Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
As the result, probably, of the previous utterances, certain elders of Israel, i.e. of the exiles in Tel-Abib, came to consult Ezekiel, wishing to know what counsels or what predictions he had for them. In Ezekiel 8:1 we have "the elders of Judah," and it is possible that there were two groups in the Population of the town, and that these represented Israel as distinct from Judah—a deputation, as it were, from the earlier exiles. The term appears again in Ezekiel 20:1. More probably, however, the terms are used interchangeably.
These men, etc. The prophet, taught by the word of the Lord, reads the hearts of those who came to him. The words do not imply, rather they exclude, the open practice of idolatry. The sin of the inquirers was that they had set up idols (gillulim, Ezekiel's favourite word; see note on Ezekiel 6:4) in their hearts. The LXX. gives διανοήματα,"thoughts of their hearts," as if to express this. They were hankering after the old false worships in which they had once, taken part. The stumbling block (see Ezekiel 3:20) of their iniquity was set up there. That divided heart, the "double mind" of James 1:8, made true inquiry, as it made true prayer for guidance, impossible. Shall I be inquired of at all, etc.? The "at all" represents the emphatic iteration of the verb in the Hebrew. The Vulgate, Numquid interrogatus respondebo eis? gives a fair paraphrase.
I will answer him that cometh, etc. The two last words represent the K'ri, or marginal reading of the Hebrew; the "therein" of the Revised Version, the Kh'-tib, or written text. Probably we should read, as in Ezekiel 14:7, "I will answer him by myself" (Hitzig).
That I may take the house of Israel, etc. The words me a threat rather than a promise. The "double-hearted" shall be taken in the snare which they have made for themselves.
Turn yourselves, etc.; literally, turn them. But there is no sufficient ground for the margin, "Turn others," the objective suffix being the "faces" of the following clause. In Ezekiel 18:30, Ezekiel 18:32 the verb is used by itself. The prophet's call is to a direct personal repentance, not to the work of preaching that repentance to others.
The stranger that sojourneth among you. It is noticeable that Ezekiel uses here and elsewhere (Ezekiel 47:22, Ezekiel 47:23) the familiar phrase of the books which most influenced his teaching (Leviticus 16-25.; Numbers 9:1-23; Numbers 15:1-41; Deuteronomy passim). It is probable that some such proselytes were found among the exiles of Tel Abib. I the Lord will answer him by myself, etc. This, as has been seen, was probably the right reading in verse 4. What it means is that, instead of a spoken answer by the mouth of the prophet, there should be an answer in the discipline of life, in the immediate utterance through the conscience, which was the voice of God. The inquirer who came with unconfessed and unrepented hankerings after the worship of other gods deserved and would receive no other answer.
To make him, add, with Revised Version, an astonishment; or better, I will make him amazed, as in Ezekiel 32:10. The words are an echo of Deuteronomy 28:37. The man's punishment shall be open and notorious, so as to strike terror into others.
I the Lord have deceived that prophet, etc. The teaching of modern thought is to soften language like this into "I have permitted him to be deceived." The distinction was seldom, if ever, present to the mind of the Old Testament, or indeed of the New Testament, writers. It is Jehovah who sends the "lying spirit" in 1 Kings 22:20-23. It is he who in the latter days shall send men "strong delusions" that they shall believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:11). In both cases it is implied that the delusion is a righteous punishment, is indeed the natural, because the divinely appointed, punishment of the sin. Populus vult decipi et decipiatur, but the very deception is a means for undeceiving them. At last their eyes shall be opened. The punishment of the false prophet and of those who trust him is at once retributive, and a discipline, and, if the discipline fails for them, at least a warning for others.
The words come as a gleam of light through the darkness. A restored nation, walking in the truth, the true people of God,—this lies beyond the mystery of the evil which is allowed, or even made, to work itself out to the bitter end.
A new section begins, implying as before an interval of silence. What follows presents a striking parallelism to Jeremiah 15:1, Jeremiah 15:2. There also we have the "four sore judgments," the declaration that not even the presence of Moses and Samuel would avail to save the people. They were obviously selected by Jeremiah as examples of the power of intercession (Exodus 32:11, Exo 32:12; 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 12:23). Ezekiel's selection of names proceeds on a different footing. He chooses exceptional instances of saintliness that had been powerless to save the generation in which they lived; perhaps, also, such as were well known, not only in the records of Israel, but among other nations. Noah had not saved the evil race before the Flood; Job had not saved his sons (Job 1:18); Daniel, though high in the king's favour, had not been able to influence Nebuchadnezzar to spare the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The mention of this last name is significant, as showing the reputation which even then Daniel had acquired. There is no shadow of evidence for the view of some commentators that an older Daniel is referred to. Had there been such a person, eminent enough to be grouped with Noah and Job, there would surely have been some mention of him in the Old Testament. In verse 13, for the land, read "a land." For staff of bread, see Ezekiel 4:16. The phrase comes from Leviticus 26:26.
Noisome beasts (see note on Ezekiel 5:17).
Pestilence is joined with blood, as in Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 38:22, as indicating its death-bearing character.
The words end with a gleam of hope shining through the judgments. For Ezekiel, as for Isaiah, there is the thought of a "remnant that shall return" (Isaiah 10:20-22). It has been questioned whether "the ways and the doings" which are to bring comfort to men's minds are those of the evil past or of the subsequent repentance. I incline to the view that they include both. Men should see at once the severity and the goodness of Jehovah. His punishments had not been arbitrary nor excessive. They had also been as a discipline leading men to repentance. In each of those facts there was a ground of comfort for men who asked the question, which Abraham asked of old, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). In either aspect men will recognize that God has not done without cause all that he has done. In this way the prophet seeks, as others have done since, to justify the ways of God to man. Ezekiel's word for "remnant" is, it may be noted, not the same as Isaiah's, its primary significance being "these that escape." Ezekiel does not quote the earlier prophet, though his thoughts are in harmony with him.
Idols in the heart.
I. THE HEART IS THE SEAT OF IDOLATRY. There may be splendid temples in a city, containing innumerable idols—horrible monsters or beautiful statues, works of marble, ivory, or gold. Yet if the people do not worship them no sin is committed. We have many idols in our museums. The idols in a missionary society's museum do no harm to its custodians. On the ether hand, though no idol temple stands in our land, and the last vestige of the old heathenism has been swept away centuries ago, and the very notion of worshipping stocks and stones seems to us ridiculous, yet in our hearts there may be things which alienate us from God. The essential question is as to what is there enthroned as in the citadel of the soul.
II. EVERYTHING THAT TAKES THE PLACE OF GOD IN THE HEART IS AN IDOL. It is not everything loved that we are to regard as an idol. God does not claim the only affection of our hearts. We may love God through the love we bear to those earthly friends who are dear to us. But God claims the first place, the throne within. Whatever stands first in our estimation is our god. If some human affection, pleasure, or sin takes this pre-eminent position, and refuses to yield, when required, to the supreme will of God, that is our god, our idol.
III. IDOLS IN THE HEART EXCLUDE COMMUNION WITH GOD. It is in reference to people who cherish such idols that God asks, "Should I be inquired of at all by them?" it is not likely that such people would be disposed to seek counsel from the true spiritual God. The idols would seem to be sufficient. But if they should think to add the worship of the supreme God to that of their idols, they would find that this is impossible. There are men for whom all access to God is cut off. They who cherish evil things or any rival affections, made evil by rivalry with the true love of the soul for God, find that they cannot reach to God. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Observe, however, this only applies to idolatry in the heart. Heathen people who follow the instincts of natural religion and feel after the unseen spiritual God may find him, though they have scores of idols in their houses, because such a genuine search for God implies the expulsion of idols from the heart.
IV. IDOLATRY IN THE HEART WILL NOT BE NEGLECTED BY GOD. We may disown God and substitute our idols. But he will not, cannot, give us up. He is still our Lord, and he must take note of the rebellion of his people. But he is also still our Father, and, though we may not care for him, he has not ceased to love us. Therefore he will seek his idolatrous children and plague them with many a trouble, until he has induced them to see their folly, cast their idols out of their hearts, and welcome back their Lord to his rightful throne.
I. THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS SALVATION IS REPENTANCE. It is true that God has moved towards us before we have thought of turning to him. It is his goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). But all this precedes our action. When we begin to see salvation, the first step must lead us to the wicket gate of repentance, and until that has been passed through there is no hope fur us. John the Baptist prepares the way for Christ. "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." We may try the short cut of pride, and think to begin the happy Christian life without owning our sins and turning from them. It is impossible. The result will only be a miserable hypocrisy.
II. REPENTANCE CONSISTS IN TURNING FROM THE EVIL WAY. "Repent, and turn yourselves," etc. It is an action, not merely a feeling. It cannot be without deep grief of soul, yet it does not consist in the grief; that is but an accompaniment, though undoubtedly an inevitable accompaniment. We cannot measure our repentance by the number of tears shed, but by the thoroughness of our revolt against our past. Neither is there any value in the amount of time spent in abject contrition. We are not in this way to consider whether we have repented sufficiently. The sole question is as to the reality and thoroughness of the change by which we turn from the old way and seek a better way.
III. REPENTANCE IS CONFIRMED BY THE ABANDONMENT OF THE EVIL ONCE LOVED. The penitents are to turn from their "idols." Insincere repentance weeps for the sins it still clings to. The action of repentance is inward. But its consequences are seen in outward conduct. Savonarola, when called to the dying bed of Lorenzo di Medici, refused to offer any hope of pardon to the great Florentine, because, though he professed great concern for his soul, and deep grief for his sins, he refused to give back their liberties to the citizens. He would not act according to the profession of repentance, and therefore the stern reformer justly judged that the penitence could not be true and thorough.
IV. REPENTANCE IS MET BY THE SAVING GRACE OF GOD. He calls upon us to repent, hut he des not require us to create new hearts in ourselves. He expects a sincere desire fur a better way. We must show our loathing for our old past by doing all in our power to relinquish it. Then God gives that redeeming grace which is the new birth, and whence springs the power for better living. Still, after receiving the grace, we need to preserve the lowliness of the penitent, although all tears are wiped away by the pardon of God. For we are always in danger of being dragged back into out old selves. "Illusion is briefs" says Schiller, "but repentance is long."
"I the Lord will answer him by myself." The people inquire of the false prophets, but God himself will answer them. The question concerning the coming danger will be settled by the event. That will be God's answer, and it will put an end to all doubt on the one side, and to all deception on the other.
I. THE PROMISE OF GOD'S ANSWER. There are questions which grievously perplex us, and to which, as yet, we can get no reply. Those that are frivolous may never be answered; e.g. Clement's illustration, "Whether the number of the stars be odd or even?" It can be of no use for us to know the answer to such a question. No doubt there are also greater problems which still do not concern us personally, and of these we may never lave the solution. There is no reason to suppose that we shall ever become omniscient. But, on the other hand, there are deep, heart-searching questions, which bear directly upon Our life. We crave an answer to such questions, and God will not leave us forever in the dark concerning them. We may have our patience tried for a season, but at length the light will dawn.
II. THE SOURCE OF GOD'S ANSWER. It will come direct from himself. The foolish Jews inquired of false prophets. But not even a true prophet such as Ezekiel would be entrusted with the reply. God himself is to answer them. God does not act by proxy. He has servants and agents. But he is in them, and he can dispense with them altogether whenever he chooses. He has direct dealings with souls. If the answer comes from God, it must be true and sufficient. In momentous questions concerning the soul and its eternal life we cannot be satisfied with a reply from any delegated authority, not from the greatest prophet, apostle, or archangel. We want to hear the voice of God himself.
III. THE CHARACTER OF GOD'S ANSWER. In the present case it was to be given by events. The destruction of Jerusalem was to be God's answer to the disputing Jews. That was as truly a Divine answer as a voice from heaven would have been, for the voice would have been a shaping of air waves, a work of God in nature. This event was God's working in providence. God speaks to us through his providence. History is a record of God's answers to man's questions. Such an answer has many merits.
1. It is perceptible to all. The fall of Jerusalem sent a shock through the Jewish world.
2. It is clear and unmistakable. God had threatened judgment. Would his threat prove true? Who could doubt the meaning of the terrible response?
3. It is irreversible. An event which has once occurred can never be undone. The lessons of history are eternal.
IV. THE ADVENT OF GOD'S ANSWER.
1. It may come unsought. The faithless Jews neglected their God, and inquired for oracles from the false prophets. Yet he of whom they sought no word spoke by the awful thunders of judgment.
2. It may come from an unexpected quarter. These unbelieving Jews were not expecting to hear the voice of God. Therefore they were made to hear it in most terrible tones. It is better not to wait for such a startling reply. God has spoken in the great events of Bethlehem and Calvary, and there his voice is one of grace and benediction.
The prophet's punishment.
The prophet is to be punished equally with the rest of the people, because his guilt is equal to theirs. The pleas and excuses which he might suggest are all swept away as so many refuges or lies.
I. ECCLESIASTICAL RANK. There was a recognized professional distinction between the prophets and the people; the prophets belonged to a separate order. But "orders" have no saving efficacy. The status of the Christian ministry affords certain earthly privileges, while it confers certain spiritual obligations. But it is only economic, temporary, and for this world's service. Before God the distraction between cleric and laic vanishes, and each soul stands in its simple human character. God judges an archbishop as a man, not as a dignitary. His office appertains to his powers and dudes, the talents for which he will have to account. But in this respect it is like the office of any other person—a measure for his service, not a shelter for his sinfulness. In the world beyond the grave each soul is but a soul; rank and office are left behind like castoff vestments. Therefore the sinful ecclesiastic will be treated as any other sinner.
II. DIVINE GIFTS. The false prophets of Ezekiel's day do not appear to have had any peculiar Divine gifts. They were mere pretenders. But even those men who are especially endowed are not to consider themselves as thereby lifted above common standards of judgment. The prophet of Bethel was a true messenger from God, yet a lion met him in the way and slew him for his disobedience (1 Kings 13:26). The apostle may "have the gift of prophecy," yet if he "have not charity" he is "nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2).
III. KNOWLEDGE. If the prophets did not know the right way, they should have made themselves acquainted with it, for they were supposed to hold the keys of revelation. But as the signpost never reaches the city to which it is constantly pointing, the man who knows the way, and who is capable of showing it to others, may yet be never treading it himself. Then his knowledge will not save him. It is the same in respect to those who are enlightened by Divine teaching, though they are not called upon to teach others. A clear conception of "the plan of salvation" will not save a man. If a prophet will be punished like any other man, surely the merely orthodox believer in the dogmas of the Church will stand in a similar position of peril if he does not add practice to creed.
IV. POPULARITY. Those guilty prophets of Israel were popular men. Their doom was to suffer the fate of the people they fawned upon. A moment's reflection must make it apparent that the favour of the world, and even the favour of the Church, are no guarantees for the favour of Heaven; for men may be deceived or may judge by low, unworthy standards. But appearances are so flattering that people fall into the snare, and take comfort from the thought that all is going well with them among men. The one vital question is, "How do we stand before God?"
The relations of the soul with God are reciprocal. There is first of all a mutual approach, and there will be a communion so long as the religion is a living fact. The mutual relationship may be looked at from either of its centres. But first its common character must be considered.
I. RELIGION CONSISTS IN SPIRITUAL OWNERSHIP. There is an appropriation on both sides. This involves certain important facts.
1. Close connection. We hold what we own. It is true a man in England may be the proprietor of an estate in New Zealand, but even then he is connected with it by immediate agency. Religion implies a close relation between the soul and God.
2. Powers of use. We have rights over what we own. The inheritance which is so tied up that the heir cannot touch it or do anything with it, is scarcely to be called property; the rights of ownership are shadowy indeed in such a case. Real ownership confers rights and powers. So it is in religion. The mutual ownership here confers mutual rights and powers.
3. Value. A man may own what is worthless—leagues of Siberia or tons of desert sand. Still, as a rule, he makes the most of his property, and if he is proud of owning anything, we may be sure that he values it. Now, the mutual religious ownership of God and the soul is referred to in a way to show that it is prized.
