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A new date is given, and includes what follows to Ezekiel 23:49. The last note of time was in Ezekiel 8:1, and eleven months and five days had passed, during which the prophecies of the intervening chapters had been written or spoken. We may note further that it was two years one month and five days after the prophet's call to his work (Ezekiel 1:1-28.), and two years and five months before the Chaldeans besieged Jerusalem (Ezekiel 24:1). The immediate occasion here, as in Ezekiel 8:1, was that some of the elders of Israel bad come to the prophet to inquire what message of the Lord he had to give them in the present crisis. Whether any stress is to be laid on the fact that here the elders are said to be "of Israel," and in Ezekiel 8:1 "of Judah," is doubtful (see note on Ezekiel 14:1). Ezekiel seems to use the two words as interchangeable. Here, however, it is stated more definitely that they came to inquire, probably in the hope that he would tell them, as other prophets were doing, that the time of their deliverance, and of that of Jerusalem, was at hand. Passing into the prophetic state, Ezekiel delivers the discourse that follows.
As I live, saith the Lord God, etc. The inquirers are answered, but not as they expected. Instead of hearing of the "times and seasons" of the events that were in the near future, the prophet at once enters on his stern work as a preacher. The general principle that determines the refusal to answer has been given in Ezekiel 14:3.
Wilt thou judge them, etc.? The doubled question has the force of a strong imperative. The prophet is directed, as it were, to assume the office of a judge, and as such to press home upon his hearers, and through them upon others, their own sins and those of their fathers. He is led, in doing so, to yet another survey of the nation's history; not now, as in Ezekiel 16:1-63; in figurative language, but directly.
Ezekiel 20:5, Ezekiel 20:6
In the day that I lifted up mine hand. The attitude was that of one who takes an oath (Exodus 6:8), and implies the confirmation of the covenant made with Abraham. The land flowing with milk and honey appears first in Exodus 3:8, and became proverbial. The glory of all lands is peculiar to Ezekiel. Isaiah (Isaiah 13:19) applies the word to Babylon.
No special mention of the idols of Egypt occurs in the Pentateuch, but it lies, in the nature of the case, that this was the form of idolatry implied in the second commandment, and the history of the "golden calf" (Exodus 32:4) shows that they had caught the infection of the Mnevis or Apis worship while they sojourned in Egypt. Here apparently the prophet speaks of that sojourn prior to the mission of Moses. In bold anthropomorphic speech he represents Jehovah as half purposing to make an end of the people there and then, and afterwards repenting. He wrought for his Name's sake, that the deliverance of the Exodus might manifest his righteousness and might, the attributes specially implied in that Name, to Egypt and the surrounding nations. They should not have it in their power to say that he had abandoned the people whom he had chosen.
I gave them my statutes, etc. Ezekiel recognizes, almost in the very language of Deuteronomy 30:16-20, as fully as the writers of Psalms 19:1-14 and Psalms 119:1-176. recognized, the excellence of the Law. A man who kept that Law in its fulness would have life in its fullest and highest sense. He was beginning, however, to recognize, as Jeremiah had (lone (Jeremiah 31:31), the powerlessness of the Law to give that life without the aid of something higher. The "new covenant" was already dawning on the mind of the scholar as on that of the master.
I gave them my sabbaths, etc. As in Exodus 31:12-17, the sabbath is treated as the central sign (we might almost say sacrament) of the Jewish Church, not only as a mark differencing them from other nations, but as between Jehovah and them, a witness of their ideal relation to each other, a means of making that ideal relation a reality.
It is hardly necessary to count up the several instances of rebellion, from the sin of the golden calf onward. Of direct violation of the sabbath we have but two recorded instances (Exodus 16:27; Numbers 15:32); but the prophet looked below the surface, and would count a mere formal observance, that did not sanctify the sabbath, as a pollution of the holy day. (For parallel teaching in the prophets, see Isaiah 56:2-4; Isaiah 58:13; Jeremiah 17:21-27; and later on in the history, probably as the result of their teaching, Nehemiah 10:31-33; Nehemiah 13:15-22.) Then I said. The history of Numbers 14:26 and Numbers 26:65 was probably in Ezekiel's thoughts.
Their heart went after their idols. The words may point generally to the fact that the idolatrous tendencies of the people, though suppressed, were not really eradicated. The history of Baal-peor (Numbers 25:3-9) shows how ready they were to pass into act, and Amos 5:25, Amos 5:26 implies a tradition of other like acts during the whole period of the wanderings in the wilderness.
I said unto their children, etc. The words can refer to nothing but the great utterance of the Book of Deuteronomy as addressed to the children of those who had perished in the wilderness. That utterance also, it is implied, as indeed the Baal-peor history at the close of the forty years showed, fell on deaf ears. Then also there was, once again, in the inevitable anthropomorphic language, a change of purpose, from that of a rigorous judgment to the mercy which prevailed against it.
That I would scatter them among the heathen. The words seem to refer to the generation that had grown up in the wilderness, and, so taken, do not correspond with the history of the conquest of Canaan. What Ezekiel contemplates, however, as the resolve of Jehovah, is the commutation of the sentence of destruction for that of the dispersion of the people, leaving the time and manner of that dispersion to be determined by his own will. Possibly even in the time of the judges, with its many conquests and long periods of oppression, there were instances of such dispersion, and these, with others that would naturally accompany an invasion like that of Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:2-9), not to speak of frequent attacks from Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, Edomites, and Syrians, may have seemed to the prophet the working out, step by step, of the dispersion which culminated in the deportation of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser, and of Judah and Benjamin by Nebuchadnezzar. Traces of such dispersions before Ezekiel's time meet us in Psalms 78:59-64; Isaiah 11:11, Isaiah 11:12; Zephaniah 3:10, Zephaniah 3:20.
I gave them also statutes that were not good, etc. The words have sometimes been understood as though Ezekiel applied these terms to the Law itself, either as speaking of what St. Paul calls its "weak and beggarly elements" (Galatians 4:9), or as unable to work out the righteousness which it commanded (Romans 3:20), and the language of Hebrews 7:19 and Hebrews 10:1 has been urged in support of this view. One who has studied Ezekiel with any care will not need many words to show that such a conclusion was not in his thoughts at all. For him the Law was "holy and just and good," and its statutes such that a man who should keep them should even live in them (verses 13, 21). He is speaking of the time that followed on the second publication of that Law, and what he Says is that the people who rebelled against it were left, as it were, to a law of another kind. The baser, darker forms of idolatry are described by him, with a grave irony, as statutes and judgments of another kind, working, not life, but death. Sin became, by God's appointment, the punishment of sin, that it might be manifest as exceeding sinful. So Stephen says of Israel that "God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42). So St. Paul paints the corruptions of the heathen world as the result of God's giving them up to "vile affections" (Romans 1:24, Romans 1:25). So in God's future dealings with an apostate form of Christianity, the same apostle declares that "God shall send them strong delusions that they should believe a lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Psalms 81:12 may have been in Ezekiel's thoughts as asserting the same general law.
I polluted them through their own gifts. The noun includes all forms of blessing bestowed on Israel—its corn and wine and oil (see Ezekiel 16:19, Ezekiel 16:20), even its sons and daughters, the fruit of the womb, as well as the increase of the earth. (For the prevalence of Moloch worship, and for the phrase, "pass through," see notes on Ezekiel 16:21.) The sins were to bring desolation as their punishment, and then men would learn to know Jehovah as indeed he is.
It was a special aggravation of the sin that it was committed in the very land into which they had been brought by the oath (the "hand lifted up") of Jehovah, that it might be a holy land, a witness of the Divine righteousness to the nations round about. The forms of worship include that of the high places, and the thick trees (Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6) width witnessed the cultus of the Asherah or of Ashtaroth.
What is the high place, etc.? Bamah, in the plural Bamoth, was the Hebrew for "high place." At first it was applied to the hill on which some local sanctuary stood (1 Samuel 9:12; 1 Kings 3:4), but was gradually extended, after the building of the temple as the one appointed sanctuary, to other places which were looked upon as sacred, and which became the scenes of an idolatrous and forbidden worship. Ezekiel emphasizes his scorn by a conjectural derivation of the word, as if derived from the two words ba ("go") and mah ("whither"); or, perhaps, What comes?. Taking the words in their ordinary sense, they seem to express only a slight degree of contempt. "What, then, is the place to which you go?"—what is the "whither" to which it leads? But I incline (with Ewald and Smend) to see in the word "go into" the meaning which it has in Genesis 16:2 and Genesis 19:31, and elsewhere, as a euphemism for sexual union. So later the word "Bamah" becomes a witness that those who worship in the high place go there (as in Genesis 19:30) to commit whoredom literally and spiritually. Its name showed that it was what I have called "a chapel of prostitution" (Gen 16:1-16 :24, 25).
Say ye unto the house of Israel, etc. The words are addressed primarily to the elders who had come to consult the prophet (Ezekiel 20:1), but through them to all their contemporaries and fellow countrymen. They still in heart and even in deed (comp. Isaiah 57:4-6, Isaiah 57:11, and Isaiah 65:3, as showing the habits of the exiles) clung to the old idolatries. The question for them was whether they would continue to walk in the ways of their fathers. If so, it was true of them, as of the elders, that the Lent to whom they came would not be inquired of by them.
That which cometh into your mind, etc. The prophet reads tide secret thoughts of the inquirers. If the temple were destroyed, they thought, then the one restraint on the idolatries they loved would be removed. They would be no longer a separate people, and would be free to adopt the cultus of the heathen among whom they lived. If that was not Jehovah's purpose for them, then there must be no destruction of the temple, no dispersion among the nations. They come to Ezekiel to know which of the two alternatives he, as the prophet of Jehovah, has in store, and his answer is that he is bound to nether. They could not abdicate their high position, and would remain under the burden of its responsibilities. Scattered though they might be among the heathen, yet even there the "mighty hand and the stretched-out arm" (we note the phrases as from Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15) would hunt them down, and punish them for their iniquities.
Ezekiel 20:34, Ezekiel 20:35
The prophet's words seem to look beyond the horizon of any fulfilment as yet seen in history, of which the return of the exiles under Zerubbabel was but the pledge and earnest. He contemplates not a return straight from Babylon to Jerusalem, but a gathering from all the countries in which they had been scattered (Isaiah 11:11). When gathered, the whole nation is to be brought into the wilderness of the peoples, bordered by many nations. This may probably point to the great Syro-Arabian desert lying between Babylon and Palestine. This was to be to them what the wilderness of Sinai had been in the time of the Exodus. There Jehovah would plead with them face to face, in the first instance as an accuser. (For face to face, as expressing the direct revelation of Jehovah, see Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 5:4; Deuteronomy 34:10, and elsewhere.)
I will cause you to pass under the rod. The "rod" (same word as in Psalms 23:4) is primarily that of chastisement, but it is also that of the shepherd who gathers in his flock (Ezekiel 34:11; Le Ezekiel 27:32; Micah 7:14). Into the bond of the covenant. The word for "bond" (only found here in the Old Testament) is probably cognate with that for "fetter" or "bond" (Isaiah 52:2; Jeremiah 5:5; Jeremiah 27:2). The chastisement was, for those who accepted it, to do its work by restoring the blessings of the covenant which apostasy had forfeited.
The thought of the shepherd suggests, as in Matthew 25:33, the separation of the sheep from the goats. The land of the restored Israel was to be a land of righteousness, and the rebels were not to enter into it. Was Ezekiel thinking of those who were thus to die in the "wilderness of the peoples" as a counterpart of those who perished in the forty years of the wandering, and did not enter Canaan? Verse 36 seems to imply that he was looking for a repetition of that history. The solemn fast kept by Ezra by the river of Ahava (Ezra 8:21-22) may be noted as corresponding, on a small scale, to Ezekiel's expectations.
Go ye, serve every man his idols, etc. The command comes as with a grave irony. "Be at least consistent. Sin on, if it is your will to sin; but do not make the sin worse by the hypocrisy of an unreal worship, and mix up the name of Jehovah with the ritual of Moloch" (comp. Joshua 24:19, Joshua 24:20). The margin of the Revised Version, with not a few critics (Keil), gives, "but hereafter surely ye shall hearken unto me" ("if not" equivalent to "ye shall," as in the familiar idiom of Psalms 95:11, where "if" is equivalent to "shall not"). So taken, the verse looks forward to what follows.
From the earlier stage of the restoration the prophet passes on to its completion. The people have come to the mountain of the height of Israel (Micah 4:1, Micah 4:2; Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 2:3). Ezekiel sees an Israel that shall at last be worthy of its name, the worship of false gods rooted out forever. The all of them points to the breaking down of the old division between Israel and Judah (Isaiah 11:13). Jehovah would accept the "heave offering" (same word as in Exo 24:1-18 :27; Le Exodus 7:14, et al.) and other oblations. The fact that Israel itself is said to be the "sweet savour" (Revised Version) which Jehovah accepts suggests a like spiritual interpretation of the other offerings, though the literal meaning was probably dominant in the prophet's own thoughts. The nearest approach to a parallelism in a later age is that presented by Romans 9-11.; but it is noticeable how there St. Paul avoids any words that imply the perpetuation of the temple and its ritual, and confines himself to the spiritual restoration of his brethren according to the flesh. It was given to him to see, what the prophets did not see, that that perpetuation would frustrate the purpose of the restoration; that the temple and its ritual took their places among the things that "were decaying and waxing old," and were ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13).
I will be sanctified in you, etc. God is sanctified when he is manifested and recognized as holy (Le Ezekiel 10:3; Numbers 20:13). That recognition would be the consequence of the restoration of Israel, for then it would be seen, even by the heathen, that the God of Israel had been holy and just and true in his judgments, and that he seeks to make men partakers of his holiness.
