Part I, Prophecies Relating To Israel (chapters 9-16)

Chapter Nine
The Man With The Inkhorn

It is a mark of grace working in the soul when one is characterized by a holy horror of surrounding sin and uncleanness. By this is not meant a “Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou,” attitude, but a recognition of the fact that one is himself part of an iniquitous and gainsaying people; one who, like Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra, bears the sins of his people upon his own heart and takes his place with them in confession before God.

As the Lord looked upon the people of Judah in Ezekiel’s day He saw very little evidence of this spirit of self-judgment. He who of old would have spared the cities of the plain had ten righteous men been found in Sodom, had looked in vain for any appreciable group in Judea who mourned before Him because of the abounding evil. He would separate any such from the apostate nation, associating them with Himself in judgment upon the rest. In a remarkable vision this was made clear to the prophet.

“Then he cried in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause ye them that have charge over the city to draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And behold, six men came from the way of the upper gate, which lieth toward the north, every man with his slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man in the midst of them clothed in linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side. And they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar. And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon it was, to the threshold of the house: and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn by his side. And Jehovah said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof”—vers. 1-4.

One can see in this the inspiration of John Bunyan’s graphic picture of the call to devotion to the Lord’s battles as beheld by the pilgrim in the Interpreter’s house. Bunyan’s whole being was saturated with the Scriptures, which colored all his thinking and writing.

A voice is heard calling from the sanctuary for those who are in authority in Jerusalem to draw near with the swords of judgment in their hands.

To this call six men responded in the vision, each one armed to deal with offenders against the law of God. Among these was a secretary, or recorder, robed in linen, the symbol of righteousness, and having a writer’s inkhorn by his side according to the custom of those days. All these men took their positions before the brazen altar, which speaks of the cross work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the light of which the whole world of the impenitent is to be judged.

The prophet sees the glory of the God of Israel which had gone up from its accustomed place between the cherubim over the mercy-seat, now hovering over the threshold of the house. The throne of God is no longer a throne of grace but of judgment, for grace has been spurned and God’s holiness defied.

The voice is heard again, and is identified as that of Jehovah Himself. He commands the man clothed in linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn, to go through the midst of the city of Jerusalem, and to set a mark upon the foreheads of those who manifested exercise of soul by sighing and crying because of the manifold abominations being practiced on every hand. One is reminded of the 144,000 out of all the tribes of Israel who are to be sealed in their foreheads just before the great tribulation bursts upon the world in all its terrible fury. And we think today of those who, having turned to God in repentance and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, are sealed by the Holy Spirit and thus marked off from those who are to be Anathema Maranatha—devoted to judgment at the coming of the Lord. The nature of the mark on the foreheads of those sealed in this vision is not indicated, but it certainly was a sign that they had judged themselves before God and now sided with Him in His attitude toward the iniquities of Judah.

“And to the others he said in my hearing, Go ye through the city after him, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly the old man, the young man and the virgin, and little children and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark: and begin at My sanctuary. Then they began at the old men that were before the house. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and smote in the city”—vers. 5-7.

As we read these words we cannot fail to connect them with the solemn message of 1 Peter 4:17, 18: “For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?”

The armed executors of justice were commanded to go through Jerusalem and smite down all who did not have the seal on their foreheads, and the word was, “Begin at My sanctuary.” Thus the judgment commenced with the priest of the Lord who had profaned His name. Even so, God will deal in stern retribution with all who profess His name today but who have only a form of godliness while denying its power. The Lord will not spare the professing church if its members spurn His Word and trample on His grace, turning that grace into lasciviousness.

Because the people of Judah had profaned the temple by their idolatries, God would give it up to further defilement by the dead bodies of those who had rebelled against Him.

“And it came to pass, while they were smiting, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord Jehovah! wilt Thou destroy all the residue of Israel in Thy pouring out of Thy wrath upon Jerusalem? Then said He unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of wresting of judgment: for they say, Jehovah hath forsaken the land, and Jehovah seeth not. And as for Me also, Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, hut I will bring their way upon their head. And, behold, the man clothed in linen, who had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as Thou hast commanded me”—vers. 8-11.

Stirred to the depths of his being by this vision of the slaughter of priests and people (so soon to be accomplished by the Chaldean armies), Ezekiel fell down on his face before God and pleaded that He would not destroy all the remnant of Israel when He poured out His wrath upon Jerusalem. God answered by declaring that conditions were such that judgment could no longer be delayed, and inasmuch as the whole people had departed from Him, and had refused all entreaty to repent and seek His face, judgment without mercy should be meted out to them.

But this did not mean that He had forgotten the few in the land who sighed and cried because of conditions which they could not remedy. He had commanded the destroyers already, saying, “Come not near any man upon whom is the mark.” This indicated clearly His care for the faithful remnant.

As the first part of the vision came to an end the man with the inkhorn reported, saying, “I have done as Thou hast commanded me.” This was to reassure the prophet concerning those who had humbled themselves before God and mourned because of the sin of Judah.

Chapter Ten
The Divine Chariot Reappears

This tenth chapter gives a continuation of the vision, the first part of which is recorded in chapter 9. The man clothed with linen who had the inkhorn by his side is still before us and acts as the direct representative of God in judgment. Ezekiel’s attention was turned away from the earthly sanctuary to the heavens above. He says:

“Then I looked, and behold, in the firmament that was over the head of the cherubim there appeared above them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. And he spake unto the man clothed in linen, and said, Go in between the whirling wheels, even under the cherub, and fill both thy hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight. Now the cherubim stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of Jehovah mounted up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of Jehovah’s glory. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty when He speaketh. And it came to pass, when he commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim, that he went in, and stood beside a wheel. And the cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim unto the fire that was between the cherubim, and took thereof, and put it into the hands of him that was clothed in linen, who took it and went out. And there appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand under their wings”—vers. 1-8.

So marvelous and sublime is this vision that it is almost beyond human power to fully understand and appreciate it. We see here, as in chapter 1, the divine chariot in which Jehovah rides majestically through the universe, ordering everything according to the counsel of His own will. The prophet looked up and saw in the firmament that was over the head of the cherubim, a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. It is the throne of the moral Governor of the universe. No matter how confused and confusing conditions may be on earth,

      “God sits exalted on His throne,

      And ruleth all things well.”

At His command the man clothed with linen was seen entering in between the whirling wheels under the cherubim. There his hands were filled with coals of fire from between these glorious beings—fire which was to be scattered over the city, indicating that the hour of its judgment had come.

We have something very similar in the book of the Revelation, in the eighth chapter, where the angel-priest is seen standing at the golden altar, offering up before God the smoke of the incense with prayers of His suffering saints on the earth. In response to these prayers the angel takes the censer and fills it with the fire of the altar and casts it upon the earth, thus indicating that the judgments of God are to be poured out upon this guilty world. And so here in Ezekiel 10, God’s patience having been exhausted, the people of Judah having sinned until there was no hope of repentance, the hour of their doom had struck. They could not see what was going on in the heavens; they did not realize that coals of fire from between the cherubim were being scattered over the city; but they were soon to know the meaning of all this in all its terror and its horror.