II. THE SPIRITUAL OWNERSHIP OF THE BIBLE IS RECIPROCAL.
1. God owns the souls of his people. "That they may be my people" is the expression in regard to God's design in the discipline of Israel. God regards his people as his "inheritance" (Psalms 28:9).
(1) He has close relations with them. Truly connected with all his children, he draws more near to his own people, and communicates himself especially to them.
(2) He exercises special powers over them. God has a double right to command his confessed servants.
(3) He values them, as his jewels (Malachi 3:17), as the "apple of his eye" (Psalms 17:8).
2. God's people own God. They do not only confess his Name.
(1) They realize a close fellowship with him.
(2) They have rights of access and privileges of reconciled children in the home which do not as yet belong to the poor, wandering prodigals.
(3) They value these privileges, or, if they do not, they are like the elder son of the parable, and do not truly realize their ownership in God. It is indeed a great joy to be able to say, "My God."
III. THE ESTABLISHING AND CONFIRMING OF THIS RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP IS THE GREAT END OF THE DISCIPLINE OF LIFE. It is the re-establishing of an old broken connection. Israel had once stood in this happy relation with God; she had lost it by sin. We are all God's children by birth; but by sin we too have lost the privileges of sonship. The great hindrance lies in our rebellion against God. Israel could not boast of her descent from Abraham, nor of her covenant relationship with God, for the covenant was broken by sin, and the family claim disowned. The only way to secure this happy condition again is to give up the newer connection with sin. Now, God sends severe discipline to lead to that result (Ezekiel 14:10). He uses his rod to drive the wanderer home.
Noah, Daniel, and Job.
I. THE SPLENDID PRE-EMINENCE OF NOAH, DANIEL, AND JOB. These three men are selected from ages far apart, and from the greatest diversity of circumstances. In temperament and external history there is little resemblance between them. Noah the patriarch, looms on the horizon of history in epic grandeur; Daniel is the brave hero in a tyrant's court, and the man of skill and science in a civilized society; Job belongs to the region of pastoral life, and his tragic story carries us out among the Bedouin. So wide is the range of excellence! Good men are not confined to one age, nor to one set of circumstances, nor to one school of thought, nor to one style of life. They are not found exclusively in antiquity, in modern times, in town, in the country, among the great, among the simple. There is a breadth and a variety in the possibilities of saintliness. We need not all copy one type. He who cannot emulate the knowledge of Daniel may follow the patience of Job. Nevertheless, in spite of these diversities, there are certain great common features that belong to the three Old Testament saints, and account for the present association of their names.
1. All three were holy men, true to God and upright in life. His goodness is the greatest fact in a good man's character, and it constitutes a bond of union between all the true people of God.
2. All three were faithful in circumstances of isolation. They all had to break from prevalent habits, and dare to stand alone—Noah against the world's sin and impenitence, Daniel against heathenism, Job against a false orthodoxy.
3. All three were sorely tried. The faith of each was assailed in a severe and most exceptional manner.
4. All three were victorious by means of firm fidelity. They conquered, and they conquered in quiet ways—by obedience, patience, faith, and steadfastness.
II. THE USELESSNESS OF THE INTERCESSION OF THESE THREE GREAT SAINTS. Though Noah, Daniel, and Job united to plead for Jerusalem, their intercession would be all in vain.
1. This was contrary to expectation. There is power in intercession; there is an especial power in the intercession of a "righteous man" (James 5:16); there is a still greater power in united prayer (Matthew 18:20). Yet here the union of three of the very best men, selected from all ages, could not secure the safety of Jerusalem.
2. The cause of the predicted failure of such an intercession was hardened impenitence. God is not inexorable. He is ready to listen to prayer; nay, he is more anxious to save than we are to plead for salvation. He sent his Son to save the world, an infinitely greater act than the most impassioned pleading of the best men. Therefore the failure cannot be attributed to his hardness. But it would be unjust and injurious to spare the impenitent on any plea.
3. The intercession of Christ succeeds where that of the best. men fails. His prayers are worth those of ten thousand Noahs and Daniels and Jobs. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us;" and he alone, bearing the weight of the whole world's guilt, makes atonement for the sins of all men with ample sufficiency. We could not trust to the intercession of the saints, even if we were sure of obtaining it; and the words of Ezekiel are only hypothetical, merely by way of illustration. Christ is our one Advocate with the Father. Nevertheless, for the impenitent even his mighty intercession, which shakes the very gates of hell, is ineffectual. Christ shed tears over Jerusalem, yet Jerusalem perished.
Purpose in providence.
I. GOD MAY APPEAR TO ACT WITHOUT CAUSE. We cannot discover design in all the movements of nature so easily as we may detect this in its structure. Though we may be startled at times by the aptness of the providential overruling of history, too often we are perplexed, dismayed, confounded. The wicked man flourishes like a green bay tree, and the good man is persecuted or perishes in a vain conflict with adverse circumstances. Psalmists of old noticed this familiar fact, and grieved over it (e.g. Psalms 17:10). We must be prepared to expect mystery in nature and providence, since the experience of the past pellets to the very same difficulties which puzzle and perplex us when they suddenly confront us. "Lo, these are but the outskirts of his ways: and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?" (Job 26:14).
II. GOD DOES NOT ACT WITHOUT CAUSE.
1. The failure to discover a cause is no proof that it does not exist. We cannot limit the range of existence to the scope of our knowledge. There are hidden physical causes which the most searching scientific analysis has failed to trace: why may there not be also hidden final causes, deep purposes of God, which no mind of man can reach?
2. The proved purpose of God in known regions suggests the existence of a like purpose in unknown regions. We can trace more purpose in creation than in providence; but since the same God rules over both, it is to be presumed that the spirit of design which pervades the one runs through the other. We know that God has mind, and that he exercises what with us would be called forethought. Moreover, it is impossible to suppose that his principal dealings with his own children will be aimless when his less momentous works are instinct with purpose.
3. The righteousness and love of God make it certain that he does not act without a cause. Reckless action is morally defective. Ethics bears directly on motive and purpose. A just God must have a righteous object with which to act. The love of God emphasizes the assurance of purpose in providence, for no one would treat those dear to him with heedless indifference. This is especially applicable to the infliction of chastisement. A just and merciful God cannot send chastisement without adequate cause.
III. THE CAUSE OF GOD'S ACTION WILL RE ULTIMATELY DECLARED. It is impossible for us to see it yet, for we cannot look beyond the grave, nor can we scale the heights of Divine thought in the infancy of our spiritual experience. The schoolboy cannot see the utility of all his lessons. But if he has been well taught in boyhood, when he is a man he will look back on the hard training with appreciative satisfaction, and will therefore order a similar process for his children. It would not be well for us to see the end yet, for we must be trained by faith. But earthly experience often throws back light on dark passages of life, and they then flash into a new meaning which calls forth gratitude as well as wonder. Beyond this world the fuller explanation will come. With the discovery of the hidden cause there will be ample consolation. The revelation of a good purpose in chastisement is its appropriate consolation (2 Corinthians 4:17).
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
It certainly seems strange that, at this period of their national history, the Israelites should be chargeable with the folly and sin of idolatry. The admonitions against this offence had been so numerous, and the chastisements following its commission had been so severe, that the reader of Old Testament history is surprised to find that at so late a period the temptation had not been outgrown.
I. THE MULTITUDE AND VARIETY OF THE IDOLATRIES OF ISRAEL. The chosen people were exposed to corruption from neighbouring peoples—from the Phoenicians upon the north, the Syrians and Chaldeans upon the east, and the Egyptians upon the south. Each of these idolatries had its own characteristics, and in some way sprang from, and ministered to, the evil passions of human nature. It would almost seem as if the kings, the great men of the land, and the common people generally, chose such idols as harmonized with their own tastes or suited their own convenience. At all events, the prophet speaks of idols, in the plural, of the multitude of the idols, and of every idolater's own special and peculiar divinities.