And there shall ye remember, etc. The words stretch far and wide, and throw light on many of the problems that connect themselves with the conversion of the sinner and the eschatology of the Divine government. The whole evil past is still remembered after repentance and forgiveness. There is no water of Lethe, such as the Greeks fabled, such as Dante dreamt of as the condition of entering Paradise ('Purg.,' 31.94-105). The self-loathing and humility which grow out of that memory, the acceptance of all the punishment of the past as less than had been deserved,—these are the conditions and safeguards of the new blessedness. Ezekiel teaches us, i.e; that it is possible to conceive of an eternal punishment, the punishment of memory, shame, self-loathing, as compatible with eternal life. So (in verse 44) the prophet ends what is perhaps, the profoundest and the noblest of his discourses, his "vindication of the ways of God to man."
In the Hebrew the verses that follow form the opening of the next chapter. The Authorized Version follows the LXX; the Vulgate, and Luther. The section has clearly no connection with what has preceded, and, though fragmentary in its character, seems by the words, "set thy face," to connect itself with Ezekiel 21:2, and to lead up to it. The words of verse 45 imply, as always, an interval of silence and repose.
Drop thy word. The verb is used specially of prophetic utterances (Ezekiel 21:2; Amos 7:6; Micah 2:6, Micah 2:11), and stands, therefore, in the Hebrew without an object. Toward the south. Three distinct words are used in the Hebrew for the thrice-repeated "south" of the Authorized Version.
(1) One which primarily means "the region on the right hand," sc. as a man looks to the east. which Ezekiel also uses in Ezekiel 47:19; Ezekiel 48:28);
(2) the "shining land," used repeatedly in Ezekiel 40:1-49; Ezekiel 42:1-20. (Deuteronomy 33:23; Job 37:17; Ecclesiastes 1:6; Ecclesiastes 11:3); and
(3) the Negeb, the "dry" or "parched" land, the South (always in Revised Version with a capital letter), of Joshua 15:21, and the historical books generally, the region lying to the south of Judah. The use of the three words where one might have sacrificed is, perhaps, characteristic of Ezekiel's affluence of diction. The LXX. treats all three as proper names, and transliterates them as Thaiman, Darom, and N'ageb. Against this region and its inhabitants (they, of course, are the "trees") Ezekiel is directed to utter his words of judgment. The parenthesis in the last sentence gives the key to the prophet's cypher writing. From Ezekiel's standpoint on the Chebar, the whole of Judah is as the forest of the south. The "green tree," as in Psalms 1:1, Psalms 1:2, is the man who is relatively righteous; the "dry tree" is the sinner whose true life is withered; the "fire" the devastation wrought by the Chaldean invaders, as executing the Divine judgment. In our Lord's words in Luke 23:31 we may probably find an echo of Ezekiel's imagery.
All faces from the south to the north, etc. The phrase seems, at first, to pass from the figure to the reality. Possibly, however, face may stand for "the outward appearance," the leaves and branches, of the trees. "From the south (Negeb) to the north" takes the place of the older "from Dan to Beersheba" (Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20). Of that "fire" of judgment, it is said, as in our Lord's use of a like imagery, that it shall not be quenched (Mark 9:43). It shall do its dread work till that work is accomplished.
Doth he not speak parables? We can scarcely wonder that Ezekiel's enigmatic words here, as in Ezekiel 15:1-8, Ezekiel 16:1-63, and Ezekiel 17:1-24, should have called forth some such expression from his hearers; but he obviously records the whisper which he thus heard, in a tone of sorrow and indignation. It was to him a proof, as a like question was to the Christ proof that those hearers were yet without understanding. The question was, for those who asked it, an excuse for hardening their hearts against remonstrances which needed no explanation. The indignation was followed by another interval of silence, during which he brooded over their stubbornness, and at last, in Ezekiel 21:1, the word of the Lord comes to him, and he speaks "no more in proverbs," but interprets the latest parable even in its details.
The silent oracle.
An embassy of elders is sent to Ezekiel to make an inquiry of the Lord through the prophet as to what is to be expected at a new juncture of national affairs, and Ezekiel is instructed to tell them that God will vouchsafe no answer.
I. THOSE WHO REFUSE TO HEAR WHAT GOD DESIRES TO TEACH THEM ARE ANXIOUS FOR LIGHT ON LESS IMPORTANT QUESTIONS. This was the peculiar, the anomaluus, position of Israel. God had not been keeping silence. On the contrary, he had been sending repeated messages to his people, and the Prophet Ezekiel had been busy in teaching what God had revealed to him. This was not a time, like that of Samuel, when the word of the Lord was rare. But the people had not cared to receive the Divine messages. Here was Ezekiel's trouble. He had to preach to deaf ears and to exhibit his prophetic signs to blind eyes (Ezekiel 12:2). The perversity of his audience had driven him to novel and startling symbolical representations of truth in a last, despairing endeavour to arrest attention. And yet even these efforts seemed to have been all in vain. Then there came to him an embassy, innocently ignoring all these neglected oracles, and blandly requesting a Divine answer to certain inquiries of their own. Was there ever a more insolent approach to God? Now, we have a full and rich Divine revelation in the Bible, and especially in the gospel of Christ. Here we may see God's message to man and God's answer to the most momentous inquiries of the soul. Yet there are men who set aside these voices of God, and then plead piteously for light. No doubt these elders of Israel did not wish to be troubled about their sins; they were anxious for light on their fate. They were like those people who discuss the problem of future punishment, and with keen interest, but who are indifferent to the voice of conscience and the Divine call to repentance. Yet there is a pathetic side to this subject. Those who reject God still feel driven to him for refuge in trouble.
II. GOD WILL GIVE NO ANSWER TO THE NEW QUESTIONS OF THOSE WHO REFUSE TO GIVE HEED TO HIS WORD ALREADY RECEIVED. We cannot be surprised that Ezekiel's oracle was silenced. Such insolence as that of the elders of Israel could meet with no more gracious reception.
1. If we refuse to hear God's Word, we must expect to be left in darkness. Before we cry for more light, let us use the light we have. We may indeed pray for God's Spirit to help our interpretation of the Bible, and having read the written Word we may crave more light still. But first to reject the Divine revelation and then to seek for new light is not the way to receive more truth.
2. God will not give light to those who harden themselves in impenitence. The Jews had been charged with sin and called to repentance. They had refused to admit the charge and had declined to repent. Thus they had shut the door against further Divine communications. The spiritual vision is best purged by the tears of penitence. A hard heart is deaf to God's Word.
3. It is useless to be informed about the future unless we listen to the spiritual teachings of God. Men resorted to oracles to satisfy idle curiosity or to seek mere worldly guidance. God does not speak for such comparatively worthless ends. We most need spiritual instruction for the guidance of our souls into the way of life. Till we have received and obeyed that instruction any other form of revelation must be irrelevant, distracting, and therefore positively injurious.
The elect Israel.
The elect Israel is a type of the people of God, the spiritual Israel. Consider the peculiarities of the one as indications of the special marks of the other.
I. THE WAY IN WHICH ISRAEL WAS MADE AN ELECT NATION.
1. Chosen by God. This is the root idea of election. God chooses his people before they choose him—chooses them out of the multitude, and so constitutes them a separate nation. The grounds of the choice rest with him and need not be divulged. But we may be sure there are grounds, and that these are not capricious. History has revealed one great end of the election of Israel. The nation was chosen in order that it might become the channel of blessing to all nations. So the Church is chosen to be God's means of bringing the gospel to the whole world.
2. Chosen in a state of degradation. The Jews were chosen in Egypt. Though promises had been made to the patriarchs centuries earlier, the fulfilment of those promises commenced with God's deliverance from the bondage of Pharaoh. When the people seemed to be most lost they were found by God. When they appeared to be of least value he chose them for himself. The Lord married the castaway child (Ezekiel 16:8). Thus God now takes his people in their low estate.
3. Chosen by deeds of might. God proved his choice by bringing his people out of bondage. He "lifted up" his "hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob." With God to will is to do. The mighty deeds of God in the plagues and the passage of the Red Sea are outdone by his great work in Christ. In Christ God does not only choose us, he lifts up his hand to save.
4. Chosen through the revelation of God. God made known his Name to Israel through Moses (Exodus 3:15). We must know God to hear his voice. The revelation of Christ goes with the election of God. The chosen are called by means of the gospel.
II. THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH ISRAEL WAS ELECTED.
1. High privileges.
(1) Deliverance. The Jews were chosen to be delivered from Egypt. God chooses his people, in the first place, in order to save them from their evil condition. Salvation is the first result of election.
(2) The possession of Canaan. This "land flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands," was given to Israel by God, not inherited by right, nor won by the sword apart from God's interference. God gives his people the kingdom of heaven here, and the heavenly Canaan hereafter. It is a glorious privilege to be counted among the true people of God; for the fruits of the gospel are sweeter and more satisfying to the soul than the best crops of Palestine to the body.
2. Holy living. There was a condition of the Divine election, or rather, a condition on which the continuation of its privileges depended. The Jews were to cast away their idols, as God could endure no rivals. The people had been chosen in their idolatry; but they were required to renounce it. God chooses his people now while they are yet runners. But his choice means that they must give up their sins, and if they still cleave to them the election will be rendered null and void. The great mercy of God in choosing souls before the souls have turned to. him should be sufficient ground to induce all who accept the privileges of the gospel to live up to the standard it sets forth. After God has chosen us to be his people the least we can do is to choose him to be our Portion (Psalms 73:26).
Law and life.
I. THE LAW WAS GIVEN AS A MINISTER OF LIFE. God vouchsafed his statutes in order that the Jews might live by means of them. Without those ordinances they were in danger of death, for they were sinners, and the fruit of sin is death. Thus we see that the Law was given in mercy. It came as a blessing. It was in its aim a gospel. Nothing can be further from the truth than the notion that it was a rod of chastisement, or even, as some have regarded it, an evil thing, a sort of curse upon sinners. It was not so regarded by the Old Testament saints, who sang hymns in praise of it, and hailed it with language of affection and rapture (e.g. Psalms 40:1-17 and Psalms 119:1-176).
1. Truth leads to life. The Law was a revelation of God's eternal verities, without which the soul would perish in the night of its own ignorance.
2. Righteousness would make for life. The Law declared the nature of righteousness, and pointed out the path on which it could be pursued. Thus it was an aid to conscience. Further, by its sanctions of menace and promise it urged the careless to walk in that path.
3. Grace leads to life. The Law did not exclude all grace. On the contrary, it was given in mercy, and it contained saving provisions in various forms of condescension to human weakness and in the great institution of sacrifices for sin.
II. THE LAW PROVED TO BE A MESSENGER OF DEATH. (See Ezekiel 20:25). We have come to regard the Law with aversion under the influence of the arguments of St. Paul. Yet he distinctly teaches that the Law was good, but that the perversion of it led to ruin (Romans 7:12).
1. The Law condemns sin. Before we have sinned it is a friend to warn us against doing wrong, but by sinning we have turned it into an enemy. The warning beacon has thus become an ominous meteor, the sign post a gallows tree. That which by its guidance protects the innocent from death, by its judgments condemns the guilty to death (Romans 7:10).
2. The Law is powerless to save from sin.
(1) Its commandments cannot save. They are standards of measurement, not direct powers. Though they urge through conscience, fear, and hope, they only appeal to our nature in its present state. They do not create a new heart. They may drive us to flee from the wrath to come; but they do not provide any refuge.
(2) Its sacrifices cannot save. Ceremonial sacrifices could only save from ceremonial sins. In regard to moral guilt these sacrifices could only typify cleansing, not really accomplish it (Psalms 51:16; Hebrews 10:4).
III. THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS THE ONLY EFFECTUAL WAY OF LIFE. The Law was "weak," though not on account of its own imperfection, but "through the flesh," i.e. on account of man's human degradation, so that man did not respond to it. Therefore God sent his Son to bring the salvation which the Law was powerless to produce (Romans 8:3).
1. In Christ we have the gift of life. (1 John 5:12). Nothing less than death is due under the Law; nothing less than life is given by Christ. This we receive by active regenerating grace, not by the erection of a new standard of morals—the Sermon on the Mount substituted for the Ten Commandments—but by the presence and work of a living Saviour.
2. This life in Christ does not destroy the glory of the Law.
(1) Christ satisfies the Law in his own Person.
(2) He destroys in us the sin which makes the Law our enemy and earns the death penalty.
(3) He gives us his new law of love, his eternal statutes, "which, if a man do, he shall even live in them" (Matthew 7:24-27; John 15:10).
The sanctity of the sabbath.
The sabbath was given to Israel as a day of rest for man and beast (Exodus 20:8-11). But it also had a deeper mystical significance which gave it a peculiar sanctity. It was the sign of Israel, the note by which the chosen people might be marked, the seal of the covenant of Sinai, as circumcision was the seal of the earlier covenant with Abraham. In this particular, of course, the sabbath belonged only to the Jews under the Law, and our neglect of the seventh day and observance of the "Lord's day" are signs that we have passed under a new covenant with a new sanction, seal, and token, viz. that of the communion (Luke 22:20), which therefore takes a place with us corresponding to the sabbath in the Law and circumcision among the patriarchs. Nevertheless, the grounds on which the sabbath was selected as the symbol of the covenant of the Law are wider than the dominion of Israel, and deserve to be inquired into with a view to ascertaining their perpetual significance.
I. THE SANCTITY OF THE SABBATH WAS ASSOCIATED WITH NATURE. God rested from creation (Genesis 2:2). This fact is stated in primitive language. But the latest science shows that the course of nature is not a mechanical revolution, but a sort of vital pulsation. Its movement is rhythmic. It goes by shock and pause. It has its work and its rest. Summer activity and winter sleep, day and night, storm and cairn, are nature's alternate week days and sabbaths. We are part of nature, and must observe its methods.
II. THE SANCTITY OF THE SABBATH WAS ASSOCIATED WITH THE NEEDS OF MAN. "The sabbath was made for man." Therefore man needed the sabbath.
