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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
The spur to Ezekiel’s ministry was that dreadful event in Israel’s history when King Jehoiachin and the cream of Judah’s society, along with Ezekiel, were transported from Judah to Babylon, a bedraggled file of prisoners, into what seemed like permanent exile in 597 BC (2 Kings 24.12-17). All hope in the promises of God seemed faint, although Jerusalem was still, for the present, left standing.
However, to the people Jerusalem was still a monument of hope. They saw it as God’s holy city, God’s dwellingplace, and because of this they believed that He would never allow it to be destroyed. They saw it as inviolate. It would be Ezekiel’s difficult task to inform them that, in the purposes of God, Jerusalem and the temple were in fact finally to be destroyed, and that soon. And to build up to this event, so that, when it happened, their faith would respond to it.
Ezekiel’s name means ‘God strengthens’, and he certainly needed to be strengthened by God for the ministry before him. He was of an important priestly family, although he probably never ministered as a priest, having not come of age when he was in Jerusalem, but he was chosen by God to minister as a priest-prophet among the exiled Jews in Babylon, to enable them to realise why they had been exiled, and to tell them what the future held in terms of restoration. It was a book both of judgment and restoration, of despair and hope. He graduated from being a proclaimer of God’s certain judgment on Jerusalem and the nations, to being a watchman for the people of God, with a the certain hope of God’s future blessing.
He had grown up in the reign of the godly king Josiah and had watched the way in which Judah had collapsed in its faith after the king’s death. He must have been familiar with the preaching of Jeremiah, and similar ideas to his occur in the book. But his main message centred on the glory of God, against which Judah and Israel had sinned. Although a message of gloom, it was also a message of hope amidst gloom. For this theme of God’s glory see 1.28; 3.12, 23; 8.4; 9.3; 10.4, 18-19; 11.22-23; 39.11, 21; 43.2-5; 44.4.
This glory was vividly revealed to him at the beginning of his ministry to let all know that God was with them in Babylon (chapter 1). But it was shown to have departed from Jerusalem (chapter 10) leaving Jerusalem a desolate waste, although God did promise that one day that glory would return to a new ideal temple (chapter 43). Meanwhile they were constantly told that God would act to keep His name glorious (20.9, 14, 22, 39, 44; 36.20-23; 39.7, 25; 43.7-8), and would make all know that ‘I am Yahweh’. The title ‘Lord Yahweh’ occurs over 200 times. Nebuchadnezzar may have conquered them but Yahweh was still their supreme Overlord.
The book is split into sections by its dating. 1.2 is dated July 592 BC, 8.1 is dated September 592/1 BC, 20.1 is dated August 591/0 BC, 24.1 is dated January 588 BC, 33.21 is dated January 586/5 BC and 40.1 is dated April 573/2 BC, which are in chonological order. The oracles against nations were also dated (26.1-32.32), but not in strict chronological order. There are slight differences among scholars in determining the exact dates. There were differing calendars which cannot always be tied up.
Chapter 1. The Vision Glorious.
In this chapter Yahweh is revealed as the God Who is over all creation, enthroned in divine splendour over the Universe, Who can work His will wherever and whenever He wishes. And yet at the same time He is the One Who is present with His people even in their exile, and His Spirit is there to act among them.
1.1 ‘Now it happened in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives (literally ‘the captivity’) by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.’
Ezekiel regularly dates his visions, but usually in terms of the date of the captivity (verse 2). Thus verse 1 is a bit of an enigma. To what does the ‘thirtieth year’ refer? The probable answer is that it refers to his coming of age as a levitical priest (compare Numbers 4). Although he would never fulfil priestly functions he recognised that God had given him a different ministry among the exiles as a priest-prophet, and that he had now come of age in God’s purposes.
(Other suggestions have included thirty years since the last jubile year, thirty years since the finding of the Law, the thirtieth year of Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, and so on, but all fail on the basis that this would surely have been mentioned.)
These captives had settled at Tel Abib by the River Chebar (3.15). The Chebar may possibly be identified with the ‘nari kabari’ (the Great Canal), the name used in a Babylonian text from Nippur for the Shatt-en-Nil canal running east of that city, although it is not certain. There is a poignant note in his words, ‘among the captivity’. They were very much aware of their unhappy position. Jerusalem, their holy city, was far away and they were not free to return. Nebuchadnezzar’s purpose in bringing them there was so that they may settle there and make it a permanent home. They were never intended to return. Their hearts were very heavy.
‘That the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.’ This is an introductory comment on the many things that followed. The phrase ‘the heavens were opened’ is simply an indication that he knew that what he saw came from God. Its source was heavenly. But it was very important. It indicated that God was there and had not forgotten them or totally rejected them.
‘I saw visions of God.’ These words gave hope. It meant that God still had a message for them, and had much to say to them. The first vision of God will now be described. It would be futile to try to analyse what was meant by ‘visions’. We only know that Ezekiel saw the unseeable. We cannot really go further than that. (See 1.26-28; 8.4; 40.2 and compare 2 Kings 6.17).
1.2-3 ‘In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of Yahweh came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar, and the hand of Yahweh was on him there.’
The captivity of Jehoiachin can be precisely dated on the basis of the Babylonian Chronicle tablets to March 597 BC, thus this would be in 592 BC.
The change to the third person does not necessarily indicate different authorship. Having commenced on a personal note, Ezekiel may well now be incorporating an official introduction in the third person to authenticate the book and reveal its authorship. This is especially so as the dating here does not stand by itself but requires verse 1 to tell us that it was the fourth month. (It is quite possible, however, that he may have used a scribe).
The introduction affirms the work to be that of Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi (see also 24.24). But what was more significant was that ‘the word of Yahweh’ came to him ‘in the land of the Chaldeans’ (that is Babylonia). God was not limited by boundaries or location. Note here that central to the visions was the coming of ‘the word of Yahweh’. God had given the visions so as to speak and act among His people.
‘And the hand of Yahweh was on him there.’ Nor was there a limit on His actions. For Ezekiel was not only aware of the word of Yahweh, but he experienced the hand of Yahweh. Indeed wherever His word comes His hand acts, to protect, to strengthen, to guide and to restore. Compare Elijah in 1 Kings 18.46 and Isaiah in Isaiah 8.11. See also Isaiah 25.10; 41.10, 20). But in Ezekiel the working of ‘the hand of Yahweh’ is seen in vivid ways (3.14, 22; 8.1; 33.22; 37.1; 40.1).
The Juggernaut of God (1.4-28).
1.4 ‘And I looked, and behold a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire enfolding itself (or ‘flashing continually’), and a brightness round about it, and out of the midst of it as the colour of amber out of the midst of the fire.’
He describes the scene in terms of a great storm, with the stormy wind, the great cloud and the constantly flashing lightning. But there was an added extra for there was something in the midst of this storm that was like the colour of brightly shining metal (amber), which later he describes as being part of the vision of God (see verse 27). Storm terminology is regularly used to depict theophanies elsewhere (Job 38.1; 40.6; Psalm 18.9-15, 29; Zechariah 9.14 and compare Acts 2.1-4).
‘Behold a stormy wind came out of the north.’ The idea of winds associated with the living creatures (verse 5) reminds us of 2 Samuel 22.11; Psalm 18.10, ‘He rode upon a cherub and did fly, yes, He flew swiftly on the wings of the wind’, and this, in context, amidst fire and clouds and darkness. The thought includes speed of movement around the world with no restriction, and active, invisible power. The fact that it came ‘from the north’ indicates that Ezekiel was not so lost in the vision that he was not aware of his whereabouts, although Isaiah 14.13 suggests that ‘the far north’ was seen as the direction in which lay the gathering of the heavenly hosts of Yahweh in ‘the mount of the congregation’, in the heavens, above the stars of God.
‘A great cloud.’ Manifestations of God to His people were regularly described as accompanied by cloud associated with fire (Exodus 19.9, 16; 24.15-18; 40.34-38). The idea behind it is that God cannot be seen in His full glory by man. Man cannot see God and live. Therefore God in His mercy approaches in veiled form.
‘A fire enfolding itself, and brightness round about it.’ This reminds us of the flame of a sword (lightning?) that prevented access to the tree of life (Genesis 3.24), and the many times God is revealed in fire (e.g. Genesis 15.17; Exodus 3.2; 19.16, 18; 24.17). It revealed that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12.29 compare Deuteronomy 4.24), dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen nor can see (1 Timothy 6.16).
‘And out of the midst of it as the colour of amber out of the midst of the fire.’ By ‘amber’ is indicated the appearance of some kind of brilliantly shining metal. It is used in verse 27 to indicate the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.
1.5-11 ‘And out of the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance. They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings. And their feet were straight feet, and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides, and they four had their faces and their wings thus. Their wings were joined one to another. They turned not when they went. They went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man, and they four had the face of a lion on the right side, and they four had the face of an ox on their left side. They four also had the face of an eagle. And their faces and their wings were separate above. Two (wings) of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.’
Out of the glory and power of the storm Ezekiel saw four living creatures. In chapter 10 we learn that they were cherubim. These were the bearers and protectors of God’s throne, and guarded the uniqueness of God (compare Genesis 3.24 where they prevented sinful man from living on beyond his span). They were the representatives before God of the whole living creation, for man, lion, ox and eagle represent all living creatures, man, wild beast, domestic animal and bird. As God comes He comes as Lord of creation, accompanied by the watchers over creation.
Excursus on the Cherubim.
The general ‘likeness’ of cherubim was clearly well known to the children of Israel. They represented celestial beings, and unlike angels were seen as having wings, probably eagles’ wings. Yahweh is described as ‘dwelling between (or on) the cherubim’ (1 Samuel 4.4; 2 Samuel 6.2; 2 Kings 19.15; Psalm 80.1; 99.1 etc.), no doubt with the Ark of the Covenant in mind, sometimes explicitly. In Ezekiel 10 they appear again as bearers of the throne of Yahweh.
They were also clearly connected with the animal world. Thus here and in 10.14 each had the faces of man, lion, ox and eagle, and they had the hands of a man (1.8; 10.8) and feet like calves’ feet (1.7). In the Temple they were represented on curtains along with lions (1 Kings 7.36), lions and oxen (7.29), and palm trees and open flowers (1 Kings 6.29, 37; 7.36). In the temple they appear to have been two-winged (1 Kings 6.27), but here they have four wings so that they may cover their bodies with two. Compare Isaiah 6.1-6 where the seraphim (‘burning ones’) have six wings, of which four are to cover themselves before God. If we see the wings in 1 Kings 6.27 as the wings of an eagle we have there a parallel combination to that in Ezekiel 1 and 10 of lion, ox and eagle. In Ezekiel 41.18-20 they were connected with palm trees and had the faces of a man and a lion.
On the Ark they would seemingly have one face each (unless they have four faces facing in the same direction, which seems unlikely). Thus it is quite likely that their shape was somewhat similar to those found in excavations at Samaria and in Phoenicia with human face, lion body, four legs and two conspicuous and elaborate wings. At Byblos such beings are found supporting the throne of the king. The idea behind the presence of the cherubim is that Yahweh is attended by those who represent the whole of creation, man, wild beast, domestic beast and bird. The palm trees and open flowers on the curtains represent the inanimate creation. They are not quite so closely connected with Yahweh.
Thus they can be represented in various ways and we are not to take the descriptions as referring specifically to literal beings. In Revelation 4.7-8 each living creature represents a different earth creature, lion, calf, man and flying eagle, and they are full of eyes. They are symbolic, rather than literal, representations. Revelation 4 seems to borrow features of both seraphim and cherubim.
Their purpose would seem to be as guardians of eternal life (Genesis 3.24) and of the holiness of God, and as His closest servants and bearers of His throne. An intercessory function has been suggested but this is nowhere explicit in Scripture where they rather concentrate on the worship of Yahweh, confirm the worship of creation, and give the command for the carrying out of God’s judgments (Revelation 4.6-9; 5.14; 6.1-8; 8.13). In 1 Chronicles 28.18 they are spoken of as ‘the chariot’, and thus act as God’s chariot (2 Samuel 22.11; Psalm 18.10).
End of excursus.
‘They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings. And their feet (or ‘legs’) were straight feet (or ‘legs’), and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides.’ The general appearance was that of a man, but with essential differences. Their four faces represented all living creatures, their wings represented birds, their feet represented domestic animals, and possibly indicate sprightliness and nimbleness (Psalm 29.6; Malachi 4.2), their hands (probably four of them on their four sides, but it could be translated ‘and the hands of a man were on the sides of the four of them’) and legs represented man. Furthermore four is the number of earth. One significance of all this is that Yahweh was seen as continually enthroned above creation, and as served by creation.
It may also be that in the man, lion, ox and eagle we are to see rationality (man), fierceness and strength (lion - Proverbs 30.30), service and strength (ox - Psalm 144.14), and swiftness (eagle - Deuteronomy 28.49; 2 Samuel 1.23; Job 9.26; Jeremiah 4.13).
‘And they four had their faces and their wings thus. Their wings were joined one to another. They turned not when they went. They went every one straight forward.’ We can compare this with the cherubim in the temple whose wings were joined (1 Kings 6.27). The idea would seem to be of the unity of creation, all serving God as one, and with one purpose in mind, to please and obey God.
It is difficult to assess whether all were facing the same way, two to the front of the ‘platform’ (verse 22), and two to the back, or whether they all faced outwards forming a square, which might be seen as indicating perfect symmetry.
‘And two covered their bodies.’ Even in their supreme status the cherubim had to cover their bodies in the presence of Yahweh, for they were but creatures. Compare Isaiah 6.2 where the seraphim covered face and feet. None are worthy of His presence. All, even these majestic heavenly creatures, must cover themselves before Him.
1.12 ‘And they went every one straight forward. Where the Spirit was to go they went. They turned not when they went.’
The idea behind this is total obedience. Their one purpose was to do what God wanted. Nothing could divert them. They obeyed the prompting of the Spirit of God, as God prompted them from His throne.
Alternative interpretations have been, 1). That ‘where the wind was to go they went’. But the idea is then similar for the wind was the wind of God. 2). That they followed the promptings of their own spirits (verse 21). But the impression there is that their spirits follow the Spirit (verse 20). They were not there to do their own will, but the will of Him whose throne they bore.
1.13-14 ‘As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches. It went up and down among the living creatures, and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned (RSV ‘darted to and fro) as the appearance of a flash of lightning.’
The writer calls on all the resources known to man as sources for the splendour of light, apart from the heavenly bodies (which he would not wish to associate with the scene due to their significance in Babylonian worship). ‘Burning coals of fire’, ‘torches’ and ‘lightning’. The thought is of splendour and glory, and swiftness, and holiness and possibly resulting judgment. The idea is not to analyse but to wonder at the glory and splendour of the sight.
1.15-17 ‘Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon earth beside the living creatures, for each of their four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like the colour of topaz, and they four had one likeness, and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went they went to their four sides. They did not turn when they went.’
By each living creature was a wheel, each similar to the other, yet not like an earthly wheel, although it rode upon the earth, for seemingly the wheels went all ways. We cannot be fully sure what the description meant, but the principle is clear. They were splendid, like gleaming yellow topaz or chrysolite, they rolled over the earth bearing the platform on which was God’s throne, they could go all ways, and they went forward without turning to one side or the other. It was the divine chariot of God. There may be some connection with whirlwinds for in chapter 10 they are called ‘the whirlers’, possibly likening them to whirlwinds.
Note the continued emphasis on the fact that its path never deviated. As Ezekiel watched, it came inevitably and inexorably on. Nothing could stop it.
1.18 ‘As for their rims (‘rings’) they were high and frightening, and they four had their rims full of eyes round about.’
This may suggest the huge size of the wheels as it sped on, ‘high and frightening’. No wonder the whole thing could be described as terrifying, for it raced towards him like a great juggernaut, a giant chariot-throne of God. Adding to the effect was the fact that the rims were full of eyes. The idea would seem to be that the chariot itself saw where it was going, and espied everything, communicating it to the living creatures, for the wheels were closely associated with the living creatures. We can compare the seven eyes on the stone set before Joshua, the High Priest (Zechariah 3.9), which indicated ‘the eyes of Yahweh, they run to and fro over the whole earth’ (Zechariah 4.10; compare also 2 Chronicles 16.9; Proverbs 15.3; Revelation 4.6).
1.19-21 ‘And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them, and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Wherever the Spirit was to go, they went. There was the spirit to go. And the wheels were lifted up beside them, for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went, and when those stood, these stood. And when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up beside them, for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.’
The close connection of the wheels with the living creatures is stressed. They were as one, the wheels following the movements of the living creatures. And the chariot was not earthbound. When the living creatures rose into the air, the chariot and the wheels rose with them, for the wheels contained the spirit of the living creatures. And the movement of the living creatures was dependent on the will of the Spirit of God (compare verse 12). Wherever he would go, they went.
1.22-23 ‘And over the head of the living creature there was the likeness of a firm level surface, like the colour of awesome ice stretched out over above their heads. And under the firm level surface were their wings, straight, the one towards the other. Every one had two which covered on this side, and every one had two which covered on that side, their bodies.’
Above the cherubim was the platform on which the throne of God was set (verse 26) and it was held up by their wings. But note the emphasis again on the fact that they had two wings with which to cover their bodies. Their task was a sacred task, and they must not presume or come ‘naked’ before the Holy One. The platform was like the colour of ‘awesome ice’, another attempt to stress the otherworldliness and divine splendour of the chariot.
1.24 ‘And when they went I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty (El Shaddai), a noise of tumult like the noise of a host. When they stood they let down their wings.’
As the chariot moved onwards Ezekiel heard the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they propelled it forwards. It was a powerful sound, like the sound of great waters, of a mountain torrent, or like the mighty breakers of the sea (compare Psalm 93.4. See also Revelation 1.15). It was like the voice of the Almighty. It was like the sound of tumult at the movement of a great army. He is fighting for ideas to describe the powerfulness and awesomeness of the noise. And then when the chariot stopped, the noise of their wings ceased, for they let down their wings, and there was a great calm.
We can understand why it had such a great effect on him, this mighty heavenly chariot speeding towards him like a great juggernaut, sometimes rolling over the ground, sometimes flying like an eagle, with the splendour and the glory and the flashing of lightning, and the terrible, terrible noise of their wings, punctuated by silence when the chariot paused. And yet there was more to it than that, for there was also the rider of the chariot, as yet undescribed.
1.25-28a ‘And there was a voice above the levelled out plate that was over their heads. When they stood they let down their wings. And above the levelled out plate that was over their heads, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone. And on the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man on it above. And I saw as the colour of brightly shining metal (amber), as the appearance of fire within it round about, from the appearance of his loins and upwards. And from the appearance of his loins and downwards I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.’
The word ‘appearance’ occurs in the passage nine times. Again he was fighting for words to describe what he saw and could not describe it exactly. First there was the voice. What it said is revealed in chapter 2. Then there was ‘the likeness of a throne’, and ‘the likeness as of the appearance of a man’. Both indefinite and yet telling. This was Yahweh’s movable throne, similar to the mercy seat above the Ark, but with the cherubim accompanying it and bearing it along. And the appearance of a man was Yahweh revealed in human form as in Genesis 18.1; compare Exodus 33.18-23; Daniel 7.9; Revelation 4.2-3. In the midst of the living creatures, who represented all living creatures, His sole concern here was with man. But His appearance was ‘as a man’, yet not a man.
The throne shone like the deep blue, with ‘golden’ flecks, of the sapphire (sappir) or lapis lazuli, a highly valued semi-precious stone (compare 10.1; Exodus 24.10). The ‘man’ shone like ‘amber’ (compare 8.2), which was some kind of brilliantly shining metal with the appearance of fire within it, upwards from the loins, and he was like the appearance of fire from the loins downwards (compare Revelation 10.1), signifying that He was a heavenly Being. Fire is both awesome and destructive, especially for those who go too near. Then he adds, ‘and there was brightness round about Him’. The picture is intended to be one of total glory. In all this we must remember that the amber shone through the cloud (verse 4). He did not see the full glory of God.
For the throne of God compare Exodus 19.20; Isaiah 6.1-3; Daniel 7.9; Revelation 4.2-3).
The ‘brightness round about Him’ is now described. It was the multicoloured brightness of the rainbow (compare Revelation 4.2-3). The throne and the cherubim have been a reminder of the covenant with Israel, for in the Tabernacle they were above Ark of the covenant of Yahweh, the rainbow is a reminder of the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9.12-15). This was the God of covenant, the covenant with Israel and the covenant with all men.
‘This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.’ It is this with which he finishes his vision. The likeness of the glory of Yahweh. This is what will sustain him through his ministry ahead. He does not claim to have seen God in His fullness, but he has seen something of the appearance of His likeness. This does not mean that God essentially looks like a man. It was what was different about Him that was the appearance of His likeness. But in representing Himself in physical form He chose the highest of His creations. We need to remember that when angels appeared to men, they also appeared as ‘a man’.
