Part I, Prophecies Relating To Israel (chapters 1-8)

Chapter One
The Vision Of The Chariot Of God

“Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of Jehovah came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of Jehovah was there upon him”—vers. 1-3.

The book opens very abruptly by the declaration that in the thirtieth year the prophet saw visions of God. Scholars are not united as to what thirtieth year is referred to. Some consider it the thirtieth year of the dynasty of Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, who founded the Babylonian empire. Others take it as the thirtieth year of Ezekiel’s life, the year when, had things been in order and he in the land of Israel, he would have entered upon his responsibilities as priest. In either case, the fact of his call to the prophetic office is not invalidated. He was divinely appointed to be a witness to Israel and Judah after the first victories of Nebuchadnezzar and the second deportation of captives to Chaldea. He dwelt among these by the River Chebar. To him the heavens were opened and visions of God were vouchsafed. While there is a very close link between the prophecy of Daniel, who wrote of the times of the Gentiles, and Ezekiel who dwelt on the government of God among or over the nations, it was to him, particularly, that the heavens were opened. He was enabled to look into the throne room, as it were, of the Almighty and to understand how the affairs of men and of nations were overruled by Him who sat upon that throne in awful and sublime majesty.

It was five years after the carrying away of the ungodly king Jehoiachin, and in the fifth month of that year, that Ezekiel was called to his high office as a prophet of the Lord to the people of the captivity. He was the son of Buzi, a priest, but of which course we are not told. His ordination is expressed in the words, “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” How blessed when His hands are laid on any man, and thus one is divinely called to represent God in a world that has turned away from Him. Happy is he who today can say in truth,

      “Christ, the Son of God, hath sent me

      Through the midnight lands;

      Mine the mighty ordination

      Of the pierced hands.”

Whether or not one is officially commended of his brethren or of some authoritative body in the professing church, the great thing is to be ordained of God to minister in holy things.

“And I looked, and, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire infolding itself, and a brightness round about it, and out of the midst thereof as it were glowing metal, out of the midst of the fire. And out of the midst thereof 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 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 the left side; they four had also 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. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: the fire 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 as the appearance of a flash of lightning”—vers. 4-14.

Artists have attempted to picture this majestic vision of the Eternal One riding through the universe on His chariot of glory, but no human mind can visualize the description in its intricate details. As we read the words of the prophet we are reminded anew that as the heavens are high above the earth, so are God’s thoughts beyond our thoughts and His ways above our ways. But even though the vision may be, as a whole, beyond our comprehension, there is much in it that becomes clear as we study it attentively.

As Ezekiel looked heavenward he beheld a stormy wind, evidently a whirlwind, coming from the north, which to an Israelite was the place of mystery, of darkness and of distress. The biting north wind brought with it blight and desolation. Babylon’s legions entered the land from the north, spreading desolation wherever they went. Though false prophets cried, “Peace, peace,” endeavoring to quiet the fears of the people, there would be no peace but rather destruction, because of the waywardness and disobedi- ence of the leaders and people alike. A storm was coming. It was God Himself who had decreed it in His righteous government.

As the prophet gazed upon the enfolding cloud, he discerned the form of a great chariot with wheels of enormous height, the attendants of the divine majesty surrounding it, and one in the form of a man riding in triumph through the heavens.

The living creatures are identical with those of The Revelation, and yet the description is somewhat different. There each individual cherub has but one face, though there are four, as here; and they bear respectively the faces of a man, signifying intelligence; a lion, speaking of majesty and power; an ox, telling of patient service; and an eagle, the symbol of swiftness in execution of judgment and acute discernment from afar. Here each cherub has the four faces. These are the heads of the four orders of creation, the human, the wild beasts, the cattle of the farm, and the bird kingdom. There were two cherubim over the ark, attached to the mercy-seat, speaking of judgment (discernment), and justice (righteousness), the habitation of God’s throne. The four here in Ezekiel and in The Revelation tell of these powers in connection with the government of the world. Four is the number of the world powers, as in Daniel 2 and 7 and elsewhere.

The cherubim here are seen in connection with divine activity in the affairs of the nations. They are the expression of the divine attributes. Whether they are actually created beings, like or akin to angels, or whether they are symbolic representations of these attributes, is a moot question. At any rate, we see in them the manifestation of the divine nature acting in righteous government over the nations. From the days of the Early Church fathers these cherubim have been linked with the manner in which Christ is presented in the four Gospels, and sometimes very fancifully, and apparently with no real grasp of their significance. For instance, “the lion of St. Mark” is well known and implies that Mark presents Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. But this is surely incorrect. It was Matthew to whom it was given so to portray Him; whereas Mark’s record is symbolized better by the patient ox, the servant of God and man. Luke gives us pre-eminently the face of a Man—the Humanity of our Lord in all its perfection. John completes the story by setting Him forth as the heavenly One—the Eternal Son become flesh, aptly pictured by the eagle. In Christ all fulness dwells. He is the complete manifestation of all the divine attributes.

There are details that one who is more spiritually-minded might understand better, but which forbid more careful attempt at exposition as far as the present writer is concerned. The wings connect the cherubim with the heavens, and by these they are covered in the presence of the Throne Occupant. Under their wings are hands as of a man—hands ready to succor and help when needed, or to strike in judgment, if necessary. Nothing here is arbitrary; all is under the control of Him whose heart is concerned about all His creatures.

“They went every one straight forward.” Nothing can turn aside the undeviating principles of the divine government. No schemes of men, no flaunting of God’s Word, no studied attempts to thwart His righteous rule, can avail. Steadily the chariot of the Lord rolls on, accomplishing the ends He has in view.

Every one of the cherubs had the face of a man. This seems to be the predominant face. The others, archetypal heads of creation, occupy a secondary place. The face of a man tells us that heaven truly understands and enters into our problems. The Lord is mindful of His own, and His heart goes out to every creature He has made. These cherubim are the executors of His judgments as the seraphim are the agents of His grace (Isa. 6). But judgment is His strange work and is executed only when grace has been ignored or rejected.

The wings of the living creatures are used for worship and for service. Like the seraphim, with twain they cover their faces as they bow in adoration before the Majesty of the heavens. The other two are used to speed them on His errands. We may learn a lesson from this for ourselves: worship comes first, then service.

“They went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went.” There is no vain repetition in God’s Word. The fact that this statement is repeated only helps to impress upon us the immutability of God’s counsels. No power, either human or diabolic, can turn them aside. All are directed by the Spirit who is the expression of the divine activity and is ever working throughout the universe.

The appearance of the living creatures was ethereal, like flaming torches, even as we read, He “maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flaming fire” (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:7). The angels are the ministers of God’s providence through whom He rules the present creation. “But unto the angels hath He not put into subjection the age to come” (Heb. 2:5). That age will be ruled through His redeemed ones, associated with Christ on His throne, according as it is written, “The time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” (Dan. 7:22). The fire that went up and down among the living creatures is the Shekinah glory, the manifest presence of the God of Israel, the uncreated light that once abode over the mercy-seat and between the cherubim, in the Holiest of all, of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple built by Solomon. This glory Ezekiel saw leaving the temple and returning to heaven. Some day it will come back to earth again and hover above the holy city, and the glory shall be a defence over all (Isa. 4:5). During all the long period of the times of the nations, while the Jews are scattered and the temple-site is occupied by a mosque of the false prophet of Islam, the glory is departed from the earth. “Ichabod” is written over all this scene. So one has to look up to see it by faith in that place where Christ sits exalted at God’s right hand.