1. He needed the rest. Ceaseless toil wears and frets the very fibre of life. Masters and slaves, as well as the beast of burden, were benefited by the Jewish sabbath. We are not under the same formal regulations as those by which Israel was governed. But the conditions of business life in the modern world are so much more exacting than any that can be imagined to belong to the simple pastoral and agricultural life of the ancient Jews, that the requirement of some equivalent to their sabbath must be much stronger with us.
2. He needed the opportunity for remembering God. The sabbath was sacred to the covenant. Sunday is sacred to the resurrection of Christ. The congenial thoughts and holy occupations of such a day are helpful.
"The Sundaies of man's life,
Thredded together on time's string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternal, glorious King.
On Sunday heaven's gates stand ope;
Blessings are plentiful and rife,
More plentiful than hope."
III. THE SANCTITY OF THE SABBATH WAS ASSOCIATED WITH GOD. God ordained the sabbath; it was typical of his resting; and it was the seal of his covenant with Israel. Thus it was in a threefold sense God's day. Christ has warned us against the formal abuse of its sanctity, and St. Paul has dared to assert a large Christian liberty in regard to it. Anything that makes its use formal savours of the Law, is Judaistic, is anti-Christian. Anything that makes it a day of gloom and repression is even contrary to its old Jewish observance as a festival. But, on the other hand, God has claims of worship. If Sunday is given up to amusement or toil those claims are ignored. It is our duty to give them all possible range in this age of driving secular interests. Thus are we led on to
"The sabbaths of eternity,
One sabbatic, deep and wide."
(Tennyson, 'St. Agnes.')
A human wilderness.
I. WHAT IT IS. Israel is to be brought "into the wilderness of the peoples." The wanderings of their fathers was in "a waste howling wilderness" (Deuteronomy 32:10), among the wild beasts and far from the cities and homes of men; but the exile of the nation in Ezekiel's day was a transportation into the midst of the settled populous country of Babylon. ChaLdea was no Siberia. Banishment from Canaan did not lead to a return to the freedom and the hardships of a nomadic life. The captive Jews were planted among other nations. Although a strange blight has since fallen upon the scene of the exile, and the ruins of the great cities of the Euphrates have now become a veritable wilderness, haunted by lions and hyenas, those cities were at the height of their prosperity and splendour when the prophet lived and wrote. How, then, could he speak of them as a wilderness?
1. A great city is a human wilderness. The greater the city, the more desolate is the wilderness. The social life of small cities like Jerusalem and Athens must have been strong and pleasant. But this life is swamped in the myriads of unknown faces that one sees in a vast city. Great Babylon, Rome, and London—the modern Babylon—have the character of a wilderness.
2. There is no banishment so terrible as that of being lost in a human wilderness. People who could be tracked over Dartmoor and among the fells of Yorkshire may be utterly lost in London. Every year there are many broken lives that go down in the awful misery that floods the lower parts of a great city, and no one misses them. Their individuality has been drowned in a sea of humanity. The most heart-rending loneliness is that of a friendless man in a crowd—so many fellow beings, and not a spark of fellow feeling!
II. HOW IT IS USED. The city wilderness is used for the punishment of the Jews; but not for that only.
1. God meets his people in the wilderness. Success blinds us to the presence of God. Society makes us deaf to his voice. Adversity and solitude prepare us to remember him and to hearken to his Word. We need not flee to the wilderness of a John the Baptist—to the seclusion of a hermitage among the silent rocks—in order to meet with God. He will visit us in the crowded city. When the heart sinks, sad and faint at its own loneliness amid the din of a crowded life in which the lost wanderer has no share, God is ready to whisper words of comfort. He can find his poor suffering child in the crowd, and draw near to him there as well as in the field, the chamber, or the temple. God comes into most intimate relations with his people in their hour of desolation. He meets them "face to face." In the old wilderness of Sinai the Jews shrank from such near contact with God, so that it was reserved for Moses alone (Exodus 33:11). Now it is to be for all Israel. Thus deep distress has its privileges.
2. God pleads with his people. He desires to save; he urges repentance. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 1:18). When men are most cold and repellant, perhaps our heart may be open to the sympathy of God. Then we can see that he seeks us in a great, undying love.
Note, it is a shame to Christendom that there should be a human wilderness among us. Heathen cities were cruel. But brotherhood is essential to Christianity. May we not say that, after pleading with us for our own sakes, God also pleads with us that we may save our lost brothers and sisters?
God's holy mountain.
I. THE SITE. God's holy mountain is the site of the temple at Jerusalem. God promises his people that the exile will cease, that they shall return and worship him once more at the old sacred spot. Note the characteristics of it.
1. It is exalted. A mountain. Jerusalem is two thousand feet above the level of the Mediterranean Sea. The rock where the altar of burnt offering stood—now covered by what is called the "Mosque of Omar"—is the highest part of Mount Morlah. We look up to heaven in worship.
2. It is conspicuous. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Private worship should be unostentatious and secret (Matthew 6:6); but public worship should be open to all, and well known, that others may be invited, and that God may be glorified. Churches should be built in conspicuous places.
3. It is consecrated by old memories. There the fathers worshipped, and there also God came down and blessed his people in the olden time. Faith is strengthened, and worship stimulated by such memories.
II. THE SERVICE.
1. The people are to serve. They will not be rescued only to be left to enjoy themselves in idleness. The restored exiles are redeemed for high service. Christians are not saved from ruin that they may slumber in listless indifference. Indeed, part of Christ's salvation is deliverance from idleness, and the redemption of our powers that they may be turned to higher uses, i.e. to the service of God.
2. God is to be the one Lord served. In the old days of sin the people had attempted a divided allegiance. But this must now cease. The redeemed must live to the Lord. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24).
III. THE ACCEPTANCE. This is the heart of the whole promise, from which the glow and joy of it spring. God had rejected his people and their sacrifices, casting the men into exile and permitting the sacrifices to cease. Before that disaster, he had refused to accept the offerings of those who practised wickedness (Isaiah 1:13). But now on their return to their old home as purged penitents, God will accept both the people and their gifts. All our labor is in vain unless it be accepted by him to whom it should be offered. God accepts his repentant and returning people
(1) on the ground of their repentance;
(2) in Christ, and on account of his merits;
(3) fundamentally, because of his own forgiving love.
IV. THE SACRIFICES. The people, while they render service, do this especially by means of the offerings that they bring.
1. They express gratitude. Sacrifices for sin are excluded from this passage. Doubtless they will be required, for unhappily the people will sin again. But so sad a prospect is not to be contemplated as yet. The offerings now thought of are those of thanksgiving. They suggest the thought that God will give bountiful harvests. Here is a picture of joy in worship.
2. They were required by God. One would have thought that gratitude would have made the commandment superfluous. But Malachi shows that, as a matter of fact, the people were backward with their gifts (Malachi 3:8). "Where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17). Christ is our one Sacrifice for sin. Yet God still requires us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices for thank-offerings and self-dedication (Romans 12:1).
For my Name's sake.
The grounds of the Divine action are not man's deserts, but considerations in regard to God himself. This is the secret of our hope. "He hath not dealt with us after our sins" (Psalms 103:10). He hath dealt with us alter his Name. God's Name stands for what is known of him—his revelation of himself; it also represents his fame, and then his honour—as we should say, his "good name." No doubt the latter is the meaning of God's Name in the present instance, although this rests upon the former meaning, and in a measure includes it. Our word "character" has this twofold meaning—what is known to be in a person and the reputation he bears—the subjective and the objective characters. We may say that God saves us for the sake of his own character in both senses.
I. HIS PUBLIC CHARACTER.
1. God is honoured by his fidelity. His name is pledged to his word. His promise involves his Name. When a man has put his name to a deed, he is bound to fulfil its conditions. If he fails, his name is dishonoured. Promoters make great efforts to secure for their enterprises names that will inspire confidence. God will keep his word for the sake of his credit—for this at least, though we know also for deeper reasons.
2. God is honoured by his success. The name of the artist goes with his work. If he sends out a bad piece of work, his name suffers. Now, Israel was God's rescued people. All the world gazed in wonder and admiration when the poor helpless slaves were wrested by Divine power from the iron grip of Pharaoh. They were seen to be a nation made by God, his workmanship. If they came to ruin after this, God would seem to have failed. Moses used this argument (Exodus 32:12).
3. God is honoured by his mercy. Cruel earthly monarchs of the old heathen type were proud to record on their tablets the number of kings they had slain, and the number of cities they had sacked. We have learnt to see a greater royal dignity in the saying of William Ill. concerning a certain nonjuror, "The man has determined to be a martyr, but I have determined to prevent him." God is more honoured by saving the world than he would be by damning it.
II. HIS PERSONAL CHARACTER.
1. God acts from regard to truth. After all, it is but as an accommodation to human views that God can be said to keep his promises for the sake of his reputation, that his Name may not be dishonoured. He is essentially true and eternally constant. Though men may provoke him to change, he is firm and holds on to his purpose. Thus Christ persisted in his saving work, even when those whom he came to bless rejected him. He had a great purpose, and no action of man would turn him from it.
2. God acts from regard to righteousness. He desires to establish righteousness, and to extend its domain. For this purpose it will not be well that sin should be left to run its own fatal course unchecked, nor will it be best simply to visit the sin with vengeance, and to cut down the evil tree root and branch, sweeping the sinner with his sin into utter destruction. A silent desolation, in which every enemy lies low, smitten to death, is not the noblest victory. The conquest of the foe by his conversion to friendship is far higher. This is God's method. His righteousness is most honoured by the regeneration of sinners.
3. God acts from regard to love. His name is love. When we penetrate to the heart of God, love is what we see there. If, then, his Name expresses his inmost character, when God acts for his Name's sake he acts in love. Therefore, though he might smite, extirpate, and destroy them, he redeems. saves, and restores his unworthy children.
The obscurity of revelation.
I. THE TEACHING OF DIVINE REVELATION IS SOMETIMES OBSCURED. It was a fact that Ezekiel had been speaking in parables. No other prophet indulged so freely in symbolical language. His writings are a garden of luxuriant metaphors, which often blossom into elaborate allegories. This style is characteristic of Oriental literature, and it is a feature of the Bible teaching generally, through in Ezekiel it is carried out more fully than elsewhere. There is an analogy between the seen and the unseen. Unattentive hearers may be arrested by what strikes them on the plain of their own earthly living. It is not enough that we receive a bold abstract statement of truth into our understandings, for this may never fructify. An imaginative grasp of truth, even when it is less clearly defined, may be more vital and fruitful.
II. WHEN TEACHING IS OBSCURE, THE TEACHER IS BLAMED. The unwilling hearers of Ezekiel laid the charge of failure to the account of the prophet. His language had been so enigmatical that they could not understand him. It is only reasonable that the Christian preacher should be open to criticism. On some accounts he should welcome it, for it shows that the minds of his hearers are not entirely asleep. Anything is better than blank indifference. Moreover, no one can be so certain that in many things the preacher fails sadly as he is himself, if he truly understands his high vocation. Nevertheless, the most hard criticism comes from unsympathetic hearers, who care only to be taught, and seek only to be amused, or who are too indolent to think, and therefore complain of any appeal to their intellects, and blame the preacher for making difficulties which must stand in the way of unthinking minds. The earnest inquirer after truth may pick up some crumbs from the most obscure and dull sermon.
III. THE CAUSE OF THE OBSCURITY OF REVELATION MAY BE IN THE HEARER. Like Moses, Ezekiel complains to God of the unjust judgment of Israel. His contemporaries were like the men of our Lord's generation, whom Christ compared to children in the marketplace, unwilling to respond to any call from their companions (Matthew 11:17). Ezekiel had tried plain speech; and his audience had turned deaf ears to his teaching. Then in a despairing effort to arrest attention, he had resorted to more novel and startling methods; but the only response he had received was an accusation of using enigmatical language. Neither method had proved successful. No method can succeed with unwilling hearers. The best seed fails when it falls by the wayside.
IV. THE REMEDY FOR THIS OBSCURITY MAY BE FOUND IN SOME ROUSING. EXPERIENCE. What is wanted is not to scatter fresh seed, but to "break up your fallow ground" (Jeremiah 4:3). Therefore the rejection of the truth recorded in Ezekiel 20:1-49. is followed by the sword of judgment described in Ezekiel 21:1-32. After that, the people will hear, for then the soil will be prepared to receive the Word of God, whether it come in direct speech or in symbolical suggestions. Trouble breaks through the conventional crust of life, and leaves the bruised soul susceptible to spiritual influences. At least, this is the design of it. Unhappy indeed is the case of those who are hardened even against the last appeal.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
A rejected application.
It is evident that Ezekiel held a position of honour and of some kind of moral authority among his fellow captives. Although he was not given to prophesying smooth things, his countrymen still resorted to him, evincing a certain confidence in his mission. On the occasion here described, an application made to the prophet was upon Divine authority rejected—with reason given. So unusual an incident leads to further consideration.
I. MAN'S NEED OF A DIVINE ORACLE. The elders of Israel may be taken as representatives of mankind generally. They approached the prophet in order to inquire of the Lord. And in this they were right.
1. For human ignorance needs Divine enlightenment and teaching.
2. Human uncertainty and perplexity need Divine guidance, wise and authoritative.
3. Human sinfulness, clouding, as it does, the spiritual vision, needs authoritative precept as to the path of duty.
4. Human fear and foreboding need the consolation of Divine kindness and the promise of Divine support.
II. GOD'S WILLINGNESS TO REPLY FULLY AND GRACIOUSLY TO THE APPLICATION OF EARNEST INQUIRERS. if there is one lesson more than another inculcated with frequency and constancy in the pages of Scripture, it is this—that the eternal Father is accessible to his children, that there is no need which they can bring unto him which he is not ready to supply from his infinite fulness and according to his infinite compassion. Revelation itself is a proof of this. The commission given to prophets and apostles was with a view to a suitable and sufficient response to the inquiries of men. The supreme Gift of God, his own Son, is just a provision intended to meet the wants, the deep spiritual cravings, of the human heart; he is "God with us." To question God's willingness to receive those who inquire of him is to cast a doubt upon the genuine: hess of the economies alike of the Law and of the gospel.