1.28b ‘And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one who spoke.’
Having seen God, even though veiled, was something that stirred Ezekiel to the depths of his being, and was something he would never forget. It put the past and the future in a new light. He had seen God as the omnipotent One on His throne, as the omniscient One whose eyes saw everywhere, and as the omnipresent One in constant movement about the world. He was there with them in Babylon, and He was there on His throne. The effect of the experience appears constantly throughout the book (3.12, 23; 8.4; 9.3; 10.4, 18; 11.22; 43.2-5; 44.4).
‘I fell on my face.’ An indication of total submission and worship.
‘And I heard a voice of one who spoke.’ Compare verse 25. In the end this was the purpose of the revelation he had received, that he might receive God’s word to pass on to God’s people.
The Mission of Ezekiel - The Book of Judgment (2.1-3.11).
2.1-2 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you.” And the spirit entered into me when he spoke to me, and set me on my feet, and I heard him who spoke to me.’
‘Son of man.’ This was a favourite address by God to Ezekiel, occurring over ninety times. It was a reminder to him that in contrast with the One he had seen he was simply a man, a creature of earth, born of human parents. ‘Son of --’ indicates partaking of the nature of. But it was also a constant reminder to him that he was a man, higher than the beasts. He was a man, and yet only a man. But its constant use was also an indication that he represented man, that he was a specially chosen man. He was the one through whom God was approaching men.
The idea would develop further in Daniel 7 where Israel was ‘a son of man’ in contrast to the nations who were wild beasts, and to their glorious representative who would come into the presence of God to receive kingship, and power and dominion on their behalf (Daniel 7.13-14, 27). It became a favourite designation by Jesus of Himself, the great, final Representative of man Who was finally to be seated at God’s right hand in power and glory.
The command to ‘stand on your feet’ revealed that God had an active purpose for him which had to be fulfilled. He could not receive such words flat on his face. God would not speak to him until he had stood up. Often we too are on our faces when we should be up and ready to be doing. Unlike the ancient kings He did not want man in humiliating postures. He wanted them erect and active in His service.
‘And the Spirit entered into me when he spoke to me, and set me on my feet.’ The Spirit has already been seen active with regard to the charioteers (1.12, 20). Now He possessed Ezekiel and set him on his feet. The vision had so weakened Ezekiel that he knew that without the Spirit’s help he would never have been able to stand up. It reminds us that it is only with the Spirit’s help that we can stand in the presence of God. Otherwise we would be helpless before Him, cowering and afraid. Then Ezekiel became aware of what the voice was saying to him.
2.3-4a ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to nations who are rebellious, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me, even to this very day. And the children are impudent and stiff-hearted.”
Ezekiel learned that he was being sent to ‘the children of Israel’. While this initially meant to the people of Judah, a now conglomerate people who included people from all the tribes of Israel, Ezekiel was to see his message as wider, as to all the children of Israel. The use of the plural ‘nations’, usually used of the world of nations outside Israel, is probably significant in that Israel and Judah are now seen as ‘nations’ among the nations. Because of their rebellion they have been turned out of the land and have become as the heathen. His message was to be for both Israel and Judah, although initially limited to the exiles in Tel-Abib. This included those carried away to Assyria and to the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17.6; 18.11). God still had a message for them, and for all those who were once His people.
Notice the charge, they were in rebellion. Not to obey God and His commandments is not only to be a sinner, but also to be a rebel. It is high treason. And that rebellion had been continual and was still true of them where they were, ‘even to this very day’. They had still not learned their lesson. Indeed they were ‘impudent and stiff-hearted’ (literally ‘hard of face and firm of heart’). They turned a hard face to the pleas of Yahweh, and their hearts firmly resisted Him. It is amazing how men can claim to worship God and yet be impervious to His demands. Many of us do the same.
2.4b-5 “And you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh”, and they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house), will yet know that there has been a prophet among them.”
Ezekiel was now informed why he had had the vision. It was that he might become the mouthpiece of the Lord Yahweh, so that he may be able to say, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh”. And he was promised that the people would know that there had been a prophet among them, whether they responded or not. That was the first thing that was important, that they knew that God had spoken among them. Their response would be up to them. But he was also warned that that response was not certain, because they were a rebellious people. He was to be Yahweh’s mouthpiece whether they listened or not. Ministry when men will not listen is the hardest of all services for God, but that does not excuse us from it, nor mean that His hand is not with us.
God saw in the long term. Some would labour, others would enter into that labour, building on it and benefiting by it (John 4.38). What God was concerned about here was that the people would know that He had not forgotten them, that His word still came to them. Then they would be without excuse. Any failure would be theirs, not His. It is one of the signs of the depravity of human nature that men will recognise prophets, and even at times respect them (when the prophets are not making them feel too guilty), and will yet not listen to them.
‘A rebellious house.’ Rebellious, yet recognised as of God’s household nonetheless. They were not yet fully rejected.
2.6 “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words. Though briars and thorns be with you, and you dwell among scorpions, do not be afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”
Ezekiel was not to be in any doubt about his calling. There was to be no guarantee of success. But he must minister nonetheless. And he must be fearless in the face of opposition. Neither animosity nor harsh words, which would be his lot, must deter him.
There was no promise of an easy time, as for us. The way is often that of briars and thorns, uncomfortable and painful, but it is not thereby to be avoided. ‘You dwell among scorpions.’ The suggestion is of many hidden dangers that suddenly strike and catch men unawares. It was a painful path that Ezekiel was called on to tread. And we may be called on to tread it too.
And there would not only be harsh words, but unfriendly and threatening looks. These were to be expected, for he was speaking to a people in rebellion. The word for ‘dismayed’ is very strong. It means excessively dismayed. He must not allow them to get him down.
2.7 “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, for they are most rebellious.”
The voice of the prophet must continue whether men heard or not. He was given God’s words as a sacred trust, and so he must speak. But response was not guaranteed, for he must recognise the rebelliousness of those to whom he went. This continual emphasis was a sign and a warning that soon something very difficult was going to be required of him. God was preparing him for the worst. As we serve God that is the one thing that we can guarantee, that God will prepare us for what is to come.
2.8 “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
Now Ezekiel was made to recognise that what he was to do would not be naturally to his liking, but he was warned that if he refused he would become like ‘the rebellious house’. So he was warned to take heed and not to rebel at what was required. God often requires of us what we do not want to do. We too must beware of being rebels.
“Open your mouth and eat what I give you.” This was probably a very picturesque way of saying receive, read, mark, accept and inwardly digest. It may, however, have included actually digesting the scroll as a symbol of having received it, for the book of Ezekiel contains demanding, acted out symbols elsewhere, although as a heavenly book in a vision it may have been more edible than papyrus or leather.
2.9-10 ‘And when I looked, behold, a hand was put forth to me, and lo, a roll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me, and it was written on both sides (‘within and without’), and there was written in it lamentations, and mourning, and woe.’
The scroll was handed over by a mysterious hand, possibly one of the hands of the living creatures (1.8), or even the hand of the One Whose appearance was like that of a man (1.26). Normally a scroll would be made of papyrus or leather, but this was a heavenly scroll in vision. We do not know what it was made of. ‘And he spread it before me.’ A decisive and demanding action that required it to be read at once.
‘And it was written on both sides.’ Normally a scroll would only have writing on one side. This was to indicate that it was overfull and that what was contained in it would be of overflowing measure.
‘And there was written in it lamentations, and mourning, and woe.’ The message it contained was an unpalatable one. It presaged misery to come. And indeed for Ezekiel the next few years would be full of that message. Before building up hope he was first to proclaim the certainty of overflowing judgment. This would result in cries and groaning, weeping, and disasters and judgments. It was only after that that he would be able to offer hope.
3.1-3 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find. Eat this roll and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he caused me to eat the roll, and he said to me, “Son of man, cause your stomach to digest and fill your bowels with this roll that I give you.” Then did I eat it and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.’
The vision continues, and in vision Ezekiel is commanded to eat the roll and then deliver its message to the house of Israel. He cannot pick and choose. He must eat what he finds. And that is what he must speak. (Whether he was actually to eat it or not is irrelevant. It was all in vision. The main point was that he was to fully digest it and make it a part of himself).
Then he is told that he must fully digest its contents. We too have a ‘scroll’. It is called the Holy Bible. It too is the word of God, and we too must ensure that we read and fully digest its contents.
‘Then did I eat it and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.’ So Ezekiel obeyed, and ate, and although its contents were dreadful he found it sweet to the taste, for it was the word of God and necessary for that time. It contained tough love, God being cruel to be kind. And it could only be for good. Compare Jeremiah 15.16, ‘Your words were found and I ate them, and your words were to me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by your name, Oh Yahweh, God of hosts’. There it was contrasted with the food with which men make merry. Jeremiah had chosen his course and delighted in it, as must Ezekiel. See also Psalm 19.10; 119.103.
3.4-7 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, go, get you to the house of Israel and speak to them with my words. For you are not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language (literally ‘deep of lip and heavy of tongue’), but to the house of Israel. Not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I sent you to them they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they will not listen to me, for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stiff heart.” ’
Ezekiel is to go to the people of Israel with Yahweh’s words, and the message as revealed in the scroll, but he is warned that in general they will not listen to him. There will of course always be some few who listen, but his message will not be popular with the people as a whole.
There is a strong element of sarcasm here. Theoretically his task should be easy. He is going to people who speak the same language as himself, rather than to people who speak and think differently, and whose language is very difficult to understand (for ‘deep of lip’ compare Isaiah 33.19 and for ‘heavy of tongue’ compare Exodus 4.10). It seemingly made his task much simpler. But in practise it will not be so. Those of another language may well have been willing to listen to his words, but Israel will not do so, because their minds and hearts are hardened. They do not want to listen to God, so they will certainly not listen to Ezekiel. Their minds are already made up. Compare Isaiah 6.9b-13; Jeremiah 1.17-19.
The point here is the obstinacy and pig-headedness of Israel. Even with stumbling words others might be willing to listen. But Israel is so set in its mind and ways that no words, however clear, will be sufficient to move them or change their ideas, as they have already proved by their response to Jeremiah and the other prophets, and their reactions in the face of disasters. They just will not recognise their own folly and guilt. It is a stress on the total stubbornness of Israel.
This repetition of the ideas in chapter 2 demonstrates how hard his task is going to be. God wants Him to be forewarned and forearmed. It stresses the hardness of men’s hearts when faced with truth which is unpalatable.
3.8-9 “Behold I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. I have made you forehead as an adamant, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”
There is a play on words here for the words for ‘hard’ and ‘harder’ come from the same verbal root as ‘Ezekiel’ (‘God hardens’). God will enable him to stand firm and resist all attempts to silence him. The word translated ‘adamant’ means literally a thorn bush, but then something pointed and hard (a diamond for engraving - Jeremiah 17.1). Thus here it indicates something hard, ‘harder than flint’. Thus he need not be afraid of them, or be distraught at the looks they give him. And he must indeed expect it because they are rebels against God, Who is the head of their household.
3.10-11 ‘Moreover he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you, receive in your heart and hear with your ears, and go, get you to the captivity, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh’, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” ’
Again there is the stress on the fact that he is going in the name of the Lord Yahweh, and with words he has received from Him. We can only truly be strong when we go with His words. He must receive those words in his heart so that they become a part of him, and hear them with his ears so that he himself responds to them.
So firstly he was again told that he must receive and absorb God’s words. Then that he must go to those who were in captivity with him in Babylonia, declaring those words with a ‘thus says the Lord Yahweh’. And he must do it whether they would listen or not.
All these words were spoken following the vision, possibly with silent periods in between as he strove to come to grips with the vision and with the scroll he had seen. God was building up his ability to continue against all the odds, and hardening him to face the inevitable.
The Spirit Carries Him Away (3.12-15).
3.12-13 ‘Then the Spirit lifted me up and I heard behind me the voice of a great commotion. “Blessed be the glory of Yahweh from his place.” And I heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the noise of the wheel beside them, and the noise of a great commotion.’
At this point the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and took him away, and as he was being taken away he heard behind him ‘the voice of a great commotion’. (The root can mean ‘earthquake, roaring, commotion’, compare Jeremiah 10.22; 47.3). Voices swelled up to heaven crying, “Blessed be the glory of Yahweh from His place.” They were probably the voices of the living creatures (compare Revelation 4.8; 8.13). And they praised the coming of ‘the glory of Yahweh’ from His place. The glory of Yahweh represents His presence, compare 1.23; 10.13; 11.23; 43.4. For ‘from His place’ compare Micah 1.3, ‘for behold Yahweh comes forth from His place, and will come down and tread on the high places of the earth’. Compare also Hosea 5.15; and see Ezekiel 38.15; Zephaniah 2.11. Thus they were celebrating the coming of Yahweh’s glorious presence Who had specifically come from His eternal dwellingplace to meet with Ezekiel.
‘And I heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the noise of the wheel beside them, and the noise of a great commotion.’ As the voices swelled up he also heard the chariot of God once more on the move, the whirring of the wings of the living creatures, the rumbling of the wheels, and the continual praise and worship of the living creatures.
Some have suggested translating, ‘Then the Spirit lifted me up and as the glory of Yahweh arose from its place I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake.’ This translation requires the changing of kaph in brk (to bless) to mem to make it brm (using the root rum - to lift up). These two letters were easily confused in ancient Hebrew. They see the text as it stands as a little awkward, They suggest that after the great roaring or earthquake we do not expect an interjection, especially as the great roaring is repeated in verse 13, nor, they say, does ‘from His place’ fit well with the interjection. The sense is in fact fairly similar but loses the paean of praise. However it seems to us that the text makes good sense as it stands.
3.14 ‘So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit, and the hand of Yahweh was strong upon me.’
Ezekiel repeats and amplifies his reference to the Spirit in verse 12. He was lifted up and carried away by the Spirit (see also 8.3; 11.1, 24; 43.5), his first experience of this type of travel. This was thought of as a ‘normal’ method of transport for prophets (1 Kings 18.12; 2 Kings 2.16), possibly because they tended to suddenly appear and disappear, although no actual example is known for earlier prophets, unless we count 2 Kings 2.11. But compare Philip in Acts 8.39 -note there the Old Testament ring of ‘the Spirit of the Lord’.
This was his first experience of the Spirit acting in such a way, and along with the vision he had seen must have shaken him to the core. No wonder he went ‘in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit’. He was greatly disturbed both spiritually and emotionally.
Alternately many see his bitterness and heat of spirit as referring to his feelings about his own people in the light of what God had told him (compare Jeremiah 6.11). This is supported by the word ‘bitterness’, which is very strong, and would directly tie in with the hand of Yahweh being strong upon him, as he went to carry out his mission. He was still under the influence of his vision.
For ‘the hand of Yahweh was strong upon me’ compare 1.3 which resulted in his vision, and 3.22 where he again has a vision. See also 8.1; 33.22; 37.1; 40.1. All refer to remarkable experiences.
3.15 ‘Then I came to those of the captivity at Tel-Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar, and to where they dwelt. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.’
At some point the Spirit released him, and he then made his way back to the settlement of his fellow-captives. And for seven days he sat there ‘overwhelmed’. The word means ‘appalled, desolated’ and the causative conjugation signifies that it was the effect of what he had experienced. It took him ‘seven days’ to recover, longer than just a few days.
(‘Seven days’ generally signifies a longer period than the shorter ‘three days’, two stereotyped expressions. ‘Three days’ would mean anything from one and a half days to six days, ‘seven days’ would indicate a little longer period. Compare the use in Genesis for ‘three day’ and ‘seven day’ journeys).
It is perhaps significant that seven days was required for the consecration of a priest (Leviticus 8.33). It could be that he saw this as his period of consecration to his mission.
Ezekiel Is Appointed As A Watchman (3.16-21).
3.16 ‘And it happened that at the end of seven days the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’
The ‘seven days’ having passed God again came to Ezekiel with His solemn word, to remind him that he had been made a watchman to Israel (compare Habakkuk 2.1. See also Isaiah 56.10; Jeremiah 6.17; Hosea 9.8). The task of the watchman was to keep awake and give warning of approaching danger, and to act for the preservation of those over whom he watched.
3.17-18 “Son of man, I have given you to be a watchman to the house of Israel. Therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you do not give him warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man will die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at your hand.”
As watchman, appointed by solemn charge, to Israel, Ezekiel had to watch over each individual. He was not only responsible for Israel, but for each individual within Israel, to take them the word of God. He was to watch and warn. And each individual was separately responsible to hear and respond, or to reject. The few would not be condemned for the many.
The thought here was that Yahweh watched over His people and when He saw one who was ‘wicked’, that is who was not observing the covenant and living in accordance with the principles laid down in the Law, He passed sentence on him. This He would then communicate to Ezekiel (‘hear the word at my mouth’). It was Ezekiel’s responsibility then to give him warning (‘give them warning from me’), and seek to turn the man from his evil ways so that he may save his life. If he failed to do so the man would die in his iniquity, but his death would be blameable on Ezekiel. He would be the equivalent of a murderer. Note that the expected punishment was a sudden and untimely death. There was no consideration of an afterlife. The additional consequences of that are dealt with in Daniel 12.2.
3.19 ‘And if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have saved your life.’
However if Ezekiel did give the warning and the person did nothing about it, the same consequence would come on the person, but Ezekiel would be free from blame and would be spared. Note here the deliberate reference to ‘wickedness’ in contrast with a ‘wicked way’, suggesting a comparison between the state of mind and heart in rebellion against God, and the revealing of that in behaviour.
3.20 ‘Again when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he will die. Because you have not given him warning, he will die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered. But his blood I will require at your hand.’
The warning became even more solemn. Ezekiel was not only responsible for warning the wicked but for watching over the righteous. The righteous man was the one who admitted responsibility to the covenant and sought to live in accordance with it. But if he deliberately committed gross sin God would lay a stumblingblock, a snare, for him and he too would die. Past righteousness could not and would not excuse present iniquity. No one can rely on a righteous past. And if Ezekiel has not warned him, then Ezekiel too would have to face the consequences, in death.
3.21 ‘Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning. And you have delivered your life.’
Note the contrast here with verse 19. It is assumed that the righteous man will hear and take warning. The suggestion seems to be that God would give him an opportunity of repentance through the ministry of Ezekiel. If he heeded it he would be spared.
The importance of this passage cannot be overemphasised. Each individual is shown to have individual responsibility. The one will not suffer for the sinfulness of the group. It also brings out that, in the place where they were, they still came within the covenant. They were still responsible to God. Furthermore it demonstrated that away from Jerusalem, and away from the possibility of offering sacrifice at the central shrine in Jerusalem, forgiveness was still possible. Both the righteous who sin, and the wicked who have lived sinfully, could still be spared through repentance and return to the covenant, even though sacrifices for sin were not available.
On the other hand it also warned that God was there. He saw their ways and their behaviour, and He would require it at their hands. Transportation had not removed them from their responsibility to God. They were still His people and He was still their Overlord.
And it finally emphasised that He had set over them a watchman. This was for them an act of mercy. He had not left them just to struggle on as they could. If they failed it would not be because God had failed to give them an opportunity for repentance, as long as the watchman was faithful. And for Ezekiel the stress was on the importance of his faithfulness. It is a solemn task to be pastor to a people.
It is impossible to overemphasise the significance of these words to Ezekiel with reference to the cult. It is noteworthy that in appointing a priest over His people God did not set up a rival cultus. The priest was not to carry out certain cultic responsibilities. No sacrifices were instituted. No altar was built. The concentration was on response to God, morality and behaviour. It was on the moral requirements of the Torah (instruction, law, found in the Books of Moses), and his responsibility to watch over them and maintain them as Israel’s covenant with Yahweh. They would no doubt meet for prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and to listen to exhortation, (which would eventually lead on to the founding of the synagogues) but the emphasis was on manner of life before God and their duty to obey Him, and it applied to each individually as well as to the group as a whole.
A Further Vision (3.22-27).
3.22 ‘And the hand of Yahweh was there upon me, and he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and I will talk with you there.’
This probably occurred after the passing of a short period of time in which Ezekiel had told the people what God had previously said. It could not be a very long period for the period from 1.2 - the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year- to 8.1 - the fifth day of the sixth month of the sixth year - was only about 442 actual days (assuming a thirteen month year, see on 4.5) and at least 390 (and possibly 430) of them were passed lying on his left and right sides for the punishment of Israel and Judah (4.5-6). His message had been variously received, but from most it seemed that he received short shrift, they were not impressed. Indeed they may well have seen him as mad. So it was now time for the second stage in God’s plan.