As the prophet beheld, the cherubim stood on the right side of the house when the man went in, and the cloud, we are told, filled the inner court. Then he saw the glory of Jehovah mounting up from the cherubim and standing suspended over the threshold of the house which was filled with the cloud, and the court, too, was resplendent with the brightness of Jehovah’s glory.

Though the ears of the sinners of Judah were deaf to it all, the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty when He speaketh. He commanded the man clothed in linen, bidding him take the fire from between the whirling wheels from between the cherubim—a command that was obeyed immediately. Hands that had been hidden formerly beneath the wings of these executors of the divine government, reached out and took the fire and put it into the hands of this man who received it and went out. It was the form of a man’s hand that was seen under the wings, suggesting that God was reaching down to clasp the hand of His creatures and would have poured out upon them His rich grace had they been prepared to receive it, but now He must deal in judgment.

“And I looked, and behold, four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside one cherub, and another wheel beside another cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was like unto a beryl stone. And as for their appearance, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been within a wheel. “When they went, they went in their four directions: they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had. As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels. And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle”—vers. 9-14.

The wheels of government, as we saw in chapter 1, are intimately connected with the cherubim. There are wheels within wheels, because the counsels of God are being carried out even though man cannot comprehend them. At the very time that the Lord had to visit in judgment the city where He had placed His name, He was so overruling in connection with His faithful remnant that even the haughty Gentile oppressor would find it in his heart to show them mercy.

Nothing can turn aside these wheels of government to the place whither the head looked; that is, the head of the chariot. They followed it and turned not as they went. Puny man attempts to defy God, but it will result only in his being crushed beneath these mighty wheels. None who have ever hardened themselves against Him have prospered; and yet those wheels do not represent mere arbitrary fate, but the wheels themselves were full of eyes—eyes roundabout; eyes that speak of intelligence; the eyes of the Lord, in every place beholding the evil and the good. For the judgment of God is according to truth. There is nothing capricious about His government: He will not render unto man more than his right.

We have noticed already in our comments on the first chapter the significance of the four faces of the cherubim and so need not dwell upon that here.

“And the cherubim mounted up: this is the living creature that I saw by the river Chebar. And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them; and when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels also turned not from beside them. When they stood, these stood; and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them: for the spirit of the living creature was in them”—vers. 15-17.

Very definitely Ezekiel identifies this vision of the living creature with that which he saw previously by the River Chebar, but again he emphasizes the fact that the wheels were under the direct control of the cherubim. When they lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth the wheels also turned not from beside them; when the cherubim stood, the wheels were still; and when they soared up into the heavens the wheels were lifted up with them, for the spirit of the one was in the other.

“And the glory of Jehovah went forth from over the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight when they went forth, and the wheels beside them: and they stood at the door of the east gate of Jehovah’s house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above”—vers. 18, 19.

As Ezekiel continued to gaze upon this wondrous scene he beheld the Shekinah glory issue forth from over the threshold of the house and rise up into the heavens until it stood over the cherubim; and then, as though riding majestically through the universe in the divine chariot, it crossed to the door of the east gate of Jehovah’s house, and for a time seemed to be suspended above that entrance. It was as though Jehovah was loth to forsake His sanctuary. He lingered still in the place where He had set His name, but there was no evidence whatever of repentance on the part of the people, and so in a short time the glory was to ascend to heaven never to be seen again until the Lord Jesus Christ appeared on this earth.

“This is the living creatine that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar; and I knew that they were cherubim. Every one had four faces, and every one four wings; and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings. And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the faces which I saw by the river Chebar, their appearances and themselves; they went every one straight forward”—vers. 20-22.

Again the prophet identifies the vision with the living creature which he had seen by the River Chebar. Observe that the living creature is under the God of Israel. God Himself is invisible. His attributes are manifested in the cherubim. “Justice and judgment,” the Psalmist tells us, “are the habitation of Thy throne” (Psalm 89:14), and these attributes are exemplified in the angelic figures.

How solemn the repetition of the words “They went every one straight forward.” Oh, the folly of supposing that it is possible for human power to thwart the will of God!

Chapter Eleven
The End Of The Vision

The eleventh chapter gives us the last part of the remarkable vision which came to Ezekiel in the sixth year, as mentioned in 8:11. The prophet still speaks of what he saw when, by the Spirit, he was given to behold conditions prevailing in Jerusalem, and God’s attitude toward them. The Lord made these things known to him in order that he might press home upon the consciences of those who had been taken captive the importance of heeding the Word of the Lord as given by Jeremiah, a brother-prophet, that the captives should settle down in the lands wherein they had been placed by their conquerors, and should build houses and plant vineyards and prepare for a stay in the land of the stranger for a period of at least seventy years, during which time the land was to keep sabbath.

Against this command many revolted. They supposed the Lord would intervene and open the way for them to return to Palestine. False prophets, who had risen up, encouraged them in this expectation. It was against these men that many of Ezekiel’s messages were directed.

“Moreover the Spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of Jehovah’s house, which looketh eastward: and behold, at the door of the gate five and twenty men; and I saw in the midst of them Jaazaniah the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah the son of Be-naiah, princes of the people. And He said unto me, Son of man, these are the men that devise iniquity, and that give wicked counsel in this city; that say, The time is not near to build houses: this city is the caldron, and we are the flesh. Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy, O son of man”—vers. 1-4.

In the spirit Ezekiel once more was carried to the east gate of the temple court. There, by the door of the gate he beheld five and twenty men, princes of Israel—men who represented the attitude of the people toward God. Among these, two are mentioned by name, Jaazaniah the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah. It is evident that these two must have had special influence among the people and are, therefore, singled out in this way.

The word of the Lord came, saying, “Son of man, these are the men that devise iniquity, and that give wicked counsel in this city.” Jerusalem was besieged by the Chaldean armies. By the mouth of Jeremiah God had counseled capitulation to the demands of the foe, and had promised that those who willingly gave themselves up would go into captivity, but that their lives would be preserved; whereas the rest—those who refused to obey—would be utterly destroyed by these leaders opposing the word of the Lord and ridiculing the counsel given by Jeremiah.

They insisted that this was no time to build houses; that is, in the lands of their captivity, and in mockery they exclaimed, “This city is the caldron, and we are the flesh.” That is, they recognized the fact that Jerusalem was as a caldron with a living fire beneath and above it, and they like to the flesh within. Nevertheless, they still preached, Peace, peace, when there was no peace, assuring the people that in a little while the Chaldean armies would turn away from Jerusalem and the holy city be preserved from judgment.

In opposition to their optimistic prophecies God again spoke through Ezekiel.

“And the Spirit of Jehovah fell upon me, and He said unto me, Speak, Thus saith Jehovah: Thus have ye said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind. Ye have multiplied your slain in this city, and ye have filled the streets thereof with the slain. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Your slain whom ye have laid in the midst of it, they are the flesh, and this city is the caldron; hut ye shall be brought forth out of the midst of it. Ye have feared the sword; and I will bring the sword upon you, saith the Lord Jehovah. And I will bring you forth out of the midst thereof, and deliver you into the hands of strangers, and will execute judgments among you. Ye shall fall by the sword; I will judge you in the border of Israel; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. This city shall not be your caldron, neither shall ye be the flesh in the midst thereof; I will judge you in the border of Israel; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah: for ye have not walked in My statutes, neither have ye executed Mine ordinances, but have done after the ordinances of the nations that are round about you”—vers. 5-12.

