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Ezekiel 22:1, Ezekiel 22:2
Moreover, etc. The word connects what follows with the word of the Lord which began in Ezekiel 20:2. That connection is, indeed, sufficiently indicated by the recurrence of the formula, "Wilt thou judge?" (see note on Ezekiel 20:4). In obedience to the commands which that question implied, Ezekiel has once more to go through the catalogue of the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. It is not without significance that he applies the very epithet of bloody city (Hebrew, city of bloods) which Nahum (Nahum 3:1) had applied to Nineveh.
The city sheddeth blood, etc. As in the great indictment of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 4:4), the sins of murder and idolatry are grouped together. She sins as if with the purpose "that her time" (i.e. the time of her punishment) "may come."
Thou hast caused thy days to draw near, etc. As in Ezekiel 22:3, the days and the years are those of God's judgments. The people had made no effort to avert their doom by repentance. They had, as it were, rushed upon their appointed fate. So, though in another sense, the righteous lives of the faithful are said, in 2 Peter 3:12, to "hasten the coming of the day of God." Exceptional evil and exceptional good alike hasten the approach of the day which is to decide between the two.
Those that be near, etc. The Hebrew words are both feminine, and refer to the neighboring and distant cities which took up their proverbs of reproach against the city, once holy and faithful, now infamous (Hebrew, defiled in name) and much vexed. The last words point to another form of punishment. Jerusalem is described as in a state of moral tumult and disorder as the consequence of its guilt (comp. Amos 3:9; Deuteronomy 7:23; Zechariah 14:13, where the same word is rendered by "tumults" and "destruction").
Behold, the princes of Judah, etc. For the "bloodshed," which was conspicuous among the sins, comp. Ezekiel 9:9; Ezekiel 16:38; Ezekiel 23:37, Ezekiel 23:45; and for special instances of that sin among its princes, those of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16) and Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:4). To their power; Hebrew, each man according to his arm, i.e. his strength. There was no restraint upon the doer of evil other than the limitation of his capacity.
We pass to sins of another kind. The fifth commandment was trampled underfoot as well as the sixth, and the blessing of continued national existence (Exodus 20:12) was thereby forfeited. The widow and the orphan and the stranger (we note in that last word the width of Ezekiel's sympathies) were oppressed (compare the same grouping in Deuteronomy 27:16, Deuteronomy 27:19).
Mine holy things, etc. The words take in the whole range of Divine ordinances as affecting both things and persons. (For "profaning sabbaths," see Ezekiel 20:16.)
Men that carry tales, etc. Hebrew, men of slanders (comp. Exodus 23:1; Le Exodus 19:16). The sin of the informers, ever ready to lend themselves to plots against the life or character of the innocent, was then, as at all times, the besetting evil of corrupt government in the East. Compare the story of Naboth (1 Kings 21:10) and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:13). (For eating on the mountains, see note on Ezekiel 18:6; and for lewdness, that on Ezekiel 16:43.) What the lewdness consisted in is stated in the following verses.
This, well-nigh the vilest of all forms of incest, against which the horror naturalis of the heathen, as in the story of Hippolytus, uttered its protest, would seem to have been common among the corruptions of Israel. (For the sin described in the second clause, see notes on Ezekiel 18:6.)
Ezekiel 22:11, Ezekiel 22:12
The list of sins follows on the lines of Le Ezekiel 18:9, Ezekiel 18:15. (For those in Ezekiel 18:12, see notes on Ezekiel 18:12.) It is to be remarked, however, that the prophet does not confine himself to the mere enumeration of specific sins. These are traced to their source in that "forgetting God" which was at once the starting-point and the consummation of all forms of evil (comp. Romans 1:28).
I have smitten my hand. The gesture, as in Ezekiel 21:14, Ezekiel 21:17, was one of indignant, and, as it were, impatient command.
Can thine heart endure, etc.? The question implies an answer in the negative. Heart would fail and hands wax feeble in the day of the Lord's judgment. The doom of exile and dispersion must come, with all its horrors; but even here, Judah was not, like Ammon to be forgotten (Ezekiel 21:32). Her punishment was to do its work, and to consume her filthiness out of her.
Thou shalt take thine inheritance, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, Keil, and most other commentators, shalt be profaned in thyself, etc. The prophet is still speaking of punishment, not of restoration.
The house of Israel is to me become dross, etc. A new parable, based upon Isaiah 1:22, Isaiah 1:23 and Jer 6:1-30 :80, begins, and is carried out with considerable fullness. In Malachi 3:2, Malachi 3:3 we have the same imagery. Baser metals have been mingled with the silver, and must be burnt out, but there is hope, as well as terror, in the parable. Men throw the mixed metals into the smelting-pot in order that the silver may be separated from the dross and come out pure. And this was to be the issue of the "fiery trial" through which Jerusalem and its inhabitants were to pass.
Ezekiel 22:23, Ezekiel 22:24
A fresh section opens, and the prophet addresses himself, not to Jerusalem only, but to the whole land. A land that is not cleansed. The words admit of the rendering, not shined upon, and this is adopted by Keil. The land is deprived at once of the sunshine and the rain. which are the conditions of fertility. The LXX. gives "not mined upon," and so the two clauses are parallel and state the same fact. So Ewald. The Vulgate gives immunda, and this is followed both by the Authorized Version and the Revised Version (comp. Isaiah 5:6; Amos 4:7).
A conspiracy of prophets. The prophet's thoughts go back to Ezekiel 13:1-16, from which, in Verse 28, he actually quotes It is probable that, in the interval, fresh tidings had reached him of the evil work which they were doing at Jerusalem. The LXX. ἀφηγούμενοι (equivalent to "princes") suggests that they followed a different text, and this is adopted by Keil and Hitzig. Like a roaring lion (comp. Ezekiel 19:2, Ezekiel 19:3; 1 Peter 5:8). The word probably points to the loud declamations of the false prophets (compare, as a striking parallel, Zephaniah 3:3, Zephaniah 3:4).
The sins of the prophets are followed by these of the priests. Their guilt was that they blurred over the distinction between the holy and the profane (Revised Version, "common"), between the clean and the unclean (comp. Ezekiel 44:23; Le Ezekiel 10:10, where the same terms are used), in what we have learnt to call the positive and ceremonial ordinances of the Law, and so blunted their keenness of perception in regard to analogous moral distinctions. Extremes meet, and in our Lord's time the same result was brought about by an exaggerated scrupulosity about the very things the neglect of which was, in Ezekiel's time, the root of the evils which he condemns. This was true generally, conspicuously true in the case of the sabbath. Its neglect was a crying evil in Ezekiel's time, just as its exaggeration was in the later development of Judaism. Though in itself positive rather than moral, to hide the eyes from its holiness was, for these to whom the commandment had been given, an act of immorality.
Wolves (comp. Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3; Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29).
(See Ezekiel 13:10.) The fact that the prophets are addressed here gives some force to the idea that "chiefs" or "judges" were addressed in Ezekiel 22:27.
From the classes, the prophet turns to the masses. The people of the land, the common people (2 Kings 25:3, 2 Kings 25:19), come under the same condemnation. Greed of gain, the oppression of the poor and the stranger, were seem everywhere.
And I sought for a man, etc. (For the imagery that follows, see Ezekiel 13:5 : Psalms 106:23.) The fact stated, as in Jeremiah 5:1, is that there was no one in all Jerusalem righteous enough to be either a defender or an intercessor, none to be a "repairer of the breach" (Isaiah 58:12). Nothing was left but the righteous punishment proclaimed in Jeremiah 5:31.
The wickedness of Jerusalem was not confined to what might be called sins of religion—idolatry, sabbath-breaking, profanation of sacred things, etc. It was witnessed in gross outrages of social rights. Failure in religion leads to failure in society. Social wrongs are sins in the sight of Heaven which God observes, condemns, and punishes.