The ‘hand of Yahweh’ upon him leads us to expect something special and once again he was to receive a glorious vision. But first God sent him somewhere alone, ‘into the valley (cleft)’, where he could again meet God.
3.23 ‘Then I arose and went out into the valley, and behold the glory of Yahweh stood there, as the glory which I saw by the River Chebar, and I fell on my face.’
This was a parallel vision to that in chapter 1, repeated in full for reassurance and to press home its effect, but it was in a different place. Going out into ‘the valley’ He saw the throne-chariot of God and the accompanying glory, including the splendid figure on the throne. He saw the glory of Yahweh. And again it had the same effect. He fell on his face before God
3.24-27 ‘Then the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go. Shut yourself within your house. But you, son of man, they shall lay bands on you, and will bind you with them, and you will not go out among them, and I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you will be dumb and will not be a reprover to them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh”. He who hears, let him here, and he who forbears, let him forbear, for they are a rebellious house.” ’
Following the vision and his obeisance the Spirit again lifted him on to his feet, and he again received the command of God. The Spirit of God is seen as very active in Ezekiel’s life. He was left in no doubt of God’s hand on him. This lifting up was a sign of God’s acceptance of his obeisance, and that He had something active for him to do.
What follows can basically be thought of in two ways. Either as a sign of opposition as the people, seeing him as mad, come to restrain him, and God’s response to it. Or as a deliberate acting out by Ezekiel of a message which he wanted to get over in a vivid way (something he would certainly do later). Was he bound because they thought he was mad, or did he arrange for himself to be bound so as to proclaim a message? Either way the message would be that Ezekiel was restrained by God and solely God’s mouthpiece.
‘Go, shut yourself within your house.’ From now on Ezekiel was not to live a normal life of going out and in. He was to enter his house, close the door and stay within it. Possibly, along with what followed, it was to indicate that he was no longer his own man living a normal life, but that he was separated to Yahweh. He was the servant and mouthpiece of Yahweh. Such acts would cause speculation among the people as they do among us.
Alternately it may be that it was God’s warning of growing opposition so that he must shut himself away for safety and as a sign that God would no longer speak to them. This would act for his protection. But we will shortly see that he was to let the people see his coming behaviour, so that the former is more likely.
‘But you, son of man, they shall lay bands on you, and will bind you with them, and you will not go out among them.’ There has been no suggestion up to this point of any violent opposition, thus many refer this to a voluntary act, the act of his family and friends, or of his servants (represented by a vague ‘they’), at his request. He was to make them bind him, so that he would be bound with ropes as a sign to Israel. Again it would indicate that he was now a man who did not have the freedom to do what he wanted but was restrained by God so that his only actions were to be those of service to God as a prophet. It may also have been intended to remind them that they too were captives, brought into captivity by God. This position is supported by the words ‘you shall not go out among them’ (parallel to ‘you shall not be a reprover to them’) which suggest he did have freedom of action.
Some, however, see the binding as carried out by the people in antagonism to him and his message, restricting his freedom and seeking to restrain his unwelcome activities, on the grounds that he ‘had gone mad’. This would certainly be understandable in view of his visions and his own reactions to them. Or they see it as metaphorical, with the ‘binding’ being some actions of the people taken with the intention of shutting him up. This would certainly explain the repeated words, ‘for they are a rebellious house’. But if this was so there has been no earlier indication of direct opposition.
‘And I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you will be dumb and will not be a reprover to them.’ This action is definitely revealed as God’s. He will render Ezekiel dumb, so that he can no longer generally reprove them, only when God has a specific message for them. Whether the cleaving was outwardly enforced by divine power, or enforced by Ezekiel’s voluntary obedience, is uncertain, although verse 27, ‘I will open your mouth’, may suggest the former, (although not certainly). Either way it showed that God had stopped speaking to the people.
This enforced silence would undoubtedly have a strong effect on the people. They knew that he had previously had a vivid experience of God and he had no doubt begun to reprove and warn in accordance with verses 17-13. Thus this silence would have an even greater impact. It may have made them ask why God had stopped speaking to them through him. Or it may have been intended, in the light of what followed, to indicate that Ezekiel was now solely the mouthpiece of God and could only speak when God had something to say to them.
So, if voluntary, the self-imprisonment, the binding with ropes and the dumbness were all to be signs to Israel. Perhaps they were then partly to indicate the condition of the people. They were now in captivity and not free to follow their own desires (to go back to Jerusalem). This would confirm that this was God’s present will and that they were not to chafe or speak out against it. It had all come upon them, Yahweh was saying, because ‘they are a rebellious house’.
But the enforced silence was specifically stated to be to prevent him being ‘a reprover to them’ continually. Thus the message must primarily have been intended to indicate to them that Ezekiel as God’s messenger was bound by God and could not speak to them, except when God allowed. This would also indicate to them, in the wider context (to be appreciated by them later), that for the present his ministry was restricted until God was ready for him to take up his ministry fully, for until Jerusalem was destroyed he was not, on the whole, free to make his declarations of hope. He would give hints, but that was all. He had thus at present a restricted ministry, a ministry of judgment. Meanwhile he could only speak as God commanded. His silence was not to be total silence, only silence as regards normal living. When Yahweh gave him prophetic words to say, as ‘thus says the Lord Yahweh’, he was to be free to speak.
If we see his binding as being the act of the people on the grounds that he was mad, then his enforced silence would be God’s reply to their rebellious behaviour. If they did not want Him to reprove them, He was saying, He would not reprove them. They must bear the consequences.
We are left to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the people as they saw that house in their midst, knowing that the priest-prophet Ezekiel lay there, in self-imposed isolation, bound with ropes (which could be unbound when necessary), and maintaining continual silence (see 24.27; 29.1) except for the times when he spoke in Yahweh’s service. It would also increase the impact when he spoke his prophetic utterances, and even more so when he finally did begin to speak freely again. This latter would occur some six years later in 33.22 when Jerusalem had been destroyed.
‘For they are a rebellious house.’ Yahweh had already declared that on the whole they would not respond (2.4, 6, 10; 3.7). Thus the imposed silence was a sign of this. Ezekiel’s ministry was not at this stage to be a pastoral ministry of gentle reproof. It was to be a continual ministry of periodical declarations of God’s judgment. The constant reference to Israel as ‘a rebellious house’ stresses God’s view of them at this time, as His people in rebellion against Him. He was in no doubt about their underlying attitude.
‘But when I speak with you I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh”, he who hears, let him here, and he who forbears, let him forbear, for they are a rebellious house.’ Whichever way we read the passage he was not called on to be completely silent. But the only exceptions to silence were to be when Yahweh spoke with him giving him a prophetic utterance to declare. Then God would open his mouth and he must say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh’. Once he had done that response would be up to the listener. The inference here was that some would hear, making the ministry worthwhile, but that the majority would not hear because they were a rebellious house.
We must not judge Ezekiel’s activities by our own standards. It may well be that from the start God wanted him to proclaim his message by symbols, interspersed with spoken prophecy as God saw fit. Probably He knew that that they were not ready to receive His message openly given and that that would make the greatest impact, certainly until Jerusalem was destroyed and their last hope was gone. Ezekiel might be there as a watchman, but it was as a watchman under God’s instructions.
The message here for all of us is the responsibility that we have as the Lord’s watchmen. We too have a responsibility towards those around us, whether they are willing to hear or not. We too will be called to account for our failure to speak out for Christ. Their blood will be required at our hands. We too must see ourselves as totally devoted to serving God, willing to be restricted in our normal lives so as to better serve Christ, willing to be ‘bound’, willing to be called mad, willing to speak when called on to do so, and when necessary willing to be silent. His dedication must be our example.
Chapter 4. Ezekiel’s First Message - Judgment Is Coming On Jerusalem.
In this chapter we have an acted out prophecy against Jerusalem. The people had been brought into captivity but Jerusalem still stood. They still had hopes of returning. But they must be made to recognise that God’s anger against Israel was such that nothing could avert the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Rather than the holy city and the temple being a guarantee of Israel’s preservation by God they had become a hindrance, and must go. Their superstitious reliance on the holy city and the temple as the proof of their favour (Jeremiah 7.4), even in the midst of their sinfulness, must be destroyed. This would now be Ezekiel’s continual stress, along with judgment on the nations (25-32), until the actual destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (33.21), a destruction which would outwardly be the end of all their hopes.
In the days of Hezekiah Yahweh had promised through Isaiah the prophet, “I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David” (Isaiah 37.35). Israel had interpreted that to mean that whatever they did God would never allow the city to be destroyed. But they were wrong. That promise had been made because Hezekiah was genuinely seeking to please and obey Yahweh. But now things were very different. Sin and disobedience was rife, God was being marginalised, and the promise would no longer apply. Jerusalem was not inviolable. And that message would be repeated by Ezekiel again and again, although derided and rejected by his hearers, until the event itself took place.
In this chapter we have first the depiction of the siege of Jerusalem in miniature (4.1-3), then the duration of the iniquity of Israel and Judah which has brought this on them (4.4-8), then the depiction of the coming famine conditions in Jerusalem and of their exile in ‘uncleanness’ (4.9-17), and finally an acted out description of the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, whom the exiles probably looked back on with envy (5.1-4).
The Fate of Jerusalem.
4.1-3 “You also, son of man, you take a tile, and lay it before you, and portray on it a city, even Jerusalem, and lay siege against it, and build forts against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it round about. And you take to yourself an iron pan, and set it as a wall between you and the city. And set your face towards it and it shall be besieged, and you shall lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.’
The attention of the people having been drawn to Ezekiel by his previous strange behaviour, he would no doubt by this time have become a talking point. This strange activity continued. Word would soon get around of the next strange thing that he was doing, and it would arouse curiosity and perhaps a kind of fear. For, at Gods’ command, he was to depict a siege of Jerusalem in miniature as a sign to the house of Israel of what was to be. We must assume either that he did this outside the door of his house, or that the house was now left open for people to enter and see it.
‘Take -- a tile.’ This would probably be a rectangular sun-baked brick. On this he was to depict a picture of Jerusalem which he would depict in recognisable outline. It would be placed where all could come and see it. He would then depict the details of a siege as outlined, how we are not told. Possibly they were depicted in the sand, or, if inside the house, with clay models or depicted on small clay tablets. Ezekiel and the people would be familiar with such siege activities. They had themselves seen them in action when they themselves had been made captive.
Depictions of such war machines, manned by archers and often moveable, are known from bas-reliefs in Assyria, while mounds would be built bringing the assailants more on a level with the enemy in the city. The depiction of such activities on clay tablets is also witnessed archaeologically.
Then he was to take a large iron pot or cooking plate, possibly as used for baking bread, and set it between himself and the scene he had depicted, illustrating that he himself as God’s representative, was also laying siege against it. This would leave them in no doubt that the siege was, in the last analysis, due to the activity of God. The iron plate, in contrast with the clay, would illustrate the solidity and permanence of what it represented. It represented the certainty of God in action with the result that the consequences were also certain.
Others have seen the iron plate as signifying that there was a great barrier between God and His people in Jerusalem so that He would not intervene. He would act through Ezekiel on behalf of His people in exile, but not on behalf of Jerusalem. We can compare Isaiah 59.2, ‘your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear’. Compare also Lamentations 3.44.
It was an acted out prophecy, of a kind with which their past was familiar (Exodus 9.8-12; Joshua 8.18; 1 Kings 11.30-32; 22.11; 2 Kings 13.15-19; Isaiah 8.1-4; 20.2-4; Jeremiah 13.1-11; 16.1-9; 19.1-11; 27.1-12). The physical reproduction would be looked on as making more certain its fulfilment. It would be seen as having already taken place in miniature. And as the people flocked to see this latest sensation they would be aware of the silent, brooding figure, sitting there without saying a word, and they would draw their own conclusions, fearful and awestricken.
The Long Periods of Iniquity That Have Brought Inevitable Judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple.
4.4-6 “Moreover lie on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it. According to the number of days you will lie on it. You will bear their iniquity. For I have appointed the years of their iniquity to be to you a number of days, even three hundred and ninety days. So shall you bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And again when you have accomplished these you will lie on your right side, and you will bear the iniquity of the house of Judah. Forty days, each day for a year, have I appointed it to you.”
Having depicted the siege of Jerusalem with its inevitable end, Ezekiel was now himself to depict himself as bearing the sin of Israel and Judah. The time elements were further indication that when God spoke to ‘the house of Israel’ it depicted all the tribes, both those incorporated into Judah and those scattered elsewhere among the nations. His message would reach to them as well.
By lying on his left side Ezekiel was to show himself as bearing the iniquity of the northern kingdom of Israel. The pain and the sores resulting would at times become unbearable. But it was acted out prophecy. He suffered the pain that they should have suffered. But it was not vicarious. It depicted what would be and why their suffering and exile were necessary. The reason for selecting 390 days is not explained other than that it represents a period of 390 years, although the 390 days may represent a thirteen month year (30 x 13). If we date it from approximately 930 BC, the date of the setting up of the golden calves and the break by Israel from the central sanctuary (1 Kings 12.26-33), which to a priest of Judah could well be seen as the beginning of ‘the years of their iniquity’, it would bring us down to around this time, remembering that their suffering and rebellion still continued. It need not be seen as necessarily exact. It was symbolic, and the ‘years of their iniquity’ were still continuing. But its point was not only to accentuate the length of their iniquity, but to indicate that it was coming to an end. God would yet bring them to repentance and show mercy on them.
Three hundred and ninety represents three hundreds and three thirties (thirty being three intensified). Thus it stresses a complete period based on the significance of three, the number of completeness, a perfect period. However, 390 days also represents a thirteen month year taking the approximation regularly used of thirty days to a month (Genesis 7.24; 8.3 with 7.11 and 8.4; Revelation 11.2 with 11.3). Possibly then this was such a year.
After he had finished depicting the period of the iniquity of Israel he must then turn over and depict the period of the iniquity of Judah. This was to be for forty days, depicting forty years. ‘Forty’ regularly depicts a period of trial and testing. We can compare how under Moses Israel suffered forty years in the wilderness. Thus the forty years, a round number depicting trial and testing, refers to the final period of Judah’s rebellion against God. Possibly it was to be seen as ‘dating’ from the death of Josiah around 609 BC which resulted in all his activity on behalf of Yahweh’s name ceasing and its being replaced by final idolatry which was still continuing (2 Chronicles 36.5, 9, 11). Again it is symbolic rather than exact. Their period of iniquity was far shorter than that of Israel, but it was still going on (this difference confirms that the figures look back to the past and not forward to the future).
Laying on the left or right side may have come from the fact that if he was lying on his back with his head towards Jerusalem the northern kingdom would be on his left and the southern kingdom on his right.
The point behind both representations was to demonstrate that both nations had gone through long periods of iniquity, and still did so, and that that situation would go on. They did, however, also stress that their period of iniquity would eventually come to an end in God’s time. When the restoration did take place people from both Israel and Judah would participate.
A question that is disputed is whether the 40 days follows the 390 days, or whether Ezekiel turned over after 350 days, the last forty days counting for both, thus completing a theoretical thirteen month year. 4.9 may suggest that 390 days was the total period for which he lay there, and the passage nowhere actually says that he was to lie on his left side for 390 days. But verse 4 & 6 strongly suggest it.
4.7-8 “And you shall set your face towards the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm uncovered, and you will prophesy against it, and behold I lay bands on you, and you shall not turn yourself from one side to another until you have accomplished the days of your siege.”
The suggestion that he set his face towards the siege of Jerusalem may indicate that he turned to lay facing Jerusalem, or that he set his face towards it in his mind, or more probably that he set his face towards his own representation of that siege in the model he had made, having the real city in mind. The baring of the arm indicated an arm ready for action (compare Isaiah 52.10). He was representing what God was going to do, act against Jerusalem through Nebuchadnezzar.
‘And you will prophesy against it.’ His words of prophecy would indicate to his hearers that God was about to carry out His purpose with regard to Jerusalem.
‘And behold I lay bands on you, and you shall not turn yourself from one side to another until you have accomplished the days of your siege.’ Once Ezekiel was lying in the way that God had told him, God would ‘lay bands on him’. This may mean psychologically as a result of His command, or possibly even by some kind of limited paralysis. Or it may refer back to 3.25. But, whichever it was, he was to remain there, not turning until the full time had been accomplished. ‘The days of your siege.’ While lying there and looking towards his model of the siege of Jerusalem, with arm laid bare ready for action, he was indicating that it would be besieged and ensuring it came about. He was, as it were, besieging it beforehand. There may be the thought here that the actual siege would last for about a year. Thus the pain that Ezekiel was suffering presaged the pain that Jerusalem would suffer,
Jerusalem Will Be Riddled With Famine and Its Inhabitants Will Dwell Among the Nations in Uncleanness.
4.9 “Also take to yourself wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make of it bread for yourself. According to the number of days that you will lie in your side, even three hundred and ninety days, you will eat of it.”
The purpose of these and the following instructions was to indicate siege rations (verse 16). This is confirmed by the quantity of the rations (verse 10), and the fact that it was purportedly to be baked on human dung (verse 12; compare Deuteronomy 23.13-14) rather than cow dung, because they were shut up in the city. It also indicated that the children of Israel, once taken captive, would eat their food ‘unclean’ among the nations (verse 13; compare Hosea 9.3. See also Daniel 1.8). In other words from the beginning of the siege onwards into captivity they would experience poor food, short rations, and ritual uncleanness. There was nothing ritually unclean about the food itself as far as we are aware from Leviticus and Deuteronomy (and the Mishnah - the later Jewish oral law). Among other things it would be the way such foods came in contact with uncleanness and unclean things, and the way that they might be grown (e.g. Leviticus 19.19) or stored, that would render them unclean. With regard to meat, its source, and whether it had been killed correctly, would often not be known. Foreigners could not be depended on to maintain ritual cleanness and to kill meat in the right way.
We should note, in fact, that on his protesting in horror (4.14) God graciously allowed Ezekiel to use cow dung instead of human dung (4.15). This was in order to maintain his own ceremonial cleanness. The use of cow dung for baking on was a recognised method of baking.
The various items were all to be baked together in some form of bread. When they were under siege people would put together whatever they had, mixing it together, in order to prepare food. In Ezekiel’s case this was then to form his means of sustenance for the 390 days, which was possibly intended to represent roughly the prospective length of the siege of Jerusalem (i.e ‘a year’).
4.10 “And your food which you will eat will be by weight twenty shekels a day. Each day at the same time you will eat it.”
Twenty shekels would come to about 225 grams (eight ounces). This was minimum rations indicating siege rations. ‘Each day at the same time you will eat it.’ The Hebrew is literally ‘from time to time’ but compare the similar use in 1 Chronicles 9.25. It seems to signify a recurring action taking place at the same time each day. The purpose of this was to make it a recognised activity in front of those who came to observe his behaviour.
4.11 “And you will drink water by measure, the sixth part of a hin. Each day at the same time you will drink it.”
As for food, so for water. He was allowed a little over 0.6 litres (a pint). This was hardly survival rations, but would often be necessary when under siege with water difficult to obtain. It may be that he was allowed to supplement it out of hours when not under observation, but that this was his general practise seems to be of some doubt. The purpose of the rations was to simulate siege conditions in the eyes of the people.
4.12 “And you shall eat it as barley cakes, and you will bake it in their sight with excrement that comes out of a man.”
‘Barley cakes’ indicates the poor man’s food. They were, as described earlier, made up of a mixture of ingredients. It was to be ‘baked in their sight’, possibly on heated stones or an iron plate. The onlookers would be watching someone surviving ‘under siege’.
The use of human excrement for fuel would appal not only Ezekiel but also the onlookers, yet in times of siege it would occur. Compare Deuteronomy 23.13-14 where it was to be buried out of sight to prevent defilement.
4.13 ‘And Yahweh said, “Even thus will the children of Israel eat their food unclean among the nations whither I will drive them.” ’
The eating of food in this way would not only indicate the coming siege, it would also act as a reminder that because of their rebelliousness His people would be driven from the land of their inheritance to live in foreign lands that were seen as unclean. This signified that they would no longer be enjoying in full God’s provision for them through His covenant. While they would still be His covenant people, and be expected to live under the terms of the covenant, a major part of the privilege would have been lost. They would no longer have their own land, and their own holy city and temple, and the privilege of living fully in ritual cleanness. They would be defiled until their period of punishment was over.