II. THE SEAT OF THESE IDOLATRIES. The people are said to have set them up "in their heart." Hills, valleys, groves, high places, and altars and temples, were indeed consecrated, or rather desecrated, by idol worship. But all this was external. There was something much worse; the idols were set up in the inner nature of the worshippers, and there were honoured and served. That is to say, the belief in the government of a righteous and holy God having been abandoned, many of the Israelites exalted the vices and crimes which the deities of the heathen embodied, sanctioned, and encouraged, and came in their hearts to love the evils against which, as a nation, they were called to witness.
III. THE ESTRANGEMENT FROM GOD WHICH IDOLATRY PRODUCED. In setting up the idols in their hearts the people had been patting "a stumbling block of iniquity" before their face. The idols came between them and their God. The house of Israel, Jehovah exclaims, "are all estranged from me through their idols." There can be no rivalry between the false gods and the true. The choice has ever to be made. To exalt an idol, a passion, a taste, a habit, an association, to a position above that occupied by the supreme Lord of all, is to dethrone him from his rightful place, to forfeit his regard, to ensure his displeasure.
IV. THE INDIGNANT RESPONSE OF GOD TO THE DISHONOUR DONE TO HIM. It was presumed that, with wicked inconsistency, some of the Israelites who had been seduced into idolatrous practices would nevertheless in some time of perplexity or affliction resort to the prophets of Jehovah to seek counsel, guidance, and comfort. In such circumstances, how would their conduct be regarded by the Lord? The word of the Lord to the prophet should be attentively considered, "Should I be inquired of at all by them? …I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols." We are not to believe that any sincere, lowly, penitent, and believing suppliant would be rejected. But those who in their hearts cherished the idolatry which was their shame, and yet for some selfish purposes had the effrontery to approach the Lord for counsel and for help, were assured that their application should meet with no favorable response. They were double-hearted and insincere; and for such there is no blessing, and indeed no tolerance.
APPLICATION. It is the same today. If with all your hearts ye truly seek him, the request shall not be offered in vain. But it is useless to draw near to God with the lips while the heart is far from him.—T.
This was the admonition of every herald of God, whether under the old covenant or the new. It was the burden of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and it was also the burden of John the forerunner and of Jesus the Messiah. From this it may be inferred that human nature and life, on the one hand, and the character and government of God on the other hand, are such that repentance is an indispensable condition of the establishment of right relations between God and man.
I. THE NEED OF REPENTANCE. If we are upon Divine authority summoned to change, this must be because there is something wrong and reprehensible and dangerous in man's heart and condition; if called upon to turn, we must be going the wrong way. The admonition of the text follows upon a picture of Israel's idolatry and rebellion against a righteous God. The form of the sin may vary, but the principle of sin is ever the same. Whether in ancient or in modern times, in barbarous or in civilized states of society, men are universally prone to sin and guilty of sin. Where there is no sin, repentance is needless. It is in the departure of the heart's affection and the life's loyalty from the righteous God that man's error lies. Israel's idolatry symbolizes human iniquity.
II. THE NATURE or REPENTANCE. As more fully explained in New Testament Scripture, this is a change of heart, of disposition, leading to a change of character and of life. Mere sorrow for sin is not repentance, inasmuch as emotion of every kind is to some extent matter of temperament, and sorrow does not always lead to reformation. True repentance goes much deeper, and prepares the way forevery spiritual blessing. He who repents looks at things otherwise than before, tutus his thoughts into another channel, his steps into another path.
III. THE CALL TO REPENTANCE.
1. It is a gracious call. The justly offended sovereign may leave the rebel to the consequences of his acts. It is not thus that God deals with us. It is not his wish that any should perish. He sends his messengers to the offending race, with a summons to submission, with proffers of mercy.
2. It is an authoritative call. He commandeth men everywhere to repent. It is true that our Creator and Judge does not interfere with our liberty. Yet he publishes his will as binding upon every moral agent. He has a right to our repentance. It is our place to obey his summons, to offer the repentance which he demands and requires at our hands.
IV. THE DIFFICULTY OF REPENTANCE. This lies in the very character itself of the change. If verbal submission or outward conformity only were required, this would be comparatively easy. But God, who searcheth the heart, will not be satisfied save with the heart's subjection and conversion. Old habits of unspirituality, worldliness, and selfishness are not readily abandoned. Especially in advanced life a radical and inward change is effected, for the most part, only with effort and difficulty. It needs a supernatural motive and a supernatural power to cause old things to pass away and all things to become new, to exchange darkness for light, and the service of Satan for God. Such a supernatural motive we have in the gospel; such a supernatural power and agency in the Holy Spirit.
V. THE FRUITS OF REPENTANCE.
1. These are exactly opposed in character to the fruits of self-indulgence. Other seed in other soil yields other harvest.
2. Reconciliation with God replaces enmity towards God. The conditions of salvation, as laid down in the New Testament, are "repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
3. Repentance works a change in a man's own character; the principles and motives and ends of life are all new.
4. Through the power of repentance a man's relations to his fellow men are changed—justice takes the place of wrong, and love that of hatred and uncharitabieness.—T.
The misleader and the misled.
One of the features of Israelitish life at this epoch of the Captivity was the evident number and power of false prophets. General excitement and change are, of course, favourable to imposture. Men sought everywhere for guidance, comfort, hope; but, instead of having recourse to the authorized prophets of the Lord, they went to the pretentious and deceptive religious guides who seem to have traded upon the misfortunes of their country. These men were in the habit of saying what was expected and desired, of uttering smooth things, of buoying up the people with the hope that threatening calamities might be averted. Thus the effect of these men's counsels was to prevent the people from true repentance and to hasten the country's ruin. Ezekiel was directed to denounce these misleaders of the nation, and to declare that they should participate in the approaching calamities. "The punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him."
I. PROPHET AND PEOPLE WERE PARTAKERS IN SIN. The sin in essence was departure from God. Those who should have repaired to the Source of all wisdom and authority turned aside, and "sought unto" ignorant, self-seeking impostors. In this they sinned; and the sin was shared by those to whom they had recourse. These pretended prophets knowingly misled the people; for they saw no vision and heard no voice, and their utterances were dictated, not by the law of Divine righteousness, but by the aims of human policy. People and prophets sinned together, and sinned alike.
II. PROPHET AND PEOPLE WERE PARTAKERS IN CONSEQUENT ERROR. The counsel which was thus given and accepted, and consequently acted upon, led the people astray. The only hope for Jerusalem and for the Jews was a general humiliation, confession, and repentance, a turning unto the Lord. From such a course they were deterred by the deception which they practised upon one another, and the delusion which they mutually encouraged. Hence the error into which they were misled, the error of continued idolatry, unbelief, and rebellion.
III. PROPHET AND PEOPLE WERE PARTAKERS IN COMMON PUNISHMENT. It would have been unjust to punish only those who were led astray, for their false guides and evil counsellors were to blame for misleading them. It would have been unjust to punish only the false prophets; for these men were induced and encouraged to practise their deceiving arts by the readiness of their dupes to receive and to act upon their advice. Hence a common guilt entailed a common penalty. There was little distinction in crime; there was little distinction in punishment. Retribution is a fact in the government of the Supreme, who can never look upon iniquity. "Though Land join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished."—T.
The purposes of punishment.
No thoughtful person can believe that the supreme Lord of all inflicts punishments upon men because he delights in the sufferings of his creatures, or is indifferent to those sufferings. This passage of Scripture, like other passages, teaches us that, when God punishes, it is with a view to the good of those who are punished, or of others, or of both.
I. THE IMMEDIATE AND REMEDIAL PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT. It is a question how far punishment should aim at the correction of the individual offender, how far at the production of a wholesome impression upon society. Whether the false prophets and those who resorted to them were spared to profit by the chastisement which befell them, we have not the means of judging. But in any case the punitive afflictions were intended for the general good of the house of Israel.
1. Radical error is corrected. "That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me."
2. The habits of transgressors are reformed. "Neither defile themselves any more with all their transgressions."
II. THE ULTIMATE AND POSITIVE PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT. The remedy for disease must first be applied, then health will follow. So it is in spiritual things. Forgiveness is a means to sanctification. Salvation is both from sin and unto obedience and holiness. Accordingly, the prophet represents the re-establishment, the fresh ratification, of the covenant between God and Israel as the final purpose of all the chastening inflicted. The two sides of this covenant are presented as in their harmony and completeness justifying the discipline appointed by Divine wisdom and beneficence.
