sooner or later, excommunicated—blackballed.
3. Their posterity shall become extinct. There shall be none to perpetuate their name. New honour often comes to the memory of a righteous man from children of renown. Such honour and satisfaction shall be denied to them. They shall perish root and branch.
4. They shall not participate in the coming restoration. "Neither shall they enter into the land of Israel." The distinctive possession which God gives shall be for the true Israel, "even for those who have no guile." In the time of Israel's real prosperity there "shall not come into them the uncircumcised or the unclean." He is a Jew who is one inwardly.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The foolish builders - a parable.
In order to make the lesson more impressive and more abiding, it is repeated in the form of a parable. Our generous God takes immense pains to engrave his truth on human hearts.
I. NATIONAL POLITY IS ANALOGOUS TO A BUILDING. As the human body requires some sort of material dwelling to protect it from external evils, so society requires some system of national administration that shall protect it against external foes. That administration, to be successful, must be a combination of wisdom and strength—an edifice both moral and material. If a nation cannot withstand all invaders by means of its armies and its fortresses, it must maintain itself by means of mutual treaty and mutual concord. Some defence it must have.
II. THIS BUILDING WAS FRAMED WITH SLENDER AND SUPERFICIAL MATERIALS. The weakness and rottenness of the walls were concealed with untempered plaster and with mere whitewash. An unsound and leaky ship is made no more seaworthy by painting her in gay colours. Plausible words do not make a sound policy, neither does good raiment make an honest man. Solid foundations and sound materials are essential to make a wall safe or a national policy prosperous.
III. THERE WAS AN EVIL CONSPIRACY. "One built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar." Evil men will do. in combination with each other, deeds they would not venture on alone. Union is strength, even in wickedness. The base policy would commend itself all the more to popular acceptance if it had the support (apparently independent) of several advocates. It is a crime to lend ourselves to an enterprise merely because it has the sanction of numbers. The quality of its supporters must be pondered.
IV. TESTING EVENTS WERE AT HAND. Every wall or building is designed to resist wind and rain. If it cannot do this, its purpose is vain. If it succumbs to storm, it is worse than useless; it adds to the peril. It is safer to be in the open field during a storm than to be within a rickety house. The very provision made for security, if it be ill founded and ill constructed, becomes a new danger. The Jews were aware that extraordinary danger was imminent, and therefore ought to have been the more careful in their sound defence of the state. Recklessness is only sham courage, and is the foe of wisdom.
V. OVERTHROW WAS CERTAIN. If God be against our plans, success is impossible. No human undertaking can resist Omnipotence. The destruction was foretold, but the warning only excited ridicule. It was not simply that the cunning policy of these men should be overthrown—that would be a small evil; but the overthrow would be destruction to their persons and destruction to the kingdom. They were involving a nation in disaster. We know not where the mischief of evil deeds will end.
VI. GREAT REPROACH WILL ENSUE.. "Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?" The surrounding nations were eagerly watching how this nation, which boasted of Jehovah as their God, would deport itself. If it was seen that the princes and captains were bolstering up the kingdom with craft and intrigue and falsehood, they would despise their professed faith—yea, despise their God. The names of these foolish builders would be bandied about as a byword and a reproach. Their ill fame would follow them through many generations. Perpetual discredit and reprobation are a part of God's punishment.—D.
Moral evil is sadly contagious. The boastful, arrogant temper of the false prophets spread to the women also. It was a time of great excitement—a national crisis, in which all political considerations were intermingled with religion. Amid the general panic of fear, women as well as men were stirred to action. The party who sought God and desired to know his will were a small minority. The major part of the people, both men and women, were carried away by a spirit of carnal wisdom. They cared far more to secure personal advantage than to please God. But the gravamen of their offence was that they falsely assumed to speak in the stead of God.
I. SELF-MADE RELIGION IS VAIN. In every age men have ventured to invent for themselves religious creeds and forms. The human mind has chafed against God's requirements as being irksome and severe, and the world has carved out a religion that shall be self-pleasing, a lullaby to conscience, a sedative to fear. The doctrines and creeds have been spun out of men's self-consciousness, and have had no foundation outside themselves. In the pride of their heart they have imagined that Reason was a god, and that this internal god was supreme. They see vanity and prophesy falsehood.