He who knows all things not only heard the words of these leaders but also knew the thoughts that were in their hearts, and He declared, “Thus have ye said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind.” The slain had been multiplied in the city, and the streets filled with dead bodies. These were indeed the flesh, and the city truly was the caldron. And in accordance with the word of the Lord through His prophets, Jerusalem would be taken by the enemy, and those who were not slain would be brought forth out of the midst of it and delivered into the hands of strangers who would be God’s instruments to execute judgments upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Escape would be impossible. Try as they might they could not deliver themselves from their cruel foes; throughout all the land they would be given up to judgment, and would know that Jehovah had spoken when these things were fulfilled. Not in Jerusalem alone but also throughout all the land of Israel would they know the vengeance of the Chaldeans, which would be all the fiercer because of the prolongation of the siege of the city. Israel had no title to cry for help from God, for they had not walked in His statutes nor carried out His ordinances, but they had behaved themselves in accordance with the ways of the heathen round about them.

“And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord Jehovah! wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?”—ver. 13.

Even while the words were in Ezekiel’s mouth he saw in the vision that Pelatiah dropped dead. Evidently this actually occurred in Jerusalem at this very time. Stirred to the depth of his heart by the beginning of the fulfilment of his words, he fell down upon his face and mourned before God, saying, “Ah Lord Jehovah! wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?”

The Lord answered, revealing the love of His heart toward His erring people and promising to meet, in grace, any who turned to Him, even in the land of their captivity, while judgment must have its way with those who refused to hear His voice.

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel, all of them, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from Jehovah; unto us is this land given for a possession. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Whereas I have removed them far off among the nations, and whereas I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a sanctuary for a little while in the countries where they are come. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 14-21.

Jehovah’s words were addressed, as before, to Ezekiel as “Son of man.” His own near kinsmen were among those who had rebelled against the Lord, and they, with others, had been removed far off among the nations, but God would never forget any who, in the land of their captivity, turned to Him. He said, “Yet will I be to them a sanctuary for a little while in the countries where they are come.” The temple might be destroyed. No place on earth would any longer be designated as that where Jehovah had set His name, but no soul would ever seek Him in vain. No matter what the circumstances in which His people were found, if any turned to Him with all their hearts He would reveal Himself to them and would Himself be a sanctuary unto them. Moreover, in due time He will gather a remnant of His people back to their own land.

Notice the definite promise, “I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.”

When that day comes the remnant will be accepted of God as the nation and will be regenerated. He says, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”

This promise has never yet been fulfilled. The present return of many Jews to Palestine, while still in unbelief, is in one sense a partial fulfilment of this prophecy; it is, doubtless, preparatory to it. But when the actual fulfilment comes the people themselves will return to the Lord; they will judge their sins, and bowing before God will confess their guilt, even the guilt, as we now know, of the rejection of their promised Messiah; and when they thus turn back in heart to God He will establish them in the land, and will give them a new nature through a second birth, even as He does to all individuals now who turn to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

But when they do come there will be no blessing for those who persist in taking the path of self-will and who go on defiantly in their sins. The word of the Lord is, “I will bring their way upon their own heads.”

“Then did the cherubim lift up their wings, and the wheels were beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of Jehovah went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. And the Spirit lifted me up, and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to them of the captivity. So the vision that I had seen went up from me. Then I spake unto them of the captivity all the things that Jehovah had showed me”—vers. 22-25.

As the vision came to an end and Ezekiel beheld the cherubim lift up their wings with the wheels of government beside them, he saw the glory of the God of Israel over them above. It was evident that God still lingered in mercy, even though that mercy was despised, for the glory of Jehovah went up from the midst, then stood upon the mountain, which is on the east side of the city. This is the Shekinah glory which had dwelt between the cherubim in the Holiest of all. It now stood over upon the Mount of Olives, the very place where the Lord Jesus Himself was to stand before He ascended to heaven. The last the prophet saw of the glory in this vision it still waited there upon the mountain top, as though God was reluctant to forsake His people, in spite of the fact that they had proven so disobedient and hardhearted.

As the vision passed Ezekiel opened his eyes to find himself in the land of Chaldea on the banks of the Chebar with a group of the captives gathered about him, to whom he revealed all that he had seen and heard.

Chapter Twelve
Jerusalem’s Destruction Impending

In chapters 12 to 16 we have another series of prophetic messages, all having to do with the predicted destruction of Jerusalem, and the captivity of the people of Judah. Though so long-suffering, God could no longer condone the wickedness of Judah, so there was nothing to do but to carry out His judgments against the people whom He loved so tenderly, but who had shown such utter indifference to His holy will. Zedekiah, to whom Jeremiah had witnessed so faithfully, had given no evidence whatever of repentance, and so he who sat upon the throne of Jehovah (Jeremiah 29:21) was doomed, not only to be degraded from his royal estate but also to go sightless down to Babylon as a subject-vassal of Nebuchadnezzar.

In the first part of this chapter Ezekiel was commanded to gain the attention of his fellow-captives by acting out the departure from Jerusalem.

“The word of Jehovah also came unto me, saying, Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of the rebellious house, that have eyes to see, and see not, that have ears to hear, and hear not; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for removing, and remove by day in their sight; and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place in their sight: it may be they will consider, though they are a rebellious house. And thou shalt bring forth thy stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removing; and thou shalt go forth thyself at even in their sight, as when men go forth into exile. Dig thou through the wall in their sight, and carry out thereby. In their sight shalt thou bear it upon thy shoulder, and carry it forth in the dark; thou shalt cover thy face, that thou see not the land: for I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel. And I did so as I was commanded: I brought forth my stuff by day, as stuff for removing, and in the even I digged through the wall with my hand; I brought it forth in the dark, and bare it upon my shoulder in their sight”—vers. 1-7.

Though a man of God, Ezekiel himself dwelt in the midst of a rebellious people who did not use their eyes to see nor their ears to hear, but persisted in the path of folly and self-will. Ezekiel was commanded to prepare his goods for removing; that is, he was to pack up everything as though he were getting ready to leave his present place of abode; then as night drew on he was to remove to a new location, but furtively, as we are told, as men go forth into exile. Instead of passing through the gate of the enclosure in which he dwelt, he was commanded to dig through the wall and carry out his goods through the breach that was made. His face was to be covered that he might not see the land, for he was intended to be a sign unto the house of Israel, picturing to them the condition of the thousands of Judah who would seek to flee from the Chaldeans, only to be captured by them and led away into the stranger’s land.

The prophet did as he was commanded and went forth in the dark, bearing his goods upon his shoulder, in the sight of the people who doubtless looked on curiously.

“And in the morning came the word of Jehovah unto me, saying, Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house said unto thee, What doest thou? Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel among whom they are. Say, I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them; they shall go into exile, into captivity. And the prince that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the dark, and shall go forth: they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby: he shall cover his face, because he shall not see the land with his eyes. My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in My snare; and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there. And I will scatter toward every wind all that are round about him to help him, and all his bands; and I will draw out the sword after them. And they shall know that I am Jehovah, when I shall disperse them among the nations, and scatter them through the countries. But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; that they may declare all their abominations among the nations whither they come; and they shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 8-16.