The living creatures come and go—swift messengers bent on the King’s business—as the appearance of lightning. Limitations of time are not theirs. Instantly they dart from one end of the universe to another as they carry out the bidding of their Imperial Lord. Even so shall His coming be when He returns to earth the second time, for “as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of Man be in His day” (Luke 17:24).

We turn to consider next the wheels with their terrible rotations as the chariot of the Almighty moves on in majesty.

“Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold, one wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, for each of the four faces thereof. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto a beryl: 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 in their four directions: they turned not when they went. As for their rims, they were high and dreadful; and they four had their rims full of eyes round about. 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. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went; thither 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”—vers. 15-21.

These wheels connect the chariot with the earth. There are wings above and wheels below, and both are in perfect harmony, for the Lord hath His way in the sanctuary and in the sea (Ps. 77:13, 19). He is both the God of heaven and the Lord of the whole earth. All things serve His might. There is no one who can say unto Him, “What doest Thou?” or hope to resist His power. He makes the very wrath of man to praise Him, and that which would not contribute to His glory He restrains (Ps. 76:10).

Wheels, with their ever-recurring revolutions as they move on through the ages, suggest the great changes to which men and nations are subject. Nothing is at a standstill; everything is in constant motion. This is as true in nature, the material universe, as in the moral and spiritual realms. Solomon marvelled as he watched the great wheel of the world go round. He exclaimed, “One generation goeth, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he ariseth. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it turneth about continually in its course, and the wind returneth again to its circuits. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again” (Eccl. 1:4-7). We say that history repeats itself. This is but another way of saying that the wheels are continually revolving.

And there are wheels within wheels, so arranged that we cannot follow their intricacies. But we see them everywhere, different principles working at one and the same time, in the world, in politics, in the church, in all phases of human society. So true is this that the mind becomes bewildered trying to keep all the different movements in mind, until we are tempted to think that all is utter confusion, and there is neither order nor sanity in the universe. But the spirit of the living creature is in the wheels and all are controlled by a higher power than the merely human, or blind chance, or what men call fate. Moreover, there are eyes in the wheels, and these speak of intelligence and careful discernment and discrimination. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3) ; and, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (2 Chron. 16:9). Those eyes are ever over the righteous, and His ear is open to their cry (Ps. 34:15). And so as the wheels move on, though so high that we are unable to comprehend fully what God is doing, we may rest in this precious truth, that nothing moves but at His command or by His permission. In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God’s long toleration of evils—His apparent indifference to the cruelties practised against His people and the wicked behavior of those who seemed to triumph for a time while the righteous suffered in silence— frill all be made clear, and we shall see that though the wheels were high and the mysteries of the divine government beyond our present ability to comprehend, yet all were under His control who was working according to plan in a way that puny man little realized. The wheels have never been separated from the living creatures. Nothing is left to chance. All movements among men are under divine control, and even Satan can act only as God gives permission, as we see in the account of His dealings with the patriarch Job.

“And over the head of the living creature there was the likeness of a firmament, like the terrible crystal to look upon, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two which covered on this side, and every one had two which covered on that side, their bodies. And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a noise of tumult like the noise of a host: when they stood, they let down their wings. And there was a voice above the firmament that was over their heads: when they stood, they let down their wings. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man upon it above. And I saw as it were glowing metal, as the appearance of fire within it round about, from the appearance of his loins and upward; and from the appearance of his loins and downward 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 Jehovah. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake”—vers. 22-28.

The firmament, the heavenly dome, is over the living creatures, for it is under the heavens that the divine government is exercised. Nor is there ever any conflict between the various divine agencies or the divine counsels. What seems to man’s finite mind to be in- tricate and confused is clear to the spiritual one, who sees God behind all His works and ways. So the cherubim act in perfect harmony and are thus joined to one another. All act in obedience to the voice above their heads, the voice of Him who sits unmoved upon His throne, undisturbed by all the storms of earth that rage below.

As Ezekiel looked up he saw the likeness of a Man upon that throne. This is a clear intimation that the Man of God’s counsels, the Lord Jesus Christ, is ever to occupy that place of power and majesty. It was the preincarnate Christ that the prophet beheld, “the likeness of a Man.” Now, since redemption is accomplished, the Man Christ Jesus sits in His glorified human body on that throne of the Eternal. Consider the description of the Son of Man walking amid the lampstands in The Revelation, and note how intimately that links with this.

The rainbow about the throne, also seen again in the Apocalypse, speaks of the unchanging covenant God made with Noah, and gives assurance that no matter what catastrophes prevail for the moment, God’s watchful eye is ever upon this earth, and while it remains, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest shall not cease. The storm may rage and the very sun may seem to be blotted out of the heavens, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. His covenant He will not break, nor alter the thing that has gone out of His lips. Faith can rest on this and so be quiet and peaceful in the day of trouble.

Chapter Two
The Prophet’s Commission

“And He said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak with thee. And the Spirit entered into me when He spake unto me, and set me upon my feet; and I heard Him that spake unto me. And He said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to nations that are rebellious, which have rebelled against Me: they and their fathers have transgressed against Me even unto this very day. And the children are impudent and stiff-hearted: I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear (for they are a rebellious house), yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak My words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that which I give thee. And when I looked, behold, a hand was put forth unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; and He spread it before me: and it was written within and without; and there were written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe”—vers. 1-10.

When God calls a man to act for Him in some particular capacity, He fits him for the service he is to undertake. Augustine well said, “God’s commandings are God’s enablings.” The flesh may shrink from the great task, but he who counts on God will be able to say, “I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord” (Micah 3:8). God never sends anyone at his own charges or to act in his own strength, much less to be guided by his own wisdom. This was clearly manifested in the case of Moses (Exod. 4:10-15), and of Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4-19); and it comes out very definitely here in the call of Ezekiel to the prophetic office. Already he had seen visions of God. Now he was commissioned to be God’s mouthpiece to Israel and the nations. Jehovah still speaks in power and clarity after the lapse of two-and-a-half millennia.

The opening words of this chapter are most challenging. The Lord said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” The expression “Son of man” is distinctive. In the Old Testament it is used of mankind generally (Job 25:6; 35:8; Psalms 144:3; 146:3), as also in several passages in the prophets (Isa. 51:12; 56:2; Jer. 49:18, 33; 50:40). It is used prophetically of Christ Himself in Psalm 144:3, and Daniel 7:13, and we know from the Epistle to the Hebrews that the “Son of Man” of Psalm 8:4 is actually our blessed Lord. But it is a characteristic title of Ezekiel, being found eighty-five times in this book. Once Daniel is so addressed, but it is never applied to any other prophet. It was our Lord’s favorite title for Himself as recognizing His link with that lost world which He had come to save (Luke 19:10). It emphasized the reality of His Manhood, even as the title “Son of God” stressed His Deity.

As son of man, Ezekiel was to realize that although divinely called and supernaturally inspired, in himself he was but a man as others to whom he was to proclaim the words given him by God. He was commanded to stand on his feet, at attention, as it were, while the Lord commissioned him for his high and holy office. He was a priest already, and now was to become a prophet—one who was to speak for God to His people the word which had been spoken to him.