II. THIS SELF-MADE RELIGION IS LUXURIOUS. All its beliefs and practices are regulated by pleasure. What ministers to present enjoyment is tolerated; what is unpleasant is denounced. "They sew pillows to all arm-holes." Bodily ease is paramount. To crucify the flesh is a heresy. To wear a jewelled cross upon the breast is an ornament, and is therefore approved; but to obey commands which are a burden to the flesh, to bear Christ's cross of pain and reproach, this is contemned. He who really desires acceptance with God may well suspect any religion that panders to bodily pleasure. "He who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God."
III. SELF-MADE RELIGION SEEKS EARTHLY ADVANTAGE. "Will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread?" These self-styled servants of God really cared nothing for the honour of God. They did not scruple to profane his Name, and to trample on sacred things, if only they could gain a pitiance of bread thereby. They made merchandise of religion. It was a religion toe the body, not for the soul. They acted as if gain were godliness. So is it ofttimes now. If religion would ensure prosperity to secular business, many men would profess to Do religious. But if religion frowns upon fraud and deceit, they will eschew it as unfriendly to their worldly prospects. Yet, in the long run, godliness is favourable to every human interest. "It is profitable for all things."
IV. SELF-MADE RELIGION IS HOSTILE TO RIGHTEOUSNESS. These false prophets sought "to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live." It seeks to frustrate all God's purposes, to overturn the very foundations of righteousness. God's plan of government is to make righteousness contribute to life. "The just shall live by faith;" "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." But this self-made religion of proud men strives to arrest the processes of God's rule, and endeavours to make the worst things appear the best. "It puts darkness for light, and light for darkness." It would fain slay the righteous; for the godly are as thorns in the sides of the hypocrite. It seeks to confuse men's ideas of truth and error, of right and wrong.
V. THIS SELF-MADE RELIGION IS INJURIOUS BOTH TO THE WICKED AND TO THE RIGHTEOUS. "Ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should Lot return from his wicked way." It is God's wise intention that, in proportion as men are righteous, they should have joy. This is theft encouragement and, in part, their reward. He who seeks to prevent this is fighting against God. But it is a greater wrong still to encourage the wicked in their evil ways. The pains and disappointments which the wicked experience are the thorns with which God would hedge up their way and turn them back. He who promises heaven to sinners is a confederate in their sin, and shall share their punishment. Such a one is a soul-murderer. On his skirts is indelibly fixed the blood of human souls. To encourage false hopes is treason against humanity.
VI. SELF-MADE RELIGION SHALL SUFFER A COLLAPSE. Sooner or later the bubble will burst, for it has no foundation in truth or in reality. It is a mirage of men's heated imagination, and cannot long endure. The God of truth will, in his own time, appear; will scatter to the winds the flimsy fancies of men; and the mischief they have sought to do to others shall return in tenfold disaster upon their own heads. If men will not know and acknowledge God in the day of his kindness, they shall recognize him in the night time of his vengeance. Falsehood cannot perpetuate itself. Like Jonah's gourd, it springs up in a night, and in a night it perishes. But the truth, like its Author, is omnipotent, and must prevail.
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers.
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies amid her worshippers."
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The sin and punishment of false prophets.
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel," etc. This subject has already been introduced in Ezekiel 12:24. In that verse we have as it were the text, and in this chapter the sermon. It has been suggested that this chapter should be read in conjunction with Jeremiah 23:9-40. "The identity of phrases and ideas forces upon us the conclusion that the author of the one must have had the other before him. We know that Jeremiah's writings were forwarded to the Jews in Chaldea (Jeremiah 29:1-32.), and there is therefore no reason to doubt that Ezekiel took up a well known prophecy to enforce and apply it to his companions in exile. They probably had read Jeremiah's words as applying to others than themselves. Ezekiel now would teach them that it is not at Jerusalem alone that false prophets are to be discovered and reproved. The present chapter, therefore, must be taken as addressed to the Jews in exile, which agrees with the whole tenor; see for instance verse 9" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Two principal lines of thought are followed by the prophet, viz. the sin of the false prophets, and the judgment of God upon them because of their sin. And these lines of thought are not kept separate from each other, but they interlace each other. We will notice each apart.