1. "That they may be my people." That is, not only in name, but in reality; not only de jure, but de facto.
2. "That I maybe their God." That is, theirs to acknowledge with sincere reverence, to love with devotion and fervour, and to serve with diligence and fidelity.—T.
Ezekiel was especially commissioned to set forth and to impress upon the people the individual, the personal, aspect of religion. In many places, as here, he lays stress upon the accountability of each several man to God. One cannot deliver another from deserved punishment. Each must answer for himself, must reap the reward of his deeds, whether good or evil. A man's piety cannot save his ungodly neighbour when the time of reckoning and judgment arrives. No matter bow good our friends may be, their goodness does not excuse our irreligion. If the city has sinned, the city must suffer. Even if the wisest and the best of men are in it and plead for it, the city cannot be justified or spared for their sake. Men so conspicuous for virtue and piety as Noah, Daniel, and Job have not power to save the land from famine, from the sword, from noisome beasts, from the pestilence, when these are sent as chastisements from the Lord of all.
I. THE VIRTUES FOR WHICH THESE THREE MEN WERE CELEBRATED. Why these, rather than other illustrious instances of human goodness, were selected is a question which cannot be answered with certainty. But the context disposes the student of This passage of prophecy to consider these men as instances of remarkable piety in the midst of surrounding ungodliness. Thus Noah stands in contrast with the self-indulgent and irreligious population of the world immediately before the Flood; as a preacher of righteousness, he protested against the sins and the secularism and unbelief of his time. Daniel also was "faithful among the faithless;" he and a selected few were called upon to witness against the idolatry of their heathen rulers and masters, and against much unfaithfulness on the part of their companions in captivity. Job was a true servant of Jehovah, who was encompassed by idolatries to which he did not yield, and who alone of his own kindred was faithful to his God in all his ways. These three men all saw disasters come upon those with whom they were associated. If they could not deliver their neighbours in the day of judgment, if their virtues and piety availed only for themselves, was it credible that their presence in Jerusalem would save the city and the land from destruction? It is observable that the "righteousness" of these three men is admitted, and with commendation, by the Lord God himself. There may be danger in praising and flattering the good because of their goodness. But there are occasions when it is just and right to acknowledge the moral excellence, the human merit, of men, always with a clear understanding that all goodness is from God, that in his view all human character is imperfect, and that nothing can be claimed from him as a just reward even by the purest and the most useful among mankind.
II. THE FAVOUR WITH WHICH THESE THREE MEN WERE REGARDED. It was an honour to be selected by a good man and a prophet like Ezekiel for special approval and commendation. But it was a higher honour to be mentioned thus by the direction of the Lord God himself. It is not erroneous to attribute to the Eternal a personal interest in the sons of time, a regard of that nature with which one who judges with justice and appreciation esteems the excellent among his fellow beings. On the contrary, Scripture justifies us in taking such a view of our Father God, who is never represented as indifferent and heartless, but rather as looking with satisfaction and favour upon those who delight in his Law and do his will. There have been occasions upon which the intercessory prayers offered by such have been received with favour, and have been graciously answered, to the relic and comfort of those for whom they have been presented.
III. THE POWERLESSNESS OF EVEN SUCH RIGHTEOUS AND BELOVED SERVANTS OF GOD TO DELIVER THE REBELLIOUS FROM PUNISHMENT. It is evidently intended to convey the impression that God was willing to do great things at the intercession of men so gnarl and so favoured as those named; but that he would not for their sake contradict his own declarations, reverse his own laws, and abandon his own moral government. Hence the lesson may be learnt that "every man shall bear his own burden," that in the day of account no man shall deliver his brother. No hope can be vainer than that of those who rely for their salvation upon the merits and influence of their family, their friends, their Church, however dear to God. It is plain that, as religion is a personal matter, as its claims come home to the individual, every hearer of God's Word is bound to use for himself those means by which he may, by God's grace, be delivered from the chain of sin and the doom of death.—T.
Ezekiel 14:22, Ezekiel 14:23
The reasonableness of God's action.
There is that in human nature to which religion appeals, and by which religion asks to be judged. Religion does indeed speak with authority, but the authority is that of wisdom and righteousness. Man's judgment and conscience approve the order of Divine providence, and the tenor of Divine revelation. More particularly, upon the suggestion of this passage, it should be remarked that—
I. THE DEALINGS OF GOD INCLUDE BOTH JUDGMENT AND SPARING MERCY. The prophet speaks both of "the sore judgments upon Jerusalem," and also of "the remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters." God is ever a God of justice and a God of mercy.
II. GOD'S DEALINGS OFTEN PERPLEX OBSERVERS. "His ways are in the great waters." "Who can by searching find out God?" The firmest believer in Divine providence has frequent occasion to confess his utter inability to explain the events which happen around him. Why are some men prosperous, whilst others pass through affliction and calamity? Why do some escape in seasons of disaster, whilst others are overwhelmed? Why are God's ways often to all appearance inconsistent with a regard to the equitable treatment of the wicked and the good? Such questions ever recur. They may, indeed, in the case of some observers, never be put; but when put they cannot be answered.
III. YET TO REFLECTING MINDS GOD'S DEALINGS DO, ON THE WHOLE, APPEAR CONSISTENT WITH REASON AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. Individual facts may be difficult to reconcile with our religious beliefs, but general principles and laws, when we rise to them, are recognized as just and good. And the higher the view we take of human nature and human life, the more do anomalies disappear. If we clearly perceive that man is made for goodness, and not for enjoyment, that the earthly life is a discipline and a preparation, that the great end of all is that man may share the Divine nature and the Divine life,—such convictions will help us to see and feel the wisdom and the goodness that distinguish God's government of men. There is in God's ways no error and no caprice.
IV. GOD'S DEALINGS WITH NATIONS, AS WITH INDIVIDUALS, ARE INTENDED TO PROMOTE MORAL IMPROVEMENT. The expression used is very remarkable. The Lord assures those who observe his treatment of Israel that upon reflection they shall be "comforted" concerning the evil brought upon Jerusalem. The wisdom, and even the true benevolence, of the Divine ways shall in due time be made apparent. The cause for which what has been done has been ordered by providence shall be recognized and shall be approved as justifying the great Ruler and his government. Thus shall his Name be glorified.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Disastrous answers to prayer.
Ezekiel's predictions had been so gloomy and adverse, that the ciders of Israel in Babylon were staggered. They could not acquiesce in their nation's ruin. Hopeful that some message more favourable might come from God, they sought the prophet's presence. We must not place these elders in the same category with those in Jerusalem who preferred the flattering speeches of the false prophets. Nevertheless, they were not right at heart. The taint of idolatry was upon these also. Good and evil may be mingled in men's hearts in different degrees.
I. OUTWARD TROUBLE OFTEN DRIVES MEN TO GOD. It is not always so. It sometimes chafes and exasperates men. In their pain they sometimes curse God and blaspheme him yet the more. Perhaps affliction, in itself, has no softening, subduing influence. But the Spirit of God frequently uses affliction as his instrument, his pruning knife, in order to make the soul fruitful. This much is certain, that many have found a season of affliction a season of salvation. Certain it is that "whom the Lord loveth he correcteth;" and not a few of the redeemed adopt David's language as their own, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept thy Word."
II. YET THE RETURN IS SOMETIMES OUTWARD, NOT COMPLETE. In human nature there is a strong bias to be satisfied with what is merely outward in religion. To utter words of prayer, we imagine, must be successful To come into God's house, no matter what may be our motives or intentions, we think, must please God. Do we not confer a favour on him? Has he not engaged to do us good? Yet how often is the heart away when the body is present? How often do We bring our idols with us into that sacred place? How often do we worship mammon, or pleasure, or fashion, under pretence of worshipping God? How often do our words far exceed our desires? Hypocrisy and idolatry are as common in sanctuaries now as in the days of ancient Israel. Frequently the heart is preoccupied with its own wishes and plans and ambitions, while we are using the words, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" We want our own ends, while we profess to yield unto God.