III. THE MORAL CONDITIONS INDISPENSABLY NECESSARY IN ORDER TO RECEIVING A RESPONSE FROM THE ORACLE OF GOD. Two such conditions may especially be mentioned.
1. Teachableness and humility; the disposition of the little child, without which none can enter the kingdom of heaven; the new birth, which is the entrance upon the new life.
2. Repentance. Whilst living in sin and loving sin men cannot receive the righteousness, the blessing, which the heavenly Father waits to bestow. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." Sin is as a cloud which hides the sunlight from shining upon the soul; it is like certain conditions of atmosphere, it hinders the sound of God's voice from reaching the spiritual ear. This is the action, not of arbitrary will, but of moral law.
IV. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS TO BE LEARNT BY APPLICANTS.
1. Here, many, in the same position as that occupied by the elders of Israel who came to Ezekiel, may learn the reason of their rejection. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you!"
2. Here all suppliants may learn a lesson of encouragement. It is not in God's ill will that the obstacle to our reception is to be sought; lot there is no ill wilt in him. "Wash you, make you clean!" Draw near with a sense of need, with confessions of unworthiness, with requests based upon the revealed loving kindness of the heavenly Father; draw near in the name of him who has himself shown the vastness of the obstacle of sin, and who has himself removed that obstacle; and be assured of a gracious reception and a free and sufficient response. In Christ, the Eternal addresses the sons of men, saying, "Seek ye my face!" and in Christ the lowly and penitent may approach the throne of grace with the exclamation, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek!"—T.
The memory of the great deliverance.
The continuity of the national life seems to have been as constantly present to the mind of Ezekiel as was the fact of individual responsibility. He distinguished between national and personal character; but both were in his apprehension real. It is certainly remarkable that, in answering as he was directed to do, the application of the elders, he should proceed to epitomize the history of the nation. His aim seems to have been to show that the irreligion and rebellion of which he complained in the epoch of the Captivity had existed throughout the several periods of Israelitish history. In a few brief paragraphs the prophet, in a most graphic way, exhibits the conduct of the chosen people in several successive eras. As was customary and natural, the first period dealt with was that of the momentous deliverance from the bondage of Egypt.
I. REVELATION. God made himself known unto Israel in the land of Egypt. In this revelation were included:
2. Covenant, confirmed by oath.
3. Promise of deliverance from bondage; further promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands.
II. COMMAND. One great duty Jehovah laid upon his chosen and covenant people—the duty of abandoning the idolatry, whose evil effects they had witnessed among the Egyptians. They could not consistently receive the Divine revelation, and at the same time be guilty of idolatry, which in all its forms was a contradiction of the worship and service of the one living and true God. Idolatry was not only dishonouring to Jehovah; it was a defilement of all who took part in its practices.
III. REBELLION. Notwithstanding the grace displayed in the revelation, notwithstanding the authority accompanying the command, the chosen and favoured nation rebelled. The circumstances of the case, when considered, render this all the more marvellous. Although the superior power of the God of their fathers had been so conspicuously displayed, "they did not forsake the idols of Egypt." Such conduct was both treason and rebellion in one.
IV. THREATENING. The truly human manner in which the prophet, in this and similar places, speaks of the Eternal leads some readers to charge him with anthropomorphism. The language used of a man might imply vindictiveness; and, taken in connection with what follows, might even imply mutability and fickleness. The Divine "fury "and "anger" may not be free from emotion, but such language is mainly intended to convey the impression that the law of righteousness exists, and that it cannot be violated and defied with impunity, either by nations or by individuals.
V. RELENTING AND SALVATION. The ground upon which Jehovah bore with his sinful people is remarkable; it was "for his own Name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen." For this reason he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt. Their emancipation was owing, not to any daring of their own, not to any heroism of their leaders, not to any fortunate conjunction of circumstances, but to the interposition of Almighty power.—T.
The memory of the wilderness of Sinai.
The circumstances employed by the Most High to make Israel a nation were of the most marvellous and romantic kinds. Psalmists and prophets, nay, even Christian apostles and deacons, looking back upon the events of early Israelitish history, felt the fascination of the ancient story, of the emancipation from Egypt, and of the lengthened discipline of the wilderness, by which the tribes were welded into a nation and fitted for the possession of the land of promise.
I. THE GIFT OF THE LAW. Men, especially in their corporate capacity, need something more than exhortation, dissuasion, sentiment. They need law. And this necessity was met, when Israel was led into the wilderness, by the giving of the Law at Sinai. in this gift must be included the ten commandments, the precepts for family and personal life, the institution of the ceremonial, sacerdotal, and sacrificial dispensation, the confirmation and sanctification of the sabbath, by their observance of which the Jews were so well known by their neighbours. This last-named institution was, however, regarded by the God of Israel in a higher light—as "a sign between himself and them." The people were by these means placed under authority. Sanctions were attached to the Law, and life was assured to the obedient.
II. THE REBELLION OF THE SUBJECTS.
1. The season and scene of this rebellion should be noticed; it took place, as the prophet reminds the elders, and as the record itself informs us, in the wilderness, i.e. immediately after the great deliverance and the promulgation of the Law, and whilst the people were still dependent in an especial manner upon the bounty and the protection of the Most High.
2. The offensive form of this rebellion is noted: "They walked not according to my statutes, and despised my judgments"—a course which showed their failure to appreciate the privileges bestowed upon them, and the dishonour which they dared to offer to their Deliverer and King.
3. Their inexcusable neglect of the provision made in the weekly sabbath for their true well being.
4. Their treachery. "Their heart went after idols."
III. THE JUDGMENT AND THE MERCY OF THE KING AND LAWGIVER.
1. The immediate punishment inflicted upon the rebellious generation was the refusal to permit them to enter upon the land of promise.
2. The forbearance and mercy of God were displayed in that he did not make an end in the wilderness of those who had rebelled against him and defied him.—T.
The memory of the wilderness of the wanderings.
At this point the transition is made from the generation who received the Law at Sinai to the generation which followed, and to whom another probation was afforded.
I. THE DIVINE LAW WAS REPUBLISHED.
II. THE REBELLION AND IDOLATRY OF THE PEOPLE WERE RENEWED.
III. THE MOST FLAGRANT FORMS OF IDOLATROUS PRACTICE WERE ADDED TO WHAT HAD PRECEDED, In Ezekiel 20:26 mention is made of the causing the firstborn to pass through the fire in the service of Moloch.
IV. ADDITIONAL AND SEVERER THREATS WERE UTTERED. In Ezekiel 20:23 threats of scattering and dispersion among the heathen were added to the more general denunciations.
V. STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS WERE TURNED TO THE CONDEMNATION OF THE REBELLIOUS.
VI. SPARING MERCY WAS AGAIN EXERCISED TO PRESERVE THE NATION FROM DESTRUCTION.
APPLICATION. The lesson is very impressively taught in this passage that repentance and amendment by no means follow as a matter of course upon either punishment or forbearance. The discipline through which Israel passed partook of both characters; yet it left the people, as a people, still disposed to rebellion against God, and to contempt of his Law. It is the spirit in which God's dealings with us are received which determines whether or not they shall issue in our highest good.—T.
The memory of offences in the land of promise.
Notwithstanding the variety of incident and circumstance in the history of the chosen people, there was much sameness in their experience, in their discipline, in their errors and faults. This may account for the brevity with which the later epochs of national history are treated by the prophet in this passage. Yet there is a consciousness on his part of the aggravation of Israel's guilt which is apparent in the tone of this portion of this remarkable chapter.
I. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THE FACT THAT THEY WERE PERSISTED IN NOTWITHSTANDING PAST ADMONITION AND CORRECTION.
II. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED WHEN THEY OCCURRED IN THE LAND OF PROMISE.
III. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THEIR COEXISTENCE WITH THE SANCTUARY OF JEHOVAH.
IV. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THEIR JUXTAPOSITION WITH THE PURE SERVICES AND FESTIVALS OF THE TRUE RELIGION.
V. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THE FACT THAT THE CHOSEN PEOPLE ADOPTED THE RELIGION AND THE PRACTICES OF MORALLY INFERIOR RACES.
VI. ISRAEL'S AGGRAVATED REBELLION AND IDOLATRY PREVENTED THEIR REPRESENTATIVES FROM ENJOYING THE FAVOUR AND RECEIVING THE RESPONSE OF THE LORD.—T.
The purpose of Israel's election.
The prophecy at this point turns from the story of the past to the prediction and prospect of the future.
I. GOD'S PURPOSES CANNOT BE FULFILLED BY THE ABSORPTION OF ISRAEL AMONG THE HEATHEN. Exile and dispersion were appointed as chastisement and discipline. And there were those among the Hebrews who thought that, as a nation, they might amalgamate with the heathen, and might "serve wood and stone." To human apprehension, this might seem the natural consequence of their experience. But the reverse was what happened—captivity and exile served to restore the chosen people to their fidelity to Jehovah.
II. GOD'S RULE OVER HIS PEOPLE WILL BE MANIFESTLY AND EFFECTIVELY MAINTAINED EVEN IN DISTANT AND HEATHEN LANDS. Lest it should be imagined that, when the children of Israel are scattered among the nations, the God of Israel will cease to exercise over them his vigilant sway and righteous retribution, the strongest language is used to express the unceasing control which, wherever his people are found, will be maintained over them. "With a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm will I rule over you … I will be King over you."
III. GOD WILL PLEAD WITH THE SCATTERED ISRAELITES WITH A VIEW TO SECURE THEIR SUBMISSION AND ALLEGIANCE. The expression implies personal interest and personal intercourse. It implies the free agency of the human beings with whom the Lord deigns to plead. It implies earnest desire for the welfare of individual Israelites—welfare which can only be secured through the conviction, the faith, the voluntary subjection, the loyalty, of these who have been in rebellion.
IV. GOD WILL PURGE OUT REBELS AND TRANSGRESSORS, AND SO PURIFY THE TRUE ISRAEL FROM THOSE WHO ARE ISRAELITES IN NAME ONLY AND NOT IN SPIRIT AND REALITY. Forbearance may and will be exercised, but discrimination must take pace. The dross must be consumed in order that the pure, fine gold may be brought out.
V. GOD WILL GATHER THE TRUE SHEEP INTO THE FOLD, AND RE-ESTABLISH HIS COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE. This is the real aim of the Divine government. Other steps are the means; this is the end. Sooner or later this glorious and blessed result shall be brought to pass. "There shall be one flock, and one Shepherd." The bond of the covenant shall be again cemented. The purposes of Divine compassion shall be completely fulfilled. The scattered wanderers shall be led home, for he that scattered shall gather them. He shall make a way whereby his banished ones shall return. In the land of promise, the better country, the true citizens shall assemble, and shall offer sacrifices of perpetual obedience, and songs of endless praise, to their Deliverer and their Lord.—T.
The glorious restoration.
It is difficult to believe that this language can refer to a local and temporal restoration and union. In this, as in other passages of his prophecy, Ezekiel seems to point on to the new, the Christian dispensation, into whose spiritual glory he seems to gain some glimpses neither dim nor uncertain.
I. THE SCENE OF THE RESTORATION. God's holy mountain, the mountain of the height of Israel, is the symbol of the Church of the Son of God.
II. THE PARTICIPATORS IN THE RESTORATION. Those concerning whom the promise is spoken are those who have been scattered abroad, but are now brought home, and who constitute "the house of Israel," i.e. the true Israel, the Israel of God.
III. THE SERVICES OF THE RESTORATION. By the services, the offerings, the firstfruits, the oblations, must be understood the spiritual sacrifices, especially of obedience and of praise, which the accepted of God delight to lay upon his altar.
IV. THE MEMORIES OF THE RESTORATION. These are of two kinds. The restored have to recollect, and to recollect with loathing, their wanderings, their evil doings, their defilements. But they have also to remember the work which God has wrought for them, the way by which God has led them, and the mercy and loving kindness which God has shown to them.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The exact date is given as a voucher for truthfulness. The prophet committed to writing at once what had occurred. The people are yet divided by distance—part dwell in Judaea and tart in Chaldea. In a spirit of vain curiosity the eiders of the exiled part approach the prophet to inquire after the destined fortunes and fate of their nation. Had they sought for guidance or help to amend their lives, their prayer had been successful. God does not pander to a spirit of curiosity.
I. DISTRESS USUALLY DRIVES MEN TO SEEK GOD. The bulk of men are self-confident. They will not seek God until they discover their insufficiency to meet misfortune or death. As the sailor does not seek harbour until driven by tempest, so men avoid God. Yet, in the hour of peril or pain, an inborn instinct leads them to rest on an arm mightier than theirs. Sorrow is God's home call.
II. PRAYER LEADS TO THE RESURRECTION OF OUR SINS. It is impossible to do good to a man so long as he stifles the voice of conscience; and the first duty of a true prophet is to bring sin to our remembrance. Unrepented sin is man's chief foe, and to dislodge this foe from the heart's citadel is God's prime endeavour. The barrier that shuts out the light of heaven is the shutter of our own impenitence. The obdurate man destroys his own hope. He bars heaven's door against himself; he writes his own failure. It is kindness on God's part to show us our sins, for his hops is that we may loathe them and abandon them.