I. LOSS OF FILIAL REVERENCE. "They have set light by father and mother," The Hebrew Law attached great weight to the duty children owe to their parents (Exodus 20:12). The requirement to honor father and mother was "the first commandment with promise" (Ephesians 6:2). The breach of this law was a sin in the sight of God; so the prodigal son confessed that he had sinned against Heaven (Luke 15:21). Christ condemned the mean devices by which some Jews in his day endeavored to escape from their filial duty (Matthew 15:4 Matthew 15:6). In this respect, the East, which we often despise for its supposed corruption and barbarism, is in advance of the West. One of the most ominous portents among us is a growing levity in the treatment of parental claims. No doubt it is well that the old stiffness of the family relationship has broken down, and that there is more mutual confidence between parents and children than there was in the olden times. Parental tyranny is no more admirable than filial rebellion. The formal manners which separated the older generation from the younger were hurtful to both. But with a fuller recognition of the rights of the young, and a greater freedom of intercourse between the older and the younger members of a family, we are in danger of losing filial reverence—one of the most sacred of duties. Well might King Lear exclaim—
"Sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!"
II. OPPRESSION OF THE STRANGER. Many and merciful were the regulations of the Jewish Law in favor of "the stranger that is within thy gates." In spite of the supposed Jewish exclusiveness—a trait of late Judaism rather than of ancient Israelite manners—the foreigner had a higher status in Jerusalem than was accorded by the liberal-minded Greeks at Athens to the Xenoi. Oppression of foreign residents was a sign of peculiar wickedness. The Jews were reminded that because they had been received as guests in Egypt and then betrayed by their hosts, they should feel peculiar sympathy with aliens. Let us Beware of selfish national exclusiveness. This is not patriotism; it is narrow-minded, selfish injustice and inhumanity. Observe some of the eases in which the sin of oppressing strangers may be committed.
1. Unkindness to foreign immigrants. England is the boasted shelter of the world's refugees. May she never forfeit her good name from greedy jealousy! Missions to Italian peddlers, lodging-houses for Lascars, etc; claim Christian attention for the saving of the poor and friendless from cruel wrong.
2. Cruelty to foreigners abroad. England has vast relations with feeble inferior races. The great empire of India is entrusted to our care. In Africa we have peculiar influence. The abominations of the treatment of women in the former ease, and the evil of the traffic in drink and firearms in the latter case, are instances of gross oppression of strangers.
III. VEXING THE FATHERLESS AND THE WIDOW. In the absence of a poor law, special attention was given to the provision for orphans and widows by private charity under the Jewish economy. But the rough justice of the East often failed to secure to the helpless even their own rights. Times of lawlessness were times when those poor persons suffered grievously. There is always a danger that the helpless should be trodden down in the fierce race of life. We cannot excuse such cruelty by quoting Adam Smith and Mill, as though the laws of political economy were sacred mandates or decrees of fate, instead of being simply generalizations of conduct prompted by self-interest. We are called to higher alms—to sympathy and mutual helpfulness.
I. DISHONEST GAIN IS A COMMON SOURCE OF WEALTH. We set before our children, in their copy-books, the motto, "Honesty is the best policy;" but in the experience of life it is found that dishonesty is often a more successful worldly policy. Thieves fatten on their booty, and swindlers live in lordly palaces. There is not only the vulgar dishonesty that steals by direct robbery. We have our civilized and refined dishonesty—a dishonesty which contrives to keep on the near side of the law, and yet is not the less real theft. The "sweater" is a thief. The promoter of bubble companies is a robber on a colossal scale. The breadth of the area embraced, the number of the dupes victimized, and the amount of the gain realized, do not destroy the guilt of the robbery; they heighten it. There was a certain frank daring about the old highwaymen which entitled them to the respect of those who condemned their lawlessness, in comparison with which the sneaking dishonesty of those who steal without risking their lives or liberties is a despicable cowardice.
II. DISHONEST GAIN IS GOT BY MURDEROUS CRUELTY. In our text Ezekiel associates dishonest gain with blood-guiltiness. The thief is near to becoming a murderer; the burglar carries firearms. The immense growth of the custom of insuring the lives of young babies, together with the frightful extent of infant mortality, forces us to the conclusion that, either by neglect—the crudest kind of murder—or by the more merciful means of direct suffocation, numbers of children are yearly slaughtered by their parents for the sake of the paltry gain obtained from the insurance. We cannot say much of the old pagan habit of exposing children while this more vile, because more cunning and mercenary, crime is commonly committed in Christian England. It is the duty of all good citizens to be on the watch for cases of cruelty to children among their neighbors—often practiced in the decent homes of thrifty folk. In other ways theft may mean murder—slow murder of the most painful kind. The customer helps to murder the shopkeeper when he takes an unjust advantage of competition. He who steals a man's livelihood virtually steals his life, for it is no credit to the thief that his victim may be saved from starvation by the charity of others.
III. DISHONEST GAIN CALLS DOWN THE VENGEANCE OF HEAVEN. God has smitten his hand at it. Dishonesty can only appear the best policy for a season. In the long run the old proverb is certain to justify itself.
1. National dishonesty will bring vengeance on a nation. The English cotton-trade has suffered materially through the cheating custom of adding weight to goods shipped to the East by sizing the fabric. If trade with lower races is corrupt, unjust, and cruel, the wrong will be avenged either by the loss of the trade or in the hatred earned by the traders. The oppression of the poor in our midst by those who make dishonest gains in grinding down their employees will be assuredly avenged by some awful social revolution, unless the injustice is speedily atoned for by more fair treatment.
2. Private dishonesty will bring vengeance on the sinner. God sees and judges the man who enjoys dishonest gain. If he does not suffer on earth from the enmity he has stirred, this Dives will certainly not be carried with the Lazarus he oppressed to Abraham's bosom. His gold will scorch him like fire in some dread hell.
A total collapse.
I. DELUSIVE HOPE. Consider what it rests on.
1. A stout heart. The sinner believes in himself. He feels brave and confident. No doubt this temper of mind will help him over a number of difficulties. But will it stand in the awful day of Divine judgment?
2. Strong hands. The sinner is conscious of strength in himself and in his possessions, in his body and mind, and in the resources of his ill-gotten gain. The wicked king owns his army; the bad millionaire holds his money; the sinful man of humbler pretensions relies on his wits, his energy, or at worst on his luck.
3. Present prosperity. The text refers to future days, when God will deal with the sinner. Those days have not yet dawned, and all is fair at present. The natural tendency is to believe that the world will continue as it is now. "For as in the days that were before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark" (Matthew 24:38).
II. CERTAIN FAILURE. The text is in the form of a question, but it plainly suggests only one dismal answer. The delusive hope must fail. Note the grounds of the certain failure.
1. Human feebleness. It is a case of the strength of man matched against the might of God. Who can doubt the issue? In such a contest the stoutest heart must fail and the strongest arm go down. Man is the lord of creation; but he is a feeble insect before Omnipotence.
2. Divine constancy. "I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it." God is true to his word. He does not mock his children with idle threats. He is too sure to fail.
3. Changed circumstances. "In the days that I shall deal with thee." Those days have not yet arrived. Therefore we cannot comfort ourselves that we shall be safe in the future because we are comfortable enough at present. The coming days will wear a new aspect. We are not fortified against winter storms by the enjoyment of summer sunshine. The ease with which we glide down the stream is no guarantee that the thunder of the falls will never be reached. The delusive hope which shines fair in the old times of Divine waiting will be shattered to fragments in the new days of Divine judgment.
III. CONSEQUENT MISERY. The question of the text is not answered; but the doleful silence with which it is received suggests the misery that is to follow. If heart and hand fail, the ruin and wretchedness must be complete. While a good man fighting against adversity is said to be a sight for the admiration of gods as well as men, a bad man crushed by misery is only an object of horror. The stout heart of honest intentions can bear up against unmerited woes and find in its own fortitude a certain solace. But this solace will be wanting in the collapse of the false hope of the sinner. Then will follow the deepest misery, the sense of being confounded, the helplessness of being swept away in a flood of destruction. Pain is not the worst evil. The depth of hell is reached when heart and strength fail, and the sinner loses all power to withstand his fate. Hence the supreme need of a Savior (Romans 8:1).