I. THE SIN OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. Certain prominent features of their sin are brought into view.
1. Their prophecies were self-originated. They prophesied "out of their own heart" (verse 2); they "followed their own spirit, and had seen nothing" (verse 3). In the case of the true prophet, a communication was received by him from God which he communicated to the people, or a vision was unfolded to him which he afterwards made known to them. There was an objective reality of that which he was conscious of within himself; his consciousness of the things which he published arose from their verity impressed upon him by the Spirit of God; his consciousness as a prophet was a consequence of Divine influence. But the things proclaimed by the false prophets had no existence except in their own mind and heart; they were entirely subjective, having no objective truth answering to them. And they were not sent of God (verse 6); they had not received any commission from him; yet they presumed to speak in his Name, and to impose upon the people their own imaginations as communications received from him.
2. Their prophecies were untrue. "They have seen vanity and lying divination, that say, The Lord saith; and the Lord hath not sent them," etc. (verses 6, 7). "Thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies," etc. An example is given of their lying prophecies: "They have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there is no peace," etc. They encouraged the Jews in Jerusalem to believe that they had nothing to fear from the Chaldean powers (cf. Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 28:1-4). And when the people endeavoured to strengthen themselves by the coalition with Egypt, they encouraged them in that course; for as we understand it, that is the meaning of the prophetic figure: "When one buildeth up a wall, behold, they daub it with untempered mortar." The figure itself is thus explained by Dr. Kitto: "It is a wall made of beaten earth rammed into moulds or boxes, to give the parts the requisite shape and consistence, and so deposited, by the withdrawal of the mould, layer by layer, upon the wall, each layer drying in its place as the work proceeds. The blocks are usually of considerable size, and are of various quality and strength, as well as cost, according to the materials employed, and the time expended upon them. The simplest are merely of earth, or of earth compacted with straw. This is the kind which the prophet had in view, and which is used in Devon and in Morocco, as well as in the East. It cannot stand against heavy rains; and therefore, unless the climate be very dry, it requires to be faced or coated with a tempered mortar of lime or sand, as a fence against the weather. Without this the body of the wall is liable to the contingencies described by the prophet" ('Daily Bible Illustrations'). The people built their slight and flimsy wall of political alliance against the Chaldeans, and the false prophets coated it with their untempered mortar of vain assurances of safety; and the people believed them to their own dread discomfiture.
3. They claimed Divine authority for their lying prophecies. They said, "The Lord saith," although he had not spoken unto them. Great was their presumption and impious daring in making this high claim. "They counterfeit," as M. Henry says, "the broad seal of heaven, than which they cannot do a greater indignity to mankind, for hereby they put a reproach upon Divine revelation, lessen its credit, and weaken its credibility. When these pretenders are found to be deceivers, atheists and infidels will thence infer, They are all so."
4. Their influence was destructive. It was so in two ways.
(1) Negatively. They made no attempt to save the people from the ruin which was coming upon them. "Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the fence for the house of Israel, to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord." When a city is besieged and a breach is made in its walls, the leaders of the defence take prompt measures for stopping the breach. The Lord had come against his people as a besieger by reason of their sins, but these false prophets, who aspired to be leaders of the people, made no effort to save them (cf. Ezekiel 22:30). They rid not call for that repentance and reformation which might have averted the approaching ruin, as it did in the case of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-10). They did not call upon God in prayer to spare the sinful people, as Moses did on several occasions (Exodus 32:11-14, Exodus 32:31-34; Numbers 14:13-24; Psalms 106:23). False prophets are not likely to be famous intercessors.
(2) Positively. They actively promoted the ruin of the people by assuring them of peace and safety when there was no peace, and peril was imminent and sine. They were "like foxes in the waste places" for destructiveness. Nowhere in the sacred Scriptures are foxes mentioned because of their cunning, but because of their injuriousness (cf. So 2:15). "The foxes here correspond to the ravening wolves in Matthew 7:15, and the grievous wolves in Acts 20:29, representing false teachers." Terrible is the injury which is wrought by corrupt religious teachers (cf. Isaiah 9:16; Jeremiah 12:10; Jeremiah 50:6; Acts 20:29; 2 Peter 2:1-3).