III. THE HISTORY OF OUR FATHERS' SINS OFTEN BECOMES THE HISTORY OF OUR OWN SINS. He who hears of his father's sin and does not hate it soon adopts it as his own child. The history of the past is compressed into our own experience. The Fall in Eden is repeated in our own history. All the history and development of a tree is condensed into each fruit kernel; so the moral history is incorporated in us. We may use it for our profit or for our injury. If we continue the same line of conduct as our guilty forefathers, we re-enact their sins, we endorse their guilty deeds. The entailment of moral qualities is a pregnant truth. On this ground it was that all the martyrs' blood, from Abel downward, accumulated upon the men in our Lord's age.
IV. NEGLECT OF DIVINE ADMONITION IS FRESH SIN. The knowledge of past admonition adds to our responsibility. Warnings addressed to our ancestors are warnings addressed to us. Every item in the revelation of God's will is intended for our profit; for revelations of the eternal God have an abiding force. If we are not moved or awed by judgments passed upon our ancestors, ours is the greater sin. As our light is greater than was our forefathers', so is our sin, unless we repudiate it by repentance.
V. GOD'S PERMISSIONS ARE OFTEN CHASTISEMENTS. "Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live." The self-blindness and obduracy of men is such that oftentimes God cannot give them the best laws: such would be above their comprehension—above their appreciation. Good law can never be much in advance of a people's moral condition. God allowed Lot to retire to Zoar, but the permission became a curse. God yielded to the Jews' demand for a king, but their kings led them to civic strife and idolatry. Jesus Christ yielded to the demand of the Gadarenes to leave their province, but their loss was great. How much need have we to merge our wills in God's will!
VI. GOD'S MEMORY OF OUR MISDEEDS NEVER FAILS. We may forget, or regard as trivial, some deed of the past; yet it lives, in complete reality, in the memory of God. Likely enough these elders were astounded with this long recital of their evil deeds. This, however, is a sample of God's treatment of all men. The reappearance of our old sins—the reappearance before the public gaze—will be one element in our punishment. The future publicity of our follies will form a great ingredient in our shame. The world already knows the aggravated sins of the Hebrews.
VII. GOD'S WILL OVERREACHES AND OVERMASTERS MAN'S WILL. "And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen!" Man resolves; God overrules. Mighty as man's will is, it is feeble in comparison with God's will. It may be as iron, but even iron is treated as a plaything by the electric force. Even wickedness shall be restrained of God. Satan shall be bound with chains. Many men are guiltier than the measure of their deeds. There are murderers that never slew a man, felons that never stole. The intention is as guilty as the act. Man's intended wickedness shall be held in check.
VIII. GOD'S REGARD FOR HIS NAME IS COINCIDENT WITH MAN'S BEST WELFARE. "I wrought for my Name's sake." One great purpose our God has in view, in all his government among men, is to reveal himself—to unfold the qualities of his character. This is essential to the highest good of his creature man. He will be patient and tender, or judicial and severe, in order to bring into view all the excellences of his majestic character. The more his saints see of his personal characteristics, the more they admire him, the more they become like him. No one will conclude that the human family has yet seen all the aspects of God's character or all the perfections of his nature. Without doubt, eternity will be spent in spelling out the meaning of that great Name.—D.
As among men, when matters of serious importance have to be determined, there is the employment of a religious oath, in other words, a solemn appeal that God should witness the truthfulness of the parties; so, when God discloses his intentions respecting the destiny of men, he speaks with a view to produce the deepest impression. He stakes his own existence upon the certainty of the event.
I. GOD'S RULE IS DIRECTED SOLELY FOR MAN'S PURITY. Such is his own holiness of nature, that he cannot tolerate impurity of any kind in his kingdom. Or, if he does tolerate it for a season, it is only for the purpose of more effectually purifying his saints. To distribute his own happiness, he created men; but that happiness can only reach perfection when it is rooted in purity. Purity or perdition is the only alternative under the sceptre of Jehovah.
II. THE PLACE APPOINTED FOR THE TEST. "I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I plead with you face to face." Already this had been done in the wilderness of Sinai, and now it shall be done again. This wilderness is not Babylon, nor the desert between Babylon and Judaea. It denotes the isolated condition of the people, when they should be scattered among all the nations. A desert is the outward emblem of man's desolation through sin. Iniquity has made a desert in his heart, in his home, in the nation—a desert in all his surroundings. There, under a sense of his folly and misfortune, God condescends to plead with men.
III. A WINNOWING PROCESS IS TO BE PURSUED. "I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me." If the nation, following its lower passions and following foolish kings, refuse God's salvation, God will deal with them individually. As a nation they shall be destroyed; but an election shall be saved. God will appear as a Thresher, and will purge his floor, and separate the chaff from the wheat. Would that the entire nation had yielded to his righteous rule! Yet, if the majority reject his grace, a minority will accept it. Not a single penitent shall be swept away with the rebellious. Divine wisdom can and will discriminate.
IV. THE OBDURATE SHALL BE ABANDONED. "Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me." Lightly as men may esteem the severity of such a sentence, it is the most crushing doom that can befall them—to be given over to the indulgence of their vices. For God to withdraw the restraints of his grace, and allow them the liberty they crave, would be the heaviest scourge, the beginning of perdition. Said God of Ephraim, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone!" Of some it is declared by Jesus the Christ, "He is guilty of eternal sin."
V. THE PENITENT SHALL RISE TO EMINENT PIETY. (See Ezekiel 20:40 and Ezekiel 20:41.) They shall worship again in the consecrated mount. Their offerings shall be spontaneous and abundant. Their gifts and sacrifices shall send a sweet savour Godward. Best of all, they shall find acceptance with God. The Most High will be honoured in their midst. His presence will be felt as a purifying power. "I will be sanctified in you." The remembrance of their past ways and past experiences shall open their eyes to the foulness and loathsomeness of sin. Their inmost tastes and affections shall be refined. Self-condemnation is an essential element in repentance.
VI. THE RESULT WILL BE LARGER ACQUAINTANCE WITH GOD. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." The manifestation of God's patience, condescension, and tender love will enlarge their conception of God. He will gain a larger place in their esteem and confidence. His true glory will come forth. In this way even human sin will contribute to human elevation; man's guilt will promote God's glory. In the widest sense, "all things shall work together for good." The darkest disaster will serve as a setting for the jewels of God's goodness.—D.
The forest in flame.
In a nation, men's minds are in every stage of development; a hundred phases of feeling prevail. Hence God, in his kindness, sent his instructions in every possible form, and adapted his reproofs to every state of mind—to children as well as to men of riper years.
I. THE PARABLE IMPLIES A RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN MEN AND FOREST TREES. Amid many differences, there are some resemblances, and it is on one of these resemblances that this admonition fastens. In the earlier stages of their life, trees grow better in clusters. They serve as a support to each other, and also as a protection against storms. But soon the roots rob nourishment, each from the other. The boughs shut out the light and air. They prevent the growth and hardening of the wood. They become mutually injurious. Sap diminishes. The branches dry and decay. So it is with men in society. Casting off the fear of God, they corrupt each other. They become one another's tempters. Healthy growth ceases. Shutting out, each from the other, the light and sunshine from heaven, their proper life shrivels, epics up, and decays. They become combustible—lit for burning.
II. RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN GOD'S RIGHTEOUS ANGER AND MATERIAL FIRE. On these two resemblances the parable depends. As fire naturally lays hold of and destroys forest trees, be does God's anger naturally lay hold of and destroy wicked men. There is a fixed and unalterable correspondence. "Be sure your sin will find you out!" You may as well swallow poison, and hope to live; you may as well set fire to gunpowder, and expect it not to explode; you may as well touch a galvanic current, and think to avoid any nervous sensation,—as to sin, and not suffer penalty. Each is alike an eternal decree of the living God. As each plant has in it the potency to produce another plant, so every sin has in it the germ of destruction.
III. PROXIMITY TO EVIL MEN CONSTITUTES A DANGER. All the trees in a forest are not equally dessicated. Yet such becomes the fierceness of the flame, fed by the drier trees, that those less dessicated are reduced to ashes. Men may be less guilty than their neighbours; they may flatter themselves that they are not so corrupt as others; nevertheless, it they do not separate themselves, or labour to improve their neighbours, they may be consumed in the general conflagration. The green trees were threatened with destruction along with the dry. Evil company is perilous. Each one has sin enough to draw down Divine anger.
IV. MENTAL BLINDNESS IS A DISASTROUS EFFECT OF SIN. "Doth he not speak in parables?" The bulk of men say, "It is a pretty story. It has much literary beauty. The preacher was eloquent, imaginative, interesting." Yet they see not the moral significance, do not feel the points of application. The sermon well suited some absent person; it did not touch them. The eyes of conscience are put out. As it was in the day when Jesus spake his parables, so is it always. "Men see, but do not perceive; they hear, but do not understand." Today a thousand self-blinded men say, "The doom of the wicked is not so terrible as it seems; for the alarming language of Jesus Christ was only a parable." Yet a parable contains hidden truth, sometimes the most arousing.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
On inquiring of the Lord.
"And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord," etc. We here enter upon a new division of this book, which extends to the close of Ezekiel 23:1-49. The prophecies of this section were occasioned by a visit of the elders of Israel to the prophet, to inquire of the Lord through him. The paragraph now before us, which may be compared with Ezekiel 14:1-5, suggests—
I. THAT IT IS RIGHT AND LAUDABLE TO INQUIRE OF THE LORD. These elders of Israel who came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before the prophet, were of the exiles. Like Ezekiel, they had been carried away from their own land to Babylon. Neither the occasion which gave rise to their inquiry, nor the inquiry itself, is stated. Hengstenberg conjectures that "the embassy had probably a special occasion in the circumstances of the time, in a favourable turn which the affairs of the coalition had taken. They wish to obtain confirmation of their joyful hopes from the mouth of the prophet." Or they wanted to ascertain from him if there was a prospect of the deliverance of Zedekiah from the Chaldean power (cf. Jeremiah 21:1, Jeremiah 21:2). It seems clear from the answer which they received that their inquiry was political, not moral; that it related to the state of their country in relation to other nations, not to their personal relations to God. But our present point is that it is right and commendable to inquire of the Lord. We may inquire of him by searching the Scriptures in an earnest and devout spirit, by prayer for the illumination and direction of the Holy Spirit, and by engaging in public worship and attending the ministration of his Word. Thus David desired "to inquire in his temple." This is often profitable to those who wait upon him in a true spirit. Asaph found it so (Psalms 73:16, Psalms 73:17). And so did Hezekiah King of Judah (2 Kings 19:14-37). And so have millions besides.
II. THAT MEN SOMETIMES INQUIRE OF THE LORD IN A WRONG SPIRIT. These elders did so (cf. Ezekiel 14:1-3). Their outward act was right; their inward motive was wrong. Moreover, while it was right to inquire of the Lord, that which they wanted to know was not commendable. They wanted the satisfaction of their political curiosity, not direction in the way of duty. So far were they from desiring to conform to the wilt of God, that they were in their heart proposing to themselves an opposite course of conduct (cf. verse 32). "They did here," says Greenhill, "like many that are bent upon marriage, who will go to two or three to inquire and have counsel, but are resolved to go on whatever is said unto them; so whatever counsel they should have had given them from the Lord, they meant to go on in their wicked ways; and this was profound hypocrisy, whose wont it is to veil the foulest things with the fairest pretences." And in these days men may inquire of the Lord perversely. They may consult him by means of his Word in a wrong spirit. They may examine that Word with strong prejudices; or not to learn his mind and will, but to obtain sanctions and supports for their own opinions; or from curiosity rather than piety. Men may attend church, not "to inquire in his temple," but from very different and very inferior motives. They may even seek him in prayer in a wrong spirit—in an unbelieving, unsubmissive, selfish, worldly spirit. If we would draw near to him acceptably and profitably, we "must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that seek after him;" we must be humble and reverent; we must bow loyally to his supreme authority, and we must sincerely desire to do his will. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching," etc. (John 7:17). By earnestly desiring and endeavoring to do the will of God, as far as it is known unto you, you are qualifying yourself to receive further revelations from him.
III. THAT THE LORD OBSERVES THE SPIRIT IN WHICH MEN INQUIRE OF HIM. He knew the real feelings and motives of these elders of Israel, and spake to them accordingly through his servant Ezekiel. And he was fully cognizant of the idols in the hearts of the elders who waited upon the prophet on a former occasion (Ezekiel 14:3). The most plausible words and the most specious forms cannot impose upon him. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart;" "The Lord searcheth all hearts;" "I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart;" "The righteous God trieth the hearts and reins;" "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off," etc. (Psalms 139:1-5). "He knows," says Greenhill, "upon what grounds, with what purpose, intentions, resolutions, men come to hear his Word, to ask counsel of his servants. Look to yourselves, spirits, and all your ways; God seeth and knoweth all, and if you be not sincere, without guile and hypocrisy, he will find you out and detect you" (cf. John 4:23, John 4:24).
IV. THAT THE LORD WILL NOT ANSWER THE INQUIRIES OF THOSE WHO APPROACH HIM IN A WRONG SPIRIT. "Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye come to inquire of him? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you." Bishop Lowth states the truth clearly and forcibly: "You shall not receive such an answer as you expect, but such as your hypocrisy deserves." The Lord would not reply to their questionings. They were not in a condition to receive enlightening or edifying communications from God. Deeply insincere as they were, they could not receive revelations of Divine truth. The only message suited to them was a rebuke or warning because of their sin, or a summons to repentance. This principle is universally and abidingly true. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;" "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you," etc. (Isaiah 1:15); "Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not answer them," etc. (Micah 3:4); "We know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth."
V. THOUGH THE LORD WILL NOT ANSWER THE INQUIRIES OF THOSE WHO APPROACH HIM IN A WRONG SPIRIT, YET HE WILL ADDRESS TO THEM WORDS SUITED TO THEIR MORAL CONDITION. He did so on a former occasion (Ezekiel 14:1-23.). He does so here.