I. THE NATURE OF THE DROSS. Israel is compared to dross. The nation should have been God's precious metal, pure white silver. By sin it has become base metal.
1. Dross is an inferior substance. Characters are deteriorated by sin. Wickedness lowers the very nature of a man. We cannot commit sin and still keep our persons in primitive worth and dignity. We are either exalted or degraded by our deeds; they react upon our very being and assimilate it to themselves. Thus silver becomes dross; the man made in the image of God becomes a child of the devil (John 8:44).
2. Dross may be of various kinds. There are brass, tin, iron, and lead in the furnace. Yet all are counted as dross. In human life there are various types of evil. Vice is more picturesque than virtue because it is more variegated. But one common stamp is on every evil coin—the same diabolical effigy.
3. Dross is in the place of good metal. It is mixed with silver (Ezekiel 22:20). Moreover, it pretends to be the good metal. Brass would pass as gold, and tin as silver. Sin is generally hypocritical. It craves the honor of goodness. Wheat and tares grow together. Good and bad fishes come to land in one net. Society contains the good and the bad in close association.
II. THE EVIL OF THE DROSS.
1. It is directly hurtful. Brass is poisonous. Tin is soft, and the vessel made with it will stand neither the heat nor the wear which silver is capable of enduring. All the base metals readily corrode, while the precious metals can be kept bright. The dross of bad character is poisonous, and a source of weakness and corrosion to society.
2. It is deceptive. Passing itself off as better metal, it succeeds in taking the place of honor that does not belong to it. Deceitful men worm their way into posts of dignity which they degrade by their evil character.
3. It is injurious to the good metal. The choice silver is lost in the dross when the various metals are amalgamated into one lump. Good men are injured by bad companions. The presence of wicked characters hinders the work of the good who are joined with them in a common enterprise.
III. THE TREATMENT OF THE DROSS.
1. God deals with it. We cannot always detect its presence or distinguish between it and good metal. Both tares and wheat are to be let grow together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). God knows the secrets of all hearts. The great Assayer will not be deceived by the most specious forgery.
2. God tries it in the furnace. Israel was to go into the furnace of affliction, that the dross might be detected. In her prosperity and confidence she listened to the prophets of smooth things, who flattered her into the notion that she was a choice nation of rare quality—pure silver compared to the base metal of the Gentile world. The Captivity tried this beast. Not only was the land laid waste and the city of Jerusalem destroyed, but the mass of the Jewish nation proved itself unequal to cope with its difficulties, and, failing to retain its distinctive character, melted away into the neighboring nations, leaving only a remnant—the true silver—to carry on the Hebrew tradition and earn the right of restoration. Persecution would show how much worldly dross there is in the Church (Matthew 13:21). Trouble reveals the dross of individual souls.
Holy and profane.
I. THE TRUE DISTINCTION BETWEEN HOLY AND PROFANE. The Jewish Law made elaborate distinctions between the clean and the unclean, some of which were founded on moral differences, some on sanitary requirements, but others OH merely symbolical and ceremonial points. Many of these distinctions were only temporary, as that between certain foods, and that between Jews and Gentiles, the abolition of which was revealed to St. Peter in his vision at Joppa (Acts 10:15). Christ denounced the folly of formal distinctions (Matthew 15:11). St. Paul claimed large liberty in this respect, and pointed out the danger and delusion of the will-worship which was associated with too punctilious an observance of minute external distinctions (Colossians 2:23). Nevertheless, there remain true distinctions apart from the formal and ceremonial differences.
1. The distinction between holiness and sin. In this distinction we have -the root out of which the ceremonial notions of cleanness and uncleanness sprang. The formal notions may pass, the moral foundation is eternal.
2. The distinction between the service of God and the service of the world. We do not want to regard the temple as the only sacred place, so that the forum must be relegated to profanity. In the Christian age, "Holiness unto the Lord" is not only to be inscribed on the bells of the high priest; it is to be seen on the bells of the horses (Zechariah 14:20). But this means a dedication of all to the service of God. If we neglect that service and sink into secularism, we fail to observe the holiness; we then make all things profane—temple as well as forum.
II. THE SIN OF DESTROYING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SACRED AND PROFANE. We have not now to do with definite Jewish offences against the Law of Moses, in which the finely drawn distinction between the clean and the unclean is disregarded. Sacred things of the temple were desecrated by the insolent heathen at Belshazzar's feast, but they had been first desecrated by Jews in the house of God, while they were touched with sinful hands and used without holy motives. They who are most careful to keep up the ceremonial distinction may yet profane sacred things.
1. The sabbath is profaned, not only when the shops are open and when crowds throng the public resorts of amusement, but when the congregations at church play the part of ostentatious Pharisees, and mock God with pretentious prayers while their hearts and thoughts are far from him.
2. The Bible is profaned when it is quoted to prop up a private opinion in disregard to the royal rights of truth.
3. The gospel is profaned when it is preached for the sake of winning popularity or raising money, to the neglect of the claims of Christ and the needs of mankind.
4. The conscience, which should be a holy standard of right, is profaned when it is distorted by casuistry into excusing a lack of integrity.
5. The body is profaned when, instead of being a temple of the Holy Ghost, it is an instrument of sin (1 Corinthians 6:15).
6. The Church, which should be the bride of the Lamb, is profaned when she sinks into worldly living or is divided against herself in bitter uncharitableness.
A man to stand in the gap.
The nation of the Jews is in a desperate condition. Their defense is broken down, and God is ready to rush in through the breach with devastating vengeance. But he is loath to do so, and, though his is the threatening power, yet in a wonderful clemency God looks for some one to fill the gap and so to save the devoted nation. Unhappily, no such man is to be found.
I. THE REACH IS MADE. The Jews have been already beaten in the war with Babylon. In the corresponding experience of souls the same lamentable condition is observable. The sinner sets himself against God with a brazen face, and makes the stoutest fence of worldly precautions wherewith to protect himself. But alas! this is a feeble structure. We have not to wait long before we discover that it has been broken through. Trouble has come. Misfortune has fallen on the self-complacent sinner. Or it may be he has suffered from severe sickness, that has weakened the energies of his body. Possibly his mental faculties have begun to fail. He receives unpleasant warning of his mortality. There is a breach in his hedge.
II. GOD IS PREPARING TO COME THROUGH THE BREACH. He cannot disregard the sins of his people, for he is their King, and he must act justly. He might even make a breach at any moment, and in the awful crash of judgment sweep away the strongest fortifications of the soul as so much dust and rubbish. Much more, then, must the enfeebled soul, with ruined fences, stand open to the irresistible wrath of God! So long as we live in sin we are inviting God to come in vengeance through the ever-widening breaches in our paltry defenses.
III. GOD WISHES THE BREACH TO BE FILLED. Here is the wonderful part of our subject. Though we deserve God's vengeance, he is reluctant to wreak it upon us. While he is necessarily preparing to smite the sinner, he longs to spare him. When the soul is indifferent to its own danger, God grieves over it and looks out for a way of escape. God now longs to save us before we think of seeking for our deliverance.
IV. A MAN IS NEEDED TO FILL THE BREACH. The Jews cannot do this for themselves. They do not see their danger, or they are too busily engaged upon the walls, or no one among them is strong and brave enough to take so perilous a position. We cannot mend the breach in our own lives. We cannot fortify our own souls against the wrath of God.
V. NO MAN IS FOUND TO FILL THE BREACH. Jeremiah might have seemed the most likely savior in this time of extreme need; but even that great prophet was not able to stand alone against the inrushing army of vengeance. No man can save his neighbor from sin and ruin. The evil of the world is too great for all the good men in it to resist. The case of man is hopeless if it is left only to his fellow-man to save him.