4.14 ‘Then said I, “Ah, Lord Yahweh. Behold my life has not been polluted, for from my youth up, even until now, I have not eaten of what dies of itself, or is torn of beasts, nor came there any abominable flesh into my mouth.” ’
Ezekiel had borne much without protest, but he was so appalled at the thought of using human excrement that he made his first protest to God. He pointed out the great care he had taken from childhood to keep himself ritually clean. He had not eaten meat from an animal that died naturally, nor from an animal that was killed by wild beasts (Exodus 22.31; Leviticus 11.39; 17.15; 22.8; Deuteronomy 14.21). Nor had he eaten ‘abominable flesh’ (Isaiah 65.4; Leviticus 7.18; 11.4-8, 10-20, 23-31, 41-3). He was horrified to think that now his body should be tainted by something ‘unclean’. This brings out how dedicated a man Ezekiel had always been, scrupulous in his dealings with things pertaining to God. And God graciously conceded to his position. He was thoughtful concerning the feelings of His servant.
4.15 ‘Then he said, “I have given you cow’s dung for man’s excrement, and you shall prepare bread on it.”
God allowed him to use cow dung instead of man’s excrement. Cow dung was a recognised fuel used by many for cooking. Why then should God have required something that he knew would appal Ezekiel, and then made such a concession? The answer must be that it was in order to draw attention to the point in question. The uncleanness in which His people were involved. Once that was done, and the horror of their position had got over to Ezekiel, the concession could be made. It was after all only a symbol. Nothing crucial depended on it. (This brings out that all these actions were seen as symbols and not sympathetic magic. In the latter case the rules could not have been broken or else the magic would not have worked).
4.16-17 ‘Moreover he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they will eat bread by weight and with carefulness, and they will drink water by measure and with dismay, that they may want bread and water, and be dismayed one with another, and pine away in their iniquity.” ’
‘The staff of bread.’ Compare 5.16; 14.13. To ‘break the staff of bread’ was to take away the provisions on which man depended for survival, the things on which he leaned. Thus ample provision in Jerusalem would cease and be replaced by shortage and famine, so that bread had to be measured out and eaten with careful consideration and discrimination, in order that it might be made to last, and water also would be given by measure, with dismay and astonishment at the shortage of it. Indeed they would reach a point when they both craved it, and lacked it, because the shortage was so great. And they would waste away because of their sinful ways and hearts.
The question must arise as to whether Ezekiel had to stick strictly to this diet, or whether it only applied to daylight hours. There are actually no grounds for doubting that it was strictly required. The ‘bed sores’ and the sight of Ezekiel growing thinner and thinner may well have been part of the illustration, although possibly concession might have been allowed if things became too desperate, especially as regards water. God would be there watching over him. It was the principle revealed that was important, not the fulfilling of the minute detail.
Chapter 5. The Fate Awaiting Jerusalem and Its Inhabitants.
The Significance of His Shaven Beard and Head.
5.1-2 “And you, son of man, you take a sharp sword. As a barber’s razor you will take it to you. And you will cause it to pass over your head and on your beard. Then take for yourself balances to weigh and divide the hair. A third part you will burn with fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled. And you will take a third part and smite with the sword round about it. And a third part you will scatter to the wind, and I will draw out a sword after them.”
Shaving the head or beard was a sign of mourning (7.18; Isaiah 15.2; 22.12; Jeremiah 48.37; Amos 8.10), or even of disgrace (2 Samuel 10.4). It was also the sign of the end of a person’s separation to God (Numbers 6.5, 18). Ezekiel’s act in doing so was an indication that Jerusalem would be shorn, as a sign of disgrace, as a sign of mourning, and as a sign of the end of its separation to God.
The hair then had to be weighed and divided and separated into three parts. The weighing indicated that Jerusalem had been weighed and had been found wanting (compare Proverbs 21.2; Daniel 5.27). Then one third he had to burn in the midst of his model city, a third part he had to smite with a sword round about the city, chopping them in pieces, and a third part had to be scattered to the wind. This was to take place once he had finished his days of depicting the period of the siege. This signified that one third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would die in the siege through pestilence and famine, one third in the fighting round about and that one third would be scattered among the nations (verse 12; compare Jeremiah 15.2). But even these latter would still be subject to further judgments from God. ‘I will draw out a sword after them’. They would be constantly harried, and many would die because of their evil ways.
5.3-4 “And you will take from there a few in number, and bind them in your robes, and of these again you will take and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire. From there will come out a fire to all the house of Israel.”
Of the third part who escape death and were scattered some would be selected out for preservation, but even of these some too would die by famine and pestilence. The ‘fire’ of pestilence and famine which burned in Jerusalem would reach out to some of those who have escaped. In the end the whole of the house of Israel would be affected. It is a sad picture. God’s judgments would continue to reach out continually. His scattered people would never be fully at rest because of famine, pestilence and the sword.
‘Bind them in your robes (skirts - the lower flowing ends of the robe).’ The bottom of the robe would be tucked into the belt for walking and would form a kind of container which could be used for carrying things.
The second ‘from there’ probably refers to the fire depicted as burning in Jerusalem (5.2a). It would not only affect Jerusalem but would reach out and continue its effect even in those who had escaped.
Some have seen the last sentence as referring to a fire of purification, but in view of the importance of fire in the context it is difficult to think that such a change of usage would take place in context. It is rather a summary of the effect of the fire which Ezekiel had placed in Jerusalem (which signified pestilence and famine - verse 12). It affected one third of those in Jerusalem, and it would continue to affect the exiles, even those under God’s general protection. All would share in the judgments poured out on Jerusalem, for all shared its guilt.
Jerusalem’s Guilt and Future Judgment Is Spelled Out.
5.5-6 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries are round about her, and she has rebelled against my ordinances in doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statues more than the countries round about her, for they have rejected my ordinances, and as for my statutes they have not walked in them.” ’
‘This is Jerusalem’ was referring to Ezekiel’s model and confirming which city it represented. Because she was Yahweh’s inheritance she was central to all the nations, the one of central importance, with Assyria and Babylon to the north, Egypt and the Sudan to the south, the sea, and the countries beyond the sea from which the Philistines had come, to the west, and Arabia to the east. No wonder she saw herself as the centre of the world (see 38.12 where she is called ‘the navel of the earth’), and God described her in her own terms. But such a privileged position had given her responsibilities. And she had failed in those responsibilities.
The ‘ordinances’ and ‘statutes’ refer to the body of Law that Israel had been given, and probably include some of the prophetic writings. But these had simply made them multiply evil. Their very privilege made their disobedience more heinous. And even by the standards of the surrounding nations they were more sinful than other nations. This was a sign that they had wholeheartedly rejected His ordinances and commandments. They were disobedient rebels.
5.7-10 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you are more turbulent than the nations which are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes nor have kept my ordinances, nor have done after the ordinances of the nations which are round about you, therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I, even I am against you, and I will execute judgments against you in the eyes of the nations, and I will do in you what I have previously not done, and as I will not do any more the like, because of all your abominations. Therefore the father shall eat the sons in the midst of you, and the sons shall eat the fathers, and I will execute judgments in you, and the whole remnant of you will I scatter to all the winds.” ’
God’s indictment continues. The raging of the nations was well known (Psalm 2.1; 46.6) but Israel had been even more turbulent than they, rebelling against His statutes and ordinances, and against all moral standards. Therefore judgments would come on them so that the nations might see that Yahweh did not allow His people to behave so. They were intended to be a witness to the nations, but instead they had become their worst example. Thus God, even Yahweh, was against them. So He would do among them something unlike He had done before or will do after, because of their abominations (compare verse 11). Thus would they be an example to the nations.
For what was included in the word ‘abominations’ see 18.10-13.
Their situation would become so bad that they would become cannibals, eating even members of their own family (compare Jeremiah 19.9; Lamentations 4.10 which confirm that cannibalism is meant and not just murder). Then His judgments would come on them, plague, pestilence, famine and slaughter, and those who were left would be scattered in all directions. Winds came from all directions.
5.11 “Wherefore as I live”, says the Lord Yahweh, “surely because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things, and with all your abominations, therefore will I also diminish you, nor shall my eye spare, and I will also have no pity.”
A further indictment was that they had defiled the temple with their abominations and idolatry (see 8.10). They had diminished God. That is why He would diminish them. There would be no mercy, no pity, because they had deliberately polluted the temple and brought dishonour on God, likening Him by their behaviour to creeping and detestable things.
5.12 “A third part of you will die with the pestilence, and they will be consumed with famine in the midst of you, and a third part will fall by the sword round about you, and a third part I will scatter to all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them.”
What the shaving of his head and beard have indicated is now described in detail. For one third, death by pestilence and famine. For one third, death by the sword. For one third, scattering in all directions. But the latter will also include death at the hands of adversaries who take advantage of their condition, and death at the hands of their captors. (See 2 Kings 25.1-21; 2 Chronicles 36.17-21; Jeremiah 39.1-18).
5.13 “Thus will my anger be accomplished, and I will satisfy my fury on them, and I will be comforted. And they will know that I, Yahweh have spoken in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury on them.”
Outwardly all the results were natural results, and came about through rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. It was not God Who starved them. It was not God Who slew them. It was not God Who turned them to cannibalism. Yet He was the cause for He had withdrawn His protecting hand from them, because by their sins they had rejected His covenant and take themselves from under His protection. As ever in Scripture, this anger was not bad temper and vengeance because He was slighted, but the result of His holy response to what was detestable. He could not allow it to exist in those whom He had chosen and had to take every opportunity to get rid of it by judgment and refining.
‘I will satisfy (appease) My fury.’ He would call to account and give a just sentence so as to satisfy His moral demands. ‘I will be comforted.’ His hatred at sin would be appeased by a just reward for sin, as the Moral Governor of the Universe.
‘In My zeal.’ The ardour of a holy God against sin. The word is sometimes translated jealousy. There too it means the same.
5.14-15 “Moreover I will make you a desolation and a reproach among the nations who are round about you, in the sight of all who pass by. So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment, to the nations that are round about you, when I shall execute judgments in you in anger and in fury, and in furious rebukes. I, Yahweh, have spoken it.”
The catalogue of woes continues. All around would see their desolation, all would note that Yahweh’s people, who had boasted in their God and His power, had been humbled and devastated. All who passed by (see Lamentations 1.12) would reproach and taunt them, and would learn from what had happened to them of God’s hatred of sin. Indeed they would be astonished at what had happened to them. They were the people of Yahweh whom Sennacherib had been unable to conquer (2 Kings 19.35-36) because of what Yahweh had done. How then could this have happened to them? And the answer would be, because of the anger and fury and furious rebukes of Yahweh against their sin. Note the piling up of the verbs. The nations would be totally amazed.
5.16-17 “When I shall send on them the hurtful arrows of famine, which are for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, and I will increase the famine on you and will break your staff of bread, and I will send on you famine and evil beasts, and they will bereave you, and pestilence and blood will pass through you, and I will bring the sword on you. I, Yahweh, have spoken it.”
The desolations were now spelled out. Firstly famine. This would be like hurtful arrows (Deuteronomy 32.23), arriving suddenly, destroying men when no one was near. And the famine would increase and get worse, and the provisions on which they had leant for so long would be taken from them. They would no longer have anything to depend on.
And, as was inevitable with such famine, starving evil beasts would seek human flesh in order to survive, resulting in many bereavements, and pestilence and blood would follow on people starved of nourishment. Note the combination of ‘pestilence and blood’. The two words in Hebrew are an alliteration, ‘deber wa dam’. Elsewhere ‘blood’ often signifies pestilence. Then on top of this will come the sword. Men of violence would take advantage of the weakness resulting from their parlous state. And all this would come on them because Yahweh had allowed it. It is Yahweh Who says so.
Famine, wild beasts, pestilence, sword, these types of the judgment of God are fairly common in Scripture. See especially ‘God’s four sore judgments’ (14.21); ‘God’s seven times more plagues’ (Leviticus 26.21-26); see also Deuteronomy 32.23-25; Revelation 6.8. They are His ‘reward’ for covenant unfaithfulness.
Throughout this passage we are made aware of Ezekiel’s profound sense of the holiness of God, of the awfulness and sublimity of the divine King, of the greatness of His glory, accentuated by his great vision, and of his awareness of the sacredness and authority of the Law, the divine instruction, so that all disobedience totally outraged him. It may be that we live in the age of mercy and abundant salvation, but we need to be aware that God has not changed. He still hates sin just as bitterly.
Chapter 6. A Prophecy to the Mountains of Israel - God’s Purpose In Their Suffering.
God continues to outline His judgments but explains what He desires them to accomplish (verses 8-10).
6.1-5 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards the mountains of Israel, and prophesy to them, and say, ‘You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Yahweh, Thus says the Lord Yahweh to the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys, “Behold I, even I, will bring a sword on you, and I will destroy your high places, and your altars will become desolate, and your incense altars will be broken, and I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the carcases of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.” ’
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’ This introduces a new passage which is not necessarily directly connected with what has gone before. It indicates the reception of a new prophetic message.
‘Son of man, set your face towards the mountains of Israel, and prophesy to them.’ To set the face meant taking up an attitude of opposition (see also 13.17; 21.2; 25.2; 28.21; 38.2). It may however be that he also did it literally, turning towards Jerusalem. Later pious Jews would turn towards Jerusalem to pray (see Daniel 6.10).
Here Ezekiel had to prophesy to ‘the mountains of Israel’, (a phrase found only in Ezekiel (12 times) apart from Joshua 11.21) but in so doing he spoke to his own people in Babylonia. The mountains were Israel’s strength and protection, and God’s gift to His people. They were the backbone of the land of Israel. They were the inheritance of Yahweh (Isaiah 65.9; Exodus 15.17; Psalm 78.54; Isaiah 57.13). But they were also the site of terrible abominations carried on at the high places, as the context here demonstrates. God’s gift had been bastardised.
‘To the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys.’ The watercourse and the valleys owed their existence to the mountains and hills. Thus in addressing the mountains He was addressing them all.
‘I will bring a sword on you.’ The invading armies would penetrate the mountains and hills and would destroy their high places, their incense altars and their idols, and would slay the worshippers around them and offer them in disdain to their gods who had been able to do nothing for them. These high places were the continual bain of the prophets and of the good kings of Israel and Judah. They had largely been Canaanite shrines and were so popular that few kings dared to touch them (the exceptions were Hezekiah and Josiah. But they were quickly restored once they had died). At them men often professed to worship Yahweh, but they incorporated naturism, and fertility rites, and idolatry, with all their sexual connotations. They represented at their best debased Yahwism and at their worst the full abominations of the Canaanites, including perverted sex and possibly child sacrifices and ancestor worship.
‘And I will lay the carcases of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.’ In pointed irony God likens what will happen, to human sacrifices being offered. Their carcases will be offered ‘before their own idols’ (compare Leviticus 26.30), and with regard to their bones being scattered it was the bones of sacrifices that were scattered around altars. What they have done to their children in sacrificing them will be done to them. But in Israelite terms this scattering of bones would then pollute the altars (Numbers 19.16).
The incense altars (hammanim) are known from excavations and the word actually appears on one found in Palmyra, in Syria. The word rendered ‘idols’ is a contemptuous one (gillulim) expressing Ezekiel’s disdain. It may have been concocted from a word for ‘dung’ (gel, gelalo) whose consonants are similar, interspersed with the vowels of a word which means ‘detestable thing’ (siqqus), or it may be connected with Akkadian galalu which means a stone slab.
Excursus on High Places.
The use of high places by loyal Yahwists before the Temple was built is documented in 1 Samuel 9.13, 19, 25; 10.5; 1 Kings 3.2 (contrast Deuteronomy 12.2-3). They were local shrines, in earliest times established on hills, but later found elsewhere in towns (2 Kings 17.9), and in valleys where child sacrifices were offered (Jeremiah 7.31), possibly to Melek (Molech - the regular recipient of child sacrifices), but see Jeremiah 19.5 where it was said to be to Baal. This may have been the result of syncretism. Gibeon became known as the Great High Place (1 Kings 3.4) and the Tabernacle was at one stage pitched there (1 Chronicles 21.29).
The use of these high places was not approved of by 1 Kings 3.3 which suggests that David did not worship at high places, unless the Tabernacle was there (1 Chronicles 21.29). Such high places might incorporate an altar for sacrifice, an idol, an Asherah image, an incense altar and a small building. No doubt the one used by Samuel had been purified by the removal of unwanted material. The fact that he did use one when the Tabernacle was elsewhere reveals that the central sanctuary was not at that time seen as the only place to offer sacrifices (it may in fact not have been in use, having been dismantled as a result ot he destuction of Shiloh by the Philistines). This may well have been due to ignorance or a softening down of the Law, but it must be considered possible that at the high place used by Samuel there had been a theophany which would legitimise it (Exodus 20.24).
The danger of the high places is apparent. They turned men’s thoughts to the old religion of Canaan and often resulted in the restoration of Canaanite worship with all its perverted sexual tendencies, fertility rites, ancestor worship and idolatry, and even sometimes child sacrifice. For this reason they were condemned by the prophets. Their approval or otherwise became a test of the genuineness of the faith in Yahweh of Judah’s kings.
End of excursus.
6.6-7 “In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate, that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your incense altars may be hewn down, and your works may be blotted out, and the slain will fall in the midst of you, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
The reason for the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah is now laid bare. It was in order to destroy the high places, the altars, the idols and the incense altars, and the behaviour that resulted from them. There was no other way. For over four hundred years they had clung to these and refused to give them up. Now the very things that they had given their hearts to would destroy them. For this would necessitate the destruction of their cities and the death of many of their inhabitants.
By all this they would be faced up with the fact of the living God, of Yahweh. And they would know what He really is, a hater of idolatry and the evil that springs from it.
6.8-10 “Yet I will leave a remnant in that you will have some who escape the sword among the nations, when you shall be scattered through the countries. And they who escape of you will remember me among the nations to which they will be carried captives, how that I have been broken with their whorish heart which has departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols. And they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. And they will know that I am Yahweh. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”
God’s mercy still reached through His judgments. There would be those who survived, captives scattered among the countries, and then they would remember Yahweh and recognise what they have done to Him (see also 12.16; 14.22).
‘How that I have been broken with their whorish heart which has departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols.’ These words remind us that God was affected by their evil behaviour. The attitudes of their hearts and the direction of the gaze of their eyes, turned from Him to idols, had ‘broken’ Yahweh. Compare Jeremiah 23.9 where the prophet’s heart was broken because of the behaviour of the people towards God (see also Jeremiah 8.21; Psalm 34.18; 51.17; 69.20; 147.3; Isaiah 61.1; Ezekiel 34.4, 16). The idea is of being shattered or crushed by something. God was not unaffected by their behaviour although we must not interpret it too literally. He pictures Himself as ‘crushed’. It is an anthropomorphism.
The versions alter the words to ‘I have broken’ but that does not fit well with ‘eyes’ and was probably because the translators did not like to think of God as ‘broken’.
‘And they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.’ The result of considering what they had done to Yahweh would make them realise their extreme sinfulness, and they would loathe themselves and how they had behaved (compare 18.13). This indeed was God’s final aim in His judgments. Nothing else would have brought them to their senses (see 14.23).
‘And they will know that I am Yahweh. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.’ It would also bring home to them Who and What Yahweh is, that He is the One Who carries out His purposes and His promises. And that includes His promises of judgment on evil behaviour. They had continued to ignore Him, except perfunctorily, and now they were reaping what they had sown.
As Jesus warned in His day our danger is different, it is of the worship of the great god Mammon. Jesus warned, ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon’ (Matthew 6.24). In many countries today the god Mammon (symbolising a craving for wealth and prosperity), together with his female counterpart Sex, determine people’s lifestyles and behaviour. They worship at their altars, and ignore their Creator and His demands. They too will one day be called to give account, for God’s anger is levelled against them as well. Wealth, prosperity and sex are God given gifts, to be used wisely and rightly, but when they control our lives and solely determine our way of living they become idols (as can sport, music, strong drink, television and pop idols and so on).
6.11-12 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Smite with your hand and stamp with your foot, and say, ‘Alas! because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel’, for they will fall by the sword, by the famine and by pestilence. He who is far off will die of the pestilence, and he who is near will fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged will die of the famine. Thus will I accomplish my fury on them.” ’
Clapping with the hands and stamping with the feet were signs of gladness and rejoicing (25.6). But the verb here is ‘smite’ not ‘clap’ and may therefore indicate a different emotion. Stamping with the feet can also express delight or disapproval. Thus while many interpret this as the delight that has to be expressed by the prophet at the fulfilling of God’s will in judgment, others see it as conveying deep emotion of regret at what Israel has to suffer. This is supported by the following ‘Alas’, a word which usually signifies distress or despair.
Thus the Alas! has reference to the suffering coming on Israel. While it was God’s will, it was not to be treated lightheartedly. Ezekiel would be right to weep over their sufferings as Jeremiah did before him, even though he recognised their guilt (Jeremiah 9.1). He sorrowed over their abominations that had grieved God, but he also sorrowed over the judgments that they must receive, ‘for they will fall by the sword, by the famine and by pestilence’. This was no delight to him either.