II. THE JUDGMENT OF GOD UPON THE FALSE PROPHETS. This judgment is expressed generally in Acts 20:8, and in a way that should have awakened serious concern. "Behold, I am against you, saith the Lord God." When God is against any one, nothing can be really well with him. "if God is for us, who is against us?" If God is against us, who is for us in any true sense? But the judgment is set forth with something of detail in Acts 20:9-16. It has two chief features.
1. Their exclusion from the community of Israel. (Acts 20:9.) They had sought prominence and distinction among the people, and had attained their object; but a complete reversal of their position awaited them. They should not have won a place among the chosen people; their names should be erased or omitted from the authorized register of the Israelites; and when the exiles returned unto their own land, they should not return with them. As Fairbairn says, "Inheriting the curse of the covenant," they should be cut of from among their people.'" There is, perhaps, in this a hint of a darker doom, even the omission of their names from a much more important register (Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 21:27), and their non-recognition by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23).
2. The total overthrow and ruin of both themselves and their work. (Acts 20:11-16.) Their work was to be swept away by overwhelming forces. The stormy wind, the overflowing shower, and the great hailstones represent the Chaldean army. That army would make an utter end of the vain hopes which the false prophets had originated and fostered. No work can be stable which is begun and carried on against the will of God. Every wall which is built in defiance of his laws will soon fall into ruin. And in the case before us the presumptuous and foolish builders were ruined with their work. "it shall fail, and ye shall be consumed in the midst, thereof." The wail of delusive hopes, which they had daubed with untempered mortar, would be thrown down, and Jerusalem would be destroyed, and in its fall the false prophets would be ruined. "Thus will I accomplish my fury upon the wall, and upon thegn that have daubed it with untempered mortar," etc. (Acts 20:15, Acts 20:16).
APPLICATION. Here is solemn warning against false prophets and teachers, who are not confined to any one age or people. When God is represented as love without righteousness, or mercy without judgment; when men are assured of salvation without repentance for sin or renewal of heart; when peace is proclaimed to men who are living in sin,—then the spirit of the false prophets of Ezekiel's age is reproduced. We are warned in the New Testament of the rise of false Christs and of many false prophets, of "false apostles, deceitful workers" (2 Corinthians 11:13), of some who "would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7), and of "false teachers who shall bring in destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). Wherefore let Christians take heed what they hear and read and receive. Happily, the test by which to prove religious teaching is not abstruse or difficult. Does it agree with "that which is inscribed in the writing of truth?" Does the teaching of man harmonize with the eternal law of God? Does it "make for righteousness"? "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or" whether the teachers "prophesy out of their own heart." Vigorous physical health is cue of the most effective safeguards against the diseases which assail the body. And when the heart is susceptible to Divine influence, and the conscience loyally responds to the will of God, and the life is governed by that holy will, the man is not in much danger of being misled by erroneous teaching.—W.J.
The breaches of sin, and the duty of closing them.
"Ye have not gone up, into the gaps," etc. Our text suggests the following observations.
I. THE PRACTICE OF SIN EXPOSES MEN TO THE GREATEST DANGERS. The text suggests the figure of a besieged city, in the walls of which breaches have been made, through which the enemy rushes in to fight with its inhabitants and to take possession of its treasures. There is perhaps a reference to the approaching siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, in which that city would fall because of the sins of its inhabitants. So sin makes wide gaps in the defences of a people, deprives them of the Divine protection, and exposes them to the assaults of their enemies. The sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah made the wide breaches which let in the fiery flood which consumed them. The sins of the Israelites in the wilderness on one occasion made a gap in their defences through which the plague entered and slew fourteen thousand and seven hundred persons (Numbers 16:41-50). The sin of Achan in coveting, stealing, and concealing some of the spoils of Jericho, in defiance of express commands, opened a wide breach through which the enemies of Israel rushed, and put them to ignominious flight, and slew six and thirty of them (Joshua 7:1-26.). And when David sinned in numbering the people he made a gap through which the pestilence entered and destroyed severity thousand men (2 Samuel 24:1-25.; cf. Isaiah 42:24, Isaiah 42:25).