VI. GOD HAS SENT HIS SON TO FILL THE BREACH. God looked to see if there was any to save, and wondered that there was no man. Then his own arm brought salvation.
1. Christ came as a man. A man was wanted. God coming in wrath against mankind must be met by a representative man.
2. Christ came into the world. He stood in the breach and met the fury of the storm. He was "made sin for us," and faced the curse of the cross.
3. Christ came in the might of God.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The reproach of Jerusalem.
Patriot as he was, Ezekiel was not, like some sincere patriots, blind to his country's faults. His conscience and judgment were enlightened, and his emotional nature was rendered especially sensitive, so that a just and deep impression was made upon his mind by the contemplation of his countrymen's errors and iniquities. Leaders of public opinion, teachers of the time, are ever in danger of flattering those among whom their lot is cast, with whom their interests are identified. Yet Ezekiel proves himself to have the true spirit of the prophet, who rises superior to this temptation, and whose motto is, "Be just, and fear not!"
I. THE REASONS FOR REPROACH EXISTING IN THE MORAL CONDITION OF THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM. The catalogue of the people's sins is both a long and an awful one. It suffices to mention these as boldly charged upon them by the faithful prophet of the Lord.
2. Violence and murder.
3. Disregard of parents.
4. Oppression of strangers, of the widows and fatherless.
5. Profanation of the sabbath.
6. Lewdness and vile indulgence of lust.
Was ever such an indictment brought against a community? The marvel is, not that the threatened judgment came, but that it was so long delayed.
II. THE REPROACH AS BROUGHT BY MEN AGAINST THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM. It certainly seems strange, all but incredible, that the highly favored Jerusalem should be famed among the very heathen for degradation in iniquity and moral debasement. But the language of Ezekiel is explicit; and he would be more likely to soften than to exaggerate the charge. Jerusalem a reproach, a mocking, infamous, defiled, full of tumult! How are the mighty fallen! The city of the great King, the seat of the temple of Jehovah, the home of the consecrated priesthood,—infamous among the surrounding idolaters for flagitious violation of those very moral laws which the city was consecrated to conserve!
III. THE REPROACH BROUGHT BY GOD AGAINST THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM. The simple dignity of the Divine reproach is beyond all rhetoric, all denunciation. "Thou hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God." Here, indeed, was the real secret of the defection and rebellion, of the vices and crimes of the sons of Israel Had they kept Jehovah in memory, they would have kept themselves free from the errors and. the follies into which they fell. After all that the Lord had done for them, after all his forbearance and long-suffering, they nevertheless forgot him! There was but one hope for Jerusalem, but one way of recovery and restoration—that they should bring again to memory him whom they had not only forsaken, but forgotten.—T.
The dross in the furnace.
God's mercy and kindness scarcely anywhere appear more manifest than in his method of dealing with his erring people, whom he subjects to chastening and discipline with the view of purging away their faults. The figure employed by Ezekiel in this passage occurs in other of the prophetic writings. There is some obscurity in his expression; for it seems as if, to convey the fullness of his meaning, he represents the people first as dross, and then as the metal from which the dross is burnt away. Perhaps his meaning is that the ore which is smelted contains a very large proportion of dross compared with the genuine metal.
I. THE VALUE WHICH THE LORD ASSIGNS TO JUDAH. This is very qualified. There is, indeed, metal, whether more precious as silver or less so as iron. Yet there is much that is worthless; so that the Lord says, "Ye are all become dross." The inference is that, however there may be latent some possibility of good, this can only become actual after the subjection of it to much discipline.
II. THE TREATMENT TO WHICH THE LORD SUBJECTS JUDAH. The ore is gathered, cast into the furnace, left there, to be blown upon by the blast of indignation, and subjected to the heat of the fire, until it be melted in the midst thereof. Through such a process must Judah pass before God could take pleasure therein. Siege, suffering, privation, pestilence, famine, decimation, captivity, reproach, mockery,—such were the sufferings appointed for the people of Jerusalem. And, as a matter of fact and history, God did not spare Jerusalem—favored though the city had been. He poured out his fury upon it, and for a time and for a purpose withheld from it his clemency and compassion.
III. THE UTTER INCAPACITY AND HELPLESSNESS OF JUDAH TO RESIST OR TO ENDURE WHAT THE LORD APPOINTS. This is expressed very powerfully in Verse 14, "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?" We are reminded of the inquiry, "Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire." The discipline of God's justice is enough to overcome and break down the hard and obdurate hearts of men. They cannot accept it with equanimity. They must profit by it or be consumed by it.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE LORD'S SEVERE TREATMENT OF JUDAH. Ammon was cast into the fire, to be consumed into smoke and to vanish away; Judah, in order to refinement and purification. The intention of Eternal Wisdom and Goodness was and ever is that the dross may be consumed in the furnace of affliction and trial, and thus that the pure metal may be brought forth fit for the use and for the pleasure of the Most High.—T.
Common corruption of all classes. To complete the picture of the debasement and moral deterioration of Jerusalem, the prophet reviews the several classes of which the population of a great city is composed. He finds in every class signs of departure from God, signs of abandonment to the vices and crimes which prevailed among the heathen around.
I. THE PROPHETS, WHO SHOULD SPEAK GOD'S TRUTH, DECEIVE AND LIE, AND THUS MISLEAD THE PEOPLE. In what sense these worthless deceivers could have been called prophets, it is not easy to determine. Probably they were persons who pretended to this office, and who were deemed by their neighbors entitled to the appellation. But a prophet is one who speaks for God as his representative; and of all men deception on his part is reprehensible. Prophets are nothing if not true. Yet in how many cases have the multitude been misled by crafty, designing pretenders to Divine illumination! And not the multitude only, but even kings and commanders have too often given themselves over to the virtual dictation of men no better than soothsayers and diviners.
II. THE PRIESTS, WHO SHOULD KEEP AND REVERENCE THE DIVINE LAW, VIOLATE AND PROFANE IT. The priesthood must be regarded as part of a system, the object of which was to maintain right relations between the Almighty Ruler and his chosen people. Themselves divinely instituted, they were peculiarly bound to observe every ordinance and regulation of Heaven. Yet these are the men whom the inspired prophet of the Lord denounces as doing violence to God's Law, profaning holy things, as breaking down the distinction between clean and unclean—a distinction which it was especially their office to maintain. How should they be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord! "Like priest, like people." The moral degradation of the priesthood promoted the degeneration of the nation.
III. THE PRINCES, WHO SHOULD PROTECT THEIR SUBJECTS AND PROMOTE THEIR WELFARE, RAVIN, SPOIL, AND DESTROY. Judah had been afflicted with a succession of monarchs who did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. The deeper the nation sank in poverty, humiliation, and despondency, the greater the opportunity for those in authority, by self-denial and sympathy, to improve the state of the nation. But the wretched rulers who found themselves in place and power appeared indifferent to everything except their own selfish interests, and did their worst to hasten and to complete the ruin which was manifestly so near.
IV. THE PEOPLE, WHO SHOULD LIVE IN THE EXERCISE OF JUSTICE, SYMPATHY, AND CONCORD, OPPRESS AND ROB THEIR NEIGHBORS. National life may be, and is in many cases, an opportunity for the display of civic and social virtues. But the abuse of the best of institutions may make them evil. It is the spirit in which the life of the nation is lived which determines the condition of the people. Differences in power, intelligence, and wealth always have existed, and always will exist, in every community. But superiority ought to be regarded as a trust to be employed for the public good. Where it is used for purposes of oppression, especially for the oppression of the poor and the stranger, such a state of things is a sure presage of national downfall. "When all men live like brothers," a nation may defy a public enemy, a foreign foe. But suspicion and discord lay the axe at the root of the tree. Such being the state of Jerusalem and Judah, all classes striving together as it were for the nation's ruin, no wonder that to the prophet the outlook appeared gloomy, and the day of retribution near at hand. "I sought," says Jehovah, "for a man among them, that should make up the fence, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none."—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The prophet on the judgment-seat.