The day following the acted parable of the previous verses the word of Jehovah again came to Ezekiel, inquiring what impression his actions had made upon the rebellious house of Israel. Had they asked him, “What doest thou?” he was to make known unto them the burden of Jehovah concerning Zedekiah, the prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel who still remained in the land. He was to explain that he himself was their sign; that as he had done, so should it be done unto them. They were all doomed to go into exile. Even the prince himself, that is, King Zedekiah, would endeavor to escape from the city, bearing a few of his possessions upon his shoulder even as one of the common people. In his effort to thwart the purpose of Nebuchadnezzar to take him captive he would flee in the dark after digging through the wall, and would seek to save his life by becoming a fugitive and hiding in some almost inaccessible place. Nevertheless he would be taken captive, and as a bird in a snare, he would be brought to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans. But he was destined never to see that land even though he was to dwell in it for a number of years, un- til finally death released him. This prophecy had its terrible fulfilment, as we know, when his two sons were slain before his eyes, after which those eyes were put out, so that the last memory he had of things seen would be the death of his children.

Following in the wake of the king’s captivity would come the scattering of Judah throughout all the lands of earth; nor would this complete their judgment, for wherever they went God Himself would draw out the sword after them, and they would learn through experiences of deepest grief and sorrow the folly of having forsaken the Lord God. Dispersed among the nations and scattered throughout the countries they would remain a separated people, against whom the bitter enmity of their neighbors would burn.

A few of them, nevertheless, would be saved from the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, that they might declare, or acknowledge, all their abominations among the nations whither they came; thus they should know that they had to do with Jehovah.

“Moreover the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with tearfulness; and say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with fearfulness, and drink their water in dismay, that her land may be desolate, and despoiled of all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be a desolation; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 17-20.

Thus Ezekiel would continue to be a sign unto the people. In accordance with the word of the Lord, he ate his bread with quaking, and drank his water with trembling and with fearfulness. In this way he was to picture the unhappy conditions under which the people of Judah would live when carried away from their own land after their cities had been laid waste and the land itself become a desolation.

In imminent fear of their lives, never knowing from one day to another what new calamity might come upon them, the unhappy captives would be in constant dread because of the violence of their enemies. Not only during the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s sway, but also down through all the centuries since has this been the unhappy portion of the nation of Israel. Never fully at home anywhere, they have lived in continual fear and uncertainty, and all because they knew not the time of their visitation.

For many years God’s prophets had been warning the people of the dire calamities that would come upon them if they persisted in refusing to obey the word of Jehovah, but they had spurned these testimonies and mistreated the messengers. Because sentence against their evil ways was not immediately executed they put off from them the day of reckoning, hoping that it might never come in their time. Of this we next read:

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is this proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the fulfilment of every vision. For there shall be no more any false vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am Jehovah; I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall be performed; it shall be no more deferred: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I speak the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 21-25.

The majority of the people of Israel and Judah were of the same spirit as those of our own time, who, when they hear the truth that the Lord Jesus is to return again, cry out in derision, “Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:4). So those of old said, “The days” (that is, the days in which God was waiting in mercy ere visiting judgment upon His people) “are prolonged, and every vision faileth.” They did not look for the prophet’s visions to materialize, but God’s word came, saying, “I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel”; for contrary to what they had said, the days were at hand, and every vision of judgment was about to be fulfilled. Moreover, the false prophets were to be cut off in Jehovah’s anger; there should be no more any false vision nor flattering divination. God’s word alone should stand. He had spoken, and His word should be performed, nor should the predicted doom be longer deferred. In their days, He declared, He would give the final commandment that would bring down the judgment upon that rebellious house.

“Again the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of times that are afar off. Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: There shall none of My words be deferred any more, but the word which I shall speak shall be performed, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 26-28.

A second time Jehovah gave the same message through His servant. Even though He had spoken so definitely, in their folly and unbelief the house of Israel continued to say, “The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of times that are far off.” With a foolhardy optimism they put away the evil day, and went on carelessly in their sin and ungodliness, thinking they would escape the predicted judgments, and that if they came at all they would fall upon a future generation. But God declared that none of His words should be deferred any more; that which He had spoken was now to be performed immediately, and thus the people would know that they had to do with a God who never calls back His words.

We may also see in all this a picture of that which prevails in Christendom at the present time. While the Scriptures clearly indicate the fact that we are living in the closing days of this dispensation, the professing Church, with very few exceptions, has settled down complacently in the world, and its leaders endeavor to make the people believe that those who talk of judgment beginning at the house of God are misguided fanatics, and that conditions were never better than those that now prevail. Yet the Word of God declares that, “As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37); for as corruption and violence filled the antediluvian world, so we see corruption and violence on every hand today, and in the Church itself the characteristics of the last days, as depicted in 2 Timothy 3, are everywhere prevalent.

Oh, that we might have eyes to see and ears to hear, to understand the signs of the times and take heed to the Word of the Lord.

Chapter Thirteen
Lying Prophets Rebuked

At the time when these providential judgments were being meted out to Israel, already there were not wanting false prophets who dared to declare that Ezekiel’s predictions were the ravings of an ill-natured pessimist, and that the hour of Jerusalem’s deliverance and Judah’s triumph was near, when the Chaldean armies would be driven from the land of Palestine, defeated and utterly humiliated. To these vain optimists Ezekiel was commanded to speak in the name of Jehovah, declaring that they themselves were doomed to perish with the rest of the apostate nation when the full wrath of the Lord should fall upon them.

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own heart, Hear ye the word of Jehovah: thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! O Israel, thy prophets have been like foxes in the waste places. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither built up the wall for the house of Israel, to stand in the battle in the day of Jehovah. They have seen falsehood and lying divination, that say, Jehovah saith; but Jehovah hath not sent them: and they have made men to hope that the word would be confirmed. Have ye not seen a false vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, in that ye say, Jehovah saith; albeit I have not spoken?”—vers. 1-7.

Professing to speak by the Spirit of the Lord, these false prophets had but given utterance to the promptings of their own spirits. They expressed only what they vainly hoped might be the outcome of the conflict then going on. Their whole attitude was the result of wishful thinking. Failing to recognize the cause of the suffering of Judah, and thus not understanding the attitude of Jehovah toward the people called by His name, they predicted only that which they fondly hoped would come to pass.

Thus they were hindrances rather than helpers, making the people comfortable in their sins. Like foxes in the deserts, or rather, as jackals in the wilderness feeding on carrion, they were worthless messengers because they had no word from Jehovah.

They had not attempted to get at the root of the trouble by calling on Israel to judge the idolatry and all its attendant evils, which had led them so far astray and hidden Jehovah’s face from them.

Declaring the Lord had sent them to give assurance of coming deliverance, they made the people trust in a lie which would never be confirmed. Theirs was a vain or empty vision and a false divination, for in spite of their pretension to represent Jehovah, He had not spoken through them.