Moved and strengthened by the Spirit, undoubtedly the Holy Spirit who had entered into him, Ezekiel stood reverently before the Lord, listening in awe to the voice that spoke to him.

It was no easy service to which he was called. The Lord made it plain that he was to go to a nation of rebels, a people who had failed down through the centuries. The fathers had turned from God to idols, and the children had followed in their steps. Nor was there any likelihood that the children of the captivity, or those remaining in the land, would be any more ready to listen and to obey than their progenitors had been. They were all “impudent children and stiff-hearted.” Ezekiel was to go to them, nevertheless, and give them another opportunity to repent that more dire calamities might be averted.

He was not to speak as from himself, but he was to declare with authority, “Thus saith the Lord God!” It is this that gives dignity and force to the messenger of Jehovah. He who goes before his fellows to declare the thoughts of his own mind, or the imaginations of his own heart, is not the messenger of the Lord. It is not for His ambassadors to delight men with eloquent phrases magnifying the achievements of others or glorifying their own labors. The one business of the servants of God is to proclaim the word of the Lord in faithfulness and yet with grace and humility. “Where the word of a king is, there is power” (Eccl. 8:4), and God is a great King whose Word shall never return to Him void, but shall accomplish that for which He sends it (Isa. 55:11).

Ezekiel did not have to “get up” sermons or compose learned discourses. He simply had to receive the word from the Lord his God and then to give it out in the power of the Spirit to those to whom he was called to minister. The same is true of every anointed servant of God today. Such have been called of the Lord to preach the Word, not human philosophy, specious reasoning or vain imaginations, which, after all, are only evil, and that continually (Gen. 6:5). This may often involve self-denial on the part of the preacher. Like Paul, he may have to be careful not to depend on the wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ, the real message, be made of none effect. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the well-known liberal orator, has decried expository preaching as the poorest type of pulpit ministry, “because it leaves so little scope for the imagination.” But this is the very reason the man of God should glory in unfolding the precious truths of the Scriptures instead of weaving a web of oratory out of himself, as a spider makes its lacy snare to entrap its prey.

Irrespective of the people’s attitude toward his message, Ezekiel was to give out what God had given him. And whether they should hear or whether they should forbear—that is, refuse to heed, they would know that a prophet had been among them, when the words he proclaimed had been fulfilled.

He was not to be afraid of any who might threaten bodily harm. His confidence was to be in the One who sent him. Even though suffering resulted, as suggested by briers and thorns, and dwelling among scorpions, he was not to shrink from the task committed to him, nor be dismayed by the angry countenances of the rebellious house of Israel. It always means suffering to stand for God under adverse conditions. But grace will be supplied according as it is needed, that one may be enabled to endure as seeing Him who is invisible.

In ver. 7 the Lord reiterates and epitomizes all that had gone before. “Thou shalt speak My words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious.” The apparent failure of the prophet’s mission would not invalidate his authority as the spokesman for Jehovah. It is not necessary that one should be what the world calls successful: it is all-important that one should be faithful to the trust committed to him.

The real danger was that Ezekiel might grow weary of the struggle and become discouraged and fainthearted because of the opposition and the lack of response to his testimony. So the Lord warned him, “Be not thou rebellious like this rebellious house.” And then He gave the strange command, “Open thy mouth, and eat that which I give thee.”

As Ezekiel looked he beheld the form of a hand, reaching down from the cherubim, and in it a scroll, the roll of a book. This was the prophetic message he was to give to the people. Opening it up, there was revealed the terrible prophecies of lamentations and mourning and woe which were to be the burden of his message. To eat this roll was to take God’s word into his very being, to make it part of himself, as it were, and so to be prepared to give it out to the remnant of the captivity.

Chapter Three
Eating The Roll

“And He said unto me, Son of man, eat that which thou findest; eat this roll, and go, speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat the roll. And He said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.”—vers. 1-3.

In vision the prophet heard the command of the attendant messenger of the Lord of hosts, bidding him eat the scroll on which the word of the Lord was written. John had a similar vision on Patmos. Both he and Ezekiel are depicted as literally devouring the book. One is reminded of the declaration of Jeremiah, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer. 15:16). And again, the asseveration of the patriarch Job, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). In meeting the temptation of the devil to act without a command from the Father and so to make bread from stones, our blessed Lord quoted from Deut. 8:3 when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Only as we feed on the Word can we become strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Before Ezekiel went forth to give the word of God to others, he must eat the roll—that is, feed upon that word himself. The testimony of the Lord must become a part of his very being, so to speak, if he would so declare it that those to whom he ministered would feel the force of it in convicting power.

At first the prophet took the roll into his mouth, but did not seem to swallow it. In this he was like many who have a certain head knowledge of or intellectual acquaintance with the truth of Scripture, but have never really made it their own. So to Ezekiel the word came imperatively, “Son of man cause thy belly to eat.” God desires truth in the inward parts. David could say, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11). The truth must possess the very reins of our being. We must not only taste its sweetness, but also feed upon it, receive it into our inmost being, that it may completely dominate our lives. Then, and then only are we prepared to give it forth to others. The minister of God must enjoy the Word himself by meditating upon it, inwardly digesting it, and so making it a part of himself. Then he is ready to declare the whole counsel of God to those who are famishing for want of it.

“And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, if I sent thee to them, they would hearken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me: for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stiff heart”—vers. 4-7.

God would not have His servant under any illusions as to the possible effect of his message or of the attitude of those to whom he was sent to proclaim the Word of the Lord. He was not to go to the heathen, or to some nation of strange language and barbarous behavior. He was sent to his own people, the nation that had the law of God and had failed to obey it. As they had refused to heed the word spoken from Sinai, so they would refuse to heed that which the prophet was to put before them. But it was his business to proclaim the message. Results could be left to God. It is even so today. Those to whom it is given to preach the gospel are not responsible for its acceptance by their hearers. If men do receive the Word in faith, it becomes to them a savor of life unto life; if they refuse to obey, it is of death unto death. But God is honored as His servants speak for Him according to the illumination given by the Holy Spirit, and He has promised that His word shall not return unto Him void, but it shall accomplish that for which He sent it. The hearers of the message become the more responsible because of added light. The Word itself will be their judge in the day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed.

“Behold, I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, all My words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear”—vers. 8-11.

Ezekiel was sent of God, not so much to the remnant remaining in the land of Palestine, but to those who had been carried away already as captives. One might have supposed that their afflictions would have made their hearts soft and their consciences tender, and that in their distress there would have been a great turning to the Lord. But it was quite the contrary. They became all the harder as they resented the suf- fering that had come upon them. They despised the chastening of the Almighty, and so profited nothing by what they had been called upon to pass through. It was, therefore, a thankless errand on which Ezekiel was sent, as far as man’s estimation of his message was concerned. Naturally, he might be inclined to faint under all this and to become discouraged when there was no response to his words; but He who commissioned him was behind His servant, and He undertook to strengthen him for the task and to make him as strong for God as the people were strong against Him. The prophet was to stand as adamant against all the circumstances he would be called upon to meet. His strength lay in the realization that he had been divinely appointed to proclaim the truth of God without fear or favor. If the captives refused to hearken and obey the voice of the Lord, that was their responsibility, not Ezekiel’s. It is well for every man of God to understand this. Nothing else can so lift him above all that he may be called upon to experience in the way of contempt or open opposition of those whom he labors to help.

“Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed he the glory of Jehovah 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 wheels beside them, even the noise of a great rushing. 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 Jehovah was strong upon me. Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river Chebar, and to where they dwelt; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days”—vers. 12-15.

This was a fresh revelation of the power of God as Governor among the nations, given to encourage the prophet as he was about to begin his ministry. He had to learn that there was no might in himself; he could not carry on in what was merely human energy. The Spirit of God proceeding from the throne, took him up and placed him under divine control. This was ever true of our blessed Lord in the years of His humiliation. He ever chose to act, not in His inherent omnipotence as God the Son become flesh, but He put Himself under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who “drove Him into the wilderness,” and it was by the Spirit of God that He cast out demons and accomplished all His mighty works.

His servants, too, are to be under the same authority as they go forth to witness. The “noise of a great rushing” that stirred Ezekiel’s soul, reminds us of the sound as of a rushing, mighty wind at Pentecost, when the promised Comforter descended upon the one hundred and twenty disciples, baptizing them into one Body (1 Cor. 12:12, 13) and empowering them for service. The book of the Acts is far more truly designated as the Acts of the Holy Spirit than the Acts of the Apostles. It was the Spirit who empowered Peter and John and the rest for witness-bearing. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip when his work with the Ethiopian treasurer was done. The same Spirit opened and closed doors for Paul and his companions; and by the Spirit all testimony for Christ has been maintained throughout the centuries since.

It is evident that Ezekiel did not seek the position of being the mouthpiece of God. As a result of the book of “lamentations and mourning” which he had eaten, his own spirit was filled with bitterness. He was keenly conscious of the sadness of the burden of the Lord which he must proclaim. Borne along by the Spirit, however, he found himself among the captives at Tel-abib by the River Chebar. To them he was to give forth what God had given him. But so great was his inward exercise that for a full week he sat looking on, dumb with grief, as he considered their present condition and realized the hardness of their hearts and their unwillingness to heed what he was sent to declare unto them. At the end of the seven days God spoke again.

“And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and thou hast delivered thy soul”—vers. 16-21.

Solemn are the responsibilities put by God Himself upon one whom He calls to be a watchman and to speak for Him to His people. It was undoubtedly this and the kindred passage in chapter 33, that the Apostle Paul had in mind when he declared to the Ephesian elders, “I take you to witness that I am free from the blood of all men.” While among them, he had borne his testimony night and day with tears, and had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.

Though in an earlier dispensation, it was the same burden that was laid upon the heart of Ezekiel. Set apart by God and appointed to be a watchman in Judah, a tremendous responsibility devolved upon him. He was to warn the wicked of the judgments coming if they continued to live in defiance of God’s holy law; and, likewise, he was responsible to stress the importance of continuing in the way of righteousness when addressing those who were endeavoring to act in obedience to the commandments of God. If he failed to do this, and the wicked persisted in their evil ways until overtaken by judgment, and the unwarned who had walked in righteousness turned aside to commit iniquity, they should die in their sins, but their blood would be required at the watchman’s hand. He would have to answer to God for leaving the people unwarned. It was a terrible responsibility, but the same responsibility rests on every chosen servant of Christ today.

In considering these verses, we need to remember that it is righteousness according to the law of Moses that is in question. We do not have before us here the gospel of the grace of God. The time had not come for that glorious revelation. The law said, “Which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev. 18:5). This, we are told distinctly in the Epistle to the Galatians, is the very opposite of the gospel.

In the Old Testament dispensation, where there was real faith in God, it would be manifested by delight in His Word and obedience to His law. But there might be outward conformity to the law without any true work of grace in the soul.

Israel was under the government of God as His covenant people, and hence responsible to walk before Him in righteousness. If they did this, they would be blessed in temporal things. If they became wilful and disobedient they would come under judgment.

The ministry of the prophets was to call the people back to righteousness and to warn them of the folly of going on in any evil way. It was this which the Lord stressed as He sent Ezekiel to proclaim His Word to the captivity. If faithful in declaring the Word of God, he would deliver his own soul at least, even though his preaching seemed to fall upon deaf ears; but if he failed to give the warning he would have to answer before God for the blood of those who were destroyed for lack of knowledge.

The chapter closes by telling us of another vision of God in His governmental ways, given to prepare the prophet further for the great task set before him. He says:

“And the hand of Jehovah was there upon me; and He said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee. Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of Jehovah stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. Then the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet; and He spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thy house. But thou, son of man, behold, they shall lay bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them: and I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover; for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house”—vers. 22-27.

We have here an oft-repeated story in the Holy Scriptures. No man is fit to go forth to represent God to other men if he himself has not been in the presence of God. Nor will one experience of the divine manifestation fortify one for all that is to come. One must needs be given new revelations from time to time of the glory, power, love, and wisdom of God, so that in freshness of spirit and vigor of soul he may stand before his fellows as one sent forth by divine command.

To know God and to be consciously in His presence always produces humiliation of soul and a sense of utter worthlessness, but it also leads to worship and adoration. It was so with Ezekiel. Overwhelmed by the vision of the glory of Jehovah, he fell prostrate on his face. Strengthened by the Spirit he was lifted to his feet, and his commission given its final form. In the power of the flesh he was to do nothing; he was not to speak except as the words were given him of the Lord. But when he received the message from the Lord, his mouth would be opened and he would declare unfalteringly, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah.” This ever gives authority to the Word preached when, instead of speaking as from oneself and in the wisdom of words, the servant of God gives forth that which has been communicated to him through the Spirit and the Word. Then, whether people hear or forbear, it is all one. The message is delivered: God is honored; and the messenger can be at peace, knowing he has discharged the obligation put upon him.

It was thus with our Lord Himself, who spake as never man spoke, with authority and not as the scribes; and it was so with His chosen representatives as they declared the Word, not in their own wisdom or might but as c f the ability which God gave.

Chapter Four
Teaching By Object Lessons

In this and the first part of the next chapter we find God telling the prophet to use what We might think of as the kindergarten method of compelling attention to the word he was to make known. In a series of object lessons he was to illustrate God’s dealings with the city of Jerusalem and the houses of Israel and Judah. First we have the pictured siege of Jerusalem.

“Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem: and lay siege against it, and build forts against it, and cast up a mound against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it round about. And take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face toward it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel”—vers. 1-3.

All this was in order to draw the attention of the captives and to lead them to inquire as to the meaning of the sign or symbol. At the very time that the prophet was in this way illustrating the siege of Jerusalem, the armies of the Chaldeans had thrown a cordon around the doomed city and were pressing for its complete surrender, or failing in that its exposure to all the horrors of an Oriental sack. False prophets were endeavoring to persuade those of the captivity that God would never permit His holy city and His beautiful sanctuary to be overrun and destroyed by the idolatrous armies of Nebuchadnezzar. But these optimists spoke out of their own hearts, not by divine revelation or inspiration, and the falsity of their utterances was soon to be made manifest. The solemn facts that needed to be considered were these: the city was denied already by the vicious practices of the people of Judah, and the sanctuary had been contaminated for years by the setting up of images of heathen gods and goddesses within its sacred precincts. Therefore, He who is a jealous God and will not give His glory to another, could not in righteousness defend the place where His name had been so terribly profaned. God had been very patient and had waited long upon a rebellious and gainsaying people. Now His long-suffering mercy had come to an end, and He was to be toward His people as an enemy, taking as it were the part of their cruel foes in order that Judah might be chastened for her sins and manifold transgressions. It was not that His heart was changed toward His people, but His holiness demanded that their sins be dealt with. Their wickedness had left them helpless before their foes, and there was no power to resist the oppressor.