As among men there occurs, now and again, a great assize, when flagitious deeds are examined and flagrant offenders judged, so God has his seasons when high-handed crime is arrested, and the offenders feel the reality of Divine justice. Penalties are not awarded in the dark. Good men see clearly the equity of the proceeding and the extreme patience of the Judge. God places his doings in the public light.
I. THE INDICTMENT. It is a long indictment, and embraces all classes of people.
1. Gross abuse of power. The princes—i.e. heads of tribes—used their power for the destruction of life, not to preserve it. The scepter was turned into a dagger. Even neglect to protect innocent life becomes murder.
2. Idolatry. "The city maketh idols against herself." In Israel idolatry was treason. It was the rejection and humbling of their proper King.
3. Murder. "The city sheddeth blood." He who begins to despise God soon learns to under-value human life. Their children were made to pass through the fire. Violence against property and life abounded.
4. Filial disobedience. "In thee have they set light by father and mother." The slaughter of innocent children soon produced its natural fruit. Children grew up without natural affection. If the central sun be destroyed, the planets will soon rush headlong to mutual destruction.
5. Tyranny. "They have dealt by oppression with the stranger: they have vexed the fatherless and the widow." All regard for humane virtues, for common morality, had vanished. It is the custom throughout the East to show hospitality to strangers. This is considered a virtue of the first order; yet even this ordinary virtue was trampled underfoot.
6. Profanity. "Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my sabbaths." In Israel this was a most flagrant sin. God had given them tokens of his presence and favor which he had not given unto others; therefore to profane these sacred tokens was to disgrace God in the eyes of the surrounding heathen. It was as if a soldier on the battle-field trailed his country's flag in the mire. It was as if a married woman should fling her wedding ring into the fire.
7. Murderous intrigues. "Men carry tales to shed blood." Untruthfulness is a common sin among the Orientals. Lying intrigues, to encompass a rival's death, are plentiful as laws. This sin the Hebrews had copied from their neighbors.
8. Unchastity and adultery. "They commit lewdness." The sanctity of the marriage-tie disappeared. Virtuous affection was strangled by animal lust. Incest and other abominations followed. The people gradually sank to the level of the beasts. All the special dignity and nobleness of manhood died out. Degradation of humanity spread.
9. Judicial bribery. "They have taken gifts to shed blood." Not an upright judge remained. Wickedness, like an epidemic, spread and infected every office and every rank. The fountain of justice became a fountain of corruption and death.
10. Avarice. There were gains that were dishonest. Extortion was on every side. Avarice, like a cancer, had eaten out all the healthy flesh of honor and sincerity. Gold became to them a god.
11. Forgetfulness of God. This was the root and the crown of their sins. The very memory which God created refused to entertain him; as if a house which a man himself had built should shut its doors against him. When God is driven out, all his retinue—purity, strength, unity, peace, honor—go with him. This is a long and dismal catalogue of crimes.
II. THE ASSIZE-DAY. "Thou hast caused thy days to draw near."
1. This assize is certain. "I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it." As surely as night succeeds to day, the reckoning-day of God's justice comes. It has never yet failed. Neither the man nor the nation that has defied God has on any occasion escaped.
2. The proceeding will be strictly equitable. The people had made alliance with the gods of the heathen, therefore among the heathen shall they dwell.
3. The irresistibleness of God's judicial act. "Can thine hands be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee?" From his bar there is no appeal. Against his power it is vain to strive.
III. THE VERDICT. "Thou shall show her all her abominations." Here is threatened:
1. Self-discovery. All sin has a subtle potency to blind the judgment. Men are prone to measure themselves only by others, or to look at their conduct only in the mirror of their neighbors' conduct. But when the clear light of eternal truth flashes upon the soul, past sins start into gigantic magnitude; they are like mountains for their size.
2. Public shame. "Therefore I have made thee a reproach unto the heathen." This is a stinging verdict. Even the heathen, so much more barbarous and degraded than were the Hebrews aforetime, shall now reproach them for their flagitious deeds. The fall is all the greater if we have first climbed to some stupendous height.
3. Overwhelming affliction. "Can thine heart endure in the days that I shall deal with thee?" When Cain felt the full stress of his sentence, he cried out," My punishment is greater than I can bear!" The just wrath of the Creator: how can frail man endure it?
4. Banishment. "I will disperse thee … in the countries." In the same measure in which the Hebrews had been confident and boastful in their own land, was the gravamen of the sentence that scattered them among many nations. To be shut out from one's own land and home is a heavy stroke.
5. Abandonment. "Thou shall take thine inheritance in thyself." In other words, thou shalt shift for thyself: thou shall find no good beyond thyself. When men persist in saying to God, "Depart from me!" God will say to them, "Depart from me!" To be left to ourselves is heaviest doom.
IV. THE ULTIMATE DESIGN. "I will consume thy filthiness out of thee."
1. Purification. This abandonment is only for a time. When penalty and suffering have accomplished their end, God promised to return to them in mercy. Meanwhile, alas! many would be cut off by death. Only a remnant would partake of the distant grace. So it came to pass. The seventy years' banishment purged out effectually the spirit of idolatry. It was a severe, yet a successful, remedy!
2. Surrender. "Thou shall know that I am the Lord." This knowledge would be not only intellectual, but practical. It was a knowledge of God as Supreme King and Judge. It was a knowledge that produced fruits of obedience. "A burnt child dreads the fire:" so the painful experiences through which that generation passed left wholesome effects upon their children, Full surrender is the only safety.—D.
The smelting furnace.
For every material thing there is a test. We may know metals by their action under chemical agents, or by the furnace-flame. We can test gases by their power to sustain life or to sustain flame. We can test dynamical forces by electricity or by their power to create motion. So for human character there is a crucial test.
I. ADULTERATED METAL. The seed of Israel had sadly degenerated. They had been, compared with other people, as silver and gold. Now they were, in God's esteem, only as dross, and "his judgment is according to truth." What virgin gold is in a human kingdom, true righteousness is in the kingdom of God. Loyalty and love are the coins current in God's empire. A good man is worth more than argosies of gold and rubies. Wisdom, righteousness, and love,—these are the only durable riches. They exalt and enrich men for time and for eternity. Selfishness, disobedience, and rebellion are the dross and rust which eat out the very life of the soul. Real riches become part and parcel of the man.
II. THE FURNACE-FIRE. What the material flame of the furnace is to metals, God's anger is to human character. It tests the qualities of mind and heart. As metals have no power to resist being cast into the furnace, neither has any man power to exempt himself from Divine chastisement. It comes upon all in some form or other. In some, humility, submission, resignation, appear. These are precious metals—the gold and silver of moral excellence. In others, fretfulness, remorse, defiance, are the effect. These are base dross, destitute of any worth. A myriad of men know nothing about their characters until trial, in some sort, comes upon them. If milder forms of chastisement will not melt the hardened metal, the anger of Jehovah will wax hot. There shall be, sooner or later, self-revelation—the sooner the better.
III. SEPARATION. The furnace is not merely a test of metal and alloy; it further separates the one from the other. Among men this separation, resulting from God's visitations, is twofold.
1. This separation is seen as one between man and man. The precious and the vile become more distinguishable one from the other.
2. The separation is internal. In those who turn the affliction to good account there follows self-inspection, self-denial, pruning. The idol is dethroned. The vice is abandoned. The evil is withstood and fought. Refinement goes on within. The darkness and the light separate. The man comes out of the process as gold that is purified.