‘He who is far off will die of the pestilence, and he who is near will fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged will die of the famine. Thus will I accomplish my fury on them.’ The three types of judgment, already symbolised by the shaving of his hair and beard (5.2, 12), are again mentioned, but here the pestilence affects those far away from the city, the remnant who have survived. The sword will smite those who defend the city, the famine those besieged in the city, and the pestilence those who escape the slaughter.
‘He who is far off -- and he who is near -- and he who remains --’. This covers everyone. All will be involved in His judgments.
The word translated ‘besieged’ mainly signifies ‘keep watch over, protect, guard’ (thus besieged because kept watch over by the assailants). So alternately the famine may also be seen as following those who are ‘preserved’ (6.8) and affecting them as well. But ‘besieged’ fits the context well and is an acceptable translation. Either way in the end all will be affected by all three judgments, for sword and famine and pestilence are ever the lot of men wherever they are, especially when they are captives or aliens.
‘Thus will I accomplish my fury on them.’ Again God’s anger at sin is emphasised. He was certainly going to do what He had said. The constant repetition was required because of the hardness of heart of Ezekiel’s listeners. They still found it difficult to believe that God would allow Jerusalem to be destroyed. To them it did not make sense. Jerusalem was His holy city and His temple was there. The high places had been around for centuries and God had not done such a thing. Why should He do it now? So do men reason presumptiously against God. They still do so today. They say, ‘God is love’ and so they feel that they do not need to obey Him. He will let them off. But one day they will stand in the Judgment and then they will realise, too late, the seriousness of sin before a holy God. For they have forgotten that ‘God is light’ as well.
These people forgot that they had had two chances when Hezekiah and Josiah had sought to remove the high places, but they had simply waited for a convenient opportunity and had then reopened the high places. God was not about to give them a third chance. It was clear that it would be of no avail. The time of His judgment on them had come, and He wanted them to know it. For when the actual event happened and Jerusalem was destroyed He wanted them to realise that it was not the end of the world. He wanted them to recognise that Yahweh was still in control and had allowed it in order that they may learn His hatred of sin. And He wanted them to repent.
6.13-14 “And you will know that I am Yahweh when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, on every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they offered sweet savour to all their idols. And I will stretch out my hand on them, and make the land desolate and waste, from the wilderness toward Diblah throughout all their habitations. And they shall know that I am Yahweh.”
Had Yahweh protected the city and the temple of a grossly disobedient people He would not have been revealed as Yahweh, God of the covenant Who required obedience. He would have been seen as but a powerful local God Who could be treated lightly and presumptuously. But when they saw their slain among their idols, round their altars, then they would know that He is Yahweh, and that He had done this. Their idols in which they trusted could not protect them, but they would know that Yahweh could have done so, but had chosen not to do it, as He had warned them beforehand. Thus would they know that it was because of their sins and disobedience that this had happened, and they would know that He is a righteous God Who will not endure sin. They would know that He is Yahweh.
The picture of bodies strewn about everywhere is a vivid one. They had blasphemed God everywhere and their dead bodies would lie everywhere.
‘On every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they offered sweet savour to all their idols.’ Compare 2 Kings 17.10. High places were so abundant that they could be described as ‘on every hill --- and under every green tree’. They were everywhere. Trees also were seen as containing something of the life of Baal, the one who was raised from the dead at the commencement of the rainy season bringing life to the barren earth and fruit and leaves to the trees. Thus under green trees was also seen as a suitable place for their altars. And so flagrant were they that wherever there was a green tree there they would consider building an altar. ‘Under every green tree’. The exaggeration brings out the enormity of their behaviour. And these were His covenant people Who professed to worship Yahweh.
Ancient oaks were especially used for burial sites (Genesis 35.8; 1 Chronicles 10.11) and favoured for the offering of incense to Baal. Thus many would be buried under them and they may well have been seen as suitable sites for ancestor worship. Their shade also made them attractive. As Hosea describes the situation, ‘they sacrifice on the tops of mountains, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because their shadow is good’ (4.13). But here ‘good’ may include the idea that they saw their shadows as beneficial because of the presence of the gods.
‘The place where they offered sweet savour to all their idols.’ In the very place whey had offered their sweet savour to idols through sacrifices, this was the place where they would lie slain. So much good had their offerings done them. The offering of sweet savour would include sacrifices and drink offerings, especially the whole burnt offering (Genesis 8.20-21; Exodus 29.18, 25, 41; Leviticus & Numbers regularly. See for drink offerings Numbers 15.7, 10).
‘And I will stretch out my hand on them, and make the land desolate and waste, from the wilderness to Diblah throughout all their habitations.’ Diblah is nowhere else mentioned. In view of the similarity in ancient Hebrew between ‘d’ and ‘r’ Riblah has been suggested as an alternative, and there is some manuscript evidence to support it.
Riblah was the place where king Zedekiah and his sons and nobles would be brought before the king of Babylon, and he would be blinded and his sons slain before his eyes (2 Kings 25.6-7; Jeremiah 39.5-6; 52.9-11). Others too would be brought there to be slaughtered after the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25.18-21; Jeremiah 52.24-27). It was a staging post on the way back to Babylon where the returning troops mustered. It would be well known to Ezekiel’s compatriots, and thus a very suitable illustration. It was on the River Orontes in Hamath which was seen as the farthest reaches of the land (Amos 6.14). ‘From the wilderness to Riblah’ would then be seen as the whole extent of the land of promise. Thus wherever His rebellious people had lived would be made desolate and waste.
‘Desolate and waste (semama u mesamma)’ This phrase, like tohu wa bohu (waste and empty) in Genesis 1.2 is a combination that depends on similarity of sound so that it is all one thought, a desolated waste.
‘And they shall know that I am Yahweh.’ This is the constant refrain in Ezekiel. This was God’s purpose. That they might know Him for Who and What He was, One Who demanded obedience to His covenant, One Who demanded righteousness and holiness, One Who hated idolatry and what it did to His people, and yet as One Who in the end would show mercy on them, for that was why He had chosen Ezekiel as His prophet.
Chapter 7. Further Diatribes Against Israel.
We must remember that when we read Ezekiel it is like reading a book of sermons. Sermons on the same theme may well be repetitive. But repetitiveness is a feature of ancient writings. Although having said all this we must remember that Ezekiel was not only preaching sermons he was bringing a revelation from God. The same theme continues. Jerusalem must be destroyed. Rather than being inviolate it would be made desolate. We must never presume on God. The message had to be repeated because they would not believe it. But the repetition was so that when it happened they would know that Yahweh Himself had determined it all along.
7.1 ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’
Compare 6.1. These words introduce a new revelation from God. Each revelation may be separated by days, weeks, or even months. We do not know. But they are declaring that Yahweh has again given him words to speak in the midst of his silence.
7.2-4 “And you, son of man, thus says the Lord Yahweh to the land of Israel. ‘An end, the end has come on the four corners of the land. Now is the end on you, and I will send my anger on you, and will judge you according to your ways. And I will bring on you all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will bring your ways on you, and your abominations will be in the midst of you, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’ ”
Yahweh now confirmed that ‘the end’ had come, the end of Judah and Jerusalem, and of all Israel. The whole land was to be affected. Three times He stressed it, the number of certain completion, and each time it grew in intensity. ‘An end, the end, -- now is the end on you.’ His anger against their sinfulness would be revealed, His judgments would be revealed against their behaviour, and all the abominable things that they had done would be brought upon them. And once again this was so that they may know ‘that I am Yahweh’. God was determined to press home what He is.
Amos had declared the same thing on Israel before the destruction of Samaria and the northern kingdom, ‘the end is come upon My people Israel. I will not again pass by them any more’ (8.2). And it had happened. Now the same was to happen to Judah. Judah was doomed.
‘The four corners of the land.’ Possibly north, south east and west, or perhaps north west and north east, south west and south east. They encompassed the whole land. The mountains of Israel had previously been addressed (6.2), now it is the whole land of Israel. None must be left out.
‘And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will bring your ways on you, and your abominations will be in the midst of you, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’
He wanted them to know that this time there would be no turning back. They had become so set in sin and idolatry that there was no other way. This time His eye would not spare them. They would receive no pity. It had happened before that He had spared them but they had still continually failed. So this time it would not happen. What they have sown in their sin and abominations they must reap. Thus will they finally become aware that He really is Yahweh, the holy God of the covenant Who demands faithfulness and righteousness.
This continual stress should bring home to us the awfulness of sin. We can begin to treat it so lightly as they did. But it is no light thing.
7.5-9 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “An evil, an only evil, behold it comes. An end is come, the end is come, it awakes against you, behold it comes. Your doom is come to you, O inhabitant of the land, the time is come, the day is near, a day of tumult and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now will I shortly pour out my fury on you, and accomplish my anger against you, and will judge you according to your ways, and I will bring on you all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will bring on you according to your ways, and your abominations will be in the midst of you. And you will know that I am Yahweh the smiter.” ’
This might almost be a description of the end days before the final restoration, but it is not. It is describing ‘the end days’ for Jerusalem and Judah at that time. Notice again the repetition and the stress on the fact that ‘it is coming’. ‘An evil, behold it comes -- an end is come -- the end is come -- it awakes against you, behold it comes -- your doom is come -- the time is come.’ Its import could not be mistaken. It was definitely and specifically ‘at hand’.
What was coming was not only an evil but ‘an only evil’, a singular, unique evil, unlike anything previously known (5.9). Indeed it was ‘the end’ for Jerusalem and Judah that was coming, an end awakening as though out of sleep. It was ‘doom’ that was coming. For the time of His judgments was now here.
There is in this passage a further deliberate play on words. An ‘end’ is ‘qes’, ‘the end’ is ‘haqqes’, ‘awakes’ is ‘heqis’. The word for ‘doom’ is difficult. In Isaiah 28.5 it is used of Yahweh being ‘a diadem’ of beauty to the residue of His people. Thus it is something that comes on people to display what they are and here a crown of doom. The translation ‘morning’ in AV is based on an Aramaic word.
And that time, that day will be a day of tumult rather than of joyful shouting on the mountains. The mountain had known much joyful shouting as men sinned before their idols, and cavorted with the sacred prostitutes, and drank and made merry. But now that would become tumult as they were hunted down by their adversaries.
‘Now will I shortly pour out my fury on you, and accomplish my anger against you, and will judge you according to your ways, and I will bring on you all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will bring on you according to your ways, and your abominations will be in the midst of you. And you will know that I Yahweh do smite.’ The same warnings are given as before. The repetition is deliberate, to bring firmly home exactly what the coming events will indicate. It was important that Israel recognise why they were suffering, why these dreadful events would and had come on them.
They would be the signs of His fury against sin, of His anger at their behaviour. They would be the signs that He had judged them and found them wanting. And all their abominations would be poured out on them. His eye would miss nothing. None would be spared. He would have no pity. His judgment was inexorable. And they would know that it was Yahweh Who smote them. That the certain destruction of their holy city and of their temple was His doing.
‘You will know that I am Yahweh the Smiter.’ Previously stress is laid on their ‘knowing Yahweh’. Now they will know Him as the One Who smites those who do evil, the righteous One, the Judge.
7.10-11 “Behold the day, behold it comes. Your doom is gone forth. The rod has blossomed. Pride has budded. Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness, none of them will remain, nor of their abundance (multitude of possessions), nor of their wealth. Neither will there be eminency among them.”
Once again emphasis is laid on the coming of a ‘day’ of God, previously expressed in terms of the coming of ‘the end’, of evil coming, of doom coming, of ‘the time’ coming. The inevitability of it is made apparent. And it is the day of tumult not of joyful shouting (verse 7).
The picture here is full of irony and is taken from that of Aaron’s rod that budded which was ‘a token against the children of rebellion’ (Numbers 17.10). ‘The day’, the day of God’s anger, is coming and it will be like that. It will be like a crown of doom coming on them from God. In the days of Aaron the rods represented the leaders of the people (Numbers 17.2-3). They represented their authority. But they did not blossom. They were not God’s chosen one (Numbers 17.5). Now, however, their rod will blossom, God has chosen them, but He has chosen them for judgment. Their pride will produce its fruit. And that fruit will be violence, which will be a rod for the wicked, a rod which will destroy so that none of them remain, all the abundance of their possessions will be destroyed and their wealth will be taken away. Nothing will remain. They will no longer be eminent for eminency will no longer be among them. It will be the end of Judah as it is known, many will die and those who survive will have lost everything, possessions, wealth and status.
7.12 “The time is come, the day draws near. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn. For wrath is on all their abundance (‘the multitude’ of their possessions).”
Again it is emphasised that God’s time has now come. His day draws near. Jerusalem may be at present a busy market place but trade relations will cease. They will be no more. Buyers will no longer gloat over their bargains, sellers will no longer pretend to regret that they did not charge a higher price. For all that they possess will be under the wrath of God against sin. Note the continued emphasis on their abundance, ‘the multitude of their possessions’ (verses 11, 12) (which becomes the multitude of people in verses 13, 14). All they have lived for, all they care for, all their riches, will be taken away.
7.13 “For the seller will not return to what is sold, though their life be yet among the living, for the vision is concerning the whole multitude of them. None will return (turn back). Nor will any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life.”
There is a play on words here. The word for multitude has previously meant the multitude of wealth, here it probably refers to the multitude of people. The seller will not return to goods that he can sell in the markets of Jerusalem, even if he survives, for the vision refers to the whole multitude of people, they will either be destroyed or removed far away. None of them will be able to turn back. Not one of them will return.
‘Nor will any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life.’ This may refer to false trading (compare Amos 2.6-7). They will no longer be able to engage in false trading and so enrich themselves and strengthen their position. It would equally apply to all men’s sinful pleasures which boosted them up and made them feel good. All that will inevitably be over.
7.14-15 “They have blown the trumpet, and have made all ready. But none goes to battle. For my wrath is on all their multitude. The sword is outside, and the pestilence and the famine inside. He who is in the field will die with the sword, and he who is in the city famine and pestilence will devour him.”
The description of their grim fate goes on. They will have made their preparations, the rallying call will have gone out, the trumpet will have sounded. But none will go out to battle. For when they see the forces arrayed against them they will know that it is useless. Whether outside or in they will die. Perhaps there is also the thought that by the time this trumpet blew they were too weak to fight. Those on the outside will perish by the sword, those on the inside by famine and pestilence, by shortage of food and water, and resulting disease. Thus anyone out in the open country will die, slain by the sword of the invaders, anyone on the inside will be devoured by food shortage and disease. And why? Because God’s wrath is on the whole multitude, on all of them.
(There were, of course, always a few exceptions, including Jeremiah. But God was addressing the mass of people who were almost all in rebellion. He would in fact show mercy to the small remnant who returned to the land from exile, conditional on their not fleeing to Egypt (Jeremiah 42.8-12). But as usual they rebelled against Him. So the genuinely faithful were very few).
7.16 “But those of them who escape, will escape, and will be on the mountains like doves of the valley, all of them mourning, every one in his iniquity.”
Inevitably some will escape and flee to the mountains, but they will be little better off. The mountains will no longer be a place of rejoicing and exulting, of sexual encounters and of throwing off restraint in the name of religion (6.7). Rather they will mourn like the doves of the valley. Doves are associated with mourning because of their doleful cry (Isaiah 38.14; 59.11), and they dwell in the rock and make their nest in the side of the hole’s mouth (Jeremiah 48.28). Thus will those who escape be perched on the rocks, living in holes, away from all the joys of life, with little to hope for but eking out a living.
7.17-18 “All hands will be feeble, and all knees will be as weak as water. They will also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror will cover them and shame will be on all their faces and baldness on all their heads.”
For all, both those who escape and those caught in the city, it will be a life of mourning. They will have no strength. They will live in terror They will put on sackcloth, and shave their heads as signs of distress, not because of past iniquity but because they are still in iniquity. They will be filled with ‘horror’, with fear and trembling (Job 21.6; Psalm 55.5; Isaiah 21.4). Ashes on their faces will demonstrate their shame.
7.19 “They will toss their silver in the streets, and their gold will be as an unclean thing. Their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of Yahweh. They will not satisfy themselves nor fill their bowels, because it has been the stumblingblock of their iniquity.”
Their wealth will be tossed away and be seen as detestable, ‘unclean’ like the menstrual flow of a woman (which was in those days looked on with something akin to disgust and horror by Israelite men). Silver and gold will be useless in the day of the wrath of Yahweh, for there will be nothing to buy. It will not provide the people with food, and satisfy them and fill their bowels, for there will be none. It will have no use. Perhaps there is also the thought that the people will not wish to appear rich, for they know that their captors will especially carry off the wealthy, reputable citizens. Thus wealth will no longer be desirable. Alternately the thought may be that with their silver and gold they had made their idols which will not be able to deliver them in ‘the day of the wrath of Yahweh’.
‘Because it has been the stumblingblock of their iniquity.’ And all this will be because it was their silver and gold that helped to lead them astray, either through greed or idolatry. It was that which had caused them to stumble.
7.20-22 “As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty. But they made the images of their abominations, and their detestable things in it. Therefore have I made it to them as an unclean thing. And I will give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil, and they will profane it. My face also will I turn from them, and they will profane my secret place, and robbers will enter it and profane it.”
There are two ways of seeing this passage. One is to translate as above and see ‘the beauty of His ornament, set in majesty’, as the Temple or the Holy City (see Isaiah 52.1), and ‘My secret (or hidden) place’ as the inner room, the Holiest of All, where none may enter except in thought. The former were often thought of in terms of beauty. We can compare ‘our holy and our beautiful house’ (Isaiah 64.11; compare Haggai 2.3), ‘beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion’ (Psalm 48.2; compare Lamentations 2.15) and ‘Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone’ (Psalm 50.2). For the latter compare ‘the secret place of the Most High’ (Psalm 91.1) where the thought may well be of one who meditated on God on His throne above the Ark of the covenant in the Holiest of All, and thus ‘dwelt there’. See also Psalm 27.5, “For in the day of trouble He will keep me secretly in His pavilion, in the covert of His tabernacle will He hide me.’
We are told later of the detestable and abominable things that they set up or did in the Temple (8.5-10, 14, 16). Thus God would be saying that His Temple (or His Holy City) was now an unclean thing. That is why He would give it into the hands of aliens as a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil for them to profane it, and His secret place too would be profaned and He would allow robbers to enter it and steal all that was there (see 2 Chronicles 36.18). This was the explanation of why He would not protect it. But later, in the restoration, He would call on it to again put on its beautiful garments (Isaiah 52.1).
Alternately we may translate as RSV, ‘their beautiful ornament they used for vainglory, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it, therefore will I make it an unclean thing to them. And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil, and they will profane it. I will turn my face from them, that they may profane my precious place. Robbers will enter and profane it, and make a desolation.’ This was the way that the LXX translators saw it, ‘As for their choice ornaments, they employed them for pride, and they made of them images of their abominations: therefore have I made them uncleanness to them.’
Here Ezekiel would be thinking of their taking their silver and gold (the beauty of their ornament) and using it to make idolatrous images and other paraphernalia, and that would explain why their silver and gold became unclean. Then he would be adding the thought that that too was why God allowed the profanation of the Temple, His ‘precious place’. So the thought is the same in the end, but with differing emphasis. However in our view the first translation fits more exactly the pattern of the context.
7.23 “Make the chain, for the land is full of the judgment of blood, and the city is full of violence.”
The command comes to ‘make the chain (that which binds)’. This was addressed to their captors who would use it. They would unknowingly be doing Yahweh’s will. This was probably referring to the chain used to restrain the captives as they were led off, for the next verse describes the coming of their conquerors. Because life had become violent, and men sought justice by personal revenge and murder, they could only deserve the end that is coming to them, to be enchained, to be exiled to a foreign land. They were not worthy of Jerusalem. It has become ‘a city of blood’ (22.2; 24.6, 9).
7.24-25 “For this reason I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they will possess their houses. And I will also make the pride of the strong to cease, and their holy places will be profaned. Destruction comes and they will seek peace, and there will be none.”
Because of the behaviour of Israel ‘the worst of the heathen’ would come against them and take possession of all they had. The Assyrians were a fierce enemy, renowned for their cruelty, and it would be fully revealed in their actions towards Israel. The result is that those who prided themselves on their strength and position would cease to have cause for pride, for they would be humbled into the dust. Their ‘holy places’ is probably a reference to the high places which they saw as holy, these will be profaned. But it may signify that even the holy places of Yahweh will be profaned, that there will be nowhere at all to seek God. Either way what they relied on for ‘spiritual’ sustenance would have gone. Destruction would come and they would be unable to find peace anywhere. There would be no peace. It would no longer exist. They would be unable to avoid strife and violence.