1. Here is their personal condemnation. "Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them?" The prophet is thus summoned to "pronounce sentence upon them. The repetition of the phrase is expressive of a strong desire that the act should be begun, and thus gives the force of an imperative." God would not reply to them for the gratification of their curiosity, but he speaks to them for the salvation of their souls. This condemnation might awaken them to reflection and repentance.
2. Here is the exhibition of their national sins. "Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers." By the declaration of these the Lord would vindicate the righteousness of his dealings with them as a people. He would also show them "that the evil is deep-seated, and a radical cure is to be desired, which can only be effected by a judgment of inflexible rigour" (Hengstenberg).
CONCLUSION. Our subject forcibly impresses the necessity of true heartedness as a condition of approaching God, so as to meet with his acceptance and to obtain his blessing.—W.J.
God, and Israel in Egypt.
"And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; In the day when I chose Israel," etc. This paragraph sets forth the dealings of God with his people in the land of Egypt.
I. THE CHOICE OF THE PEOPLE BY GOD. "Thus saith the Lord; In the day when chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord your God." The day when God chose Israel and made himself known unto them as their God was the time when he interposed on their behalf by his servant Moses. He chose them; they did not choose him. They did not seek to serve or worship him; but he sent Moses to demand their emancipation in order that they might worship and serve him. And he thus chose them neither for their greatness nor their goodness, but because of his own love for them and his fidelity to his promises made unto their fathers (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8). He chose them to receive special revelations of religious and redemptive truth, to be "a people for his own possession," his visible Church in the world, and his witnesses amongst men, testifying to his unity and supremacy, and observing and maintaining his worship (cf. Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 14:2). And still God of his grace calls men to himself. He begins with us, and not we with him. "God commendeth his own love toward us," etc. (Romans 5:8); "Herein is love, not that we loved God," etc. (1 John 4:10). If we have sought God, it was because he first sought us. "By the grace of God I am what I am." And the Lord made himself known to them as their God, both by declarations and by mighty deeds wrought on their behalf (Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:1-8). He chose them to be his people; he gave himself to them to be their God. "I am the Lord your God." "'Your God.' This is a great word, and hath great mercy in it; an engaging word, tying God and all his attributes to them: your God to counsel you, your God to protect you, your God to deliver you, your God to comfort you, your God to plead for you, your God to teach you, your God to set up my Name and worship among you, your God to bless you with the dews of heaven and fulness of the earth, your God to hear your prayers and make you happy" (Greenhill). And he asserts this relationship in the most solemn manner. "I lifted up mine hand unto them," i.e. I sware unto them.
II. THE GRACIOUS PURPOSE OF GOD IN RELATION TO HIS PEOPLE. (Ezekiel 20:6.) This purpose has two branches.
1. To deliver them from a miserable condition. "In that day I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt." He broke the power of their cruel oppressors, and by a mighty hand he set them free from their burdens, and led them out of the land of their captivity. And when men believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and respond to his call, he delivers them from the bondage of sin. He came into our world to "proclaim liberty to the captives," to save men from the power and pollution and punishment of sin.
2. To establish them in a desirable condition. "Into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands."
(1) This land was selected for them by God. He summoned Abram to go forth unto the land that he would show him (Genesis 12:1; and cf. Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17). "He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved."
(2) This land was excellently situated and richly fertile. (We have noticed these points in treating of Ezekiel 19:10.) In its natural fortifications, its remarkable fertility, and its religious privileges, it was glorious as compared with other lands. And this land God gave unto them. And our Saviour Jesus Christ not only delivers from sin those who believe on him, but he introduces them into a condition of spiritual privilege and progress. "Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear," etc. (Romans 8:15-17); "Beloved, now are we children of God," etc. (1 John 3:2).
III. THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE PEOPLE TO GOD. "And I said unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." This obligation arises out of the relationship stated in ver.
5. Because they are his people and he is their God, they must be true to him as their God, having no connection with idols. The great basis of their obligation to him is contained in the words, "I am Jehovah your God" (cf. Exodus 20:1, Exodus 20:2). In this prohibition of idolatry there are two points which call for brief notice.
1. Sin entering by the eyes. "The abominations of his eyes"—an expression which denotes idols. The eyes look upon the idols, become familiar with them, and come to behold them with respect and reverence. The eyes are both inlets and outlets to the heart. They convey to the heart the impression of the idol, and if the heart come to reverence the idol, they express that reverence in their gaze. The eyes are often an avenue through which temptation to sin enters the soul.
2. Sin defiling the heart. "Defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt." Sin pollutes our moral life at its very springs. It proceeds from an impure heart, and it makes the heart still more impure. David was conscious of its defilement when he prayed, "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity," etc. (Psalms 51:2, Psalms 51:7, Psalms 51:10). The people of God are under the most binding obligations to shun everything that would lead to their moral contamination, and to be true to him both in heart and in life.
IV. THE REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE AGAINST GOD. (Ezekiel 20:8.)
1. The nature of this rebellion. "But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt." They rebelled against Jehovah by persisting in their idolatrous practices. The Mosaic history does not explicitly mention the idolatry of the Israelites in Egypt; but it points to it by implication. The making and worship of the golden calf was probably an imitation of the Egyptian worship of the various sacred cows or of the sacred bulls. It appears from Le Ezekiel 17:7 (Revised Version), that in the desert the Israelites offered sacrifices to he-goats, and "the worship of a deity under the form of a he-goat was peculiar to Egypt" (Hengstenberg). That they worshipped idols in Egypt is evident also from Joshua 24:14, "Put away The gods which your fathers served beyond the river, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord." And from Ezekiel 23:3 of our prophet, "They committed whoredoms in Egypt." This idolatry they did not abandon when summoned so to do.
2. The punishment of this rebellion. "Then I said I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt." Greenhill explains this clause, "He thought in his heart to destroy them in the midst of Egypt." Scott, "He justly might, and certainly would, have destroyed them with the Egyptians, if he had dealt with them according to their deserts." Schroder suggests that the increased oppression, and the persecution of the Israelites by the Egyptians (Exodus 5:5-23), were signs of the anger of the Lord against them. The Egyptians acted wickedly and cruelly in thus ill treating them; for they had not wronged them. Yet they might have been the unconscious agents of punishing the Israelites for their unfaithfulness to the Lord their God. This is certain, that persistent sin invariably meets with deserved punishment.
V. THE FULFILMENT OF THE PURPOSE OF GOD NOTWITHSTANDING THE REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE. "But I wrought for my Name's sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt" (cf. Numbers 14:13-16). Had he not accomplished his purpose in delivering them out of Egypt, his Name or honour might have been contemned by the Egyptians and others. They might have questioned or even denied:
1. His ability to execute his purposes and fulfil his promises, asserting that he did not do so because he could not (cf. Numbers 14:15, Numbers 14:16).
2. His fidelity to his purposes and promises, asserting that he does not abide by his determinations, but is changeable and therefore unreliable.
3. His kindness towards his people, asserting that he is not so deeply interested in them as to always fulfil his engagements with them. Therefore, for his Name's sake, he brought Israel in triumph out of Egypt. The sins of man cannot frustrate the purposes of God. By his sins man may exclude himself from any participation in their fulfilment, or any enjoyment thereof; but he cannot defeat their fulfilment (cf. Exodus 32:9, Exodus 32:10; Numbers 14:11, Numbers 14:12; Numbers 23:19; 2 Timothy 2:13).
CONCLUSION. Our subject presents:
1. Warnings against rebellion against God.
2. Encouragements to trust and obey him.—W.J.
God, and Israel in the wilderness.
"Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt," etc. The chief teachings of this section of the chapter may be developed under the following heads.
I. THE KINDNESS OF GOD IN HIS DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. This is brought into our notice in four respects.
1. In the deeds which be wrought for them. "l caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness." Their emancipation from their oppressors was effected by the mighty hand of God, and of his unmerited grace to them. Our Lord Jesus is the great Deliverer from the serfdom of sin and Satan (cf. Isaiah 61:1; John 8:36).
2. In the gifts which he bestowed upon them.
(1) His Law. "And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them." Statutes and judgments express the general idea of law. This God gave to them at Sinai, soon after their deliverance from Egypt. And this Law was given for life unto them (cf. Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:17; Romans 7:10, Romans 7:12). "The precepts which God gave his people," says Hengstenberg, "bring life and salvation with them to him who does them. What grace in God, who gives such precepts! what a summons to true obedience! These precepts also imply before all things that they shall confess their sins and seek forgiveness in the blood of atonement. This is required by the laws concerning the sin offerings, which in the Mosaic Law form the root of all other offerings; the Passover, which so strictly requires us to strive after the forgiveness of sins, and connects all salvation with it and the great Day of Atonement."
(2) His sabbaths. "Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.' The sabbath was instituted by God, and was peculiar to Israel. It was a mutual sign between him and them. By establishing it amongst them the Lord sanctified them, separated them from the nations as a people chosen for himself; and by keeping it they manifested their allegiance to him and honoured him. By its institution he owned them as his people; by its observance they owned him as their God. By so doing they also promoted their best interests. How rich and manifold are God's gifts to us! Laws, ordinances, sabbaths, sanctuaries, religions ministries, his sacred Word; his beloved Son, his Holy Spirit!
3. In the forbearance which he exercised towards them. "Then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my Name's sake," etc. (Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:14, Ezekiel 20:17). Many and extreme were the provocations of the Israelites in the wilderness. "How oft did they rebel against him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!" More than once it seemed as though he would have destroyed them utterly, as they certainly deserved. Yet in wrath he remembered mercy. "He being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not," etc. (Psalms 78:38, Psalms 78:39). How frequently and grievously have we stoned against him! We too have tried his patience, have provoked him by our unfaithfulness, our rebelliousness, our perversity. Great has been his long suffering toward us (cf. Psalms 103:8-11; 2 Peter 3:9).
4. In the appeals which he addressed to them. God did not stand by (as it were), patiently bearing with them in their sin, yet making no effort to save them therefrom; but he appealed to them earnestly and repeatedly to keep his commands. "I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers," etc. (Ezekiel 20:18-20). The reference in these verses is to the regiving of the Law in the plains of Moab, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. That book is one great appeal, in many tones and by many arguments, to the younger generation to be true to the Lord their God. How graciously and powerfully God appeals to us in this Christian age! to our sense of duty and our sense of interest; by authoritative command and gracious persuasion; by strong fears and thrilling hopes; by his Divine Son and by his Holy Spirit.
II. THE PERSISTENT WICKEDNESS OF THE PEOPLE IN THEIR RELATION TO GOD, Three features of their wickedness are here exhibited.
1. Apostasy of heart. "Their heart went after their idols" (verse 16); "Their heart was not right with him, neither were they faithful in his covenant" (Psalms 78:37). Their sin was not merely on the surface of their lives, but deeply rooted in their moral nature. "Out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders," etc. (Matthew 15:19); "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
2. Rebellion of life. "'The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness," etc. (verse 13); "They despised my judgments," etc. (verse 16). It is quite unnecessary to specify their rebellions, because they were so numerous. And the profanations of the sabbath must not be restricted to the attempt to gather manna on that day (Exodus 16:27-30), or to the case of the man who gathered sticks thereon (Numbers 15:32-36). God required them to sanctify the sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12); to "hallow" it (verse 20); "to consecrate it in every respect to him, and withdraw it wholly from the region of self-interest, of personal sinful inclination;" and as they failed to keep it thus, they profaned it. Failing to sanctity it by reverent worship and hearty service, they are charged with desecrating it. And it behoves us earnestly to endeavour to preserve the Lord's day for the promotion of the bent interests of man and the supreme honour of God. Its secularization would be an irreparable loss and injury to man.
3. Successiveness in sin. "The children rebelled against me," etc. (verse 21). The younger generation were tar from being so wicked as their fathers (Joshua 24:31); they were also far from being true and faithful in their relation to the Lord their God. Scott says truly "that the generation that entered Canaan was the best which there ever was of that favored nation." Yet they frequently rebelled against the Lord. What a lamentable successiveness in sin there has been in the generations of our race! Real advance certainly has been made; but still sin, dark and prevalent, has characterized every generation of mankind.
III. THE DIVINE RETRIBUTION ON ACCOUNT OF THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE.
1. The nature of this retribution. The elder generation was excluded from the promised land because of their unbelief and rebellion against God and against the leaders whom he had chosen. "I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them." etc. (verses 15, 16; and cf. Numbers 14:26-35; Psalms 106:24-26). They disbelieved God's word of promise, and they should not share in its fulfilment; "they despised the pleasant land," and they were not allowed to enter therein; they wished that they had died in the wilderness, and in the wilderness they died. And as to the younger generation, their retribution is thus described: "I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live," etc. (verses 25, 26). "The 'judgments whereby they should not live' are those spoken of in verse 18, and are contrasted with the judgments in verses 13, 21, laws other than Divine, to which God gives up those whom he afflicts with judicial blindness, because they have wilfully closed their eyes (Psalms 81:12; Romans 1:24)" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Hengstenberg says, "We may compare here Romans 1:24, according to which God, in just retribution for their revolt, gave over the heathen to vile affections; Acts 7:42, where it is traced back to God that the heathen served the h, st of heaven; and 2 Thessalonians 2:11, where God sends the apostates strong delusions. God has so constituted human nature that revolt from him must be followed by total darkness and disorder; that no moderation in error and sin, no standing still at the middle point, is possible; that the man, however willing he might be to stand still, must, against his will, sink from step to step. Revolt from God is the crime, excess in error and moral degradation the merited doom, from which all would willingly escape if this were in their power. By way of example, the custom of sacrificing children is mentioned in verse 26. 'To cause to pass through' the fire (verse 31; cf. ch. 16:21; 23:37) is the current phrase for sacrificing children which were offered to Moloch. Into such a detestable custom did God in his righteous judgment permit them to fall, that the merited punishment might come upon them ('that I might lay them desolate'), by which they learn that their paternal God, whom they set at nought, is God in the full sense, whom to forsake is at once to fall into misery."