III. GOD REPLIES, NOT TO OUR WORDS, BUT TO OUR TEMPER OF MIND. "I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols." Men often think that they lay a trap for God, but God takes them in their own snare. We try to use God for the attainment of some worldly end, and we think sometimes that we succeed, but we are always outwitted. Men's words are often veils to hide the facts, and we may deceive others; we cannot deceive God. To give to such men blessing would be to do them harm. For such the only real blessing is self-humiliation, inward contrition. True faith in God is the only measure of success, and faith is loyal, candid, self-submissive. Four sympathetic men brought a paralytic to Jesus; but Jesus first read the yearning desire of the sufferer's heart, and said, "Man, thy sins are forgiven thee." For God is a Spirit, and deals with the human spirit. Therefore in prayer we should always imitate David, "I lift up my soul unto thee."
IV. GOD'S AIM IS LOFTIER THAN THE AIM OF THE SUPPLIANT. The aim of the suppliant is usually temporary relief—deliverance from some present evil. But God sees that present trouble is the best blessing—the rough husk that contains nourishing meat. Our object is enjoyment; God's object is soul profit. He yearns to see repentance—the first cry of the new life. "Thus saith the Lord God; Repent." God's aim is remote, but right noble. His design is that "the house of Israel may go no more astray." His purpose is that "they may be my people, and I may be their God." If we will not allow God's purpose to prevail, he will not allow our low and vain purposes to succeed. If we set ourselves in hostility against God, only ruin can result. If God sends us to Nineveh, and we sail away to Tarshish, we may expect to meet an overwhelming storm. God's will must become our will; then only shall we have rest.
V. GOD TURNS UNSUCCESSFUL SUPPLIANTS INTO BEACONS. "I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb." As battlefields, saturated with human gore, yield larger crops of grain, so out of all evil God will bring ultimate good. Cain's published sin served as a restraint upon others. Lot's wife became a standing witness for God and for righteousness. In the long run, everything contributes to the good of mankind. The wrath of man shall bring praise to God. Man's crime at Calvary has become the fount of greatest blessing. Even human sin shall serve as a dark background, the better to set forth the brilliant hues of Divine mercy. Yet how slow men are to note the various winnings which God sets up! Self-examination is a rare virtue,
VI. ANSWERED PRAYER MAY BE HEAVIEST DISASTER. The Gadarenes prayed that Jesus would depart out of their coasts, and he departed. The man who has practised deceit shall be himself deceived. Pharaoh hardened his heart against God until at length God joined in the process: "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart." He who will not accept any answer from God except that which chimes in with his own wishes shall have his wish gratified, but it will prove his ruin. To Ephraim God at last said, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone." He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is "in danger of eternal sin." And this is the heaviest punishment a man cart receive. "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." The most notable example of this principle in God's government is seen in the case of Ahab. He had set his heart upon war against Ramoth-Gilead. He would not be dissuaded. Yet he wished to have the appearance of God's approval, in order to gain allies. At length the Lord said, "Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead?" "And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and shalt prevail also." If foolish men prefer flattering delusions to the naked truth, God will at length abandon them to this fatal influence. He punishes sin with sin.
VII. THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ALLOWS OF NO EXEMPTION. Pauper and prince are amenable to the same law in the kingdom of God. "The punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him." No office, however honourable, will serve as a cloak for sin, nor alleviate the weight of punishment. Righteousness deals with man as man, and takes no note of names or titles. If a king drinks poison, it produces the selfsame effect as if a ploughboy drank it. It will avail us nothing to say to the white-robed Judge, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?" Office may increase our responsibility; it does not add to our purity; it gives no passport to heaven. Not genius, nor power, commends men to God; only moral goodness. "In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven."—D.
Human atonement valueless.
The hopeful among the Jews probably remembered that in times of former correction God had yielded, in some measure, to the intercessions of the saints. If they had not gained all that they asked, they had gained some advantage. Why might that not occur again? Might not God concede some of his demand? This was impossible, for the first necessity was that righteous government be maintained. No good can ever come to men by tampering with righteousness.
I. SIN AGAINST GOD IS AN IMMEASURABLE EVIL. It is a common thing for men to affect surprise at the severity of God's chastisement. Yet this is only an outcome of their ignorance. They have no conception of the tremendous evil of sin. Its magnitude defies all human measurement. We cannot follow it into all its ramifications of mischief. We see the beginning of the vicious stream; the ending is beyond our sight. It is an injury to the moral universe, and we cannot estimate it. Had Eve foreseen all the painful results of taking the forbidden fruit, surely she would have resisted the tempter.
II. FLAGRANT SIN DEMANDS EVERY SORT OF PENALTY. It is not always possible for men to discriminate between great sins and small; yet even men can discover when sin becomes rapidly contagious, and when it is largely influential for evil When a man, by a plausible embellishment of vice, entraps ten thousand others into the snare, and makes his vice fashionable, popular, universal,—his sin is heinous. As for a disease that has become epidemic the severest remedies are employed, so when a sin becomes national, terrible chastisement is demanded. To vindicate his righteous law, God sometimes employs the scourge of pestilence; sometimes famine; sometimes war; sometimes a plague of locusts. But when iniquity breaks out with virulence, or becomes aggravated and stubborn, he will combine all his methods of chastisement, in order to cleanse the land. Always his punishments are well apportioned, never excessive. The balance is in the hand of Infinite Wisdom.
III. MEN ARE INFLUENTIAL FOR GOOD ACCORDING TO THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The messenger of Jehovah singles out for mention three men who were eminent for piety and faith. His language implies that if any men could prevail with God to abate his penalties, these were the men. It was useless for him to make mention of men of inferior piety. Any righteous man would not suffice. To have any hope of success, he must be a man of transcendent purity. This conviction was universal in the minds of the people. It was founded on reason, on experience, on the records of past history. Had not Moses gained a respite for the nation by his righteous intercession? Had not Samuel averted the stroke of Divine anger from Israel? Had not Noah's righteousness secured the safety of seven persons beside himself? Why should it not be so again? Daniel was living among them—a man eminent for loyalty to Jehovah. Were not Jeremiah and Ezekiel interceding for the people? If anything could save the nation from utter destruction, surely it was the righteous zeal of these godly men!
IV. YET HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS IS INCOMPETENT TO ABATE A SINGLE PENALTY FROM OTHERS. A man's personal righteousness will always serve as a screen for himself, never as a shield for others. Far be it from God to destroy the righteous with the wicked! This would he to obliterate eternal distinctions. This would be for God to act against himself The righteous are safe when dangers are thickest. They have an invulnerable panoply. And the prayers of the righteous have often gained temporary advantages for the unrighteous. Such intercession has obtained a brief respite for repentance—has obtained a postponement of the catastrophe. Yet as a righteous man, however zealous, has no power to transform the moral nature of another man, he cannot deliver him when God appeareth for judgment. Eternal justice is the main pillar of the universe, and, if justice fails, the universe wilt be shivered.
V. MUCH LESS CAN HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS AVERT FROM MEN ALL DIVINE PENALTIES. This is an argument ad hominem. If the righteousness of the best men that ever lived cannot quench one fiery dart of God's vengeance, much less can it quench all the darts in God's quiver. There was a propriety in every particular form of chastisement which God employed; it would therefore be unbecoming every attribute of his nature to suspend that chastisement, while the causal sin yet remained. Men little surmise the terrible necessity there is for retribution, because they do not perceive the magnitude of sin. It is a fearful thing to provoke the anger of the living God.
VI. GOD WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE HIS WISDOM AND RIGHTEOUSNESS CLEAR TO MEN. It is possible that the elders of Israel did not immediately acquiesce in the first necessity for this severe course. They did not know the full extent of Israel's sin. Ignorance is often the root of discord. But God would spare a few—most probably the best—of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These should in due time be conveyed to Tel-Abib, and join the older members of the Captivity. But so base and intolerable will the characters of this remnant appear, that the elders themselves will confess that God's judgments were not a whit too severe—that a less chastisement would be inadequate. This act of God exhibits the graciousness of his character. He deigns to explain and to justify his ways unto his trustful children. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." He takes them into his fullest confidence.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Hypocritical inquirers of God.
"Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me," etc. In the former chapter false prophets and prophetesses were severely rebuked by the Lord God through his true prophet. In this one certain elders who came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, while their hearts were given up to idols, are reproved, exhorted, and warned. The paragraph before us presents the following connected topics for consideration, which we will notice in the order in which they are presented by the prophet.
I. MEN HYPOCRITICALLY INQUIRING OF THE LORD GOD. "Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying," etc. (verses 1-3). These elders who came to inquire of God through his prophet were probably of the number of his fellow exiles. They came to consult the prophet of Jehovah, yet they were idolaters at heart. They had "set up their idols in their heart," etc. (verse 3). Their idolatry involved practical atheism. Genuine belief in the existence of the Lord Jehovah would have effectually precluded idolatry. Men of such character could not sincerely inquire of God. There can be no real approach unto him without faith in the reality of his being. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is," etc. (Hebrews 11:7). Their seeking information or counsel of the Lord was not true; they were not whole-hearted in so doing, but hypocritical. They are, says Hengstenherg, the "representatives of those who only outwardly fear God, but inwardly serve the spirit of the world and the age." How many meet in God's house, unite in his worship, and listen to the ministry of his holy Word, as though they were genuine inquirers of his will, who yet have idols in their hearts! Seeming to sincerely "inquire in his temple," yet they are devoted to the pursuit of rank or riches, power or pleasure, etc.
II. HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD ANSWERED ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN HEART. "Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart," etc. (verses 4, 5). Different interpretations are given of these two verses. Thus Hengstenberg: "The question in verse 4" (he places a note of interrogation at the end of that verse; so also does Schroder) "is in the sense of a negative, 'I will not answer;' and this negative has its ground in verse 5. God leaves sinners without answer or help, that they may come to a knowledge of their sin. 'To take in the heart' (verse 5) is to touch the conscience." Another interpretation is that he would give them an answer as delusive as the idols which they had taken into their hearts. The case presents itself to us thus: The spiritual state of these elders prevented them from truly hearing the word of the Lord. They were not sincere in their inquiries of him. They would not receive the truth which his servants Jeremiah and Ezekiel proclaimed. Nay, more, in their then moral condition they could not receive the truth of God. With their hearts devoted to idols, how could they apprehend and held fast the pure words of the Lord? So he would send them a message answerable to their own character. These "idolatrous oracle seekers have to expect what corresponds to their state." Hence their own hearts were their seducers. God deals with men according to their character. "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful," etc. (Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26). "The sin and shame, the pain and ruin, of sinners are all from themselves, and their own hearts are the snares in which they are taken; they seduce them, they betray them; their own consciences witness against them, condemn them, and are a terror to them. If God take them, if he discover them, if he convict them, if he bind them over to his judgment, it is all by 'their own heart.' 'O Israeli thou hast destroyed thyself.' The house of Israel is ruined by its own hands, 'because they are all estranged from me through their idols'" (Matthew Henry).
III. HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD EXHORTED TO COMPLY WITH THE CONDITIONS OF ACCEPTABLE APPROACH UNTO HIM. "Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations." Here is a true message from God for them if they will accept it. Repentance towards God was their present and imperative duty. From the Lord the house of Israel had grievously departed, and their true repentance would be a returning to him, and renunciation of their abominable idolatries. Repentance is not mere regret, or self-reproach, or sorrow, or tears. It is that grief for sin which leads to reformation of life. "Repentance," says Shakespeare, "is heart's sorrow, and a clear life ensuing." Now, this was necessary as a condition of approaching God acceptably. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalms 66:18). Men should "pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Timothy 2:8). "Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith," etc. (Hebrews 10:22). When men inquire of God in this spirit, he will grant unto them gracious answers.
IV. HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD WARNED OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN. "For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me," etc. (verses 7-11). Here they are solemnly warned that, if they would not turn from sin unto God:
1. They should encounter the Divine displeasure. "I will set my face against that man," etc. (verse 8). God cannot look upon sin with indifference. He hates it. And if sinners persist in it, he will set his face against them, and visit them because of their transgressions He did this in the case of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Siege and famine, pestilence, slaughter, and captivity were the consequences of their aggravated and long continued. sins and crimes.
2. They should become the victims of their chosen delusions. "If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet," etc. (verses 9, 10). They had chosen idols for their gods; they believed the false prophets rather than the true ones; and if they persisted in their choice they must take the consequences thereof. This was God's answer to their inquiries. He had shown them that by true repentance they would put themselves into right relations with him. But if they would not repent, he would no more speak to them by his prophets, but by his judgments in the just consequences of their sins. Their chosen prophets would he deceived, and would deceive those who inquired of them, and both the prophets and the inquirers should "bear the punishment of their iniquity." But in what sense can the Lord be said to deceive the false prophet, and then to punish him? It is certain that he cannot sin, and that he is not the nuttier of sin. "The deception proceeds originally from indwelling sin (James 1:14), otherwise it could not be the object of punishment." But it was both permitted and regulated by God. He controls both sin and the consequences thereof for the accomplishment of his own glorious purposes (cf. Psalms 76:10). When Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, he did so of his own accord, with no thought of doing the will of the Lord Jehovah, yet unconsciously he was doing that will; and frequently the Lord says that he would do those things which the army of the Chaldean monarch did (cf. Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 5:8-17). God employed the Chaldeans, and regulated and controlled their movements, for the working out of his own plans; yet they were free in those movements, and had no idea that in them they were the agents of the Lord God of Israel. So these false prophets were used by him in the way of judgment, and were controlled by him; but they acted voluntarily in the course which they pursued, and they who consulted them did so of their own will; and both of them should become the victims of their cherished delusions, and "bear the punishment of their iniquity."
3. They should become the means, under God, of leading his people to fidelity unto him. "That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me," etc. (verse 11). This was the Divine design in the punishment of the sinful people. "'God punishes sins by means of sins,' but the end is the re-establishment of righteousness. His people, purified by trials, will cleave to him whom they have forsaken, and become a converted, sanctified people, joined unto their God by a covenant which they will not break" ('Speaker's Commentary'). The judgments of God aim at the promotion of the well being of man.
1. Here is solemn warning against insincere approach unto God.
2. Here is encouragement to approach God sincerely and humbly. (Verses 6, 11.)—W.J.
The privilege and power of the godly, their nature and limitation.
"Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God," etc. Three very distinguished men are here mentioned, two of whom had long passed away from this world and all its scenes, the other was yet amongst men upon earth. Yet Noah and Job are spoken of as still in being. Absent from this world, they were yet living and present in the great universe of God. These undesigned testimonies to man's immortality, to be met with frequently in the Scriptures, afford the basin for a strong argument in support of that fact.
"The dead are like the stars by day,
Withdrawn from mortal eye;
But not extinct, they hold their way
In glory through the sky.
Spirits from bondage thus set free
Vanish amidst immensity,
Where human thought, like human sight,
Fails to pursue their trackless flight."
Daniel at this time, like Ezekiel, was an exile in Babylon, and was eminent both for his piety and his position. Noah, Daniel, and Job were all good men and great men; they are enrolled amongst the most illustrious of our race. The prophet in this paragraph predicts "four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence," by reason of their idolatry and other sins. ‹eze-4› And in the text he declares that, when the hour of judgment arrives, even the presence of such men as Noah, Daniel, and Job in the doomed city would not avail to save any but their own souls.
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF GOOD MEN. Our text announces the safety of good men even in the extremest dangers and the most irresistible judgments. "They shall … deliver their own souls by their righteousness." History affords remarkable examples of the deliverance of the good in times of sore peril (cf. Genesis 7:23; Genesis 18:32; Genesis 19:15-25). But it is not often that the godly are exempted from the calamities and judgments which befall the wicked. Thus Daniel, Ezekiel, and other holy men were carried into Chaldea with those to whom the exile was the punishment of idolatry, and were now suffering that exile with them. But invariably "they deliver their own souls by their righteousness." "If their bodies be not delivered, yet their souls are." Amid the overthrow of cities, the ruin of countries, or even the wreck of the world, their spiritual interests are secure. Moreover, though they are not exempt from general calamities, yet to them the calamities wear a different aspect from that which they present to the wicked. They are sustained under them, and enabled to hear them with heroic patience. The suffering which comes to the wicked as the judgment of a stern Ruler comes to the righteous as the chastisement of a loving Father. And, by his grace, out of the scars of suffering, God will evolve the beauties of holiness. The darkness and anguish which embitter and harden the heart of the wicked will increase the trust and tenderness and refine the graces of the righteous.