7.26-27a “Mischief will come upon mischief, and rumour will be upon rumour, and they shall seek a vision of the prophet, and the law will perish from the priest, and counsel from the elders. The king will mourn and the prince will be clothed with desolation, and the hands of the people of the land will be troubled.”
‘Mischief upon mischief.’ An endless chain of problems and suffering and misery and heartache. And to top it all constant rumours of worse to come, and of what was to happen to them. But they would have nowhere to turn. There would be no message from their religious or civic leaders, no vision from the prophet, no guidance from the priest, no counsel from the elders (see Amos 3.5-7 and contrast Jeremiah 18.18). This would be because these have nothing worth while to offer. They would have no solution (in contrast with Jeremiah and Ezekiel). They themselves would be equally totally bewildered and without explanation, and have no message from God. They had been too involved in the abomination of idolatry, in polluting the house of Yahweh (2 Chronicles 36.14).
Thus the king will be in mourning, for he sees the trouble descending on them, but receives no prophetic word from God. The prince will be ‘clothed with desolation’, overwhelmed by it, because he is aware of the desolation that is coming, and does not receive guidance from the priest. And the hands of the people of the land will be troubled. They will be in great distress and yet there will be no counsel from the elders.
Not the careful parallelism. Prophet and priest are in the singular, as are the king and the prince. The elders are in the plural as are ‘the hands of the people of the land’. This suggests the particular application as above. But behind it all is the fact that the guidance of prophet by prophetic vision, priest through the teaching of the Law and elders through general wisdom, based on experience, which should be for all, king, prince (tribal leader) and people, would be noticeably absent. Thus all would be left with no one to help them, without guidance in the face of the worst thing that had ever happened to them.
It is interesting that ‘the king’ receives little mention in Ezekiel elsewhere. This may partly be due to the fact that Jehoiachin was still alive in exile and looked on by the people as the true king, so that he wanted to avoid too much reference to Zedekiah as king. But it was probably mainly because he did not want to divert the blame and guilt from the people. All were involved. Everyone would suffer for his own sin. However 17.12, 16 do refer to ‘the king and princes’, so the two were clearly distinguished, and he speaks there of the king as being made king by Nebuchadnezzar.
7.27b “I will do to them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them. And they will know that I am Yahweh.”
Here was the final reason for what was to come upon them. They have deserved it because of the path that they have chosen, they have been judged because of their behaviour. They had in effect turned their backs on Him and His covenant, seeking other protectors and following in their evil ways. But now they must recognise Who it is that they have spurned. That they have spurned the living ‘God Who is there’, Yahweh. And His final purpose was that they may once again know Him and serve Him.
Chapter 8. Ezekiel Is Transported to Jerusalem And Sees the Situation For Himself.
In this chapter Ezekiel is transported in Spirit to Jerusalem and shown many of the abominations which would result in judgment. We must remember that we are here dealing in vision. Thus it may be that what Ezekiel ‘saw’ included an element of spiritual interpretation, of ‘seeing’ what was not apparent on the surface.
The abominations seen include an abominable image, probably Canaanite (verses 3-5), a secret chamber of idolatrous representations, possibly Egyptian (verses 6-12), weeping for Tammuz (previously Dumuzi, the Sumerian god of vegetation who was lord of the underworld - verses 13-15) and sun worship (verses 16-18).
8.1-2 ‘And so it was in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo, a likeness of the appearance of fire. From the appearance of his loins and downward, fire, and from his loins and upward as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of shining metal.’
This occurred fourteen or fifteen months after his first call (1.1-2) in or around September 592/1 BC. His first prophetic ordeal was probably over and he was now sat in his house with the elders of Judah gathered before him. This is only the second mention of Judah (see 4.6) to this point. Ezekiel’s message was generally to the whole of ‘Israel’ seen as one people. But the description was technically correct. These elders were elders of the southern kingdom.
They ‘sat before him’. They had come to seek advice or to hear what word he had from Yahweh. They had begun to recognise him as a prophet of God.
‘That the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell there upon me.’ This is regularly in Ezekiel evidence of some remarkable event which will follow. He was taken over by God. It is probable that the elders saw nothing except that he was clearly in some ecstatic state.
‘Then I beheld, and lo, a likeness of the appearance of fire. From the appearance of his loins and downward, fire, and from his loins and upward as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of shining metal.’ Compare 1.27. There this was a description of Yahweh, and we have no reason therefore to doubt that this too was Yahweh in vision, in the same glorious splendour as in chapter 1.
8.3 ‘And he put forth the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the gate of the inner court which looks towards the north, where there was the seat of the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy.
It is in vain to question whether this was bodily or only in vision. We are not told and do not know exactly what happened. The main point, however, is clear, that God by His Spirit transported him in some way to Jerusalem ‘in the visions of God’.
‘The form of a hand.’ As always when speaking of God Ezekiel’s description is indefinite. It appeared like a hand but was more than a hand. It was the ‘hand’ of God.
‘And took me by a lock of my head.’ This indicated that his hair had grown again after being cut (5.1 - although he may have left some locks in place). Possibly there is the idea that having borne the punishment of Israel and Judah he was now restored, and again usable by God (compare Samson - Judges 16.22).
‘And the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven.’ This was probably to indicate not just the atmosphere but a kind of earth-heaven state of experience. Compare Jacob’s ladder joining earth and heaven (Genesis 28.12).
‘And brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem.’ We must stand in awe and not enquire too closely, for we do not know exactly what happened, nor what he experienced. It was unique.
‘To the door of the gate of the inner court which looks towards the north, where there was the seat of the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy.’ The inner court of the Temple was entered from the outer court by one of three gates, the northern, the eastern and the western. The northern was called the altar gate because sacrifices were offered at the northern side of the altar (Leviticus 1.11), and it would have been the entrance mainly used by the royal house. There is significance in that Yahweh in vision had come from the north (1.4). Thus between the inner court and the heavenly dwellingplace of Yahweh was the image of jealousy. Also the means of judgment would come from the north.
‘The image of jealousy.’ This was some prominent religious artefact with idolatrous connections which stood outside the northern gate, which provoked Yahweh to ‘jealousy’, that is to a righteous concern in respect of His covenant relationship with Israel. It not only dishonoured Him but destroyed His relationship with His people, for its earthy worship was in direct contrast with the spiritual relationship He wanted with them. It may have been a wooden asherah-image representing the Canaanite goddess (see 2 Kings 21.7, compare 2 Kings 23.6, but it may have been subsequently replaced), or it may have been a figured slab engraved with mythological and cultic scenes, as witnessed at excavations at Gozan and Carchemish.
8.4 ‘And behold the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the appearance that I saw in the plain.’
This was in stark contrast to the image of jealousy outside the gate. The presence of the glory of God (revealed in fire - compare verse 2) vividly contrasted the abominable activities of Israel with the purity and holiness of their Creator-God. It also contrasted the living, moving God with the static lifeless image. God had not yet deserted His Temple. That was to come. But these events explain why He did so. We too must choose between the indwelling in power of the Holy Spirit, or looking off to lesser gods, to the idols of Mammon, Sex, and bawdy Entertainment.
8.5-6 ‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now the way towards the north.” So I lifted up my eyes the way towards the north, and behold, northward of the gate of the altar, this image of jealousy in the entry. And he said to me, “Son of man. Do you see what they do? Even the great abominations that the house of Israel do commit here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? But you will again see yet other abominations.” ’
As Ezekiel gazed at the splendour of Yahweh, God turned his attention to the false idol just outside the northern gate. Let him consider it well, for this was one reason why He was deserting His Temple. If it was an Asherah image, mother goddess and reproductive wife of Baal, it would be the cause of sacred prostitution within the Temple surrounds, and of subsequent sacrifices and offerings, to rouse the reproductive powers of nature.
‘Do you see what they do?’ This may refer simply to the placing and replacing of the idol after every reform, or it may refer to the activities of its devotees taking place in full view. ‘Abominations’ is a word regularly applied to idols and idol worship. It included the greatest of all abominations, the demand for the sacrifice of their children to Molech and to Baal in the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7.31; 19.5; 32.35).
‘That I should go far off from my sanctuary?’ Their behaviour was what was driving Him away. God wanted Ezekiel to be aware of why He was about to act as He would. We too can turn God away by the disgracefulness of our behaviour in terms of His demands.
‘But you will again see yet other abominations.’ There was not just one but many abominations. Compare verses 13, 15.
8.7-9 ‘And he brought me to the door of the court, and when I looked behold a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, “Son of man, now dig in the wall.” And when I had dug in the wall, behold there was a door. And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked abominations that they do here.” ’
‘The door of the court.’ A vague description which us to us conveys little information. Thus we do not know which wall it would be.
But Ezekiel was still in vision. These were visionary activities. Whether there really was a large secret chamber (holding at least seventy men) connected with the Temple court, or whether it was simply depicting the idea of secret and abominable behaviour throughout Jerusalem, which was in vision here seen as connected with the Temple because these men did also pretend to worship Yahweh in the temple (see verse 12), we cannot be certain.
‘A hole in the wall.’ Possibly a breaking down of the fabric of the building which humanly speaking sparked off the thoughts in Ezekiel’s mind, or possibly simply a visionary hole.
‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, now dig in the wall.” And when I had dug in the wall, behold there was a door.’ We would not expect to find a door hidden behind masonry, although the hole in the wall may suggest that the door was there and had been hidden behind a covering of stone and earth. If it was so, the fact that it was so hidden would point to the degradation taking place in the room behind in that it had to be kept secret even from the debased worshippers in the Temple, and was possibly only used at night (‘in the dark’ - verse 12). But the secret activities may have taken place in secret chambers elsewhere in Jerusalem (verse 12) and be connected with the Temple simply in a visionary way for Ezekiel’s benefit.
(But we can certainly not rule out the idea that such a secret chamber did exist in Solomon’s Temple, known only to the few, possibly initially for use as a treasure room).
8.10-11 ‘So I went in and saw, and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, engraved on the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand. And the odour of the cloud of incense went up.’
The depictions were not specifically of animals and creatures unclean in themselves. ‘Creeping things’ (things that slither or scuttle along the ground) were simply in contrast with domestic animals, wild beasts, birds and fish (compare Romans 1.23). It would include snakes, scorpions, dung beetles (scarabs) and vermin. Possibly mostly in mind here were the serpent deities, sacred dung beetles and other hideous creatures of religions well known in Egypt, Canaan and Mesopotamia cults. The abomination was mainly in the fact that they were depicted and worshipped, likening the heavenly to the earthly, degrading the idea of God. They were graven images, seemingly graven on the walls for the purpose of worship.
The ‘seventy elders’ were probably intended to indicate the rulership of Israel. That is not to say that they necessarily in person comprised all the actual seventy leading elders holding that position at the time - compare Numbers 11.16 - only that they represented them in vision).
Indeed Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan, may well have been the son of the Shaphan who helped Josiah in his reforms and was his ‘scribe’ (2 Kings 22.3), and whose brother supported Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26.24). These men were therefore important people who had ‘gone wrong’, for they came to offer incense to their graven images in the dark, and symbolised the total deterioration of Israel’s leadership. Seven indicates perfection in the divine sphere and thus ‘seventy’ (seven intensified) worshipping elders may be intended to represent the whole of the leadership engaged in idolatry.
‘And the odour of the cloud of incense went up.’ Possibly in the mention of this there is the thought that it not only went up, but that it ‘went up’ and was noted in heaven and that Yahweh was aware of it, and was angry.
8.12 ‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, you have seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his own chambers of imagery, for they say, “Yahweh does not see us. Yahweh has forsaken the earth.” ’
Here we get the impression that each of the elders has his own ‘chamber of imagery’, a room with engravings of graven images on the walls, where they secretly worshipped in the dark. The fact that it was ‘in the dark’ may indicate attempts to contact evil forces through the occult. This reinforces the idea that what Ezekiel saw was a vision which indicated practises occurring throughout Jerusalem, in vision depicted as connected with a secret chamber in the Temple symbolising their connection with the Temple. We must remember that they saw Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ and thus that what went on there was very much connected with the Temple.
Others have suggested that their worship was performed in secret as the gods being worshipped were Egyptian gods because these men were in secret alliance with Egypt. If so there may be the hint that once again ‘the seventy’ have gone down into Egypt (Genesis 46.27), returning to bondage.
‘For they say, “Yahweh does not see us. Yahweh has forsaken the earth.” ’ This cry from the heart might support an Egyptian connection. They needed help against Assyria, and as Yahweh had in their eyes forsaken them and was no longer bothering about events on earth (which Ezekiel’s presence there disproves), where else were they to obtain it? This would be a particular insult to God. They blamed Yahweh for deserting them, rather than the other way round.
8.13 ‘And he said also to me, “You will again see yet other great abominations which they do.” ’
Compare verses 9 and 15. Jerusalem was being depicted as full of idolatry.
8.14 ‘Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the house of Yahweh which was towards the north, and behold there sat there the women weeping for Tammuz.’
This may have been the gate of the outer court. Here were gathered, probably regularly, women ‘weeping for Tammuz’. Little is actually known about the Mesopotamian cult of Tammuz and any detailed suggestions are merely suppositions. Tammuz was originally a prediluvian Sumerian shepherd (Dumuzi) and ruler who married the goddess Ishtar (Inanna). When he died she followed him into the underworld to seek his release and all fertility ceased on earth. But she did not succeed and returned alone, on which fertility was renewed. What, however, she does seem to have achieved was that Tammuz, and others, were permitted visitations to earth as ‘shades’ to smell incense offered to them. The weeping for Tammuz appears thus to be connected with his death and non-return and possibly with the worship of, or contact with, through offering incense, ‘shades’, shadows from the underworld.
8.15 ‘Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will again see yet greater abominations than these.” ’
The piling up of abominations continues, and the true state of Jerusalem religiously is revealed.
8.16 ‘And he brought me into the inner court of the house of Yahweh, and behold at the door of the temple of Yahweh, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men with their backs towards the temple of Yahweh, and their faces towards the east, and they worshipped the sun towards the east.’
Entering further into the temple precincts Ezekiel is shown ‘about five and twenty’ men in the very courtyard where the sacrifices were offered. Indeed they stood between the altar, where the sacrifices were offered, and the gate of the temple through which at times the blood would be taken to be sprinkled on the mercy seat, and through which the priests would pass into the outer chamber. It was the place where the priests and the servants of Yahweh should have wept as they prayed to Yahweh to spare them for their iniquities (Joel 2.17). It was the place where they could have found mercy.
‘About five and twenty.’ This may be a hint that we are to see here representatives of the twenty four courses of priest plus the high priest. The inner court was mainly restricted to the priesthood. Furthermore five is the number of covenant. Thus five squared may depict them as representatives of the whole covenant community, which makes their crime even greater.
But in this sacred place they had ‘their backs to towards the temple of Yahweh’. Their posture reflected their attitude, and addition of ‘of Yahweh’ stresses the dreadfulness of what was happening. This was in His own house! But they were ignoring His worship and their posture revealed what they thought of Him. They had their backs to Him. They had not thought or time for Him. Their thoughts were on sun worship. They had turned their backs on the covenant.
‘Their faces towards the east’, towards the rising sun (forbidden in Deuteronomy 4.19). They were sun worshippers welcoming the Sun god. The worship of the sun was widespread in most religions. It had been prominent among the Canaanites. Bethshemesh meant ‘the house of the sun’. Mount Heres meant ‘the mountain of the sun’. (Compare here 2 Kings 23.11). Here such worship was now being practised in the most sacred precincts of the temple. And all thoughts were on the Sun god with their backs to Yahweh. It depicted their true state. No wonder He was angry.
8.17 ‘Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations that they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence, and have turned again to provoke me to anger. And lo, they put the branch to their nose.” ’
God’s continual questioning of Ezekiel brings out His great concern over these things (see verses 6, 12, 15, 17). He wants Ezekiel to know that it is no light thing that has brought such severe judgment on His erstwhile people. Their behaviour has been outrageous. Does not Ezekiel agree?
‘For they have filled the land with violence.’ This probably refers to the violence resulting from their idolatrous worship and its total lack of morality. They were ignoring God’s covenant requirements, and thus violence abounded. There was little restraint. Such is often the result when men turn from God to sin.
‘And have turned again to provoke me to anger.’ That is have turned back to the old gods with their non-existent morals.
‘And lo, they put the branch to their nose.’ Putting a slip or branch to the nose was possibly part of the ritual practise of sun worship. Pictorial designs on some Assyrian reliefs show people holding branches to their noses in reverence and worship. But the emphasis of its mention here suggests a little more than just an ordinary act of worship. It suggests something that could be seen as especially insulting to Yahweh. Possibly it suggested that the Sun god, and not Yahweh, was responsible for the benefits of creation and was the source of life. Compare how the ‘planting with pleasant plants and setting with strange slips’ is connected with the Asherim and sun-images in Isaiah 17.8, 10-11.
Another suggestion is that zemora means ‘stench’ per early Jewish commentators and that the text be slightly altered to read ’appi (my nose) rather than ’appam. This would then make it read ‘they put forth a stench to My nose’ (compare Isaiah 65.5). But both changes lack evidence.
8.18 “Therefore will I also deal in fury. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.”
The chapter finishes with Yahweh’s again repeated statement that whatever they now do it will be too late. Because of their behaviour His great anger is directed towards them. There will be no mercy and no pity. It is too late for that. Even though they plead with Him in a loud voice, He will not hear. The end is inevitable.
The whole passage reminds us that there is another time coming when God will call ‘the end’. Then too, at the second coming of Jesus Christ, it will be too late to cry for mercy. There will only be judgment to come. And it will be as inexorable as at this time in Jerusalem. Thus we need to be ready.
Chapter 9. The Marking of the Righteous and the Slaying of the Wicked.
In this chapter we see God’s dealings with Jerusalem through heavenly visitants whose activities are reproduced on earth. Nebuchadnezzar would think that he was in charge of events, but Ezekiel, and the people he spoke to, would know that it was Yahweh Who was in charge, and that Nebuchadnezzar was only His instrument. However before that the righteous had to be protected by being marked as God’s by an angel of mercy. This would then be followed in vision by the sending forth of the Destroyers, and, in the following chapter, by the city being showered with the burning coals of judgment and destruction.
The chapter reminds us of the Angel of Death at the Exodus (chapter 12) and the destroying Angel of Yahweh in 2 Samuel 24.16-17; 1 Chronicles 21.15-27. See also 2 Chronicles 32.21; Isaiah 37.36; Amos 9.1. While refined the idea was not new.
9.1 ‘Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Cause those who have charge over the city to draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.” ’
Ezekiel heard a loud voice, the voice of Yahweh, and it spoke to heavenly visitants. Perhaps it was seen as addressed to Michael, the archangel, heavenly prince over God’s people (Daniel 12.1). Alternately it may be a direct command to the leader of the visitants. The command goes out that those appointed to have charge over the judgment of Jerusalem now draw near. The time has come. The command is ominous, ‘every man with his destroying weapon in his hand’. The loudness of the cry indicated the certainty of what was to follow. Nothing could prevent it. It contrasts with the loud voice which would have done the inhabitants of Jerusalem no good at this point in time (8.18).
This is similar in idea to Daniel 10.5-21; 12.1 where angels were said to be in charge of various countries, with their activities affecting what happened there. The ones in mind here may have been watching angels over Jerusalem, or else they may have been angels appointed and given charge for the task in hand.
The voice speaks from within the temple where God has temporarily again taken over His throne in the sanctuary as the glory of God fills the temple for the last time (verse 3).
9.2 ‘And behold six men came from the way of the upper gate, which lies towards the north, every one with his weapon for destruction in his hand, and one man in the midst of them, clothed in linen, with a writer’s kit hanging by his side (‘on his loins’). And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.’
Seven heavenly ‘men’ now entered the temple area, six equipped for destruction and one for mercy (compare Revelation 8.2, 6). In all Near Eastern nations seven was the number of divine perfection and completeness. These men were thus seen as complete for the divine task in hand. The fact that they came from a northerly direction was probably either to indicate the direction from which judgment was coming, or to confirm that they came from the heavenly dwelling place of God (see on 1.4). They entered by the way where the women were weeping for Tammuz (8.14), and the image of jealousy had its place (8.5). They saw enough to stir their righteous anger.
They entered in a group with the man with the writing kit in the middle. He was clothed in linen. This regularly denotes a heavenly personality (Daniel 10.5; 12.6-7; Revelation 15.6). The remainder were probably dressed as warriors, and the weapon held ready in the hand was always an indication of judgment. But we must not see the man with the writing kit as being of a different temper than the others, for he is the one who will throw the coals of judgment over Jerusalem (10.2). He merely has a different function. All are one in their actions. The group reminds us that in the midst of God’s judgments there is always mercy for those who respond to Him.