II. THE CONTINUED PRACTICE OF SIN LEADS ON TO A CRISIS IN WHICH JUDGMENT WILL BE EXECUTED UPON SLYNESS. That crisis is here called "the day of the Lord." "The day of Jehovah," says Schroder, "is the time fixed by him with reference to the reckoning to be given in to him." It seems to us more correct to say that it is "the time of the arrival of the judgment." This crisis was rapidly drawing near to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. If sinners persist in making the gaps, it is certain that their punishment will enter thereat and seize upon them. Sinful character and conduct advance towards maturity, and when that is attained, if not before, the sinner, or the community of sinners, will meet with just retribution. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." The forbearance and long suffering of God with The wicked are very great; but if these be trifled with and presumed upon, he will cease to exercise them, and will appear for the execution of his judgment (cf. Romans 2:4-11).
III. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF GOD TO ENDEAVOUR TO GUARD THE IMPERILLED PEOPLE AGAINST THE DANGERS WHICH THREATEN THEM. When the people by their sins have exposed themselves to their enemies, it behoves the faithful to go up into the gaps, and to make "up the fence for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord." This may be done:
1. By preaching repentance to the guilty people. When the people of Nineveh repented, the destruction of their city, which had been threatened because of their sins, was averted. If the prophets bad summoned the people to repentance, and the people had responded truly to that summons, then would the broach in the fence have been made up, and they would have been able "to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord." "There is no better wall than reformation of life." "If they have stood in my council, then had they caused my people to hear my words," etc. (Jeremiah 23:22).
2. By presenting intercession for the guilty people. There are a number of impressive examples in the sacred Scriptures of the servants of God stepping into the gap and saving the imperilled people by their prayers (cf. Exodus 32:11-14, Exodus 32:31-34; Psalms 106:23; Numbers 14:13-24; Numbers 16:41-48; 1 Samuel 7:8-10). God has often graciously heard the cry of his faithful servants on behalf of the guilty, and turned aside from them the stroke of his judgment. He has spared the wicked for the sake of the righteous.
IV. FALSE PROPHETS AND UNWORTHY LEADERS IN THE CHURCH OF GOD ALTOGETHER FAIL IN THIS IMPORTANT DUTY. These false prophets had "not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the fence for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord." They had neither preached repentance to the people, nor pleaded with God on their behalf; but had positively encouraged them in their sinful and false security; therefore the judgment of the Lord fell upon them to their utter overthrow. "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the fence, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none," etc. (cf. Ezekiel 22:30, Ezekiel 22:31). "False prophets cannot pray." They have neither "interest in heaven nor intercourse with heaven." And they have no heart to make a stand against the sins of their people, and so save them from ruin.
1. How great a curse to a community are corrupt religious teachers and leaders! They lure the people to ruin, while they assure them that all is well.
2. How great a blessing to a community is the presence of godly and praying persons! They are "the salt of the earth;" they are saviours of society.—W.J.
False hopes encouraged and destroyed.
"Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace," etc. We have in our text—
I. FALSE PROPHETS PROCLAIMING A DELUSIVE SALVATION. The false prophets of Israel assured the people that by reason of their alliance with Egypt they were quite safe against Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon, and should soon be utterly independent of his control. Thus "they seduced the people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace" (cf. Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 23:16, Jeremiah 23:17; Jeremiah 27:14-16; Jeremiah 28:1-4, Jeremiah 28:15; Jeremiah 29:8, Jeremiah 29:9). The conduct of these ancient prophets has its analogue in spiritual relations. When religious teachers proclaim their own fancies or speculations as Divine revelations; when they present the traditions and creeds of men as the saving truth of God; when they lead men to expect salvation apart from sincere repentance for sin, and hearty faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and loyal obedience to his will,—then are they false prophets, "saying, Peace; and there is no peace."