II. THE POWER OF GOOD MEN. Our text implies that Noah, Daniel, and Job had power to do much for their fellow men; that they could do much in averting destruction and saving man. The warning that these three saints would not be able to screen them from this judgment implies the belief on the part of the people of Jerusalem that the good men amongst them, by their lives and prayers, would turn aside the threatening storm. If any can turn away the judgments of Heaven from a nation of evil doers, good men can do it. God may spare the wicked because of the righteous. The power of good men to avert Divine wrath from a people has at least two branches.
1. The power of moral influence with men. They are "the salt of the earth." Were it not for their influence society would become hopelessly corrupt, and the storm of God's judgment would sweep the guilty race from the earth.
2. The power of intercession with God. We have illustrious examples of this (cf. Genesis 18:23-32; Exodus 32:11-14, Exodus 32:30-34; Numbers 11:1-3; Numbers 14:13-20; Numbers 16:44-50). Who can estimate the power of the intercession of good men?
III. THE LIMITATION OF THE POWER OF GOOD MEN. "Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter." "When the sin of a people has come to its height, and the decree has gone forth for their ruin, the piety and prayers of the best men shall not prevail to finish the controversy. This is here asserted again and again, that, though these three men were in Jerusalem at this time, yet they should deliver neither son nor daughter, not so much as the little ones should be spared for their sakes." This shows how dark and terrible the guilt of the inhabitants of Jerusalem must have been (cf. Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14). When the forbearance of God is exhausted, any number of the holiest of men cannot ward off the stroke of doom. Character may become so utterly depraved that reformation is impossible, and then nothing but judgment remains. Moral disease may become so deeply rooted and strong that no influence can overcome it, no power eradicate it, and then destruction is inevitable. When the Divine means of reformation have all been tiled, and all have failed, what remains but utter ruin? "Abused patience will turn at last into inexorable wrath."
1. Our subject speaks earnestly to parents concerning the salvation of their children. If you would save your children you must begin to work early and wisely. While the chains of evil habits are unforged, and the heart is susceptible of sacred impressions, and the conscience sensitive, and the sympathies tender, we must seek the salvation of our children if we would secure it. Oh, the time may come when the holiest of men "shall deliver neither son nor daughter" from the storms of God's judgment!
2. Our text reminds us all that salvation is a personal concern. Our kinsfolk and friends may be pious in life and powerful in prayer; but their piety will not avail for them and for us. No man possesses superfluous grace. Continuance in sin may lead, nay, must lead, to a moral condition in which the prayers of the most loving and sainted parents may avail nothing for their own son or daughter. You must believe on Jesus Christ for yourself, repent of your sins yourself. You must "work out your own salvation." There is no working by proxy here. "Each man shall bear his own burden." "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God." Therefore "strive to enter in by the narrow door," etc. "Give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure."—W.J.
Ezekiel 14:22, Ezekiel 14:23
The righteousness of God doubted and vindicated.
"Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth," etc. Our text, as Fairbairn points out, "is addressed to the people already in exile, who are regarded as viewing the destruction about to be executed on Jerusalem with astonishment and some degree of dissatisfaction. The prophet tells such there would certainly be a remnant—not, however, in the proper sense, as if they were themselves deserving persons, or spared for blessing for the sake of the pious among them—but a remnant still so wedded to sin, and so manifestly deserving of severe chastisement, that every one would recognize the justice of God's dealings toward them. 'Ye shall see,' to use the language of Calvin, 'the men to be so wicked, that ye shall be forced to confess the city was deserving of destruction, and the men themselves worthy of death. And instead of murmuring and fretting against God, ye shall be satisfied it could not have been otherwise ordered, their wickedness was of so desperate a nature; so that with soothed and tranquil minds, ye shall henceforth proclaim my righteousness, and cease any more to utter the complaints which now disturb your minds!'" Let us consider—
I. THE CONCERN OF THE GOOD FOR THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS. Ezekiel foresaw that his fellow exiles would be amazed at the sternness of the judgments of God upon Jerusalem. Those judgments would be of great severity. And amongst the exiles there were some pious persons who would be troubled with doubts as to whether the Lord had sufficient cause for what he had done there. They would be distressed with the suspicion that perhaps the visitation of God had been disproportionate in its severity—that the sins of the people had not merited such punishment. And they would be distressed with misgivings as to the righteousness of God in the matter. "So long as we do not understand that God on just grounds acts sternly, so long are our souls distressed and tormented." Somewhat thus Abraham felt respecting the doom pronounced on Sodom and Gomorrah. "That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" We have here, as Robertson, in fragmentary hut striking and suggestive notes, remarks, "a suspicion of the Divine justice: the most horrible with which the mind of man can be tempted. Dreadful to doubt one's own salvation, and feel suspended over the gulf! But a more terrible gulf when we doubt whether all is right here. 'Oh, to sue the misery of this bleeding world!' Consider for a moment the misconception of these words, 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' They have been used to prove the sovereignty of God. God is Judge, therefore what he does is right. He has a right, and therefore it is right. But Abraham does not say that. So far from acquiescing in the predestinarian feeling—it is to be, and therefore it is right; God is a sovereign, and may do what he pleases—he is precisely doubting this, whether, though God be Judge, his deeds are right, taking the moral sense of Abraham as a text, and considering it horrible if God's acts do not agree with it. It is a perilous way of speaking, 'God has a right to decree what he will; my salvation, your damnation.' It is not so the Bible speaks. It appeals to the sense of justice, 'Are not my ways equal?' etc. God never says, 'I create a thing right, therefore I do it.' God's will does not make a thing right. It is God's character which determines his will. For else, if the devil had created this world, wrong would be right, because his will, and we should have the terrible doctrine—might makes right" ('Life and Letters,' Appendix 3.) This is as applicable to the doubts and fears of the exiles as to the righteousness of God in his judgments upon Jerusalem, as to the doubts of Abraham as to the doom of the cities of the plain. This concern of godly men for the righteousness of God's dealings implies:
1. An inward sense of righteousness. It is a testimony to the existence and exercise and majesty of the moral sense in man. It is an outcome of the working of conscience.
2. Deep solicitude for the honour of God. Any doubt of his holiness, or of the rectitude of his doings, causes sore pain to his people, and it does so because the glory of his character is unspeakably dear to them.
II. THE CONVICTION OF THE GOOD OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS. The Lord, by the prophet, assures the troubled exiles that they should know treat he had not done without cause all that he had done in Jerusalem.
1. This conviction would be wrought by the manifestation of the wickedness of the people. "Therein shall be left a remnant that shall be carried forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings," etc. The remnant that should be carried into captivity would make it clear, from their degradation and sin, that the judgments inflicted upon Jerusalem were deserved by the guilty inhabitants thereof. The exhibition of their wickedness would manifest the justice of God in their punishment. The pious exiles in Chaldea would perceive "that such corruption had deserved such destruction." "God's righteousness is clearly manifest in those that perish, as well as by means of those that escape."
2. This conviction would bring peace to the good. "Ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem," etc. "The comfort lies in the justification of the ways of God." Their painful doubts as to his righteousness would be destroyed. Their faith in him would be established. And faith brings peace and rest to the soul.
3. The production of this conviction was ordered by God. He did not chide or condemn them for their painful doubts; but promised them evidence for the invigoration and confirmation of their faith. And he so controlled events as to bring about this result. It appears from this that he is concerned
(1) for the vindication of his own righteousness, and
(2) for the peace of his people.
Wherefore in his own time he will remove every cloud that veils the rectitude of his works and ways, and make it apparent to the whole intelligent universe that all his purposes and operations are just and true.
1. Let us cherish a strong assurance of the righteousness of God in all his designs and deeds.
2. If in anything his righteousness seems hidden from us, let us wait patiently for his own vindication thereof.—W.J.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27