2. The design of this retribution. "To the end that they might know that I am the Lord." (See our notes on these words in Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10; Ezekiel 7:4.) We must every one be brought to know him, either by the way of his grace or by the way of his judgments.—W.J.
God, and Israel in Canaan.
"Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God," etc. We have here—
I. GREAT KINDNESS GRACIOUSLY CONFERRED. "I had brought them into the land which I lifted up mine hand to give unto them."
1. The Lord gave Canaan unto them, and brought them into it. "He gave them the lands of the nations; and they took the labour of the peoples in possession" (Psalms 105:44); "And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance" (Acts 13:19). Look at the taking of Jericho as an illustration of this. It was not by human strategy or strength that they obtained the city, but by Divine interposition. And this land was a desirable possession (cf. Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 8:7-9; Deuteronomy 11:10-12; and see our notes on Ezekiel 19:10).
2. The Lord brought them into Canaan in fulfilment of his promise. "The land which I lifted up mine hand to give unto them." The lilting up of the hand is the gesture of the oath, or solemn promise. Notwithstanding the rebellions of those to whom the promise was given, and the difficulties in the way of its fulfilment, he made his promise good. His faithfulness and his power guarantee the performance of his word. Here we have ground for confidence in him (cf. Numbers 10:13 :19; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25).
3. The Lord brought them into Canaan of his own unmerited favour. Though not expressed, this is clearly implied here (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-6). God's kindness to us has been great and undeserved. Who can count the multitude of his mercies, or estimate their preciousness? "The Lord hath dealt bountifully with us."
II. GREAT KINDNESS BASELY REQUITED.
1. By worshipping in prohibited places. "Then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices," etc. (Ezekiel 20:28). The margin of the Revised Version presents a more striking signification and a darker guilt. "They looked out for every high hill," etc. Their conduct in this respect was a perversion of a Divine law. "When the Israelites first entered Canaan, they were to set up the tabernacle on a high place, and upon this and. upon no other they were to worship Jehovah. This was the high place (1 Samuel 9:12, etc.; 1 Kings 3:4). But the Israelites followed the custom of the country, and set up idol worship on every high hill, and the word 'high place' (bamah), or in the plural 'high places' (bamoth), became a byword (comp. bamoth Baal, Joshua 13:17)" ('Speaker's Commentary'). This was distinctly forbidden to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 12:1-14).
2. By worshipping prohibited objects. They offered sacrifices to idols. This fact is not explicitly stated in our text; but it is implied in the charge of blasphemy preferred against them, and in the expression," the provocation of their offering."
(1) As to their blasphemy. The attempt "to combine God and idols in one's religion is blasphemy." It involves a fearful disparagement, if not the despising, of the Lord Jehovah.
(2) The expression, "the provocation of their offering," indicates the offerings made to idols whereby they provoked God to anger (cf. Deuteronomy 32:16, Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Kings 14:22). "It was an aggravation of their guilt that they not only were idolaters, but defiled with their idolatry the land which was given them for their glory." It was perverting the gracious gift of God to his deep dishonour (cf. Jeremiah 2:7). How often have the good gifts of God been thus perverted! Genius and power, rank and riches, have frequently been used for selfish and sinful purposes. And in this and other ways the kindness of God to man is often basely requited still.
III. A SINFUL PEOPLE DIVINELY INTERROGATED. "Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go?" Revised Version, "What meaneth the high place?" etc. This inquiry seems to be designed:
1. To awaken their serious reflection. It was fitted for this. Perhaps it would lead the idolatrous people to ask themselves, "What meaneth the high place whereunto we go?" Earnest interrogation might lead to profitable consideration.
2. To lead to their recognition of their folly. Serious reflection could hardly fail to reveal to them the foolishness of idolatry. What benefit, could they derive from it? What could their idols do for them? How unreasonable that reasonable beings should pay homage to things of wood and stone!
3. To lead to their recognition of their sin. Their idolatry involved the breach of the most sacred and solemn obligations. It was a transgression of an oft-repeated command of God. Great was both the folly and the sin of the Israelites in this (cf. Jeremiah 2:11-13). This inquiry might lead them to perceive and to feel these things. The Most High frequently interrogates sinful men in order to lead them to reflection and reformation (cf. Ezekiel 18:31; Jeremiah 2:5; Jeremiah 4:14). "Not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
IV. A SINFUL PEOPLE PERSISTING IN SIN NOTWITHSTANDING DIVINE INTERROGATION. "And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day." The name was continued, and. the people persisted in the practice of idolatry despite the remonstrances of the Lord. Even under the most faithful and godly kings the high places were not taken away until Josiah entered upon his great reformation (2 Chronicles 34:3). It is difficult to eradicate sins in the case of individuals, when the sins have had time to strike their roots deeply in the heart and life. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." It is even more difficult to eradicate the widespread, long continued, deep-rooted sins of a community or a nation.
"Facilis descensus Averni.
Sed revocare gradum, superasque wadire ad auras
Hic labor, hoc opus est."
God, and Israel in the then present.
"Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers?" etc. The Lord Jehovah through his prophet now addresses himself to the Israel of that day, and especially to the elders who had come to the prophet to inquire of him. In these verses he declares their sins. Three chief points claim our attention.
I. THE SINS OF WICKED ANCESTORS PRACTISED BY THEIR SUCCESSORS.
1. The idolatry of the fathers continued by their children. "Say unto the house of Israel, Thus salts the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?" The whoredom spoken of is spiritual—unfaithfulness to God, in the worship of idols. Even the exile in Babylon did not for some time cure the people of this sin. As their fathers had done, so did they. Parental example is very powerful for several reasons.
(1) It is the example of those who are most looked up to and imitated by the young.
(2) It influences the young in the most impressionable season of their life. "As the twig is bent the tree inclines."
(3) It is most continuous in its influence upon the young. "The characters of living parents are constantly presented for the imitation of their children. Their example is continually sending forth a silent power to mould young hearts for good or ill; not for a single mouth or year, but through the whole impressionable period of childhood and youth, the influence of parental example is thus felt. If it be constituted of the highest and purest elements, the results will be unspeakably precious. Sons and daughters will" almost certainly become patterns of propriety and goodness, because their parents are such. If, on the other hand, their example be evil, most injurious will be its effects upon their children. A solemn consideration is this for parents, and one that should be laid to heart by them. It is difficult, moreover, to break away from sins which have obtained a firm hold upon family life and practice.
2. Idolatry practised even in its most cruel rites. "For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day" (see our notes on Ezekiel 16:20, Ezekiel 16:21).
3. The practice of idolatry defiling the idolater. "Ye pollute yourselves with all your idols" Worship either elevates or degrades the worshipper, according to the character of the object thereof. Genuine adoration is transforming in its influence upon him who offers it, We become like unto the object or objects of our supreme love and reverence. Hence the worship of the true God purifies, exalts, enriches, ennobles, sanctifies, the worshipper; while the worship of any idol or idols—e.g. riches, rank, popularity, power, pleasure—defiles, degrades, and impoverishes the worshipper. Moreover, sin of any kind pollutes the sinner; it stains and defiles his soul (see our notes on Ezekiel 20:7).
II. THE INQUIRIES OF HYPOCRITES REJECTED BY THE LOUD GOD. "Shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you." (We have already considered this topic in our homilies on Ezekiel 20:1-4 and Ezekiel 14:1-11.)
III. THE DARK DESIGNS OF SINNERS DEFEATED BY THE LORD GOD.
1. Here is a deliberate design formed by man to conform to idolatrous usages. "That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." Thus the house of Israel, the people of the only living and true God, inwardly resolved to conform to heathenish customs, hoping in some way to improve their condition by so doing. And in our day there are those who, while manifesting some respect for religion, yet conform to this world in its questionable and even sinful usages. And some "regard an irreligious condition as preferable to the struggles of a religious life."
2. Here is man's design to conform to idolatrous usages discovered by the Lord God. It was in vain for these insincere inquirers of the Lord to think that they could conceal any design from him. And elders of Israel should have known this so well as to be in no danger of overlooking it. But the practice of sin misleads and deceives sinners, and had probably deceived them. God is perfectly acquainted with every thought of the mind of man (Ezekiel 11:5; Psalms 139:1-5; Matthew 9:4; John 2:24, John 2:25; Hebrews 4:13).
3. Here is man's design to conform to idolatrous usages defeated by the Lord God. "That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all." Their inward purpose he would frustrate. They might attempt to carry it out, but it would not succeed. "That Israel should become like the heathen," says Schroder," would be repugnant to the nature of God, especially to his name Jehovah. The very reverse would be much more in harmony with it, namely, that the heathen should become like Israel." The Church of God is not to be conformed to and lost in the world; but the world is to be conformed to the Church and to be included therein. The kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15). And so the Lord declares that the evil designs of his sinful people should fail. He can utterly foil the deepest, subtlest schemes of man; and he will do so when those schemes are exposed to his holy will (cf. Job 5:12-14; Psalms 33:10, Psalms 33:11; Proverbs 21:30; Isaiah 8:10; Acts 5:38, Acts 5:39).—W.J.
The sovereignty of God in the punishment of sin.
"As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm," etc. The connection of this paragraph with what has gone before, and especially with Ezekiel 20:32, is of the closest character; it is, in fact, essential. Three leading points require attention.
I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN, NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR SINS, ASSERTED. (Ezekiel 20:33.) The Israelites had resolved to be as the heathen, to conform to their usages, and to mingle themselves with them. But the Lord does not readily loose them from their allegiance to him. The sins of men do not invalidate the sovereignty of God over them. Men cannot by any means annul his right to rule over them. Moral obligations are eternal. The Lord here asserts:
1. His solemn determination to maintain his sovereignty over Israel. "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely … will I rule over you." The oath indicates the settled and unchangeable purpose of the Lord Jehovah. He will not forego his kingly authority over his creatures.
2. His sufficient power to maintain his sovereignity over Israel. "Surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you." There is a reference here to his great and terrible acts in the land of Egypt for the deliverance of his people therefrom (cf. Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 4:34). The Almighty is at no loss for means and instruments to maintain his authority. "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder," etc. (Psalms 2:2-6). If men will not bow to the sceptre of his mercy, they wilt be made to feel the rod of his anger. "There is no shaking off God's dominion," says M. Henry; "rule he will, either with the golden sceptre or with the iron rod; and those that will not yield to the power of his grace shall be made to sink under the power of his wrath."
II. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN MANIFESTED IN THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS. (Ezekiel 20:34-36.) These verses, we think, should be regarded as figurative. The people of the house of Israel had said within themselves, "We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." The Lord by his prophet declares that they shall not be as the nations; they shall not be lost amongst them; for he will find them out with his judgments. "1 will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered," etc. There is here a reference to their captivity in Babylon. The objection that they were in one land only, and amongst one people only, whereas the prophet speaks of "peoples" and "countries," is not of much weight, seeing that the Babylonian empire was so great as to be spoken of in the terms applied to it in Jeremiah 27:1-7 "To those who fancied that with the removal into exile the judicial activity of God was already closed, and the dawn of the day of grace was immediately approaching, he announces a new phase of this judicial activity, similar to that which first came over Israel in the wilderness. If they are really led out of the former state into the new one, in which they underlie a second judgment, formally they are led into the wilderness, which here designates a state similar to that in which Israel was formerly in the wilderness. The wilderness is designated as 'the wilderness of the peoples,' in contradistinction to the former wilderness, where was only the howling of wild beasts (Deuteronomy 32:10), lions, serpents, and the like (Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 30:6). The new wilderness is one in which Israel is in the midst of the peoples, and can therefore be no ordinary wilderness, for wilderness and peoples exclude one another. It must rather be a symbolic or typical designation of the state of punishment and purification" (Hengstenberg). We have a somewhat similar use of the word "wilderness" in Ezekiel 19:13 and Hosea 2:14. What the punishments thus indicated precisely were and when they were inflicted we know not, because of "the defect of historical notices concerning the state of the exiles." Some idea of them may, perhaps, be gathered from the words, "Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God" (cf. Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 14:21-23; Numbers 16:31-35, Numbers 16:41-49; Numbers 21:4-6). It is well observed by Greenhill, "That God's punishments are his pleadings; when he visits men for their sins he pleads with them. Every rod of his hath a voice, and pleads for God. Isaiah 66:16, 'By fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh.' His punishments are arguments he uses to convince or confound sinners." If men violate God's righteous laws, and set at nought his supreme authority, they must bear the inevitable penalties of their transgressions, and thus realize their subjection to his sovereignty.
III. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN MANIFESTED IN THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS IN ORDER TO LEAD THEM LOYALLY TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SOVEREIGNTY. (Verses 37, 38.) "The Divine chastisement was designed to exercise a purifying influence upon the people of Israel, and to lead them back to hearty allegiance to the Lord their God. Two results are here represented as effected by means of it.
1. Divine discrimination of human characters. "And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant." The metaphor of passing under the rod is drawn from pastoral lift, and the custom of the sheep passing under the staff of the shepherd to be numbered and examined (cf. Leviticus 27:32; Jeremiah 33:12, Jeremiah 33:13; Micah 7:14). They who thus pass under the rod are the people of God purified by chastisements, known of him, restored to covenant relationship with him, enjoying the privileges and acknowledging the obligations of that covenant. "The Lord knoweth them that are his;" and distinguisheth them from those who are not his.