II. SINFUL AND MISGUIDED PEOPLE TRUSTING IN A DELUSIVE SALVATION. The Jews believed their false prophets, and strengthened their alliance with Egypt, and cherished their vain hope of safety, independence, and prosperity; and the false prophets encouraged them in this course. The misguided people built up a slight wall, and the misleading prophets daubed it with untempered mortar. And in spiritual things men are building walls for their personal salvation apart from Jesus Christ. Some build the wall of external morality. They are diligent in the cultivation of correct and virtuous conduct, without any vitalizing and inspiring faith and love. Their gospel is one of good works and of fancied personal merit. A delusive confidence is theirs. Others build the wall of theological orthodoxy. They hold what they regard as a sound creed, and in some cases are zealous in maintaining it against everything and every one that appears opposed to it, and because of this they consider that their salvation is sure. But their assurance is vain. Others build the wail of Church membership, deeming their eternal interests secure because they are members of a Christian Church. But their names may be enrolled in the register of a true Church on earth, but have no place "in the Lamb's book of life." And others build the wail of religious observances. They have been duly baptized and confirmed, they partake of the communion of the body and blood of our Saviour, and are exemplary in their attendance at public worship, and therefore they conclude that their salvation is assured. Perilous, and if persisted in fatal, is their delusion. Flimsy walls are these, each and all of them. Yet there are not wanting religious teachers to encourage builders such as these, and to daub their slight walls with untempered mortar.
III. FALSE HOPES OF SALVATION SWEPT AWAY BY THE GREAT GOD. "Say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall," etc. (Ezekiel 13:11).
1. A period is approaching when the works and hopes of men will be severely tested. "There shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it." Our Lord spake in a very similar strain of his hearers, and how they and their works would be tried. "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them," etc. (Matthew 7:24-27). And St. Paul wrote, "The fire shall prove each man's work of what sort it is." The testing time sometimes occurs in this life. Change of circumstances, temptation, affliction, the near approach of death, each of these sometimes proves a crucial test of the character and the hopes of men. And after death "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil."
2. In the great testing time no works and hopes shall abide but those which accord with the will of God. The slight wall of these foolish builders, daubed with untempered mortar by these false prophets, would be rent and destroyed by the storms of God. The Chaldean army would soon shatter the unsubstantial fabric of their vain hopes, and destroy both them and their city. And in the spiritual testing every faith which does not work through love, and cleanse the heart and life, will prove a fatal delusion. Every character which is not founded upon Christ, and fashioned after his, will be found ruinously defective (cf. Isaiah 28:16, Isaiah 28:17; 1 Corinthians 3:11).
IV. THE UTTER FAILURE OF THE VAIN HOPES WHICH THEY ENCOURAGED WILL COVER THE FALSE PROPHETS WITH REPROACH AND SHAME. "Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?" The detection of false prophets is certain, and will certainly be followed by bitter derision. "What cause," says Greenhill, "bad these prophets to blush, when God brought Nebuchadnezzar to besiege the city, when the wails were broken down, and they discovered to be false prophets, and their foundation, with which they upheld the hope of this people, to be lies, flatteries, and false divinations!" Unspeakably terrible will be the retribution of those who, professing to make known the will of God, have misled others in respect to the things which make for their eternal peace. The bitter reproaches of those whom they have ruinously deceived, and the just punishment adjudged them by the holy Lord God, will be a doom of intolerable anguish.
1. Let religious teachers regard it as of supreme importance that their teaching be in harmony with the will of God.
2. Let every one earnestly inquire upon what foundation, with what materials, and in what manner, he is building his personal character and his religious hopes.—W.J.
False prophetesses, their characteristics and condemnation,
"Likewise, thou son of man, set thy face against the daughters of thy people," etc. God sometimes raised up and inspired women to be prophetesses to his people. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20) were genuine prophetesses of the Lord in the times of the Old Testament. And in the time of Ezekiel there were false prophetesses—women who pretended to possess Divine inspiration, and to speak with Divine authority, but who "prophesied out of their own heart," and grievously misled the people. Greenhill suggests that they probably exceeded the false prophets in doing mischief; "for women, by reason of the tenderness of their nature, sweetness of their voices, respect amongst men, have the advantage to insinuate their opinions, and persuade more powerfully, especially when they have a repute for holiness, and are esteemed prophetical, as these were." There are difficulties in the interpretation of this paragraph; but, happily, the permanent moral instruction which it conveys is not obscure. It sets before us—
I. THE ACCOMMODATING AND FLATTERING CHARACTER OF FALSE PROPHECY. The pretended prophetesses are spoken of as "the women that sew pillows upon all elbows, and make kerchiefs for the head of persons of every stature." The precise meaning of these pillows and kerchiefs is very uncertain; but it seems to us that they should be interpreted figuratively. The aim of these false prophetesses was to make the people feel secure and at ease. They represented the state of national affairs as safe, comfortable, and full of promise. They thus ministered to a delusive repose and pleasure. They, in this respect, resembled the prophets who said, "Peace, when there was no peace," and who daubed the flimsy wall of false hopes with the untempered mortar of deceptive assurances. As M. Henry expresses it, "They did all they could to make people secure, which is signified by laying them easy, and to make people proud, which is signified by dressing them fine with handkerchiefs." False prophets, preachers, and teachers whom God hath not sent make it their object to say what will please the people and bring popularity to themselves.