In every age when God has been dealing with His professed people because of their sins and apostasy there have been such false prophets who have sought to lull the offenders to sleep in a false confidence, assuring them that all is well and there need be no fear of judgment falling upon them. How these prophets abound in Christendom today! With the Judge standing at the door, they continue to cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace!”

“Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: because ye have spoken falsehood, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord Jehovah. And My hand shall be against the prophets that see false visions, and that divine lies: they shall not he in the council of My people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord Jehovah. Because, even because they have seduced My people, saying, Peace; and there is no peace; and when one buildeth up a wall, behold, they daub it with untempered mortar: say unto them that daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it”—vers. 8-11.

Like a careless or unfaithful workman who would build up a wall by attempting to cement the stones together with untempered mortar, so these lying prophets endeavored to build up the morale of their brethren who looked to them for guidance, by leading them to trust in a lie. Because of this God had set His face against them. They were doomed to die in their captivity, never again to see the land to which they declared the scattered nation would soon return in triumph.

The very names of these so-called seers were to be blotted out of the records of Israel because they had endeavored to discredit the testimony of the Lord, as given through His inspired representatives. The time would soon come when their falsity should be made manifest. Then the very people who had been deceived by them would ridicule their unfounded pretensions to be mouthpieces of Jehovah.

“Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it? Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will even rend it with a stormy wind in My wrath; and there shall be an overflowing shower in Mine anger, and great hailstones in wrath to consume it. So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be uncovered; and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. Thus will I accomplish My wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered mortar; and I will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it; to wit, the prophets of Israel that prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and that see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 12-16.

A wall speaks of protection and separation. The wall built with untempered mortar was destined to collapse, exposing the people to the power of the Chaldeans. In that day these self-styled optimists would become the objects of the scorn and contempt of those who had been misled by their lying predictions.

Back of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies was God Himself. It was He who would use these cruel foes to destroy the wall and to consume the people from off the land. In His wrath He was about to visit His indignation upon them because of their manifold iniquities of which they refused to repent. Their prophets cried, “Peace”; but the Lord declared, “There is no peace.” How could there be when the law of God was flouted, and His Word despised?

“And thou, son of man, set thy face against the daughters of thy people, that prophesy out of their own heart; and prophesy thou against them, and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe to the women that sew pillows upon all elbows, and make kerchiefs for the head of persons of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of My people, and save souls alive for yourselves? And ye have profaned Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to My people that hearken unto lies. Wherefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against your pillows, wherewith ye there hunt the souls to make them fly, and I will tear them from your arms; and I will let the souls go, even the souls that ye hunt to make them fly. Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver My people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 17-21.

There were not only false prophets, but also false prophetesses at this time. Often when men have failed it has pleased God to speak through faithful women. But in those days the women were as false and faithless as the men. They too prophesied smooth things and tried to make the people comfortable in their sins. So God pronounced a woe against them.

The expression, “The women that sew pillows (or cushions) to all armholes (or wristbands),” is admittedly a difficult passage to explain. Some think the reference is to binding charms and amulets upon their clothing; others think that it was simply a suggestive adornment that implied there was no danger to avoid, and so they were prepared to rest comfortably without fear of evil. The other expression, “That make kerchiefs for the head of persons of every stature,” is also somewhat perplexing. But may it not also suggest careless adornment in order to banish the fear of calamity and incite to increased mirth and vanity?

The verse that follows seems to coincide with this thought. Like harlots adorning themselves in order to attract unwary victims, these false prophetesses made everything as pleasing as they could in order to ensnare the souls of those who might be inclined to heed the word of the Lord as given by Ezekiel and others, who were divinely inspired and who warned of judgment to come.

“Because with lies ye have grieved the heart of the righteous, whom I have not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, and be saved alive; therefore ye shall no more see false visions, nor divine divinations: and I will deliver My people out of your hand; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 22, 23.

Where conscience was at all active the heart was saddened by all this wicked perversion of the truth of God. The righteous were grieved as they saw the wicked lulled into a state of carnal security, from which only judgment would awaken them, when it would be too late for repentance. False teaching always tends to strengthen people, who accept it, in their wickedness and to make them believe that no matter how they live they will be secure from divine wrath.

God may seem tolerant of that which is untrue and unreal for a time, but He will deal eventually with those who propagate error, and will deliver His people from their hand.

Chapter Fourteen
Too Late For Intercession

We are told in the book of Proverbs that if men refuse to heed the voice of God when He speaks in grace, calling to repentance, the day will come when they shall call on Him for mercy and He will refuse to heed their cry. This is what we have emphasized in the present chapter.

It was very evident that the Jews’ case had become extremely critical. Those who had counted on the withdrawal of the Chaldean armies and the fulfilment of the predictions of peace made by their false prophets, were beginning to feel that, after all, they were in a far worse case than they had supposed; and so a deputation of the leaders called on Ezekiel to confer with him as to whether there might be any hope of Jehovah’s intervention on their behalf.

“Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Every man of the house of Israel that taketh his idols into his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I Jehovah will answer him therein according to the multitude of his idols; that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from Me through their idols”—vers. 1-5.

Before any of these elders uttered a word, God Himself spoke to Ezekiel, declaring that He who seeth not as man seeth but discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart, had already judged these men as those who had set up their idols in their own hearts and put the stumblingblock of their iniquities before their faces. Why, then, should they come to a prophet of God to inquire of him? They had no desire to do the will of God; therefore they had no title to seek relief from Him. As long as conditions continued as they were, there could be no answer of peace. Jehovah declared that all those of the house of Israel who had set up idols in their hearts and who persisted in their iniquities, which had thus become a national stumbling-block, deserved no answer, save an answer in judgment in accordance with the idolatry that they had pursued. God would deal with them as He saw them to be inwardly, not in accordance with their lip profession as they pretended to reverence Him.

He commanded that Ezekiel simply confirm the prophecies of judgment that had already gone forth.

“Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Return ye, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that separateth himself from Me, and taketh his idols into his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet to inquire for himself of Me; I Jehovah will answer him by Myself: and I will set My face against that man, and will make him an astonishment, for a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of My people; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I, Jehovah, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of My people Israel. And they shall bear their iniquity:, the iniquity of the prophet shall be even as the iniquity of him that seeketh unto him; that the house of Israel may go no more astray from Me, neither defile themselves any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be My people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 6-11.

In his mercy He called upon the people to turn again to Him, to put away their idols, to judge all these abominations after which they had gone for so long. If they were prepared to do this, He would still heed their cry. In fact, wherever there was an individual of the house of Israel or of the strangers who were dwelling among the people of Israel, God would hear in mercy if they turned to Him in truth, but where they persisted in their idolatry He could only set His face against them and pour out His wrath upon them.

He declared that those who went on in their sins would become an astonishment, a sign, and a proverb to the nations, and would be cut off from She midst of Israel. Thus by His judgments they should know it was Jehovah with whom they had to do.

As for the false prophets who were misleading them, the Lord Himself took the responsibility for having permitted this; for it is a principle in Scripture that when men refuse the truth, God Himself often gives them up to falsehood. Even as in the last days of the great tribulation, those who receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved, will be given up to strong delusion that they might believe the lie of the Antichrist, and so all be judged which obey not the truth but have pleasure in unrighteousness.