The word for ‘writing kit’ is found only here and may well be an Egyptian loan word (qeset from Egyptian gsti). Such a writing kit was usually made from animal horn or wood. It would have a palette with a long groove for the rush pens and circular hollows for two kinds of ink, usually black and red. It was a kit that would be carried by professional scribes.
‘And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.’ This bronze altar was the old altar from Solomon’s temple which had been replaced with a stone altar by Ahaz, which he patterned on a Syrian altar (2 Kings 16.14), the old bronze altar being removed and put to the north of the stone altar for the king to ‘enquire by’ (verse 15). But this was the altar recognised by Yahweh. This is another indication of how the temple had been defiled. God had not overlooked the replacing of His altar with a foreign altar. From the true altar His mercy and judgment would reach out.
The action is very significant. On that bronze altar had been offered sacrifices for Israel for many generations. There atonement had been made. It had also been a place of sanctuary when there was nowhere else to go. Men could flee to the altar (1 Kings 1.50; 2.28). But now the right of sanctuary was lost. The sacrifices had ceased. God was deserting His temple and His altar. It was no longer a holy place.
9.3-4 ‘And the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, on which it was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writer’s kit hanging at his side. And Yahweh said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark (‘a taw’, in ancient Hebrew an X) on the foreheads of the men who sigh and who cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst of it.” ’
The movement of ‘the glory of God’ is also very significant. Being ‘on the cherub’ referred to the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh on which was the throne of Yahweh overseen by cherubim. In the past the glory of God had regularly covered the Ark and the Tabernacle (Exodus 40.34-35), and in vision Ezekiel had seen this as transportable as we have seen earlier, with the living creatures bearing it. But the latter have not yet been identified as cherubim. But now He leaves His throne in the sanctuary and moves to the threshold of the temple. He is at this point deliberately rejecting the temple and all it means. He is about to depart.
The use of the singular ‘cherub’ to indicate the cherubim is paralleled in 10.2, 4; 2 Samuel 22.11; Psalm 18.10.
But God never forgets His own. Within the city there were still those who were faithful to Him and whose hearts were broken at what was going on. They sighed and cried at what they saw around them. True faith and true righteousness are always revealed by men’s attitude to sin and disobedience to God. He had determined to put His protecting mark on them. None would harm those who were faithful to Him. His mark would be on their foreheads. Compare Revelation 7.3; 9.4; 14.1. In the later words of Jesus, ‘the hairs of their head were all numbered’. Ezekiel and his listeners would think in terms of preservation of life. With our greater revelation we recognise that the meaning was their eternal preservation. They were untouchable.
The mark on their foreheads was an X (the ancient form of the letter taw). Compare Job 31.35 where it represented a signature. It was sometimes used by the scribes at Qumran to indicate points of importance in their scrolls such as Messianic passages. We may well see in it a remarkable precursor to the sign of the cross. These men were ‘signed’ by God, marked as belonging to Him. They were engraved on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49.16). In all His wrath against sin He was faithful to His covenant with those who still trusted Him, with the righteous.
9.5-6a ‘And to the others he said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him, and smite. Do not let your eye spare, nor have pity. Slay utterly (literally ‘slay to destruction’) the old man, the young man and the maiden, and little children and women. But do not come near any man on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” ’
Then came the command for judgment. It was to be without mercy, without pity. None was to be spared. The judgment and wrath of God was to come on each one, from the oldest to the youngest. All were marked out by God for judgment in one way or another. (The Assyrians would make no distinctions). And it was to begin at His sanctuary where those who were supposed to serve Him had proved so utterly unfaithful. It is a serious thing to profess to be a leader of God’s people but to lead them astray (1 Peter 4.17; compare Matthew 18.6; Mark 9.42; Luke 17.2; Hebrews 13.17).
But none who were marked by God was to be touched. They may suffer at the hands of men, but not at the hands of God’s visitants. This underlines one of Ezekiel’s central messages. Judgment is individual. It is the one who sins who must die in judgment. Those who are faithful to God and His covenant may die, but they will not die in judgment.
We must remember that this was a vision and a heavenly message. It symbolised God’s view and purpose in what was to come. It would not be fulfilled literally as we have already been told, for some would go into captivity. But it indicated that God’s judgment was upon all.
9.6b ‘Then they began at the old men (elders) who were before the house.’ These would be the five and twenty who represented the priesthood, worshippers of the sun (8.16). They were the most guilty because of their closeness to the sanctuary. These men who had had the most holy privileges had betrayed their trust.
9.7 ‘And he said to them, “Defile the house and fill the courts with the slain. Go forth.” And they went forth and smote in the city.’
The house was to be deliberately defiled (compare Numbers 19.11; 1 Kings 13.2; 2 Kings 23.16). It was no longer God’s temple. They had handed it over to idolatry, so that just as bones were scattered around the high places (6.5), they would be around the temple precincts. It was a house of idolatry. And once that was so defiled then the visitants were to go out and destroy the city.
9.8 ‘And it was so that while they were smiting and I was left, I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, Lord Yahweh. Will you destroy all the residue of Israel in your pouring out of your fury on Jerusalem?” ’
As Ezekiel watched every man in the temple around him smitten down one by one, until he was left alone, it was more than he could bear. And he cried out to God. Would there be no mercy for any, for the residue of Israel? Would not God leave but a few? The Christian must never gloat over God’s judgments. Though he recognise that they are right, as a sinner among fellow sinners they should break his heart even while he rejoices that God’s way is fulfilled (compare Amos 7.1-6)
9.9 ‘Then he said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice (‘bending’ of justice). For they say, “Yahweh has forsaken the land, and Yahweh sees not.” ’
These men left in Jerusalem and its surrounds had seen the previous judgments of God and the carrying away of the cream of the people, first of Israel and then of Judah. But they had not taken warning. Instead of repenting and turning to God they had increased their sinfulness. Instead of recognising that He had done what He had always promised they had interpreted it as meaning that God had forsaken the land and the people in it. That God no longer noted their behaviour. Thus instead of becoming better they had become worse. Murder was rife. True justice was unobtainable. Might was right. There was only one thing to do. Begin with those who in exile had learned to be humble and to seek God. And that was why Ezekiel was here.
Note in passing that God saw the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surrounds as representing in fact the whole of Israel, ‘the house of Israel and Judah’. There were no ‘lost tribes’ to Him.
9.10 “And as for me also, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. But I will bring their way on their head.”
So as there was no justice and mercy among the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surrounds, so there would be no mercy from God. He would make them reap what they had sown, and there would be no restraint. His eye was and had been on them all the time. And now it would demand justice. ‘All things are laid bare and open to the eye of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4.13), and He will always finally call to account.
9.11 ‘And behold the man clothed in linen, who had the writing kit by his side, reported the matter, saying, “I have done as you have commanded me.” ’
The marking of the righteous had taken place as God had commanded. Justice must now take its course.
As we review these chapters that we have been considering we should recognise their primary message, the seriousness of sin and rebellion against God. The end of an era had been reached. In spite of all the efforts of the prophets, and the pleadings and constant demonstrations of the mercy of God, the people had remained hardhearted. Indeed they had become even more hardhearted. And in the end sin must be accounted for. God is longsuffering, but even that longsuffering will one day come to an end. And then there is nothing but judgment for the unrepentant. That is what had happened here. We too must recognise that to go on sinning deliberately is a very serious matter. One day God’s longsuffering with us will also cease.
Chapter 10. Yahweh Leaves The Temple Environs.
We have already seen that Yahweh has deserted the sanctuary for the threshold of the temple, while judgment was carried out on those within it. Now He will desert the temple completely. He will no longer have any part in it. When Nebuchadnezzar comes to capture Jerusalem it will not be Yahweh’s city or Yahweh’s temple, but an empty shell.
10.1 ‘Then I looked and behold, on the flat plate that was over the head of the cherubim there appeared above them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.’
Here we are carried right back again to the first vision in chapter 1. The flat level plain of the colour of awesome ice borne by the cherubim, and the glorious, sparkling blue likeness to a throne above (1.22, 26). But this time it is at Jerusalem. This is the first mention of the chariot since chapter 3, unless we take 8.4 as such a reference. We are probably intended to see that it has arrived to take Yahweh away. Here the living creatures are identified as cherubim for the first time. Until now Ezekiel has not wanted to suggest that Yahweh’s permanent earthly throne was no longer in the temple.
10.2a ‘And he spoke to the man clothed in linen and said, “Go in between the whirling wheels, to underneath the cherub, and fill both your hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” ’
Where He spoke from here we are not told. In 9.3 the glory of Yahweh had moved to the threshold of the temple. It is possible that we are intended to see the arrival of the heavenly chariot (verse 1) as indicating that He there took His seat on His portable throne. Alternately it may have been empty, awaiting His will.
The command to the man clothed in linen, who had previously marked the chosen ones of God, is now that he carry out God’s judgments. He was to go under the cherubim between the whirling wheels to fill his hands with coals of fire. In 1.13 these coals of fire described the appearance of the cherubim, and yet flickered among the cherubim. But this is a vision, a dream, so we should not be surprised at anything. However as in Revelation 6 it is apparent here that the cherubim are closely connected with bringing about of the judgments of God.
‘The whirling wheels.’ Literally ‘the whirlers’. There may be behind the idea of the whirling wheels the idea of whirlwinds (see Psalm 77.18).
‘Fill both your hands.’ The judgments are to be sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose of total destruction.
Coals of fire are also described as directly kindled by God in His majestic and wrathful advance in 2 Samuel 22.9, 13; Psalm 18.8, 12, 13 where the cherubim are also present, and judgments follow. So there the coals of fire were seen as connected with His coming in judgment (compare Psalm 140.10; Habakkuk 3.5). Thus we may see the coals of fire as, as it were, kindled by the fiery breath of God and dispensed in judgment. Perhaps there is a link with the way that God hurled fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.24; Deuteronomy 29.23; Lamentations 4.6; Amos 4.11). Jerusalem is being likened to those totally corrupted cities (see Revelation 11.8).
It is unwise to seek to identify the man clothed in linen, except as a heavenly being. The Scripture is deliberately silent. He even works like a shadow. The fulfilling of his first task is simply evidenced when he reports back ( 9.11). The fulfilment of the second is never described, only that he received the coals of fire and ‘went out’. He is but an anonymous instrument of Yahweh.
‘Scatter them over the city.’ This is the symbol of God’s judgments being poured down (compare Psalm 140.10; Habakkuk 3.5).
‘To underneath the cherub.’ It is possibly significant that ‘the cherub’ is mentioned a number of times as well as ‘the cherubim’ (the -im shows the latter to be plural). See 9.3; 10.2, 4, 7, and especially verse 14 where of the four described only ‘the cherub’ has the definite article. This may be seen as suggesting that there was one prominent cherub involved in the situation, possibly the leader of the group. Such a prominent cherub is certainly mentioned in 28.14 as ‘the anointed cherub who covers (or guards)’ where he is connected with ‘stones of fire’. There it refers to blasphemous claims made by ‘the king of Tyre’, but presumably as based on some well recognised supernatural figure. Thus mention of ‘the cherub’ in the singular may refer to such a one well known to Ezekiel’s audience. But in context it may simply mean ‘the cherub that is nearest to you’.
LXX avoids this by translating each reference in the plural and by a change of text in verse 7 where it has an anonymous ‘he’. But we do not expect the figure on the throne to be the one to hand over the coals (compare Isaiah 6.6) so that the idea of ‘the cherub’ doing so fits the context well. It may, however, be that the singular is to be seen as a collective noun signifying the cherubim, and that the cherub in verse 7 is merely identified by the fact that he was the cherub connected with the particular wheel. Compare how in verse 17, 20 the living creature is spoken of in the singular and then it is said, ‘and I knew that they were the cherubim’.
10.2b ‘And he went in in my sight.’
The man clothed in linen immediately obeyed and went in between the whirling wheels below the level plain of awesome ice and the throne, in Ezekiel’s full view. The sight clearly affected him for he specifically stresses that he saw it. Perhaps it was because he was awestricken that any being other than a cherub could enter within that place of glorious majesty. In examining the detail we must not omit to notice the glory of the occasion.
10.3-4 ‘Now the cherubim stood on the right side (thus ‘the south side’) of the house when the man went in, and the cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of Yahweh mounted up from the cherub and stood over the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of Yahweh.’
The position of the cherubim, and thus of the chariot, is now described. It was to the right of the house as they awaited further instruction, and it was at this point that the man went in between the whirling wheels, at which the cloud filled the inner court before the sanctuary. This was because Yahweh was about to move in His glory. Then the glory of Yahweh again left His chariot throne and ‘stood’ over the threshold of the house, veiled by the cloud. It should be noted that this was not in the sanctuary itself. That had been deserted. It was no longer His earthly dwellingplace, it was the place from which He would pour forth His judgments. As ever the cloud spoke of the presence of Yahweh in veiled form so that the brightness of His glory could be revealed without destroying those who saw it.
10.5 ‘And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty (El Shaddai) when he speaks.’
The sound of the wings of the cherubim was clearly also awesome (compare 1.24). It filled the whole house even to the outer court. And it was powerful and strong like the voice of the Almighty. In both cases the mention of the sound of their wings is connected with the actual voice of Yahweh being heard.
10.6-7 ‘And it came about that when he commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel, and the cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took of it, and put it into the hands of the one who was clothed with linen, who took it and went out.’
Here again we have typical ancient Near Eastern repetition, where a previous statement is emphasised and expanded. It occurs regularly throughout the Old Testament and has often confused modern readers into assuming twofold sources, but the purpose of it was to assist the hearer to remember the important points of the narrative or to emphasis the particular point. They could not look back to what had been previously stated and were helped by being reminded of it.
Again we are reminded that Yahweh commanded the man clothed with linen to take fire from within the whirling wheels (‘the whirlers’) between the cherubim. So the man obediently went in and stood beside one of the wheels, which was whirling round and full of eyes (verse 12), a symbol of divine activity and omniscience.
‘The cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim.’ This may mean the cherub connected with that wheel, or as suggested in verse 2 the anointed Cherub, but either way it reveals that even the angel was limited in how close he could come to the throne. The cherubim guarded the holiness of God.
And ‘the cherub’ then reached in and took fire and placed it in the hands of the man, ‘who took it and went out’. Nothing further is heard of the man clothed with linen. He disappears from the picture. The time of their scattering over the city was not yet here. We are just left to assume that he carried out his grim task for Ezekiel is wholly taken up with the glory before him. The concentration in this passage is on Yahweh deserting His temple.
10.8 ‘And there appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand under their wings.’
This is to explain how the cherub was able to take the fire and hand it to the angel (see also 1.8) by means of a man’s hands under his wings. The foreign ‘cherubim’ on which these cherubim were patterned did not have hands.
10.9 ‘And I looked and behold, four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside one cherub, and another wheel beside another cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of a stone of Tarshish. And as for their appearance, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been within a wheel.’
This verse and the verses that follow are very similar to 1.15-18 except that now the living creatures are called cherubim. It may well be that Ezekiel had not connected the living creatures with the cherubim until he saw them connected with the temple. Alternately he may not have wished to make the connection to his hearers lest they thought Yahweh had already deserted His house. Once again the wheels are seen as individually connected with each of the cherubim. In verse 13 it is emphasised that they are called ‘the whirlers’. This may well be intended to signify something like whirlwinds, like ‘a wheel within a wheel’. They were like a ‘stone of Tarshish’. These would be exceedingly brilliant and beautiful. Thus they were like whirling wheels of brilliant light and power.
Tarshish was famous for its silver (Jeremiah 10.9) and from it came valuable metals (Ezekiel 27.12; 1 Kings 10.22). Thus its inhabitants dug deep in the earth and found many wonderful things (Job 28.5-6). In view of the fact that ships sailed to and from Tarshish from and to Ezion-geber (1 Kings 10.22; 2 Chronicles 20.36), and that this is connected with Ophir (1 Kings 22.48), it might suggest a place in Africa, or even India. But Jonah set out for Tarshish from Joppa (Jonah 1.3; 4.2) which may well have been Spain. Thus Tarshish (‘refinery’?) was a name given to a number of places from which precious things came.
10.11 ‘When they went they went on their four sides. They turned not as they went. But to the place where the head looked, they followed it. They turned not as they went.’
The fours sides would be north, south, east and west, and when they moved they moved directly forward without being diverted. Thus they had freedom of travel and a certain inevitability about their progress. Nothing could frustrate their purpose. This latter is emphasised by being mentioned twice.
And they went where the head (or chief) looked. This may refer to ‘the cherub’, the anointed one, as chief among them, or to the heads of each of the cherubim (compare verse 14 and verse 16), depending on whether we see the ‘they’ as being the wheels (verse 10) or the cherubim (verse 12). Or it may even refer to the head of Yahweh on His throne. He had only to look and they went where He looked.
10.12-13 ‘And their whole body, and their backs and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, the wheels that they four had. And as for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the Whirlers”.’
In 1.18 it was the edges of the wheels that were full of eyes. Here Ezekiel sees them more closely and the whole of these beings are full of eyes, their bodies, their backs, their hands and their wings, including the wheels. They see all and are aware of all. They are possibly ‘the Watchers’ of Daniel (Daniel 4.17). And the whirling wheels stress the continual activity and power. They are ‘the Whirlers’.
Alternately RSV translates, ‘and their rims, and their spokes and the wheels were full of eyes round about’ but agrees in the margin that the Hebrew also reads ‘and their whole body’ (which LXX omits but reads ‘their backs and their hands and their wings’). This was to square with 1.18. But there is an expansion whichever way we look at it and therefore the former is preferable. In the end the wheels and the cherubim are as one (verse 17).
10.14 ‘And every one had four faces, the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.’
Here it is the face of ‘the cherub’ that is prominent, and that looks ahead. The ox of 1.10 has dropped out. This was partly because in 1.10 the living creatures were not seen as connected with the cherubim. But at this stage in events the faces of the cherubim change for a more important reason, because they are acting against domesticised creation (the ox) in Yahweh’s departure from the temple of Yahweh. He will be going among the wild beasts of Assyria and Babylon. So now Ezekiel realises that the man’s face that looks forward is not that of a man but of ‘the cherub’ (the cherubim had faces similar to men). Yet he also recognises that mankind must continue to be included as the prime ones of creation. And all beasts are included in the lion and the eagle. We must not expect full consistency in this continuing vision, it is conveying ideas rather than physical realities.
The order of the faces is against the cherub being replaced by the ox as a scribal error. It was the movement of Yahweh from His temple and the new recognition of the living creatures as cherubim that occasioned the change, and the forward looking, controlling face had to be that of the cherub.
10.15-17 ‘And the cherubim mounted up. This is the living creature that I saw by the River Chebar. And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them, and when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels also turned not from beside them. When they stood, these stood, and when they mounted up these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creature was in them.’
The description of the cherubim mounting up (see verse 19) immediately leads into an explanation of the fact that they are identifiable with ‘the living creature’ of chapter 1, and that their connection with the wheels is inseparable. Both always move together, acting in unison. And this was because the spirit of the living creature was in them. The use of ‘living creature’ is here specific, that is why the previous identification was made. Thus the emphasis is on the fact that the whirling wheels share the life of the cherubim.
10.18-19 ‘And the glory of Yahweh went away from over the threshold of the house and stood over the cherubim, and the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight when they went away, and the wheels beside them, and they stood at the door of the east gate of the house of Yahweh, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.’
The glory of Yahweh now leaves the threshold of the house and takes His place on the level plate of awesome ice over the cherubim, and the cherubim then take off and bear Him to the east gate (for Yahweh as the One Who sits above the cherubim over their outstretched wings see 1 Samuel 4.4; 2 Samuel 6.2; 2 Kings 19.15; 1 Chronicles 13.6; 28.18; Psalm 18.10; 80.1; 99.1). This east gate was the main entrance into the temple courtyards from the outside world. It was the way in, and also the way out. The Lord in His glory and the cherubim then hovered above this gate. The movements of Yahweh are central to the passage. First from the holy of holies to the threshold, then from the threshold to the east gate, and finally in 11.23 to the mountain on the east side of the city. Jerusalem was no longer His holy city.
Note that Ezekiel bears witness to having seen this particular event happen, revealing that it is significant (compare verse 2). The glory of Yahweh is deserting His house. He had constantly warned of this possibility in one way or another (Hosea 5.6; 9.12; Deuteronomy 31.17; compare 1 Samuel 4.21; 28.15) and now it was happening.
10.20-22 ‘This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the River Chebar, and I knew that they were cherubim. Every one had four faces apiece, and every one four wings. And the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings, and as for the likeness of their faces, they were the faces which I saw by the River Chebar, their appearances and themselves. They went every one straight forward.’