II. THE PERNICIOUS POWER OF FALSE PROPHECY.
1. It is blasphemous towards God. "Ye have profaned me among my people." They blasphemed the sacred Name by employing it to authorize their false and evil communications. Moreover, as Hengstenberg remarks, "They profane God among the people, inasmuch as they assign him a friendly position towards sin."
2. It is ruinous to man. The false prophetesses are charged with hunting the souls of the Lord's people, slaying the souls that should not die, and strengthening "the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, and be saved alive." They encouraged sinners in their sins by assuring them that they were secure. The propagation of religious error is destructive of the health and life of souls. Such errors act as deadly poisons upon the moral life of those who receive them.
III. THE SELFISH MOTIVE OF FALSE PROPHECY. "Ye have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread." They prophesied for their own profit, not for the good of the people. "There is nothing so sacred," says M. Henry, "which men of mercenary spirits, in whom the love of this world reigns, will not profane and prostitute, if they can but get money by the bargain. But they did it for poor gain; if they could get no more for it, rather than break they would sell you a false prophecy that should please you to a nicety for a beggar's dole, a piece of bread or a handful of barley; and yet that was more than it was worth." False and corrupt teachers are never actuated in their work by zeal for the glory of God or the good of men. They seek their own popularity or power, their temporal enrichment or comfort. Our Lord said, "I seek not mine own glory." And the true Christian minister can say, with St. Paul, "I seek not yours, but you."
IV. THE READY ACCEPTANCE OF FALSE PROPHECY. "Your lying to my people that hearken unto lies." Isaiah speaks of people who say to the prophets, "Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." And there are people still who would rather hear pleasing fallacies than unpleasant truths; who wish to be soothed and comforted rather than summoned to repentance and conversion. What madness is theirs? "Is it wise in the man who has nearly ruined his constitution by intemperance, to ask the physician to tell him that he is in good health, and is carrying on a harmless course of indulgence? Is it wise in the man who is washing his property by neglect or extravagance, to persuade his friends to hush their reproving voice, and flatter him that his prosperity is secure? Would the deceit in the former case change the condition of the patient? or the falsehood in the latter repair the fortunes of the spendthrift? How much greater is the folly of the sinner, who, instead of turning from sin to God, through faith in Christ, and thus getting rid of his alarms by abandoning his course of sin, refuses to change his conduct, and asks for a false representation of his condition! He is walking to the edge of a precipice, and solicits those who see his danger to tell him that he is safe" (James).
V. THE JUDGMENT OF GOD AGAINST THE AUTHORS OF FALSE PROPHECY.
1. He will strip then of their seductions. "Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I am against your pillows," etc. (verses 20, 21). When the Chaldeans took Jerusalem, slew its inhabitants, or seized and carried them into captivity, the seductions of these false prophetesses were completely destroyed. They would "no more see vanity, nor divine divinations." They would be put to utter silence and clothed with guilty shame. Teachers of error must sooner or later be confounded; for in its conflict with truth falsehood must ultimately be completely vanquished.
2. He will defeat their designs. "I will let the souls go, even the souls that ye hunt to make them fly [or, 'as birds'];… and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted." The dark designs of the false prophetesses would be frustrated by God, and they themselves would be involved in the dire miseries that were coming upon the people of Jerusalem. Every one who cherishes purposes and is engaged in enterprises which are opposed to the holy will of God is advancing to total and terrible disappointment.
3. He will convince them of his own Being and supremacy. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord" (see our notes on these words in Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10; Ezekiel 11:10).—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27