2. Divine separation of human persons. "And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and those that transgress against me," etc. (verse 38). A separation of persons according to their respective characters is here set forth. The sheep will be divided from the goats, the loyal subjects from the hardened rebels. This verse perhaps points, as Scott suggests, "to the whole of the Lord's dealings with Israel, from the time when this prophecy was delivered, to the establishment of a small remnant of them in their own land, after the Captivity; from among whom the idolaters and idolatry itself were completely destroyed, by their manifold desolations, and the terrible havoc made among them." This separation foreshadows that great separation which will be effected at the close of the present economy (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:27). Blessed unspeakably will be the lot of those who shall then be found amongst the loyal subjects of the Lord Jehovah. And as for the rebels, they shall know by dread experience that he is the sovereign Lord of all.—W.J.
The gracious restoration of the people.
"As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord God; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols," etc. It is here distinctly recognized that not at once would this reformation and restoration be accomplished. The house of Israel is told to "go, serve ye every one his idols." These words are spoken of as an "ironical conversion" (cf. 1 Kings 22:15; Amos 4:4; Matthew 23:32). They are also described as" the holy irony of him who knows that mercy is laid up for the future." It is important to bear in mind that the words were addressed to the dissimulating elders of Israel. They had come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, while in their heart they were resolved to "be as the heathen … to serve wood and stone" They received such an answer as they were fitted for: "Go ye, serve ye every one his idols." Not quickly are men of such character separated from their sins. Not quickly are the stern lessons of chastisement truly and thoroughly learned by them. Moreover, this ironical concession of their idolatry would perhaps impress them more deeply with the evil thereof than a renewed prohibition or denunciation of it might have done. Then follows the assured declaration of their restoration through the mercy of the Lord God. Of this restoration the more prominent features ate these.
I. THEIR RENUNCIATION OF IDOLATRY AND CONSECRATION TO THE LORD JEHOVAH,
1. The renunciation of their idolatry. (Verse 39.) The rendering of the margin of the Revised Version seems to us preferable: "Go ye, serve every one his idols, hut hereafter surely ye shall hearken unto me, and my holy Name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your idols." Hengstenberg and the 'Speaker's Commentary' take this view of the verse. "You have pretended," says Greenhill, "that by your idols set up in my stead, and the gifts you have offered to them, or by them to me, that you have honoured my Name, but by joining them and me together, you have polluted my Name." And he declares that this pollution shall cease; that they will abandon their idols. And since their release from the Babylonian captivity, the Jews have never been guilty of idolatry like that mentioned in verse 32—the service of wood and stone; they have never since then forsaken the Lord God for the idols of heathenism.
2. Their consecration to the Lord Jehovah. '" For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me." Notice:
(1) The scene of this service. "In mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel." After the return from the exile the temple at Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Jews, and there they worshipped God. But in the largest and grandest fulfilment of this prophecy the holy mountain is to be understood spiritually (cf. John 4:20-24). "The spiritual worship of the New Testament," as Schroder observes, "can be well described in the phraseology of the Old Testament worship, by which it was symbolized and prefigured. We still speak of the heavenly Jerusalem" (cf. Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 2:3; Galatians 4:24-26; Hebrews 12:22).
(2) The universality of this service. This is very emphatically expressed here. "There shall all the house of Israel, all of them, serve me." Partially this was fulfilled on the return from the exile. "When the Jews had returned from Babylon under Zerubbabel and Ezra, along with those who adhered to then, from all the tribes, they formed a unity, possessed a temple at Jerusalem, and became a single people under the same presidency "(Cocceius). But the prophecy yet awaits its complete fulfilment. "All the seperation between Israel and Judah shall cease. This points to times yet future, when in Messiah's kingdom Jews and Gentiles alike shall be gathered into one kingdom—the kingdom of Christ (comp. Jeremiah 31:1-40.; Malachi 3:1, etc.; also Romans 11:25, Romans 11:26; Revelation 11:15). Jerusalem is the Church of Christ (Galatians 4:26), into which the children of Israel shall at last be gathered, and so the prophecy shall be fulfilled (Revelation 21:2)" ('Speaker's Commentary').
(3) And as for the nature of this service; they shall worship the living and true God as the only worthy Object of adoration, and they shall obey him as their sovereign Lord.
II. THE ACCEPTATION OF THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORSHIP BY THE LORD JEHOVAH.
1. The acceptation of themselves. "There will I accept them … As a sweet savour will I accept you." This acceptation includes:
(1) The full forgiveness of all their offences. That he receives the sinner is an evidence that he will remember his sins against him no more.
(2) The gracious reception of themselves: that God would regard them with complacency, and enrich them with his favour. When God accepts man he does it heartily and with a glad welcome, even as the father received his prodigal son (Luke 15:20-24). When we pray," Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously." he speedily answers, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him."
2. The acceptation of their worship. "There will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things." When the worshippers are themselves accepted, their worship will be accepted also. But when the worshippers are insincere and wicked, the Lord demands of them, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" etc. (Isaiah 1:11-15). It is the contrite and believing heart of the offerer that commends the offerings unto God. Where this state of heart is we may say, with David, "Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness," etc. (Psalms 51:19).
III. GATHERING THEM FROM THEIR EXILE, AND THEIR RESTORATION TO THEIR OWN LAND.
1. Gathering them from their exile. "When I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries, wherein ye have been scattered." The Lord does not lose sight of his people when they are scattered abroad. He does not cease to care for them or to protect them. Not one of them shall be lost through any failure on his part (cf. ch. 34:11-16; John 10:28).
2. Restoring them to their own land. "When I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I hired up mine hand to give unto your fathers." The Jews were restored to their own land after the exile in Babylon. That restoration was a remarkable fulfilment of many prophecies, There is perhaps in the text a reference to another and yet future restoration thither. God by the gospel restores man to his forfeited inheritance. By sin man was exiled from Eden; by the grace of God in Christ Jesus he is introduced into a holier and more beautiful Paradise. "When Divine grace renews the heart of the fallen sinner, Paradise is regained, and much of its beauty restored to the soul."
IV. THEIR GRACIOUS RECOGNITION OF GOD, AND SINCERE REPENTANCE OF THEIR SINS. (The points which arise under this head we have already noticed in our homily on Ezekiel 6:8-10.)
1. Their gracious recognition of the Lord God. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord," etc. (verses 42, 44). This knowledge does not spring from his judgments, but from the experience of his gracious dealings. It is a sympathetic and saving acquaintance with him.
2. Sincere repentance of their sirs.
(1) Here is a prerequisite to true repentance. "There shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled."
(2) Here is an essential characteristic of true repentance. "And ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed." in genuine penitence the sinner reproaches himself because of his sins.
V. AND IN ALL THESE FEATURES OF THIS RESTORATION WE HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE AND BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATION OF THE UNMERITED GRACE OF GOD. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my Name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God." All our blessings flow to us from the inexhaustible fountain of the grace of God. Mankind has merited no good from him. Our "evil ways and corrupt doings" have deserved his unmixed wrath. But in his infinite mercy he has pared our guilty race, enriched us with many physical and mental blessings, and provided for us an eternal and glorious salvation through the gift of his beloved Son. And as this restoration of his people originated in his grace, it shall redound to his glory. "I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations" (verse 41); "I have wrought with you for my Name's sake" (verse 44); "In them as a holy people, anew consecrated to God, shall be exhibited to the heathen the holiness of Jehovah." And the redemption of man by Jesus Christ shall issue in the eternal glory of the God or all grace (Gal 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:20, Hebrews 13:21; 1Pe 5:10, 1 Peter 5:11; Revelation 7:9-12).
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But unto thy Name give glory,
For thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake."
and Ezekiel 21:1-7
A parable of judgment.
"Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy lace towards the south," etc. Another chapter should certainly have been commenced at the forty-fifth verse of the twentieth chapter, as indeed it is in the Hebrew, LXX; and Vulgate. The first seven verses of the twenty-first chapter in the Authorized Version are an explanation of the parable of the preceding five verses.
I. THE AUTHOR OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. Divinely declared, "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee" (verse 47); "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked" (Ezekiel 21:3). The Divine authorship of the judgments coming upon Jerusalem has been asserted already by the prophet many times in Ezekiel 5:1-17; Ezekiel 6:1-14; Ezekiel 7:1-27; etc; in which places we have noticed the fact. The Chaldeans were the unconscious instruments in the hand of God tot accomplishing this judgment. He was himself the Author of it.
2. Generally recognized. "And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched" (verse 48); "That all flesh may know that I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return any more" (Ezekiel 21:5). The irresistibleness of the judgment would lead men to conclude that the Author of it was the Almighty. "If we see that all human plans and devices, even the most promising, come to nothing, we are led to the confession that we have to do with personal omnipotence and righteousness, against which the battle is unavailing." There are some disasters and distresses in which the thoughtful observer is almost compelled to recognize the presence and the power of the Supreme.
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field; and say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold I will kindle a fire in thee …. Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I am against thee," etc. Ezekiel was now in Chaldea, of which the prophets generally spoke as the north country; not because it was strictly north of Palestine, but because its armies entered Palestine from the north by way of Syria, and in returning they travelled by the same northern way. Hence the south denotes Jerusalem and the land of Israel. And the people are spoken of as "the forest of the south." It has been suggested that the figure of a forest is employed in order to denote the density of the population. Others have suggested that it is used to indicate the fact that the people had degenerated from a noble vine or a fruitful field to an unproductive forest. But this at least is certain, that the judgment was about to be inflicted upon the Holy Land, the royal and sacred city, and the people chosen of God. Their former favours will not screen them from the righteous retribution of their sins. Their privileges will rather aggravate their punishment. They had presumed upon those privileges; they had abused God's great goodness to them; and because they had done these things his judgment upon them will be all the more terrible. Here is solemn admonition to those who occupy eminent positions or possess exceptional privileges (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).
III. THE NATURE OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. It is destructive in its character. "Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree …. Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked." Fire and sword are employed to denote all the miseries and terrors which came upon the people in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Famine and pestilence, slaughter and captivity, then fell fiercely upon the people (cf. Ezekiel 5:1-17; Ezekiel 6:1-14; Ezekiel 7:1-27).
2. It is general in its infliction. The fire "shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north." In national judgments the righteous suffer with the wicked, and the innocent with the guilty, so far as the outward calamities are concerned. But though the outward event be the same to all, its inward character is not. The righteous shall not be as the wicked. "God's graces and comforts make a great difference when his providence seems to make none." So that this general character of the judgment "is not in contradiction with Ezekiel 9:4, according to which the righteous amid the impending catastrophe are the object of the protecting and sustaining activity of God. For if two suffer the same, yet it is not the same. To those who love God must all things be for the best (Romans 8:28)" (Hengstenberg).
3. It is irresistible in its might. "The flaming flame shall not be quenched … I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return any more." The Jews in Jerusalem imagined that, with the aid of Egypt, they could safely bid defiance to the Chaldean forces; but those forces utterly overwhelmed them. When God is against either a man or a nation, they are unable to stand before their enemies. "Hast thou an arm like God? and canst thou thunder with a voice like him?" "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and prospered? "Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way," etc. (Psalms 2:12).
IV. THE DISINCLINATION OF MEN TO CREDIT THE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Thou said, I, Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?" Notice:
1. The mean attempt to cast upon the prophet the blame which was due to themselves. They said of the prophet, "Is he not a speaker of parables?" They did not want to understand his announcements to them. They could have understood them without difficulty had they been disposed to do so. The truths which he proclaimed were displeasing to them, and they would not recognize them. Then they disingenuously complained of the form in which he expressed his message. "Is he not a speaker of parables?" Their conduct in this respect finds its analogue in some hearers of the Christian ministry in our day. If the preacher's style is figurative, he is too obscure—"a speaker of parables;" if it be plain and unadorned, he is too simple and homely; if it be logical, he is too dry; if it be fervid, he is too enthusiastic. They blame the preacher when the fault is in themselves—they are out of sympathy with his message.
2. The adequate resource of a faithful servant of God when subject to discouragement. He can do as Ezekiel did, state his difficulties and trials to his Divine Master, and obtain from him consolation and inspiration. There are experiences in the lives of Christian ministers when nothing remains fur them but to seek the aid of him from whom they received their commission. They shall never seek his aid in vain, or find it insufficient.
V. THE GRACE OF GOD IN GIVING REPEATED AND IMPRESSIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. When the prophet complained to the Lord that the people spake of him as "a speaker of parables," he was not commanded to abandon them to their doom, but to deliver his message again and in another form. The merciful God was patient with the perverse people.
1. Here are repeated announcements of this judgment. Two are given in our text. Several have been already given by the prophet. And subsequently he delivered not a few. And in addition to these, Jeremiah was proclaiming in Jerusalem the approaching doom. God does not leave the wicked without many warnings of the consequences of their conduct.
2. Here are impressive announcements of this judgment.
(1) The spoken parable (verses 47, 48). This was fitted to awaken attention, stimulate inquiry, and thus produce a deeper and more lasting impression of the truth conveyed.
(2) The acted sign. "Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins," etc. (Ezekiel 21:6, Ezekiel 21:7). This also was with the view of interesting the people, and leading them to ask," Wherefore Highest thou?" As Hengstenberg observes, "The endeavour is everywhere visible, to obtain by the clearness of the description a representation of the reality not yet existing, but already germinating, and in this way to withdraw the people from their delusions, and make penitence take the place of politics."
VI. THE DISMAY OF THE PEOPLE ON THE ACTUAL ARRIVAL OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord God." "They shall be compelled to experience in themselves what they perceive in the prophet. In all, courage gives place to terror, activity to prostration, counsel to perplexity. No one holds out any longer (cf. Ezekiel 7:17)" (Schroder). The wicked who have been most self-confident and boastfully secure in time of peace and prosperity, will be most prostrate and terror stricken when confronted by stern calamity and distress. "The sound of a driven leaf shall chase them." Having forsaken God, and being deprived of the strength and courage of a calm and clear conscience, "terrors overtake them like waters," and utterly overwhelm them. if sinners persistently reject the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, the time will come when in abject dismay they will vainly seek to hide themselves "from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:15-17). Therefore "seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 55:7).—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19