We may think it is just a matter of chance when one man receives the testimony of the Lord and turns to Him in repentance and faith and seeks to walk in His truth, while others are carried away by false systems, many of which have become most popular in our own days. In the first instance it is the Spirit of God Himself who reveals to man his need, and then shows how Christ has met that need; whereas, in the other case, when people have refused the truth of God and resisted the Holy Spirit, He allows their minds to be blinded and permits them to be deluded by false teachings which, if followed to the end, result in their everlasting doom.

Our Lord Jesus warned against blind leaders of the blind, both of whom fall into the ditch at last. To Ezekiel God declared that the people who followed after that which was false should bear their iniquities, and the punishment of the pretended prophet should be even as that of those who trusted in his messages.

In order that the house of Israel might realize the folly of turning away from Jehovah, and might learn from His judgments the importance of walking in His truth, and so might not go farther astray nor be defiled any more with the things that had rendered them so unclean in His sight, there is more than a suggestion in verse 11, that there was still hope if they would turn to God. In that case He would again acknowledge them as His people, and He would manifest Himself as their God. But alas, there was no response! They persisted in their evil way; therefore God declared that they must be given up to judgment.

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, when a land sinneth against Me by committing a trespass, and I stretch out My hand upon it, and break the staff of the bread thereof, and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast; though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord Jehovah. If I cause evil beasts to pass through the land, and they ravage it, and it be made desolate, so that no man may pass through because of the beasts; though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only should be delivered, but the land should be desolate. Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off from it man and beast; though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only should be delivered themselves. Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out My wrath upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast; though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, they should deliver neither son nor daughter; they should but deliver their own souls by their righteousness”—vers. 12-20.

While the hypocritical elders waited, hoping for an answer that might promise deliverance from their present awful plight, God commanded Ezekiel to tell them that they had gone beyond the place where He would listen to intercession on their behalf. The people of the land had so thoroughly committed themselves to iniquity and had been so unfaithful to the covenant which God had made with them that He was now stretching out His hand against them and would give them over to famine in addition to the other troubles that had come upon them. Even though such godly and devoted men as Noah, the outstanding witness for God before the flood; Daniel, who at this very time was in Babylon being prepared of God for a remarkable ministry in future days; or Job the patriarch who had been so severely tested and come through so triumphantly, should all be together in the land and should make intercession on its behalf, still they would deliver but their own souls by their righteousness. Their pleadings could not avail for the apostate nation.

If conditions in the land became so evil that wild and savage beasts increased to such an extent as to endanger the lives of the few who were left in it so that no one dared appear on the highway because of these beasts, even then, though these three men should be among the remnant and should plead on their behalf, still God declared they should deliver neither sons nor daughters but only themselves, and the land should be left to desolation. Or if the sword of the en- emy were allowed to prevail, as it would very soon, when God Himself should command the sword to go through the land to cut off man and beast from it, if these three men should be in it and should stand before Jehovah and plead for the people, still He would not answer. He would recognize their own righteousness, but their prayer would avail for no one else. Or if pestilence, which so often follows bloody warfare, should take its terrible toll of those who remained, cutting off man and beast, Noah, Daniel, and Job would be unable to avert the judgment, let them plead as they might.

“For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: How much more when I send My four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the evil beasts, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be carried forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings; and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it. And they shall comfort you, when ye see their way and their doings; and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 21-23.

We may notice a very close connection between the threatened evils mentioned here and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. In Ezekiel we read of warfare, famine, evil beasts, and pestilence. These are called Jehovah’s “four sore judgments.” In the Apocalypse we have, first, the white horse of peace, then the red horse of war, followed by the black horse of famine, and the corpse-colored horse of pestilence. These are all providential judgments which God sends upon the nations when they turn away from Him.

But there is a rainbow of hope seen even in the dark clouds of judgment, as we notice in verses 22 and 23, wherein God speaks of a remnant that shall be carried forth and shall learn from what has come upon them and the rest, and as a result, will turn to the Lord and be comforted concerning the evil that He was bringing upon Jerusalem. These were to be the witnesses of God’s loving care over all who, in their hearts, turned back to Him, and so made it possible for Him in righteousness to act for their blessing. Realizing the sinfulness of the nation to which they belonged they would recognize the fact that God had not acted arbitrarily, but had good reasons for dealing with them in the manner in which He did.

Chapter Fifteen
Israel An Unfruitful Vine

As every Bible student knows, there are different plants or trees used in the Scriptures as types or symbols of the nation of Israel, God’s earthly people. Four of these are brought together in the parable of Jotham, as found in Judges 9:8-21. These are the olive, the fig-tree, the vine, and the bramble-bush. As we learn in Jeremiah 11:16, 17, and in Romans 11, the olive-tree represents Israel in covenant relationship with God. For the present the covenant is in abeyance, and Israel is scattered among the nations. The Gentiles now enjoy the privileges that might have been Israel’s had they been faithful to the Lord. In a future day, however, because of the unfaithfulness of the Gentiles, they will be set to one side and Israel grafted again into their own olive-tree. The fig-tree speaks of Israel nationally; perhaps more particularly of the Jews as such—that is, the descendants of Judah and Benjamin who were in the land when the Lord Himself came. This fig-tree failed to bear fruit for God, and so is under a curse. There will be no fruit until, through infinite grace, the nation will be restored to God and to their land.

The vine tells us of Israel looked at as a people in spiritual relationship with God, who should have brought forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to His glory. He planted them a noble vine and cared for them in every possible way, as we read in Isaiah 5, but there was no fruit for Himself. In the book of Hosea (10:1) we read, “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself.” So when the Lord Jesus was about to be crucified He declared that Israel’s house was left unto them desolate, and announced that He Himself was the true Vine, and all who professed faith in Him are the branches.

The bramble-bush pictures in a very graphic way what Israel has become as under divine judgment, instead of being a blessing to the world. The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through them, as we read in Romans 2:24.

In our present chapter Ezekiel is called upon to consider the vine-tree from God’s standpoint.

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is the vine-tree more than any tree, the vine-branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood he taken thereof to make any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire hath devoured both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned: is it profitable for any work? Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work: how much less, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned, shall it yet be meet for any work!”—vers. 1-5.

The vine was created by God for but one special purpose, and that is to bear fruit. Compared with other trees it is a crooked, twisted dwarf, whose wood is of very little use. It could not be made into boards for building purposes; it is so soft in texture that one could not even make tent-pins of it to place upon the center pole in order to hang vessels thereon, as is customary among nomadic peoples. It is almost worthless even as fuel, for in a few moments it is utterly consumed, and it would take an enormous amount of fagots of the vine to keep up a fire for any length of time. It is utterly unprofitable for any work. But if it bears rich, luscious grapes it fulfils the purpose of its creation. So when God used the vine as a figure of Israel it was in view of their spiritual relationship to Him. If this relationship were maintained in purity and holiness there would be precious fruit borne by the nation for His honor and glory. Some day this shall be, when regenerated Israel shall blossom and bud and fill the face of the whole earth with fruit; but in the meantime we see this people scattered among the nations and a testimony wherever they go to the divine displeasure.

“Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: As the vine-tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will set My face against them; they shall go forth from the fire, but the fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I set My face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 6-8.

Just as the vine-dresser roots out of his vineyard worthless vines and consumes them in the fire, so God was giving the inhabitants of Jerusalem into the hands of the Chaldeans that they might be destroyed. Because of their unfaithfulness and corruption He had set His face against them, declaring that the fire of judgment should devour them, and thus they should know that He, Jehovah, was dealing with them because of their sins. Their land was to become desolate because of the great trespass which they had committed against His holy name. In the book of the Revelation we have God’s final dealings with the apostate part of Israel just before the return of Messiah, when a remnant will be recognized by Him and planted again in the land of Palestine, to become a fruitful vine through the millennial age. John saw in vision a mighty angel come forth from the temple which is in heaven, having a sharp sickle in his hand, and he heard another angel commanding the first one to send forth “the sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe” (Rev. 14:18). God had said through Isaiah, “He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isa. 5:2). These tell out the condition of the people in their complete repudiation of God’s Word and of His Son, their own Messiah, whom they still failed to recognize.

We are told that the angel cast his sickle into the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth and cast it into the wine-press—the great wine-press of the wrath of God—and the wine-press was trodden without the city, and there came out blood from the winepress, even to the bridles of the horses, as far as six hundred furlongs. This is the actual length of the land of Palestine, and the vision clearly intimates that the entire land will be drenched with blood—the blood of those who have apostatized from Jehovah in the awful days of the great tribulation. Then will God’s judgment be poured out upon the vine of the earth. Following this, when the Son of Man descends to take the kingdom, He will recognize a spared remnant as His own vine, and will place them again in the very land where judgment will have been executed upon the wicked.

In the interval, between the rejection of Israel—the Lord said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt. 23:38)—and the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Lord Jesus Himself, as the True Vine, brings forth fruit unto the Father through those who in infinite grace have been linked up with Him not in profession but in reality. It is well to remember that there are no natural branches in the living Vine; all must be grafted in. Where the graft does not strike—that is, where there is only profession and not life, there will be no fruit; but where there is actual union in life there will be fruit unto God—fruit which is precious in His sight. In order that more fruit may be produced He cleanses the branches, prunes them as He sees fit, and rejoices when they bring forth much fruit.

Chapter Sixteen
Israel Favored Of God But Faithless

This lengthy chapter, in the very nature of things, could not very well have been divided inasmuch as it gives a complete outline of God’s ways with Israel from the very beginning, and their ungrateful response to His loving-kindness. There is much here against which the mind revolts—much that is so indelicate according to our way of speaking, much that is loathsome and even grossly sordid. But we need to remember that sin is the vilest thing in all the universe. And Israel’s sin in turning away from the true and living God to the worship of the idols of the nations roundabout her, was of a most revolting character, for that idolatry was linked with very corrupt and immoral practices. Therefore God used the method employed here, indelicate as it may seem to people of refined tastes and clean minds, to portray the filthiness of such sin and iniquity as that of which this nation had been guilty. No carefully chosen words or guarded expressions can make wickedness any less repulsive than it really is in the sight of a holy God.

“Again the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations; and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto Jerusalem: Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of the Canaanite; the Amorite was thy father, and thy mother was a Hittite. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied thee, to do any of these things unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, for that thy person was abhorred, in the day that thou wast born”—vers. 1-5.

Israel here is likened to an unwanted female babe exposed for death, thrown out by its parents immediately after birth and left to perish in its uncleanness.

Canaan was the home of the Amorite and the Hittite. Israel’s parentage as a nation was traced back to these idolatrous tribes. The ordinary care given to a newborn child had not been hers. The inhabitants of the land repudiated her and endeavored to rid themselves of her from the beginning.

Nevertheless God in mercy and loving-kindness looked upon Israel and intervened in her behalf, as the next verses remind us.

“And when I passed by thee, and saw thee weltering in thy blood, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live; yea, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live. I caused thee to multiply as that which groweth in the field, and thou didst increase and wax great, and thou attainedst to excellent ornament; thy breasts were fashioned, and thy hair was grown; yet thou wast naked and bare. Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest Mine. Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and 1 anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with sealskin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and covered thee with silk. And I decked thee with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a ring upon thy nose, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thy head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper unto royal estate. And thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty; for it was perfect, through My majesty which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 6-14.

Jehovah looked upon the infant nation in pity and tender consideration. Instead of permitting her enemies to destroy her, He threw the mantle of His protection over her, took her up in grace, nourished and cherished her, saw her develop as from a neglected infant into a fair and beautiful maiden.

In His tender love He cleansed, clothed and adorned her, making her to become the most favored of nations, a witness to His great compassion and His omnipotent power. Thus she became renowned throughout the world, and even the nations that knew not her God, could not fail to realize that she was specially favored by Him who had become her Deliverer and Protector. All was of Him. He acted according to the love of His heart not according to any merit He saw in her.

Instead of responding to such goodness by loyalty to her Redeemer-God, she proved utterly faithless, as the next section reveals.

“But thou didst trust in thy beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy whoredoms on every one that passed by; his it was. And thou didst take of thy garments, and madest for thee high places decked with divers colors, and playedst the harlot upon them: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. Thou didst also take thy fair jewels of My gold and of My silver, which I had given thee, and madest for thee images of men, and didst play the harlot with them; and thou tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them, and didst set Mine oil and Mine incense before them. My bread also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou didst even set it before them for a sweet savor; and thus it was, saith the Lord Jehovah. Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto Me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Were thy whoredoms a small matter, that thou hast slain My children, and delivered them up, in causing them to pass through the fire unto them? And in all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast weltering in thy blood”—vers. 15-22.

Pride is latent in the human heart. We who have nothing of which to be proud, are prone to take credit to ourselves for any success or special favor God bestows upon us, forgetting that we have nothing which we have not received.

So Israel became vainglorious and trusted in her own beauty—that beauty which the Lord her God had put upon her, which should have led her to devote herself to Him alone. She used it to draw to herself the admiration and lascivious affection of the idolatrous nations from which she had been called to separation. Like an unfaithful wife preferring others to her own husband she became filthy and defiled. Spiritual fornication and adultery is the unholy union of the people of God with the world, even as James says, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). This immoral relationship is also used as a symbol of idolatry, turning from the one true God to the worship of idols. Of all this Israel had been guilty, and although God had sent His prophets to plead with her to forsake her evil way, she refused to hearken, and persisted in her wicked harlotry, so that God was now about to cast her off as one with whom it was useless to plead any longer. But ere declaring this He gave further proof of her perfidy.

“And it is come to pass after all thy wickedness (woe, woe unto thee! saith the Lord Jehovah), that thou hast built unto thee a vaulted place, and hast made thee a lofty place in every street. Thou hast built thy lofty place at the head of every way, and hast made thy beauty an abomination, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredom. Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians, thy neighbors, great of flesh; and hast multiplied thy whoredom, to provoke Me to anger. Behold therefore, I have stretched out My hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, that are ashamed of thy lewd way. Thou hast played the harlot also with the Assyrians, because thou wast insatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet thou wast not satisfied. Thou hast moreover multiplied thy whoredom unto the land of traffic, unto Chaldea; and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith”—vers. 23-29.