The next sign was of a different character and yet connected intimately with that which had preceded it.

“Moreover lie thou upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it; according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it, thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have appointed the years of their iniquity to be unto thee a number of days, even three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And again, when thou hast accomplished these, thou shalt lie on thy right side, and shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah: forty days, each day for a year, have I appointed it unto thee. And thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with thine arm uncovered; and thou shalt prophesy against it. And, behold, I lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to the other, till thou hast accomplished the days of thy siege”—vers. 4-8.

It is not easy to understand the exact meaning of the times recorded here. J. N. Darby says, “It is certain that these days do not refer to the duration of the kingdom of Israel apart from Judah, nor to that of Judah, because the kingdom of Israel lasted only about 254 years, while that of Judah continued about 134 years after the fall of Samaria.” He suggests, therefore, that “the longer period mentioned is reckoned from the separation of the ten tribes under Rehoboam, counting the years as those of Israel, because from that moment Israel had a separate existence and comprised the great body of the nation; while Judah was everything during the reign of Solomon, which lasted forty years. After his reign Judah would be comprised in the general name of Israel according to Ezekiel’s usual habit, although on certain occasions he distinguishes them on account of the position of Zedekiah and of God’s future dealings” (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, p. 413, new ed.). This is perhaps as good an explanation as any of the day-for-a-year periods during which Ezekiel was to lie first on one side and then on the other, as the people of the captivity looked on. He was to be their sign, telling of God’s long-drawn-out patience to their fathers and intimating that this day of His mercy was now coming rapidly to a close. The hand of Jehovah was to be upon him, enabling him to fulfil these weary vigils, which otherwise would have been almost impossible for flesh and blood.

The third sign was designed to express Jehovah’s disgust at the vile abominations connected with the idolatrous practices into which His people had fallen from time to time.

“Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof; according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, even three hundred and ninety days, shalt thou eat thereof. And thy food which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it. And thou shalt drink water by measure, the sixth part of a hin: from time to time shalt thou drink. And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it in their sight with dung that cometh out of man. And Jehovah said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations whither I will drive them. Then said I, Ah Lord Jehovah! behold, my soul hath not been polluted; for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn of beasts; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. Then He said unto me, See, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread thereon. Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with fearfulness; and they shall drink water by measure, and in dismay: that they may want bread and water, and be dismayed one with another, and pine away in their iniquity”—vers. 9-17.

To a pious Jew, the manner in which the prophet’s food was to be prepared, according to the first command of the Lord, would be unspeakably abhorrent. Ungodly men have misread these directions and have inveighed against the supposition that a holy God could ever have given such instruction. Misreading the command to prepare the food with human excrement as though it meant to mix unclean filth with the vegetables the prophet was to eat, has given ground for this. But the offal was to be used in the fuel, not in the food. And when Ezekiel (like Peter at Caesarea) protested that nothing unclean had ever entered his mouth, God, in pity for His servant, ordered that the dung of cattle be used instead. Anyone who has made a fire of buffalo chips on our western plains will understand at once what is meant. The food itself would not actually be contaminated, but the method of its preparation was meant to impress the captivity with God’s detestation of everything connected with the worship of the false gods of the nations. Idolatry is ever unclean and so exceedingly vile that nothing could be too filthy to picture its abominable character in the sight of Jehovah.

In times of famine men have resorted to the most detestable things for food in their efforts to satisfy the cravings of their hunger. To such straits Jerusalem was reduced, and as the siege progressed, conditions would become worse and worse. There could be no mitigation of Judah’s sufferings so long as they refused to heed the voice of God speaking through His servants the prophets. At this very time Jeremiah, in the holy city, was giving a similar testimony to that of Ezekiel among the captives in Chaldea, yet the people refused to hearken, so judgment had to take its course.

Chapter Five
Threatenings Of Providential Judgments

A fourth object lesson opens the present chapter, the illustration of the sharp sword used as a barber’s razor.

“And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword; as a barber’s razor shalt thou take it unto thee, and shalt cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. A third part shalt thou burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled; and thou shalt take a third part, and smite with the sword round about it; and a third part thou shalt scatter to the wind, and I will draw out a sword after them. And thou shalt take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts. And of these again shalt thou take, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; therefrom shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel”—vers. 1-4.

The sharp sword was a readily understood symbol of bloody warfare and told of the ruthless and victorious Chaldean armies which God in His providential judgment had permitted to overrun the land of Judah, and against which the people of Israel had no power to stand because of their apostate condition.

Using this keen-edged sword as one would use a barber’s razor, the prophet was to shave off the hair of his head and his beard, and he was then instructed to divide the hairs into three parts, one part to be burned in fire, another to be smitten by the sword, and the third part to be scattered to the wind, thus typify- ing or illustrating what should befall the Jews because of their rebellion against God. One third were to be destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem, another third mercilessly cut down by Nebuchadnezzar’s cohorts, and the rest to be scattered over the earth among all nations, according as they had been warned many times before. But a small remnant would be preserved even in the hour of Jehovah’s indignation, because they sought His face and kept His testimonies. These were pictured by the few hairs reserved and bound in the skirt of the prophet’s mantle, but even these were cast into the midst of the fire afterwards, for the righteous in Israel have had to suffer with the unrighteous during the long years of their exile from the land. All this is made clear in the verses that follow:

“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries that are round about her. And she hath rebelled against Mine ordinances in doing wickedness more than the nations, and against My statutes more than the countries that are round about her; for they have rejected Mine ordinances, and as for My statutes, they have not walked in them. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye are turbulent more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in My statutes, neither have kept Mine ordinances, neither have done after the ordinances of the nations that are round about you; therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I, even I, am against thee; and I will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations. Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments on thee; and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter unto all the winds. Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely, because thou hast defiled My sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall Mine eye spare, and I also will have no pity. A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee; and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and a third part I will scatter unto all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them”—vers. 5-12.

Jerusalem, the city where Jehovah had set His name and which was designated the holy city, had gone so far from God, following the ways of the heathen who knew Him not, that she had become as a stench in His nostrils and an abhorrence instead of a delight. Jerusalem was guiltier far than those nations, because they had never been favored with such knowledge as Israel. They worshipped idols because they knew not the one true and living God. Israel knew Him but forsook Him, spurned the holy law He had given, and ignored the entreaties of His prophets; consequently, He whom they had repudiated could deal with them only in judgment. He who loved them so tenderly had to become as their enemy. They must learn in suffering and anguish the bitterness of departure from His testimonies and from obedience to Him who had redeemed them from bondage and had borne with their manners for so long. Now his patience was at an end, and judgment must take its course. His eye would no longer spare nor His heart pity. They must eat the bitter fruit of the seed they had sown. It is a solemn instance of the principle that runs all through Scripture, which shows that whatsoever is sown must be reaped.

“Thus shall Mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause My wrath toward them to rest, and I shall be comforted: and they shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken in My zeal, when I have accomplished My wrath upon them. Moreover I will make thee a desolation and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by. So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment, unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments on thee in anger and in wrath, and in wrathful rebukes (I, Jehovah, have spoken it); when I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, that are for destruction, which I will send to destroy you. And I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread; and I will send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee: I, Jehovah, have spoken it”—vers. 13-17.