IV. DESTRUCTION. The residuum of alloy is cast out as base and worthless. God will not tolerate falsehood, hypocrisy, or any iniquity in his kingdom. "Every liar shall have his portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." The liar is not only the man who speaks with intention to deceive; he is the man who has preferred to deceive himself rather than face the truth. Unquestionably, separation, accomplished in the furnace, is with a view to refinement, but also with a view of destruction to the worthless dross. Every man has his face either toward purity or toward perdition. The processes of God's furnace are going on among us every day. Are we getting better or worse?—D.
Highest rank among men not sought.
The development of human civilization demands an organized system. Men require to be classified according to their ability and fitness to contribute to the welfare of the whole. For the public benefit there must be ruler and subject, master and servant, teacher and taught, commander and army. Each, according to his office, has duties and obligations, the neglect of which brings instant loss and distant ruin.
I. OFFICIAL RANK HAS DEFINITE RESPONSIBILITIES. We cannot hold any office nor possess any wealth without incurring corresponding obligation. There is force in the French proverb, "Noblesse oblige!" Although the sovereign may be above written law, it is only for expediency's sake, and certainly he is under law, equally binding, though not expressed in words. Every person holding office of whatever sort or kind has undertaken a definite responsibility to protect or promote certain interests of the people. He may be responsible for social order, or for immunity against invaders, or for advancement of learning, or for development of wealth, or for the maintenance of religion. But some responsibility springs out of his office.
II. HIGH RANK DOES NOT SECURE HIGH CHARACTER. Character may and does qualify for office; but official position does not generate moral character. High rank has special temptations and special perils. Rank is only a change of situation; office is simply a change of occupation. They involve changes only outside the man; they do not touch or purify his real self. A man may be an apostle, and yet be harboring a demon in his heart. A man may be a prophet, yet need himself to be taught.
III. RANK HAS A CROWD OF IMITATORS AMONG INFERIOR ORDERS. Because the princes, priests, and prophets acted basely in Israel, therefore the "people of the land used oppression and exercised robbery" (Ezekiel 22:29). Vice is more contagious than fever. Rank gives artificial importance to its possessor, and exerts extensive influence either for evil or for good. As a monument attracts the notice of human eyes in proportion to the elevation on which it is raised, so according to the station in society a man occupies he will have more or fewer imitators. Wide influence is a perilous possession.
IV. THE HIGHEST RANK IS NOT DESIRED AMONG MEN, "I sought for a man who should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none." Real and thorough reform is always unpopular. Men are often eager to reform their institutions or their laws, but always backward to reform themselves. A faithful prophet, who shall recall the people back to God, has always been a scarce man. Nor is this the only time in which God expressed his surprise that no intercessor for men could be found. Yet this is the noblest office any man can occupy. Its aim is the very loftiest. It brings man into companionship with God. Its fruits are permanent, yea, eternal. Alongside this order of service every other rank pales into insignificance. A mediator is a peerless man!
V. THE INFLUENCE OF ONE MAN MAY BE ENORMOUS, Had one real man been found to reprove the people, restore religious worship, and plead with God, Israel might have been spared its overthrow. One man may save a nation or plunge it into perdition. Paul, on board ship, obtained the lives of all the crew. The intercession of Moses brought a deed of pardon for the Hebrew host. For David's sake God conferred large favors on the nation. Luther's firm faith brought deliverance both spiritual and temporal to all Europe. What one man can do no language can portray, imagination can scarce conceive. A man of wisdom, piety, and faith may quietly revolutionize the world.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
An appalling indictment and a just judgment.
"Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Now, thou son of man, wilt thou judge, wilt thou judge the bloody city?" etc. "This chapter," says Fairbaim, "stands closely related to the last chapter, and may fitly be regarded as supplementary to it; the former having presented a striking delineation of the Lord's purpose to execute the severity of his displeasure upon the people of Jerusalem, while this returns to lay open the fearful mass of corruption on account of which such severity was to be inflicted. In what is written here there is nothing properly new; in its general purport it is a repetition of the charges which were urged in Ezekiel 20:1-49.; and so the chapter begins much in the same way—with a call upon the prophet to judge the people, and set before them their iniquities. There, however, the charge took the form of an historical review for the purpose of connecting the present state of wickedness with the past, and showing how continuously the stream of corruption had flowed through all periods of their national existence. Here, on the other hand, the prophet looks exclusively to the present, and brings out in fearful array the many heinous and rampant sins which were crying in Heaven's ear for vengeance." We have in the text—
I. AN APPALLING CATALOGUE OF THE PEOPLE'S SINS.
1. The nature of these sins.
(1) Forgetfulness of God. "Thou hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God." We mention this first, because it was the root-sin out of which all the others sprang. Men forget God's holy authority, his constant and universal presence, and his great goodness, and thus the principal restraints from sin are removed. "Forgetfulness of God opens the window to every wicked action."
(2) Blood-guiltiness. This charge is repeatedly and variously stated. "The bloody city A city that sheddeth blood in the midst of her Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed." This may refer, as Schroder suggests, to murderous deeds generally; specially to judicial murders, consequently to the shedding of the innocent blood of righteous, God-tearing men, prophets, etc. (cf. Matthew 23:37). The city which had its name from 'peace' has become a city of death to those who require true peace." Even the princes were guilty of violence and bloodshed. "Behold, the princes of Israel, every one according to his power, have been in thee to shed blood" (Ezekiel 20:6). They did not recognize the sacred duties or the solemn accountabilities of their exalted station. They ruled not in accordance with right, but according to their might; and that might they exercised barbarously and bloodily. And there were these who were guilty of bloodshedding by reason of their false witness. "Slanderous men have been in thee shed blood." They were malignant slanderers of the innocent, who because of their slanders were adjudged to death. Moreover, mercenary and unjust judges condemned men to death for bribes. "In thee have they taken bribes to shed blood" (Ezekiel 20:12). And it is probable that Schroder is correct in his opinion that both the false witnesses and the unrighteous judges were thus wickedly employed by the violent and murderous princes. Thus in Jerusalem, "the holy city," human life was no longer regarded as a sacred thing. It was ruthlessly slaughtered in defiance of law, in defiance of the feelings of our common humanity, and in defiance of the Creator and Father of men.
(3) Idolatry. "A city … that maketh idols against herself to defile her. Thou art defiled in thine idols which thou hast made …. And in thee they have eaten upon the mountains." The eating upon the mountains, the seats of idol-worship, refers to the eating of things sacrificed unto idols (cf. Ezekiel 18:6, Ezekiel 18:11).
(4) Disregard of the tenderest and most sacred obligations towards their fellow-men. "In thee have they set light by father and mother: in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in thee have they wronged the fatherless and the widow." Loving respect to parents is commanded and encouraged in the Law of the Lord (Exodus 20:12; Le Exodus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16). The New Testament enforces the same obligation (Matthew 15:4; Matthew 19:19; Ephesians 6:1-3); and the best feelings of the human heart plead for its observance. But in Jerusalem there were those who set at naught this obligation. God had made the cause of' the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless in a special manner his own, and repeatedly enjoined righteousness and kindness in the treatment of them (Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalms 10:14, Psalms 10:18; Psalms 68:5; Psalms 146:9; Jeremiah 7:6; Zechariah 7:9, Zechariah 7:10). Yet there were these in Jerusalem who opposed and wronged them.
(5) Profanation of Divine institutions. "Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my sabbaths." The holy things comprise "all that the Holy One has instituted, consecrated, and commanded" the priests, the temple, the sacred vessels, the sacrifices and sacraments, and all other religions ordinances of his appointment. These they had despised. And the sabbath they had profaned (cf. Ezekiel 20:12, Ezekiel 20:24). "He profanes the sabbath who does not celebrate it, who celebrates it ill, or who consecrates it to the service of sin" (Schroder).