Instead of either turning from her corrupt ways, or even manifesting a measure of restraint, the very-pleadings of the Lord through His prophets had the opposite effect, apparently; for Israel increased in her wickedness, becoming guilty of more and greater abominations as the years went on, so that even “the daughters of the Philistines” were astonished and ashamed of her lewdness. Her zest for new forms of idolatry seemed insatiable. She followed the vile nature worship of the Assyrians with which the most detestable sexual impurity was connected, and still she was not satisfied, for satisfaction can never be found apart from conformity to and delight in the will of God.

The charge against her is continued in verses 30 to 34.

“How weak is thy heart, saith the Lord Jehovah, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an impudent harlot; in that thou buildest thy vaulted place at the head of every way, and makest thy lofty place in every street, and hast not been as a harlot, in that thou scornest hire. A wife that committeth adultery! that taketh strangers instead of her husband! They give gifts to all harlots; but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and bribest them, that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredoms. And thou art different from other women in thy whoredoms, in that none followeth thee to play the harlot; and whereas thou givest hire, and no hire is given unto thee, therefore thou art different”—vers. 30-34.

The slave of her own lusts, Israel fancied herself free while attempting to enjoy the licentiousness into which she had plunged and which she imagined was liberty—freedom from all restraint; whereas it was actually bondage of the worst kind. Too weak to resist solicitation to sin she plunged madly on in her downward course like “a wife that committeth adultery! that taketh strangers instead of her husband!”

Ordinarily those going in to harlots expect to pay for the gratification of their voluptuous desires. But so low had Israel fallen that she was as one who was so insatiable in her unholy appetite that she was paying a terrible price for such gratification. It is a sordid picture indeed, but it shows how low a people may fall who turn their backs upon revealed truth and learn to love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.

Therefore judgment could no longer be deferred. The very holiness of God demanded that He deal with such unspeakable corruption.

“Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness uncovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers; and because of all the idols of thy abominations, and for the blood of thy children, that thou didst give unto them; therefore behold, I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them against thee on every side, and will uncover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness. And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will bring upon thee the blood of wrath and jealousy. I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thy vaulted place, and break down thy lofty places; and they shall strip thee of thy clothes, and take thy fair jewels; and they shall leave thee naked and bare. They shall also bring up a company against thee, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords. And they shall burn thy houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee In the sight of many women; and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot, and thou Shalt also give no hire any more. So will I cause My wrath toward thee to rest, and My jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry. Because thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, but hast raged against Me in all these things; therefore, behold, I also will bring thy way upon thy head, saith the Lord Jehovah: and thou shalt not commit this lewdness with all thine abominations”—vers. 35-43.

Judgment is God’s strange work. He delights in mercy and “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). But when every effort to recover people from their wilfulness and wickedness proves abortive His wrath must have its way.

In this section the Lord specifies very definitely the reasons why He could no longer tolerate the behavior of His covenant people. Not only were they guilty of all the vileness charged against them, but also they were destroying their own children by their evil example. As they had behaved so shamelessly God would put them to shame before the “lovers” on whom they had doted. He would deal with them as women who break wedlock should be dealt with, and He would bring down upon their guilty heads the punishment that they deserved. They should be stripped of all that He had given them—their land would be overrun by those with whom they had committed spiritual fornication. As they had proven utterly recreant to the promises they had made to the Lord, so He would be bound no longer by His promises to them. He was about to visit upon them the fruit of their own evil ways and reward them according to the perfidy of their hearts.

In their disobedience to His word they had sunk to the level of the cities of the plain which God had destroyed with fire from heaven because of their unnatural vices.

“Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter. Thou art the daughter of thy mother, that loatheth her husband and her children; and thou art the sister of thy sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children: your mother was a Hittite, and your father an Amorite. And thine elder sister is Samaria, that dwelleth at thy left hand, she and her daughters; and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters. Yet hast thou not walked in their ways, nor done after their abominations; but, as if that were a very little thing, thou wast more corrupt than they in all thy ways. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they, and hast justified thy sisters by all thine abominations which thou hast done. Thou also, bear thou thine own shame, in that thou hast given judgment for thy sisters; through thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they, they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou also confounded, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters”—vers. 44-52.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were thriving communities when Abraham first entered the land. They were destroyed in judgment when the cup of their iniquity became full. Now Judah had shown herself to be of the same character as they. She was morally their daughter, and, “As is the mother so is her daughter.” Samaria, her elder sister, had been judged already. The Assyrians had carried the ten tribes into captivity because of their iniquity. But instead of learning from this and humbling themselves before God and turning from their filthiness, Judah had perpetrated even greater wickedness until now “there was no remedy.”

“And I will turn again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them; that thou mayest bear thine own shame, and mayest be ashamed because of all that thou hast done, in that thou art a comfort unto them. And thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate; and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate; and thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate. For thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thy mouth in the day of thy pride, before thy wickedness was uncovered, as at the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria, and of all that are round about her, the daughters of the Philistines, that do despite unto thee round about. Thou hast borne thy lewdness and thine abominations, saith Jehovah. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will also deal with thee as thou hast done, who hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant”—vers. 53-59.

In the times of restitution of all things spoken of by God’s holy prophets (Acts 3:21) even Sodom and her daughters, the sister cities of the plain will be restored, when the desert shall be made to blossom as a rose. This refers not to the eventual salvation of the sinners of those cities, who are, as Jude tells us, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7), but to rebuilding of the cities themselves in millennial days, when they will be inhabited by a regenerated people dwelling in peace under Messiah’s benevolent yet righteous sway. In that day Israel and Judah shall “return to their former estate of blessing” under the fostering care of the God they had so dishonored in the past.

Judah had despised the people of Sodom as sinners above all others; yet her own behavior was even more shameful than theirs. So the Lord declared He would deal with them according to their doings as those who had “despised the oath in breaking the covenant.”

This however should not be forever. In a future day He would take them up again, after they had humbled themselves in His sight and forsaken the sins that had provoked Him to anger.

“Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then shalt thou remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder sisters and thy younger; and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah; that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I have forgiven thee all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 60-63.

How precious these closing verses of this long chapter which has been such a sad and gruesome recital of the lewdness and unfaithfulness of Israel!

Though they had forgotten Him and broken the covenant, so far as their responsibility was concerned—that is, the legal covenant into which they had entered at Sinai—God still remembered the unconditional covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He would fulfil those promises in spite of the failure of the nation as such, His is an everlasting covenant, and as David said, is “ordered in all things, and sure” (2 Sam. 23:5).

In the day when He shall turn their hearts back to Himself they will become ashamed, both Israel and Judah, of all the evil they have done; and they will become a means of blessing to others when God takes them up in grace again. His covenant shall be estab- lished, and they who had behaved so badly will loathe themselves because of their iniquities, and rejoice in His favor when He shall forgive all their iniquities, or as the Authorized Version puts it, “When He is pacified toward them for all that they have done.”

Only through the work of Christ on the cross is this blessedness to be theirs. That work is not mentioned here, but it is unfolded elsewhere in the prophetical writings as the only basis upon which God can meet and bless those who had become so polluted by sin.