Thus Jerusalem not only would be punished for her own sins, but also she would become an object lesson to the nations roundabout, giving them to see that sin always brings trouble and sorrow, and that only as nations walk before God in righteousness will they have His approval and blessing. Israel is today such an object lesson to the whole world if men but have eyes to see and hearts to understand.

Though God must deal with sin in His people, He never gives them up. Israel is still His by covenant, and in a coming day He will draw the remnant back to Himself and comfort them in their affliction. He will not keep His anger forever, but when they turn to Him in repentance He will own them once more as His elect and bring them again into blessing even greater than they have known in the past. Meantime, they are destined to be a desolation and a reproach among the nations as they have been for some twenty-five centuries of sad and awful affliction.

Chapter Six
Judgment Pronounced On Israel

After long patience and many warnings God at last had come to the place where He could not, in righteousness, any longer recognize Israel as His own. They were to be henceforth, and until the time of their future restoration, as Hosea declared, “Lo-ammi”—that is, “Not My people.” Such has been their condition during the past twenty-five hundred years, and such it will be until that great day when they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn (Zechariah 12:10).

In the first seven verses we get Jehovah’s message of repudiation because of Israel’s persistence in sin.

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy unto them, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the mountains and to the hills, to the water-courses and to the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. And your altars shall become desolate, and your sun-images shall be broken; and I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the dead bodies of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars. 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 sun-images may be hewn down, and your works may be abolished. And the slain shall fall in the midst of you. and ye shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 1-7.

When the twelve tribes first entered the land of Canaan God promised temporal blessings of every kind so long as they walked in obedience to His Word. The land itself was to give every evidence of His good pleasure. It would be fruitful, abundantly so, and as a result their flocks and herds would multiply; and they, themselves, would be preserved in health. They would be strong so that no enemy would be able to stand against them. But now all was changed. They had sinned until there was no remedy, and so God commanded Ezekiel to set his face toward the mountains of Israel and prophesy unto or against them. He addresses Himself directly to the mountains and the hills, the water-courses, and the valleys. The land itself was to be the object of Jehovah’s displeasure; it has been down through the centuries since. The people were to be scattered, and the country left desolate. God declared He would Himself bring a sword upon them—in this case the sword of Nebuchadnezzar and his Chaldean army. He declared He would destroy the places where they worshipped their idols, and would overthrow their altars and images; and those who had served them would be cast down, slain before these representations of their false gods. For many there would not be even burial, but their bones would be scattered roundabout the altars on which they had sacrificed to demons. Their cities would be laid waste; their sanctuaries given up to desolation, and the idols in which they trusted would be utterly demolished and thus proven to be powerless to help. No arm would be outstretched to save Israel from their cruel foes, but the slain should fall everywhere in the land.

Though judgment was thus to be meted out. God could not forget His covenant with Abraham no mat- ter how wicked the people had become or how utterly degenerate and ungrateful. He had promised that Abraham’s seed should inherit the land, and His Word must stand; therefore, He speaks next of a remnant which would eventually be brought back from the sword.

“Yet will I leave a remnant, in that ye shall have some that escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. And those of you that escape shall remember Me among the nations whither they shall be carried captive, how that I have been broken with their lewd heart, which hath departed from Me, and with their eyes, which play the harlot after their idols: and they shall loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. And they shall know that I am Jehovah: I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them”—vers. 8-10.

This remnant appears in many places in the prophetic Scriptures. Even at the present time, Paul tells us, “There is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5)—that is, all down through the Christian dispensation there have been many Jews who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and borne witness to their faith by godly and devoted lives. It is true that so far as the great mass is concerned, blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.. But when God’s present work of grace among the nations is consummated, and the Church has finished its testimony in this scene then God will turn again to Israel, and out of them will save a remnant who shall become the nucleus of the new regenerated Israel in the kingdom days.

The remnant referred to here, however, has to do with those in Israel who, during the years between the dispersion and the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, turned to God in repentance and sought to honor and glorify Him, even during the time that His judgment was being meted out to the nation. Of such God said, “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.” These hidden ones—“the quiet in the land,” as David calls them—would still maintain a testimony for God. This remnant would be among the nations where they should be carried captive, and they would realize that judgment had fallen upon Israel because of their departure from God and because of their idolatry. They would loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which had been committed, taking the place of repentance toward God on behalf of themselves and their people. Of such we read, “They shall know that I am Jehovah.” And they shall know that He had not said in vain that He would bring evil upon the nation.

Conditions were such that no one taught of God could look on supinely or with careless indifference. Ezekiel himself was called to take an active stand in opposition to the evil.

“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Smite with thy hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, For they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish My wrath upon them. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, on all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the places where they offered sweet savor to all their idols. And I will stretch out My hand upon them, and make the land desolate and waste, from the wilderness toward Diblah, throughout all their habitations; and they shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 11-14.

Notice the striking way in which the Lord speaks to His servant, commanding him to smite with his hand and stamp with his foot, as he cried aloud against the abominations of the house of Israel. The conditions of the times demanded vigorous denunciations with a view to awakening sleeping consciences. Because of their sin and their refusal to repent God declared they should fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. Whether far or near there would be no escape from the avenging hand of the God whose commands they had spurned, and whose loving-kindness they had trampled under foot. No matter what they did they could not escape the providential judgments which were decreed. When all these dire prophecies were fulfilled they would recognize that He whose testimonies they had refused to heed was indeed the One true and living God. They had turned from Him to idols that could neither see, nor hear, nor speak, nor yet help them in any way when desolation came upon the land. They who had enjoyed so many evidences of divine favor should see their land become as a wilderness. They should know indeed that He who dwelt with them was Jehovah, the self-existing, Eternal One.

Chapter Seven
The End Is Come

With this chapter the prophet’s message, directed expressly against the land of Palestine, though of course including its sinful people, comes to an end. All God’s pleadings and remonstrances had proven to be in vain: the people were insistent on taking their own way. Ezekiel, as we have seen, was already among those who were in captivity. Nebuchadnezzar’s armies were once more threatening the land, and the false prophets were assuring Israel that God would intervene and save the nation. They utterly minimized the guilt of the people and declared that inasmuch as they were Jehovah’s chosen, He would intervene on their behalf. But all such prophecies were soon to be proven utterly false. The end of God’s patience had been reached, as we have seen. In wrath and indignation He was about to give them over to the power of the enemy to be destroyed by death or sold into slavery.

“Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, And thou, son of man, thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto the land of Israel: An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land. Now is the end upon thee, and I will send Mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways; and I will bring upon thee all thine abominations. And Mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity; but I will bring thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 1-4.

Note the words, “The end is come upon the four corners of the land.” There was no longer any hope. Their consciences had become utterly hardened; there was not the slightest evidence of repentance; therefore, God would judge Israel according to their ways, and recompense upon them their own abominations because they had not heeded the words of His prophets, nor turned from their idolatry. His eye would not spare, neither would He have pity upon them. It was not that His heart was hardened against them; He loved them still, but His holiness forbade His going on with them in their wickedness. When His judgments were poured out upon them they should know that it was indeed Jehovah with whom they had to do, and who had given them up to affliction and despair.