(6) Unchastity in its most revolting forms (Ezekiel 20:10, Ezekiel 20:11). On the first clause of Ezekiel 20:10, cf. Le Ezekiel 18:8; Eze 20:11; 1 Corinthians 5:1; on the second, cf. Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18; on the first clause of 1 Corinthians 5:11, cf. Leviticus 18:20; Leviticus 20:10; on the second, cf. Leviticus 18:15; Leviticus 20:12; and on the third, cf. Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 20:17.
(7) Covetousness in its worst manifestations. "In thee have they taken bribes to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by oppression" (1 Corinthians 5:12). Covetousness in their judges was so extreme that they accepted bribes to condemn the innocent to death. "Usury is the profit exacted for the loan of money, increase that which is taken for goods; both are alike forbidden (Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19)." Yet in Jerusalem they bad taken both. And taking advantage of their neighbors' distress and need, they had oppressed them by exacting exorbitant interest on any loan granted for their help. Such were the sins charged against the people of Judah at this time.
2. The scene of these sins. Jerusalem. In this paragraph we have the words, "in thee," or "in the midst of thee," not less than twelve times. This was a grievous aggravation of their sins that they were committed in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was spoken of as "the holy city;" it was the seat of the worship of the true and holy God; it was celebrated in sacred song as the dwelling-place of the Most High (Psalms 76:2); and it was favored religiously above any other city in the world. But now it had become "the bloody city," the "defiled" city, the home of the foulest crimes, "A Jerusalem may become a Sodom, a holy city a den of murderers." And if it do so, its former privileges aggravate its guilt and augment its doom (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48).
3. The maturity of these sins. "Thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come even unto thy years" (1 Corinthians 5:4; cf. Ezekiel 21:25, Ezekiel 21:29). By reason of its sins Jerusalem had grown ripe for the sickle of the Divine judgment. By the extent and enormity of its transgressions it had hastened the time of its doom. In the history of persistent wickedness there comes a crisis when the evil-doers are ripe for judgment; and then the Divine executioners go forth against them.
II. THE DIVINE VISITATION ON ACCOUNT OF THE PEOPLE'S SINS.
1. They become a reproach among the nations. "Therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the nations, and a mocking to all the countries. Those that be near, and those that be far from thee, shall mock thee, thou infamous one and full of tumult." We noticed (on Ezekiel 21:28) how the Ammonites reproached the people of Judah, and were to be punished for so doing. Yet although the people of Ammon had no right to reproach their suffering neighbors, the Jews deserved reproach. Jerusalem had made itself infamous by its wickedness before it became a reproach and a mocking unto the nations. "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people."
2. They shall be dispersed among the nations. "And I will scatter thee among the nations, and disperse thee through the countries." We have noticed this point in Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 12:1-16; Ezekiel 20:23 (cf. Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:25, Deuteronomy 28:64).
3. They shall be dishonored in the sight of the nations. "And thou shalt be profaned in thyself, in the sight of the nations," etc. (Ezekiel 20:16). "Thou shalt by thine own fault forfeit the privileges of a holy nation." Mark the retributiveness of this. "Jerusalem has desecrated the holy things of the Lord (Verse 8); therefore shall it also be desecrated for a requital (Verse 16). It has wickedly insulted the dignity of God; for this it must suffer the loss of its own dignity" (Hengstenberg).
4. They would be unable to withstand this visitation of judgment. "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?" (Verse 14). Says Greenhill, "O Jerusalem! be thine heart never so stout or strong, my judgments will be too heavy for thee to bear them; when they come, thine heart will fail thee, fail thee of counsel, that thou shalt not know what to do, and fail thee of strength, that thou shalt not be able to do what thou knowest." When God in judgment visits any one, "heart and hand, courage and power, fail" (cf. Job 40:9; Psalms 76:7; Nahum 1:6).
CONCLUSION. Many are the lessons deducible from our subject. We mention three.
1. The fearful growth of sin. Forgetfulness of God may develop into idolatry, adultery, murder.
2. The essential ruinousness of sin. It is of its very nature to blight and destroy everything that is true and beautiful, wise and good, right and strong, both in individuals and communities. "Sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death."
3. The righteous judgment of God against sin. (Romans 2:2-11.)—W.J.
Deplorable deterioration and deserved destruction.
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross," etc. Notice—
I. THE DEPLORABLE DETERIORATION OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.
1. Here are several varieties of sinful character. We will notice them as they are here adduced.
(1) Dross. "The house of Israel is to me become dross;… they are the dross of silver." This does not mean ore, which contains silver, but dross which has been separated from the silver—the refuse of dirt and rubbish which is removed from the precious metal in the cleansing, melting, and refining of it. The people of Judah and Jerusalem had become "the ignoble dross of noble silver." "The metaphor denotes the corruption of the people, who had become like base metal."
(2) "Brass" probably indicates the hardihood of the people in sin; that they had become impudent in wickedness (cf. Isaiah 48:4).
(3) "Tin" is suggestive of hypocrisy, being brilliant in appearance, but inferior in substance and value. So there were those in Jerusalem who made great profession of true religion, but whose moral character and conduct were base.
(4) "Iron" may denote harshness and cruelty. That such was a characteristic of some of their great men and rulers is clear from Ezekiel 22:27; Ezekiel 34:2-4; and Zephaniah 3:3.
(5) "Lead," pliable, yet not precious as compared with silver and gold, indicates the moral dullness and stupidity of the house of Israel. They were pliable to evil, yet not available for any high or holy uses (cf. Jeremiah 4:22). Thus in Jerusalem there were various types of evil character; and these types are reproduced in our own age and country.
2. Here is one characteristic which marks each of these varieties of sinful character. They were each and all marked by degeneracy. In every one of these classes of evil character there had been a lamentable deterioration. "Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water." "How is the gold become dim! How is the most pure gold changed!" Thus the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah lamented this deterioration.
(1) There was degeneracy of moral character. Their affections were corrupted; their principles were degraded; their conscience, having been often set at naught, was debased. So in the sight of him to whom all hearts are open they had become as dross. "The house of Israel is become dross unto me." Beware of the beginnings of sin, the initial stages of this degeneration of moral character.
(2) Degeneracy of religious services. This deterioration is forcibly set forth and sternly rebuked in Isaiah 1:11-17. Moreover, they had become idolaters: how, then, could their worship of the true God be genuine and acceptable? When personal character degenerates, the quality of the religious service rendered must decline.
(3) Degeneracy of national position and power. The might and majesty of their kingdom were almost entirely departed. Their national independence was quite gone. When moral deterioration once powerfully sets in amongst any people, deterioration in all other forms quickly follows. Says Robertson, "The destiny of a nation is decided by its morals."
II. THE DETERMINED DESTRUCTION OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.
1. The gathering of the doomed people for destruction. "Thus saith the Lord God; because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem," etc. (Isaiah 1:19, Isaiah 1:20). When pressed by their Chaldean enemies the people from far and wide took refuge in Jerusalem, trusting to its forces and fortifications for safety. So that city became as it were the furnace in which they were consumed by the triple fire of famine, pestilence, and sword. Mark, how naturally and easily God effects his purposes. He has not to build the furnace for their destruction: it is already built. He has not to force them into that furnace by supernatural means: in their approaching troubles they will hasten into it of their own accord. He controls all things for the execution of his deep and righteous designs.
2. The infliction of destruction upon the doomed people.
(1) It was by the hand of God. "Thus saith the Lord God … I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem," etc. The Chaldeans were the instruments by which he effected his purpose; but God himself was the great Agent in the work.
(2) It was an expression of the anger of God. "So will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury," etc. (Verses 20, 21). The wrath of God burns with awful intensity against sin. "Our God is a consuming fire."
(3) It leads to the recognition of the hand of God.
4. Ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you." These words do not point to their reformation or purification As Hengstenberg observes "In the whole section the judgment is regarded, not in the light of purification, but in that of destruction; as Ezekiel usually considers the population of Jerusalem as an ungodly multitude doomed to be extirpated." Moreover, dross cannot be benefited by fire. It cannot be purified. After all burnings it remains dross—refuse. The fire was not to purify, but to punish them; not to cleanse, but to consume them. And in its fierce heat they would recognize the dread power of the God whom they had forsaken for idols, and whose word they had set at naught.