Ezekiel now confirms again that the living creatures he had seen by the River Chebar and the cherubim here are one and the same. Each had four faces and four wings, with the hands of a man beneath their wings, with the same facial likenesses as at the River Chebar, a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Where then has the face of the cherub (verse 14) gone? We must remember that we are in vision where things can keep changing rapidly. The face of the cherub was there at the crucial time when Yahweh was departing His house. It was not as representatives of creation but as the holy cherubim that they were responsible for this move. This brings out the awesomeness, the earth shattering nature of the change which took place. It was a change determined in heaven. Once that was fulfilled the cherubim could return to their normal function as representatives of creation and normal life could go on where they were going.
‘They went every one straight forward.’ The description finishes with the indication that their forward progress continued. Nothing could stop it. It was inexorable.
Chapter 11. The Reason Why Yahweh Must Depart - And His Final Departure.
Having described the commencement of Yahweh’s departure from Jerusalem, Ezekiel now adds further reasons why it is necessary and well deserved, but adds to it the certain hope that one day Israel will return with changed hearts and minds. Then the mighty chariot of God finally leaves the city and hovers over the mountain outside Jerusalem to the east, and Ezekiel is carried back to Babylon to tell those in captivity what he has seen.
11.1 ‘Moreover the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of Yahweh’s house, which looks eastward. And behold at the door of the gate five and twenty men. And I saw in the midst of them Jaazaniah, the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.’
Ezekiel was now also transported to the east gate by the Spirit Who lifted him up as before and brought him there. The east gate was the main gate of the temple which was sited from east to west. At the door of the gate were twenty five men. These were not the same as the ‘about twenty five’ of 8.16 but the repetition of the number must be significant. Five is the number of covenant, and five times five may therefore again signify representatives of the whole covenant community. They include at least two of the princes of the people. Possibly the idea is also that they have replaced the men who were in vision destroyed in the temple as the debased leaders of Israel, or possibly they are the lay version of the twenty five in the inner court, thus demonstrating that both priesthood and laity were defiled.
Among the twenty five were at least two especially prominent men, princes of the people, although in fact they were all prominent men (verse 2). Most would be replacements for those who had been carried off into exile. Thus they were mainly not men of long experience. The gate would be large and have a spacious area where men could gather. It was common for the leaders of a community to meet in such a place (compare Jeremiah 26.10). Space was at a rare commodity in most ancient cities which tended to be an unplanned huddle of houses.
Jaazaniah was a fairly common name. It was found on ostraca (inscribed pieces of broken earthenware) at Lachish and Arad, and the name is also found in 2 Kings 25.23; Jeremiah 35.3. Thus we need not identify this Jaazaniah with that in 8.11. These two men had clearly been prominent in Ezekiel’s younger days, and he recognised them.
11.2 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who scheme iniquity and who give wicked counsel to this city. Who say, ‘the time is not near to build houses. This city is the cauldron and we are the flesh’.” ’
These men met together as counsellors to advise the city. But in Yahweh’s eyes what they schemed was iniquitous and wicked, and their counsel was evil. Their counsel was probably similar to that proscribed in Micah 2.1-2, resulting from the fact that ‘they covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them away. And they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage’ (see verse 12). Compare also Jeremiah 22.13, ‘who uses his neighbour’s service without wages and does not give him his hire’. The leading men were using their position to enrich themselves.
Their particular advice is stated as, ‘the time is not near to build houses’. They may have been arguing against building houses because of their own mercenary interest. Perhaps they wanted to keep the number of houses low to increase rents, or to keep the land free where houses had been destroyed in the previous invasion, so that they could buy it cheaply. They may even have cited the example of the Rechabites as an example to follow (Jeremiah 35.7), but with evil motive.
Alternately that advice possibly meant that this was no time to build houses because they should be building fortifications ready for rebellion against Nebuchanezzar, probably with the help of Egypt. They would hardly go it alone and the ‘Lachish letters’, ostraca discovered on the site of Lachish, confirm military contact with Egypt. So they were possibly advocating rebellion and resistance. This would suggest that they were not only greedy for other people’s property but also for status, advancement and power. (The false prophets were at this time predicting the fall of Nebuchadnezzar and freedom from his yoke - Jeremiah 28.1-4 - which in itself would be a spur to rebellion).
This interpretation fits well with the illustration, ‘this city is the cauldron and we are the flesh’. Here they were likening Jerusalem to a protective cauldron which kept them (the flesh) out of the fire (of judgment) while they were being made into a delicious meal, something delightful and desirable. Thus they were arguing that its walls would protect them from Nebuchadnezzar, as the sides of the cauldron protected the flesh inside.
So they oozed sinful self confidence, while they were disobedient to the commands of Yahweh through His prophets (11.12; Micah 2.1-2; Jeremiah 21.8-10). They were being presumptious and relying, in spite of their own sinfulness and idolatry, on the well established idea that Yahweh would not allow the city and temple to be destroyed. If they were also relying on Egypt it compounded their sin. But there was no way in which it was through genuine trust in Yahweh.
Indeed they may well have claimed that Yahweh had removed the old unbelieving leadership in judgment so as to make room for them. ‘We are the flesh’, may be intended to imply that those previous leaders were rejected offal, as they are seen as suggesting later in verse 15. (Those who see themselves as ‘chosen’ can often behave and think foolishly). But Yahweh had warned them through Jeremiah that they could not rely on belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem. That superstitious belief would cause Israel great damage now as it would on a number of occasions. But unlike Ezekiel they did not realise that Yahweh had for the time finished with both, for they did not believe the words of His prophets. Had they repented it might have been different, but Yahweh knew that they were too hardened to repent (compare Jeremiah 42-43).
However, the Hebrew says literally ‘who say, ‘not at hand to build houses’, and AV, for example, translates, ‘it is not near, let us build houses’, meaning that the coming judgment was far off so that they could settle down in peace and build houses to live in with the future secure (compare 28.26). But the infinitive cannot easily be so interpreted as an exhortation, which is against this translation.
But another possibility in line with this is to see the Hebrew as a question, ‘is not the time at hand to build houses?’ which contains the same idea. LXX seemingly read it in a similar way and translated ‘who say, Have not the houses been newly built? This is the cauldron, and we are the flesh’ which might be seen as supporting something like this (but LXX is not necessarily reliable as a deciding factor). Under this interpretation it would, however, simply be presumption of a different kind, and still be relying on the security of Jerusalem to protect them. They would be advocating building houses and by it denying that Yahweh was about to act against the city.
An alternative idea is that ‘the time is not near to build houses’ had the exiles in mind. The exiles were being exhorted by the prophets to settle down in exile. Perhaps these men were arguing, against Yahweh, that now was not the time to build houses in exile, it was the time for freeing Jerusalem. (The words were in vision and finally intended for the exiles to interpret and understand. They were to see this as wrong advice, and iniquitous).
But the central point is the same in all views. That they were being presumptious, that they were relying on the fallacy of the inviolability of Jerusalem, that they were exalting themselves, and that they were ignoring Yahweh’s words through His prophets. They were frighteningly blind to their own failures and self-satisfied in spite of their iniquitous behaviour.
11.4 ‘Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy O son of man.’
Ezekiel is to raise his voice against these presumptious ideas for they were the evidence of a complacency not justified by the facts. Judah and Israel were still not repentant over their sinfulness, and until they were there could be no restoration. Note that the command to prophesy is given twice for emphasis. There is need for his words.
11.5 ‘And the Spirit of Yahweh fell on me, and he said to me, “Speak. Thus says Yahweh, “Thus have you said, Oh house of Israel, for I know the things that come into your mind.” ’
Once more Ezekiel was possessed by the Spirit to speak the word of Yahweh to the house of Israel. Here ‘house of Israel’ includes the exiles, for they would all be in agreement with the words of the men in Jerusalem. All believed that Jerusalem would not be destroyed and that soon things would be back to normal. Thus Yahweh points out that He is perfectly aware of how they are thinking. He wants them to know that He always knows men’s thoughts both in the present and in the future (20.32; 38.10 compare Psalm 139.1-6; Isaiah 29.15 see also Daniel 2.30; Acts 1.24 of all men). Thus they must not think that they can hide their thoughts from Him (Hebrews 4.13).
11.6-8 “You have multiplied your slain in this city, and you have filled its streets with the slain. Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Your slain whom you have laid in its midst, they are the flesh, and this city is the cauldron, but you will be brought forth out of the midst of it. You have feared the sword and I will bring the sword on you, says the Lord Yahweh’.”
The reason for God’s unrelenting judgment was made clear. Murder had been, and still was, rife in the city, even judicial murder. Rivals were removed, and good men who protested were executed under false pretences. Life had been, and was, violent, for the commands of Yahweh were being ignored (compare Jeremiah 22.3). Their sins were unrelenting. They were still refusing to learn their lesson.
There is then a play on their own illustration. This can be taken in two ways. 1). Rather than their being the flesh in the cauldron, it was the dead at their hands who were the flesh in the cauldron, for it had proved a cauldron of death. Rather than the cauldron acting as a protection from outsiders it had caused the death of the good flesh brought about by those within the cauldron. 2). That it is the slain alone who could rejoice in the protection of the cauldron, for they have been rescued by death. For those still alive it would provide no protection.
If the leaders were seeing themselves as the good flesh, as they probably were (compare verse 15), then Ezekiel may be pointing out that in truth they were the ones who had actually slain the good flesh, those who had been faithful to Yahweh, by purges and persecution. Thus He was declaring that He would not protect these men of violence, for they would be brought out of Jerusalem and suffer the fate that they feared, and that they had brought on others, the avenger’s sword, (this supports the first interpretation of verse 3). And it would be brought on them by the Lord Yahweh Himself Who had deserted the city (Jeremiah 12.7).
Note the stress on ‘the Lord Yahweh’. Here was the root of the problem. They were ignoring, no, even rebelling against, the One Who was truly Lord over them. They were not just ignoring and rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, and breaking a treaty with him, they were ignoring and rebelling against their own covenant God and His treaty.
11.9-11 “And I will bring you forth out of its midst and deliver you into the hands of strangers, and will execute judgments among you. You will fall by the sword. I will judge you in the border of Israel, and you will know that I am Yahweh. This city will not be your cauldron, nor will you be the flesh in its midst. I will judge you in the border of Israel.”
The cauldron of Jerusalem would not protect them. It would not be a cauldron to them, nor would they prosper as the flesh within it. Indeed they would not remain within it. Its walls will fall and they will be brought out and handed over to strangers, and then God’s judgments will be carried out on them. Many will fall by the sword, and those who remain alive will be judged at the border of Israel. They will have deserted their so-called cauldron, a final derisory comment in the face for their proud claims.
The fulfilment of this came about when many of these people escaped from Jerusalem when its walls were breached, and were overtaken at the Jericho border (2 Kings 25.5), and those who remained alive were taken to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah on the northern border of the old Israel and there the leaders were slain (2 Kings 25.7, 21). The prophecy was rather one of certain defeat and humiliation than of detail. It would not be unusual for military headquarters to be set up in a safe border area preparatory for the invasion. And further rebellion would have ensured the final execution of its leaders. Once the capture of the city was accepted as a certainty the rest could easily be foreseen.
‘And you will know that I am Yahweh.’ This is now amplified.
11.12 “And you will know that I am Yahweh, for you have not walked in my statutes, nor have you carried out my judgments, but have done after the ordinances of the nations that are round about you.”
The result of what was to happen to them would bring home to them that Yahweh was not there to be trifled with. They would know that He was Yahweh. He was their covenant God, the One Who was there, the One Who controlled their destiny. But they had ignored His requirements, they had not walked in His ways and in His statutes, they had not ruled justly under His guidance and according to His will. Rather they had chosen to abide by the principles and ideas and customs taught by nations round about, worshipping their gods and walking in their ways at the same time as they claimed to belong to Yahweh. They had sunk themselves to their level, and put Yahweh on a level with the gods of other nations, powerless, amoral and ineffective.
This was in the end the reason for their certain judgment. They had forsaken the Instruction (Torah) of Yahweh, and indeed had it not been for this judgment on Israel which forced them into preserving it, and into once again recognising Yahweh for what He was, it might have been lost for ever, a huge loss to the world beyond description. God would have had to raise up another Abraham and begin again.
11.13 ‘And it happened that when I prophesied Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah, died. Then I fell down on my face and cried with a loud voice, and said, “Ah, Lord Yahweh, will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” ’
As Ezekiel obeyed Yahweh and pronounced his words against the house of Israel, Pelatiah fell down and died. The assumption is made that the two were connected although it is not stated. Certainly it deeply affected Ezekiel who saw it that way. He saw in this the beginning of the destruction of all Israel, and pleaded for God’s mercy. This will be promised in the following verses, and explains why at this early stage the revelation of future restoration began, a brief light in a dark scenario (but see also 5.3; 6.8-9).
It is probable that we are to see Pelatiah as dying in Jerusalem. Thus Ezekiel’s vision would receive confirmation as to its genuineness and accuracy once the news reached Babylonia some weeks later. This incident tends to confirm that at least ‘in spirit’ Ezekiel was in Jerusalem and was not just having visions in Babylonia of being transported and present there.
It is ironic that the name Pelatiah means ‘Yahweh delivers’. This may have been why Ezekiel, in the moment of shock after the death, saw it as the end of all hope. But that it was not he essentially knew. (Such names compounded with plt are attested from the Amorite period in Canaan and were common in Ugarit in 13th century BC as well as in later Aramaic. They were thus fairly common).
11.14-15 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man. Your brothers, even your brothers, the men related by blood (kindred) to you, and all the house of Israel, all of them, are they to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, “You get far from Yahweh, this land is given for a possession to us.”
This emphasises the attitude of the men of Jerusalem. They considered that the exiles were unclean and no longer had any part in Yahweh’s promises, but that those promises all now belonged to those in Jerusalem who had had the land handed over to them as their possession. (And this in spite of their rampant idolatry, for they still saw Yahweh as the official God of Judah. He was simply ignored in practise).
Note the stress by repetition on the fact that all the exiles are excluded by the men of Jdrusalem, both Ezekiel’s own blood relatives, his fellow-priests, and all the house of Israel in exile. In fact, however, He will now point out, this is far from the truth.
11.16 “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, whereas I have removed them far off among the nations, and whereas I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a sanctuary for a little while in the countries where they have gone.’ ”
‘Therefore say.’ Yahweh was clearly angry at their attitude and His reply to the people of Jerusalem was that the opposite was the case. Those who were scattered, both of Israel and Judah, wherever they were, would find that Yahweh would be a sanctuary to them. He would be their temple. They would find that they had a sanctuary provided by Yahweh, even while His sanctuary in Jerusalem would be deserted. He would watch over them and protect them in all the countries to which they had gone. He had not forgotten them and would continue to plead with them. And for a little while this would be the situation. Immediate restoration was not an option. But then things would change.
11.17-18 “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come there, and they will take away all its detestable things, and all its abominations from there.’ ”
One day Yahweh would again act for His people, and would gather and assemble them wherever they were, and would bring them back to the land and again give it to them. And when they came they would scrupulously remove all idolatry and all that was connected with it. Notice the stress on multiplicity. They would be gathered from far and wide. There is no reason to doubt that connection was maintained between scattered families and once restoration began the clarion call would go out and exiles would come from near and far. With possibly a few exceptions the ‘lost tribes’ were really not lost at all.
‘I will give you the land of Israel.’ This was the guarantee of their continuing part in the covenant. Contrast verse 15 where possession of the land was seen as the proof of blessing by those who were in fact under condemnation. But what they overlooked was that the land was no longer theirs for God had for the time being given it to Nebuchadnezzar. But for the exiles He was promising a new Exodus, a new deliverance, a new journey to the promised land. This giving of the land was part of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12.1-3), and was seen by Israel as evidence that they were God’s people. However it should be noted that the idea of the land drops out of the later covenants (e.g. 2 Samuel 7.12-16; Isaiah 55.3, where it is replaced by eternal kingship; Jeremiah 31.31-34 where it is replaced by an eternal relationship) because a greater idea and fulfilment is in view.
11.19 “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them. And they will be my people and I will be their God.”
The constant change of person is an indication of Ezekiel’s excitement at the prospect. He was writing in an exalted state and exact grammar was of secondary importance.
The returning people would be made as one with a united heart (compare Jeremiah 32.39), they would be ‘the house of Israel’ and no longer Israel and Judah, or split by tribal loyalties, and they would be inwardly transformed. Their stony hearts would become hearts of flesh, softened and responsive. They really would be ‘the flesh’ (11.3), the chosen of Yahweh. There would be no more hardheartedness but a determination to walk according to Yahweh’s instruction, to obey Him and fulfil all His requirements. Once again they would be His own people, and He would again be their God in the fullest sense (see also 36.25-28).
There is an interesting contrast between these promises and 18.31 where God tells them to repent of their transgressions and make for themselves a new heart and a new spirit. There He knew, of course, that they would not do it. Thus here and in 36.25-28 He promises that grace will conquer disobedience and bring about in His people what He has commanded.
That this would be through the working of God’s Spirit goes without saying, as is evidenced in His then present working in Psalms 139.7; 143.10 and in Ezekiel 36.26-27; Deuteronomy 30.6; Isaiah 44.2-5; Jeremiah 31.33; Joel 2:28-29; Zechariah 4.6. While the great work of the Spirit awaited the Upper Room and Pentecost, God’s Spirit has worked in His own through all ages (e.g. John 3.1-6 before Pentecost).
The working of God through the centuries has always had this in mind. It found partial fulfilment at the return from exile as men sought God afresh and put away all idolatry (Ezra 4.1-3; 6.19-21; Nehemiah 8 - 10), and as His Spirit worked in them for the rebuilding of the temple (Zechariah 4.6). But it was only partial. They were still partially lacking (Ezra 9.1-2, 10-15; 10.15, 44; Nehemiah 5.1-9; 13.7-29). It found partial fulfilment in the Upper Room and at Pentecost and what followed, continuing still today. But again His people have shown themselves to be still partially lacking. But it will find its final fulfilment when we are made like Him and see Him as He is (1 John 3.2).
Note the contrast of ‘take away’. When His people ‘take away’ the abominable things (verse 18) Yahweh will at the same time ‘take away’ their stony heart (verse 19). The new birth and repentance and doing away with sin go hand in hand.
11.21 “But as for those whose heart walks after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their way on their own heads,” says the Lord Yahweh.
God now finished off His comment on verse 15 with reference to the presumptious people of Jerusalem. But it was not so much their presumption that excluded them, it was their sin. They were boasting in what Yahweh had given them even while they were saturated in idolatry. Had their hearts been set towards Yahweh things might have been different. But their hearts were not with Yahweh. Their hearts were continually with their idols and their detestable ways, their sexual perversions and their child sacrifices, their violence and their injustice, and their persecution of godly people. So He would bring their way on their own heads. What they were sowing they would reap.
11.22-23 ‘Then the cherubim lifted up their wings and the wheels were beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain which is on the east of the city.’
Having made His declarations the chariot of Yahweh, with the glory of Yahweh on it, left the city for the mountain to the east of the city. Later when His glory will return to the temple it will be the east from which it comes (43.1-4). The appearance on the mountain east of the city was to be the last time that it was seen in this generation. Yahweh had departed and would come no more until His future day arrived. So Yahweh had moved, deliberately and certainly, from the holy of holies to the threshold of the temple (10.4), from the threshold of the temple to the door at the east gate of Yahweh’s house (10.19), and from there to the mountain to the east of the city (11.23), revealing iniquity on the way and pronouncing His judgments.
There may be in the eastern movement the thought of His eastward departure towards Babylon, (otherwise He would surely have returned to the north - 1.4) but there is no direct suggestion of it, or it may simply have been intended as a a mysterious disappearance from the Mount of Olives, to which He would one day return (Zechariah 14.4). Jewish tradition later saw Him as waiting there to see if the city would repent, but again there is no hint of it in the passage. We are probably best to see it as simply indicating that the glory of Yahweh then disappeared for the last time having abandoned the city to its fate. The central idea was that Yahweh and the city were no longer associated.
It may well be significant that Jesus too ascended from the mount of Olives, by Bethany, (Luke 24.50-51; Acts 1.6-11) and disappeared heavenward, as Jerusalem and the temple were again abandoned by God.
11.24 ‘And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God to Chaldea, to those of the captivity. So the vision that I had seen went up from me. Then I spoke to those of the captivity all the things that Yahweh had shown me.’
Ezekiel’s vision was now coming to an end and he was transported by the Spirit back to his fellow-captives in Babylonia. Then the vision ceased and he reported all that he had seen and heard to his fellow-captives. ‘So the vision that I had seen went up from me.’ A vivid way of depicting the fact that the vision was not just in his mind. It had come from God and returned to God.
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