“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: An evil, an only evil; toehold, it cometh. An end is come, the end is come; it awaketh against thee; toehold, it cometh. Thy doom is come upon thee, O inhabitant in the land: the time is come, the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting, upon the mountains. Now will I shortly pour out My wrath upon thee, and accomplish mine anger against thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways; and I will toring upon thee all thine abominations. And Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: I will toring upon thee according to thy ways; and thine abominations shall toe in the midst of thee; and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, do smite”—vers. 5-9.

The people had looked for good but looked in vain. An evil, an only evil, was coming upon them. Once more the prophet repeats the word, “An end is come, the end is come.” It is a solemn thing indeed when God’s patience is exhausted and His wrath falls without restraint upon those whom He would so gladly have delivered had they but given any evidence of repentance. Even when things had been at very low ebb in the past, the slightest proof of self-judgment was sufficient to avert threatened punishment; but now the people were wholly given to iniquity. They had cast God’s law behind their backs, and even though there were, as we know, some godly ones among them, yet the state of the nation was such that these who had concern about their ways could only suffer with the rest of the people. When destruction falls, whether by natural calamity, such as earthquake, tornado, or pestilences, the righteous suffer with the wicked. It is true also when bloody warfare rages in a land. And so even the faithful remnant had to go through this time of terrible trial with the apostate part of the nation; though we see that afterwards, when Nebuchadnezzar had taken the city, provision was made for certain ones to remain in the land, and those that feared God were given opportunity to dwell quietly in the desolated region.

Instead of reading, “The morning is come unto thee,” a better translation, we are told, would be, “The turn of the wheel is come”—that is, the great wheel of the divine government is rolling on, and nothing can turn it aside. The time had come when the day of trouble, which many prophets had foretold, should actually take place. The storm nearing, they had heard the divine thunder, not merely an echo from the mountains.

Verses 8 and 9 are extremely stirring. God was about to pour out His fury upon Israel and accomplish His anger upon them. He would judge them according to their ways. There should be no pity. It was too late for mercy: judgment must take its course. And when all these dire predictions came to pass, Israel should know that He who thus dealt with them was the Lord that smiteth.

This last expression might be looked upon as a compound: Jehovah-Mekkadeschemt“Jehovah the Smiter.” Those who refuse to recognize God as Jeho-vah-Rahi (“Jehovah the Shepherd”), or as Jehovah-Jireh (“Jehovah the Provider”), will have to know Him as “Jehovah the Smiter.”

“Behold the day, behold, it cometh: thy doom is gone forth; the rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded. Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness; none of them shall remain, nor of their multitude, nor of their wealth: neither shall there be eminency among them. The time is come, the day draweth near: let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn; for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. For the seller shall not return to that which is sold, although they be yet alive: for the vision is touching the whole multitude thereof, none shall return; neither shall any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life”—vers. 10-13.

There was to be no longer delay. The day of doom had already come. Israel’s cup of iniquity was full; the tree of her pride had blossomed and budded; the hour when God would deal with her because of all her manifold iniquities had arrived. The armies of the Chaldeans had swept down upon the land. Jerusalem was already besieged. Because, on the part of Israel, violence had developed into a rod of wickedness, they should be dealt with in violence. The time had arrived; the day had drawn near. It was too late for buyer to rejoice or seller to mourn: the wrath of God was already being poured out upon the multitude. Commerce would be at an end; buying and selling would no longer have any place, and the whole land was to be given up to desolation.

Graphically the prophet describes the siege of Jerusalem in the verses that follow:

“They have blown the trumpet, and have made all ready; but none goeth to the battle; for My wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him. But those of them that escape shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, every one in his iniquity. All hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water. They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame shall be upon all faces, and baldness upon all their heads. They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be as an unclean thing; their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of Jehovah: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels; because it hath been the stumblingblock of their iniquity”—vers. 14-19.

The trumpets had sounded for the defense of the city. All had been called to make ready, but none dared go forth to the battle. Everywhere outside the walls were seen the forces of the enemy. Because of the rigor of the siege, pestilence and famine prevailed within the city. Those in the field were given up to death by the sword; those in the city faced death by the conditions prevailing there. A few, indeed, might escape, but they should be like mourning doves looking down upon the ruined city. All hands should be feeble; all knees weak as water. There would be no strength whatever to enable Judah to stand against her cruel foes. Though they mourned and girded themselves with sackcloth, and horror possessed their souls, there was no hope. They had sinned until God would no longer hear their cry. Their silver and their gold which had been hoarded up could not deliver them in the day of divine wrath. All was at an end. Jerusalem was doomed; Palestine was to be given into the hand of the enemy.

“As for the beauty of his ornament, He set it in majesty; but they made the images of their abominations and their detestable things therein: therefore have I made it unto 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 shall profane it. My face will I turn also from them, and they shall profane My secret place; and robbers shall enter into it, and profane it. Make the chain; for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence. Wherefore I will bring the worst of the nations, and they shall possess their houses: I will also make the pride of the strong to cease; and their holy places shall be profaned. Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none. Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumor shall be upon rumor; and they shall seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the elders. The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation, and the hands of the people of the land shall be troubled: I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them; and they shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 20-27.

Even as we read these words we can feel in our souls the sadness and the hopelessness which they depict. Because of the many idolatries and the detestable things connected with them, Jehovah had set His face against His people and given their cities and their land into the hands of strangers for a prey. True, these were the wicked of the earth and possibly as vile or viler than Judah had become, but the difference was this: the Chaldeans were a heathen people who had never been in covenant relationship with God; the people of Judah had been separated to Himself. He had given them His law; He had given them His Word, but they had rebelled against Him; therefore, He would use even the most wicked of the nations to chasten them. He would set His face against them and permit the robbers to enter into the land and defile it.

The expression in verse 23, “Make a chain,” suggests the captivity into which thousands were to go, bound with chains of their own sins. They were to be delivered in material chains into the hand of the enemy. Eventually the worst of the heathen would possess that land and all its holy places be defiled.

Some have seen in verse 24 a prophecy of the possession of Palestine by the Mohammedan powers who controlled and dominated it for some twelve centuries, until Allenby’s entrance into Jerusalem, and the ousting of the Turks.

In vain should they seek peace, for they had turned away from the only One who could give peace. Therefore, mischief should come upon them; one distracting rumor after another should trouble them. In their distress they should seek a vision of the prophet, but there would be no answer. The law was to perish from the priest, and counsel from the elders. King Zedekiah, unstable, tricky, and hypocritical, should mourn; the leaders be clothed with desolation, and the hands of the people be troubled. God declared, “I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them.” They should know it was Jehovah who was afflicting them when all these things were fulfilled.

There is, of course, a sense in which we may look beyond the days of Nebuchadnezzar and see in this chapter a depiction of the horrors of the great tribulation, but while this is a lawful application it is really secondary, for the actual fulfilment had to do with the siege and taking of the city by the Chaldean armies.

Let not us of the Gentiles look with contempt upon the Jews because of their forgetfulness of God and the dire results that followed. Let us remember that we also, as a people, have proved utterly unworthy of the privileges bestowed upon us; and in due time Christendom, too, will be rejected of the Lord because of its apostasy and rebellion.

Chapter Eight
Idolatrous Abominations

With this chapter Ezekiel begins a new series of messages which continue through chapter 11, but which are intimately linked with those that have preceded them. The date given is one year later than that of the visions and prophecies of chapters 1 to 7. Throughout this section God is still calling the people to repentance, as the judgment had not yet fallen. Ezekiel himself, as we know, was among the captives by the River Chebar; but in this eighth chapter he finds himself, in spirit, in the city of Jerusalem, in the temple of the Lord.

“And it came to pass 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 Jehovah fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and, lo, a likeness as 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 it were glowing metal. 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 earth and heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the gate of the inner court that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the appearance that I saw in the plain”—vers. 1-4.

While in the midst of a group of elders of Judah, it is evident that the prophet became unconscious of all about him. During this ecstatic state he beheld a glorious personage, evidently an angel, who appeared in the form of a man but in the likeness of fire, reminding us again of the words of the Psalmist, “Who maketh His angels spirits (or winds), and His ministers a flame of fire” (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:7). This glorious being put forth the form of a hand and took hold of the prophet by a lock of his hair. Ezekiel immediately found himself, in spirit, lifted up between earth and heaven; and, in the visions of God, he was brought to Jerusalem to the door of the gate of the inner court of the temple, the door toward the north. There he beheld a great idol, designated “the image of jealousy,” because it was written in the law, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5).

When we think of jealousy in connection with God we are not to confound it with the ignoble passion that so often works havoc in the hearts of carnal men. God is jealous because He knows that it is to our own hurt if we turn from Him to any other object of adoration. Even as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). James says that the spirit that dwelleth in us enviously desireth. God yearns to see us wholly occupied with the Lord Himself.

God had revealed Himself to Israel as to no other people: gracious, merciful, a covenant-keeping God; yet One whose holiness demanded that sin be dealt with in judgment. He had told them distinctly, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3); and had forbidden the making of any graven image before which they might fall down in worship. But they had cast His words behind their backs, and had turned to the idolatry of the nations surrounding Pales- tine, setting up their idols even in the very sanctuary of Jehovah.

As the prophet beheld, he saw again the glory of the God of Israel—that is, the vision of the chariot of the divine government which he had seen, as described in chapter 1. Nothing could be in greater contrast than the image of jealousy and the glory of Jehovah as here presented. The Lord spoke directly to the prophet, fixing his attention upon the idol thus set up in the temple.

“Then said he unto me, Son of man, lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north. So I lifted up mine eyes the way toward the north, and behold, northward of the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry. And he said unto me, Son of man, seest thou 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 thou shalt again see yet other great abominations”—vers. 5, 6.

As Ezekiel gazed upon the idol, his own heart must have been stirred to its depth. He heard the voice of Jehovah say, “Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel do commit here, that I should go far off from My sanctuary?” One can sense the pathos of this. God had been as a Father unto Israel: He had brought them out of Egypt and cared for them all through the centuries since. And now this was the return they gave Him: they spurned His Word, and followed after other gods, even worshipping stocks, stones, and metallic images which could neither see, nor hear, nor in any way deliver them in the hour of trial.

But this, in itself, was not all. The prophet was to behold other great abominations.

“And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold, a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold, a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and see the wicked abominations that they do here. 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, portrayed upon 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, every man with his censer in his hand; and the odor of the cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his chambers of imagery? for they say, Jehovah seeth us not; Jehovah hath forsaken the land. He said also unto me, Thou Shalt again see yet other great abominations which they do”—vers. 7-13.

The guiding angel brought Ezekiel to the door of the temple court, and there he beheld a hole in the wall, leading to a hidden door which opened into a secret room, which would not ordinarily be discovered by passers-by. Through this door Ezekiel was commanded to enter, and when he did so he beheld portrayed upon the walls roundabout, all kinds of creeping things, abominable beasts, and idols, such as one still finds upon the walls of Egyptian temples. Before these evidences of corrupt superstition and idolatrous wickedness there stood seventy venerable elders of the house of Israel, led by Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan. These were evidently priests, for each one held a censer in his hand, from which clouds of incense ascended before the delineations of false gods.

The angel spoke to Ezekiel, saying, “Son of man, hast thou seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his chambers of imagery?” Men love darkness rather than light when their deeds are evil; and so these elders were carrying on unholy worship in this dark room as they adored the picture images upon the walls. They imagined that they were so hidden that the eye of Jehovah could not see them; in fact, they told themselves He had forsaken their land. In reality, it was they who had forsaken Him. They had turned to these senseless idols only to learn, eventually, the folly of trusting in any other than the living God.

But this was not all. There were greater depths of iniquity still to be manifested, and so the guiding angel said, “Thou shalt again see yet other great abominations which they do.”

“Then he brought me to the door of the gate of Jehovah’s house which was toward the north; and behold, there sat the women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? thou shalt again see yet greater abominations than these”—vers. 14, 15.

Tammuz was a Babylonian god. He was considered by his followers to be the seed of the woman, spoken of in the book of Genesis (3:15). In the myths which were recited in connection with the Babylonian mysteries he was said to have been put to death in conflict with a giant bull; or, as others said, with a great dragon. But after some time he was supposed to have risen from the dead and to have power to free his subjects from their enemies. As the story of his death was recited in connection with the worship of Tammuz, priestesses sat about for the purpose of lifting up their voices in weird lamentations. It must have been a great shock to Ezekiel’s feelings to find the same thing close to the door of the gate of Jehovah’s house where Jewish women sat weeping because of the tribulation of this heathen god.

Again the word came, “Thou shalt again see yet greater abominations than these.”

“And he brought me into the inner court of Jehovah’s house; and behold, at the door of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east; and they were worshipping the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which 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. Therefore will I also deal in wrath; Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in Mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them”—vers. 16-18.

Still following his guide, Ezekiel was led into the inner court of Jehovah’s house, to the door of the holy place itself; and there he saw, between the porch and the altar, twenty-five men who had turned their backs upon the temple of Jehovah, and were prostrating themselves upon the ground as they faced the east, worshipping the rising sun. Thus they put the creature in the place of the Creator. It might seem almost unthinkable that a people who had been taught the fear of the Lord in the way that Israel had, and who had learned of the true God who created the heavens in which the sun has its place and the earth which is illumined with its glory, that they would ever for one moment think of adoring the heavenly luminary, and would turn their backs upon the temple where the Shekinah glory shone above the mercy-seat between the Cherubim. Yet to such depth of iniquity had they fallen; and as a result the land was filled with violence, and when the people refused subjection to God it seems that every corrupt passion of the heart was turned loose. They had provoked the Lord to anger. Even though He yearned over them and longed to deliver them, He could not do other than deal in judgment with those who had thus spurned His Word and broken His holy law.

Derisively, we are told, they put the branch to their nose—an expression which has occasioned not a little questioning among commentators, but clearly seems to refer to a gesture of contempt, and manifests their attitude toward the Holy One to whom they owed their fullest allegiance.

Because of their perversity God could deal with them only in His wrath, and He declared, “Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them.”

It is well to remember that if men despise the grace of God, they must know the fierceness of His indignation. They bring this upon themselves when they turn from the path of obedience and deliberately walk contrary to His revealed will.

There is a solemn lesson in all this for us as well as for Israel. God would have us learn from their wretched failure what an evil and bitter thing it is to depart from Him and to take the path of self-will. Blessing is found in obedience; disobedience brings its own judgment with it. This is a lesson we are often slow to learn; but if we will not profit by the experiences of others, or by the direct declarations of the Word of God, we shall have to learn by bitter sufferings and disappointments, the folly of refusing subjection to His will.