CONCLUSION. Guard against the beginnings of the deterioration of character. Seek the growth and progress of character in the true and good.—W.J.
The universal prevalence of wickedness, and the consequent certainty of judgment.
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto her, Thou art the land that is not cleansed," etc.
I. THE UNIVERSAL PREVALENCE OF WICKEDNESS. This is exhibited by Ezekiel:
1. In the absence of any effective correction thereof. "Thou art the land that is not cleansed." This refers to the moral condition of the people. The figure is viewed by some as a land that is not freed from noxious weeds, by others as not cleansed as metals are by the refiner's fire. With either view the spiritual signification is the same. "Judaea had been oft cleansing," says Greenhill, "but was never thoroughly cleansed. Hezekiah and Josiah made the greatest cleansings, but all the sin was not purged out in their days; they took away the objects and mediums of sin, viz. the idols, images, groves, and high places, but the people continued wicked; they did not cleanse their hands nor hearts and turn to the Lord, but returned to their former and worse abominations, when those good kings were gone. The Lord had sent them many prophets, who dealt with them several ways to draw them to repentance … Besides these things, God oft sent sweeping and fierce judgments amongst them, famine, sword, pestilence; and notwithstanding all these, they returned not to the Lord, but the land, that is, the people of it, did remain uncleansed, they were like a land wherein was nothing but weeds, nettles, briars, and thorns."
2. In its pernicious activity amongst all classes.
(1) The prophets. These should have been zealous by word and example in cleansing the land of its sins; but they were prominent in evil-doing. Several forms of this are mentioned by Ezekiel.
(a) Their guilty subservience to wicked rulers. "Her prophets have daubed for them [i.e. the princes] with untempered mortar," etc. (Verse 28). The clauses of this verse have come under our notice already (Ezekiel 13:10, Ezekiel 16:7; Ezekiel 21:29). The princes were insatiably covetous, grossly dishonest, and ruthlessly cruel; and these false prophets who should have rebuked their wicked ness, countenanced their procedure, encouraged their practices, and assured them that their ways were approved by God.
(b) Their scandalous cupidity. "They take treasure and precious things" (Verse 25). They extorted from the people their valued possessions as the price of their prophesying. They did not forcibly despoil them of their treasures, but they obtained them by arts and devices which disgraced the sacred office whose functions they bad assumed. "The dogs are greedy, they can never have enough;… they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter" (Isaiah 56:11).
(c) Their grievous cruelty. "Like a roaring lion ravening the prey: they have devoured souls;… they have made her widows many in the midst thereof" (per. 25). "The false prophets," says Hengstenberg, "rob the goods and devour the souls, in so far as they stand by to help forward the robbing and murdering acts of the great (Verse 27), and sharpen not, but rather soothe their con science by saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Thus they are accomplices in the robbing and murdering course of the great, who have them in their ray. They deport themselves as smooth and peaceful men, and present themselves as men of tenderness, in contrast with the rough preachers of repentance, the true prophets; but when examined in the light they are thieves and murderers."
(d) Their shameful combination. "There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof." They were solemnly banded together for the accomplishment of their atrocious designs. They had entered into a compact to prophesy the same things, and "were careful not to contradict each other's lies."
(2) The priests. Two principal charges are brought against them.
(a) Misinterpretation of God's Law. "Her priests have done violence to my Law." "To violate the Law is to break it—to offer violence to the Law is to misinterpret it." The latter is the charge which is here preferred against the priests. They perverted the holy Law to make it harmonize with the inclinations of a sinful people, and with their own wicked practices.
(b) Profanation of God's institutions. "And have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and the common," etc. (Verse 26). We have noticed God's holy things in dealing with Verse 8. "It was the special office of the priests to keep up the distinction between holy and unholy, clean and unclean," consecrated and common things (cf. Le Ezekiel 10:10; Ezekiel 22:1-13). They "should have instructed the people what meats were lawful for them, what not; what sacrifices were fit to be brought to the Lord, and what not; who were worthy, and who not, to eat of the holy things and to approach unto the holy God" (Greenhill). But this they had not done. "The law of the sabbath," as Hengstenberg remarks, "is given as an example. This they rob of its deep spiritual import, and limit it to the external rest, as if it were given for animals, and not for men who are to serve God in spirit" (cf. Verse 8). By these doings they profaned God himself. "And I am profaned among them." The priests had degraded his infinitely holy and exalted character in the estimation of the people (cf. Malachi 1:6, Malachi 1:7).
(3) The princes are charged with:
(a) Cupidity. They sought "to get dishonest gain." They had their own resources and revenues; but not content with these, they coveted other and larger resources, and resorted to oppression to obtain them, imposing burdensome taxes upon the people.
(b) Cruelty. "Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey; to shed blood," etc. (Verse 27; and cf. Verses 6, 7; Zephaniah 3:3). The covetousness of King Ahab led to the murder of Naboth the Jezreelite.
(4) The people. "The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery," etc. (Verse 29). The prophet charges them with oppression by force and fraud. They deceived and cheated and robbed those whom they dared so to treat. And they thus injured those whom they should have protected, viz. "the poor and needy and the stronger." Frequently these were specially commended to the care of the Israelites; and God had taken them under his own special guardianship (cf. Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalms 10:14; Psalms 41:1; Psalms 140:12; Psalms 146:9; Proverbs 14:21; Zechariah 7:9, Zechariah 7:10). Moreover, it is inexpressibly mean to wrong those who are unable to defend themselves and their rights. Yet it is not to be wondered at that these things were done by the common people; for in so doing they trod in the footsteps of their guides and rulers. Thus amongst all classes wickedness in some of its worst forms was terribly prevalent.
3. In the fact that no one was found to keep back the destruction which it was bringing upon the land. "And I sought for a man among them that should make up the fence," etc. (Verse 30; of. Isaiah 59:4; Jeremiah 5:1; and see our homily on Ezekiel 13:5). The Lord represents himself as looking solicitously and diligently for such a man, but finding none. "Jeremiah," says Hengstenberg, "by his powerful preaching of repentance, presented himself as such a public deliverer; but they despised him, and he could gain no position. The man alone is nothing. The position must be added, and the people must gather around him. One 'against whom every man contends' cannot avert the judgment of God; he can only accelerate it."
II. THE CONSEQUENT CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT. When wickedness has become so flagrant and universally prevalent, and there is no one to stand between the guilty people and the approaching judgment, the execution of judgment is inevitable. Notice:
1. The dread severity of this judgment. "Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath" (Verse 31). Words similar to these we have already noticed (Verse 22; Ezekiel 21:31). The judgment is so certain that it is spoken of as already accomplished. And as to its severity, what a day is "the day of the indignation" of God! Who can even conceive the terrors of his indignation? or the dread intensity of his wrath?
2. The total absence of alleviations of this judgment. "Thou art a land that is not rained upon in the day of indignation" (Verse 24); that "is a land that in the outburst of the Divine judgment finds no grace; and simply, as the connection shows, because its impurity is not removed. The rain in the day of indignation would be a benefit. It would quench the flame of the Divine indignation (Hengstenberg). But such rain it will not have. The clause we are dealing with amounts to a declaration like this: "Thou shalt have no mercy when the fire of my wrath is kindled."
3. The retributiveness of this judgment. "Their own way have I brought upon their heads, saith the Lord God." This aspect of the Divine judgment has already engaged our attention more than once (on Ezekiel 7:3, Ezekiel 7:4; Ezekiel 9:10; Ezekiel 16:43).
CONCLUSION. The whole subject is charged with most solemn warnings to the wicked, both as individuals and as communities or nations (Psalms 2:10-12; Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 55:7).—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 22". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany