The Eagles, The Cedar, And The Vine
Again we find God speaking to the people, through His servant, in parable form. The first part of the parable refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s former onslaught upon Palestine and the captivity of the king of Judah.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel; and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, full of feathers, which had divers colors, came unto Lebanon, and took the top of the cedar: he cropped off the topmost of the young twigs thereof, and carried it unto a land of traffic; he set it in a city of merchants. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful soil; he placed it beside many waters; he set it as a willow-tree. And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs”—vers. 1-6.
In the great eagle we have a picture of the Chaldean monarch, who had flown, as it were, on mighty wings from Babylon to the land of Israel where he “took the highest branch of the cedar”; that is, he carried Judah’s king into captivity. Babylon itself is the city of merchants mentioned here, for at this time it was the great commercial center of all Asia.
After deposing Jehoiakim, and a little later his son Jehoiachin, Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiakim’s brother Mattaniah, changed his name to Zedekiah, and set him over the kingdom of Judah, doubtless hoping that he would rule in subservience to himself. The brief reign of Jehoiachin is passed over almost unnoticed here. Zedekiah is pictured as the spreading vine of low stature. He did not possess any of the qualities that make for a successful administrator. He was loyal neither to the God of Israel nor to his heathen overlord, but began plotting almost immediately with the ruler of Egypt to free himself from Babylon’s thralldom. There is no contradiction in speaking of him as a willow, and a spreading vine. The figure refers of course to what is now called the weeping willow, which is of vine-like appearance.
“There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, this vine did bend its roots toward him, and shot forth its branches toward him, from the beds of its plantation, that he might water it. It was planted in a good soil by many waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine. Say thou, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Shall it prosper? shall He not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it may wither; that all its fresh springing leaves may wither? and not by a strong arm or much people can it be raised from the roots thereof. Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the beds where it grew”—vers. 7-10.
This second great eagle was the king of Egypt, Pharaoh-Hophra, with whom Zedekiah sought to make a league in order to secure his assistance in throwing off the Chaldean yoke. But God had decreed that no such cabal should prosper. Egypt was as a bruised reed, and reliance upon it was in vain and doomed to end only in worse conditions for Judah than if Zedekiah had kept the oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. What Zedekiah failed to see was that God had given Judah into the hands of the Chaldeans as a punishment for their many sins and abominable idolatries. It behooved them, therefore, to bow the head in submission to the yoke and not to attempt a revolt against it.
The divine interpretation of the parable is given in the verses that follow:
“Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean! Tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and brought them to him to Babylon. And he took of the seed royal, and made a covenant with him; he also brought him under an oath, and took away the mighty of the land; that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such things? shall he break the covenant, and yet escape? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die. Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company help him in the war, when they cast up mounds and build forts, to cut off many persons. For he hath despised the oath by breaking the covenant; and behold, he had given his hand, and yet hath done all these things; he shall not escape. Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: As I live, surely Mine oath that he hath despised, and My covenant that he hath broken, I will even bring it upon his own head. And I will spread My net upon him, and he shall be taken in My snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and will enter into judgment with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against Me. And all his fugitives in all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward every wind: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it”—vers. 11-21.
That which was difficult for Israel to realize was that their own God was now arrayed against them, and He it was who had exalted Nebuchadnezzar and given him authority over the nations; so that it was in his power to remove or set up kings at his own will.
While, doubtless, Nebuchadnezzar himself was unaware of the divine counsels, nevertheless, he acted under the guidance of that Jehovah whom he knew not, when he took Jehoiachin into captivity and set up the puppet king Zedekiah with whom he had made a covenant, and who had sworn by a solemn oath that he would rule as his representative in Jerusalem. By his vacillation and crafty plotting, Zedekiah aroused the ire of his overlord and exposed himself to the indignation of God, the Judge of all the earth, who loves truth and hates deceit and falsehoods Therefore Ezekiel predicted that the wretched king of Judah, who had despised the oath he had taken and violated the covenant to which he had agreed, should be taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and carried to Babylon, there to learn in bitterness and sorrow the folly of trifling with God and scheming to thwart His counsels. But although all was so dark for Judah at that time, God had not forgotten His promise to David that he should never want a man to sit upon his throne; and so in due time Israel’s restoration should take place and a Son of David rule in Jerusalem and on Mount Zion, over all the earth.
“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will also take of the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it; and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all birds of every wing; in the shade of the branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I, Jehovah, have spoken and have done it”—vers. 22-24.
This “tender shoot” is the Man whose name is the “Branch” of Zechariah 6:12, who shall grow up in His place and build the temple of the Lord. He is “Great David’s Greater Son,” the “Root and Offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16), whom God designates in Zechariah 3:8 as “My Servant the Branch.” Of Him, Isaiah prophesied that He should be as “A Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (11:1).
When He came in God’s appointed time He was rejected by His own people, but when He returns in power and might He will take the kingdom and administer the affairs of this universe for the glory of God and the blessing of all mankind. Then the high tree of Gentile supremacy will be cut down, and the low tree of Judah shall be made to flourish when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and His Christ. This is decreed by Him who cannot lie, and will be brought to pass in the day of Jehovah’s power.
Principles Of The Divine Government
There are certain great principles that run throughout Scripture. Of these, two are outstanding: namely, grace and government. In every dispensation all who have ever been saved were saved by God’s free grace. Grace is not only unmerited favor, but also it is favor to those who have merited the very opposite. God has dealt with repentant sinners in grace because of the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. That work had a backward and a forward aspect as we are told in Romans 3:24-26: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” The expression “for the remission of sins that are past” might better be rendered “for the pretermission of sins.” That is, the meaning is not simply that God now forgives our past sins when we believe in the Lord Jesus, but also He forgave or remitted the sins of those who lived in past ages, before Christ died, in view of the work He was pledged to perform. And now, because of that finished work, God can be just, and the Justifier of all who have faith in Him who was deliv- ered for our offences and raised again for our justification.
But grace does not set aside government. All believers today are under the government of God the Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man’s work (1 Peter 1:17). It is true today, as in past ages, that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). This is true of all men whether saints or sinners. There are temporal consequences that follow sin, which may go on all through life, even though God has forgiven the sin itself; as in David’s case. Nathan said by divine authority, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin.” But he added, “The sword shall never depart from thine house” (2 Samuel 12:7-15).
It is important to understand this in order that one may not misconstrue the teaching of this chapter, as also of chapter 33, in this same book. Both have to do with the divine government in this world and not with the question of how a guilty sinner may be cleansed from his sin and saved for eternity.
Let us look, then, at the opening section.
“The word of Jehovah came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die”—vers. 1-4.
The people of Israel, notably Judah, at this time sought to impugn the righteousness of God in visiting temporal judgments upon them, on the ground that He was punishing them for the sins of their fathers; whereas they themselves were guiltless of any offences that deserved such drastic measures as God was taking with them, “The fathers,” they said, “have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But God justified His governmental dealings with them from the very opposite standpoint. He was the moral Governor of the world. All men (souls) should be subject to Him because He created them all. He deals with each one individually according to his record or behavior. Therefore, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This was what the law declared. God had said, “He that doeth these things shall live in them” (Leviticus 18:5). This was not a promise of eternal life in heaven, but of long life on the earth to him who was obedient to the divine law. The violation of that law exposed one to the penalty of death.
But God who is long-suffering and merciful did not visit this penalty upon the offender immediately. He left room for repentance and reformation of life, as so often illustrated in His dealings with men. So He shows how ready He is to pardon and set aside the immediate judgment of physical death if there be evidence of a changed attitude on the part of the offender. Wherever men are found who endeavor to do what is just and right toward God and their fellows, they are promised life even though none can claim to have kept the law in every point.
“But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, and hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath denied his neighbor’s wife, neither hath come near to a woman in her impurity, and hath not wronged any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath taken nought by robbery, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; he that hath not given forth upon interest, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true justice between man and man, hath walked In My statutes, and hath kept Mine ordinances, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 5-9.
“If a man be just”; that is, if one behaves himself righteously—if he walks uprightly and his life is one of integrity and moral rectitude, God takes note of this, and He deals with man accordingly.
If one shuns idolatry, keeps himself from immorality of every kind, deals honorably with all men so that his business affairs are above reproach, is charitable toward and considerate of the poor and needy, and has endeavored to deal truly with all men, honoring the law of God by obedience to its precepts, then he may know that “he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah.” Do not confuse this with the gospel. This has to do with blessing on earth, not with things eternal.
But what if a man has been characterized by the virtues described in verses 5 to 9, and has a son who, presuming on God’s favor to his father, becomes lax as to morals and careless as to his manner of living? Will the righteousness of his father avail to shield him from the judgment of God? The answer is given in the next paragraph.
“If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth any one of these things, and that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and denied his neighbor’s wife, hath wronged the poor and needy, hath taken by robbery, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination, hath given forth upon interest, and hath taken increase; shall he then live? He shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him”—vers. 10-13.
Hezekiah was such an one as the father, mentioned above. Manasseh, his ungodly son, is well depicted in the description given here. Alas, that the children of upright parents do not always walk in the ways of their fathers! Where such is not the case the son must answer to God individually for his own wickedness. So, no matter how good a father may have been, if his son turns away from the teaching and example of his sire and plunges into licentiousness, idolatry, extortion and other vices, he will be punished accordingly; “he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” He cannot blame anyone else for his suffering. He brings it down upon his own head.
Just as a righteous father’s good behavior will not shield a stubborn and rebellious son from the divine government, so a wicked father’s offences will not hinder God from dealing kindly with a son who repents and turns to Him.
“Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins, which he hath done, and feareth, and doeth not such like; that hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbor’s wife, neither hath wronged any, hath not taken aught to pledge, neither hath taken by robbery, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; that hath withdrawn his hand from the poor, that hath not received interest nor increase, hath executed Mine ordinances, hath walked in My statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live. As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, robbed his brother, and did that which is not good among his people, behold, he shall die in his iniquity”—vers. 14-18.
God the righteous Ruler over men takes note of the piety and obedience of a son, even though his father may have been very wicked and ungodly. Where the son seeks to obey the divine precepts and to shun iniquitous behavior, God will reward him accordingly. If he learns by the folly of his father that it is indeed an evil and a bitter thing to plunge headlong into lascivi- ousness and corruption, that God is displeased with one who oppresses the poor or is indifferent to their needs and turns a deaf ear to their pitiful plea for assistance, and so looks compassionately upon the poverty-stricken and shares his wealth with them, while endeavoring to keep himself morally clean, “he shall surely live.” The wicked father will be judged, but the upright son will be honored of God: therefore the proverb they used to excuse themselves and to blame God for their troubles was not true.
“Yet say ye, Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all My statutes, and hath done them, he shall live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him”—vrs. 19, 20.
In this sense the son did not bear the iniquity of the father. His teeth were not set on edge because the father had eaten sour grapes. But each one had to give his own individual account unto God who dealt with him according to the righteous or unrighteous way in which he conducted himself.
Nor does this principle contradict the revelation given by God to Moses in which He spoke of Himself as “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5, 6). There is a fearful entail of physical weakness and often of spiritual blindness in which the children of ungodly, immoral parents participate. But even these children will find God ready to bless if they themselves turn from their iniquity. But let none presume upon God being better than His Word. Remember that if one chooses to turn from the path of rectitude to that of lawlessness he must suffer accordingly, “the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
“But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he hath done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die”—vers. 21-24.
In order that none may misunderstand, God, as it were, repeats Himself in a most clear and definite manner. Painstakingly He reiterates what has been set forth already, that none may despair, no matter how far from Him they have wandered. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather desires that everyone should return from his evil way and so find the path of life.
The two roads—that of wickedness and that of right-living—are portrayed clearly. Each man can choose for himself which one he will take. But let him be assured of this, that if he turns away from righteousness none of his past good behavior shall avail to save him from death. He will die in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned.
“Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel: Is not My way equal? are not your ways unequal? When the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth therein; in his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from Ms wickedness that lie hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considered, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not My ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord Jehovah. Return ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not he your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, wherein ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves, and live”—vers. 25-32.
All is summed up in this stirring paragraph. Israel’s complaint against God is answered fully, and the integrity of His government is defended. They had said, “The way of the Lord is not equal”; whereas it was their ways that were unequal. They were blaming God for their afflictions when they should have blamed themselves.
Although suffering under His hand because of their past departure from Him, it was not yet too late to turn back to Him, the source of all blessing. If they would do this, although captives among their enemies, iniquity should not be their ruin, but they would find God waiting to be gracious to them. An entirely new attitude on their part would enable Him to undertake for them in righteousness and yet in mercy and loving-kindness. He yearned over them and reminded them once more that He had no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. Therefore He pleaded, crying, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?…Wherefore turn yourselves, and live.” Where there was response to this plea and true repentance and turning to God in faith, they would indeed be born again. But the great theme of the chapter is government, rather than saving grace.
The Fallen Prince Of Judah
This chapter brings the present series to an end. In it God shows why the promises made to Judah of old seemed to fail of fulfilment. These had been predicated on the obedience of the people. But both they and their rulers had forfeited all title to blessing by their corrupt behavior. The Lord makes this plain, although He speaks in parabolic form as He so frequently does in this book.
“Moreover, take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say, What was thy mother? A lioness: she couched among lions, in the midst of the young lions she nourished her whelps. And she brought up one of her whelps: he became a young lion, and he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men. The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit; and they brought him with hooks unto the land of Egypt”—vers. 1-4.
In the previous chapters we have seen exposed the guilt of the people. Now the Lord makes manifest the wickedness of their kings. While only two are brought definitely before us, suggesting that this lamentation was intended to exercise the conscience of Zedekiah; yet the same evil ways had characterized all the last four kings of Judah. We may think of both Judah and Jerusalem, the capital city, as represented by the mother lioness. God had said of old through Jacob, “Judah is a lion’s whelp” (Genesis 49:9); and Balaam had depicted the nation that he could not curse, in the same way: “Behold the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion” (Numbers 23:24). It is true the same figure is used of other tribes than Judah, as Gad (Deut. 33:20), and Dan (Deut. 33:22). But here in Ezekiel it is evident that Judah is in view, as the royal tribe with her place in Jerusalem. From this tribe He was to come, through David’s line, who should be the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who shall fulfil at last all the promises of God (Rev. 5:5).
Upon the death of the godly king Josiah, his son Jehoahaz, or Shallum, as he is otherwise called, was crowned king in his father’s stead. He is the young lion spoken of here. But he proved to be an unprincipled weakling, and was taken captive by Pharaoh-Necho and carried down to Egypt, never to return to the land of Palestine.
“Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost, then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion. And he went up and down among the lions; he became a young lion, and he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men. And he knew their palaces, and laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, because of the noise of his roaring. Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces; and they spread their net over him; he was taken in their pit. And they put him in a cage with hooks, and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him into strongholds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel”—vers. 6-9.
When it became apparent that it was hopeless to look for the return of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, whom the king of Egypt had set up in place of his brother, was recognized as king; but after eleven years he was carried to Babylon. Then in their desperation the people of Judah turned to the son of Jehoiakim, a youth of eighteen years of age, whose name closely resem- bled that of his father, Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah. He seems to be the young lion referred to here, as it was he and not his father whom Judah herself chose as king. But his reign was for less than four months, for Nebuchadnezzar came again into the land and carried him away in chains to Babylon, setting up Mattaniah, older brother of the deposed king, in his stead, and changing his name to Zedekiah. It was he who sat on the throne at this time; and it was his heart and conscience that this lamentation over the departed glory of the throne of David, was designed to reach; but alas, he was too far gone in the path of self-will to heed the message addressed to him. Therefore the fate of all the three kings before him might well serve as a warning to him. Actually because of his perversity he was to suffer worse things than any of them, for his sons were to be slain before his eyes, and then those eyes were to be put out and he himself carried as a blind and brokenhearted man to Babylon.
“Thy mother was like a vine, in thy blood, planted by the waters: it was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters. And it had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and their stature was exalted among the thick boughs, and they were seen in their height with the multitude of their branches. But it was plucked up in fury, it was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit: its strong rods were broken off and withered; the fire consumed them. And now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. And fire is gone out of the rods of its branches, it hath devoured its fruit, so that there is in it no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation”—vers. 10-14.
In this part of the lamentation God reverts to a figure formerly used. Judah was like a vine, which at one time had been fruitful and had spread abroad because of the blessing of the Lord when she walked in obedience to His Word. So rich was her fruitage that she is represented as a great vine with many spreading branches, supported by strong rods that the clusters of grapes might be properly harvested. But a change had come about because of her revolt from the law of God. She had chosen the path of self-will, and so the surrounding nations were permitted to destroy her branches, and the east wind of adversity wrought havoc with her fruit. Now she was as a broken, withered vine planted in the desert where all was waste and dry. Moreover, the fire of judgment had devoured the rods and the branches until at last “there was no sceptre to rule.” The last of her kings was about to go into captivity, and she should never know again a king of David’s line until He shall come, whose right it is to reign, our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall yet sit upon the throne of His father David and build again the tabernacle of David that is fallen down.
The departed sceptre may seem to be in contradiction of Genesis 49:10, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver” (or the ruler’s staff) “from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” But here it is evidently the tribal sceptre, not the royal sceptre, that is in view. Judah remained a distinct and separate tribe until Shiloh—the Prince of Peace—came the first time, only to be rejected. Jacob’s prophecy shall have its complete fulfilment when He comes again and the people shall gather together unto Him, owning Him as their rightful King.
Jehovah’s Faithfulness And Israel’s Unfaithfulness
Beginning with the first verse of this twentieth chapter and continuing through chapter 23, we have a series of prophecies which bear the general date of the seventh year of the captivity. The first one was delivered on the tenth day of the fifth month. In this series God continues His expostulations with Israel because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant into which they had entered; while on the other hand, He stresses His own unfailing adherence to the promises He Himself had made to their fathers.
“And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of Jehovah, and sat before me. And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Is it to inquire of me that ye are come? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will not be inquired of by you. Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers; and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: In the day when I chose Israel, and sware unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I sware unto them, saying, I am Jehovah your God; in that day I sware unto them, to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands. And I said unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am Jehovah your God. But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken unto Me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out My wrath upon them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I wrought for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, among which they were, in whose sight I made Myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt”—vers. 1-9.
Upon the date mentioned above, an unspecified number of the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel and sat down before him that he might inquire of Jehovah on their behalf. Outwardly they seemed to be subject to His word and ready to submit to His will, but it was very evident that there had been no real repentance or facing of their sins in the presence of God. Therefore, He said through His servant, “Is it to inquire of Me that ye are come?” He declared that He would not be inquired of by them: they were not on praying ground because of their wilful disobedience to His word, and their determined opposition to His truth. Therefore, as speaking for God, Ezekiel was to take the place of a judge among them, and to set before them in unmistakable terms the abominations of their fathers in which they themselves were also walking. God retraced their history from the day He brought them out of Egypt, when He revealed Himself to them as Jehovah their God, the Eternal One with whom they had entered into covenant. He had promised and sworn by Himself that He would deliver them from the land of bondage and bring them into a land which He Himself had selected for them—a land flowing with milk and honey, which He described as “the glory of all lands.”
One who visits Palestine today may find it difficult to see just how language such as this could apply to it, but when God brought His people into Canaan He strengthened them against their enemies and multi- plied them there, and enabled them to build great and beautiful cities. As they cultivated the hills and the valleys, His blessing rested upon their efforts to such an extent that they had abundance of all things. That which made Palestine the glory of all lands, however, was the fact that it was there that Jehovah manifested Himself, and there at Jerusalem He had set His name. From Jerusalem word had gone out into all the world that God the Creator of all things was there known and honored; and so those who desired to learn of Him came from distant places, like the Queen of Sheba, to be instructed concerning the name of the Lord. Though for centuries that land has lain desolate, the temple has been utterly destroyed, and an infidel shrine erected in its place, yet in a future day it will once more become the glory of all lands when the people of Israel shall be restored to the Lord, and He Himself will be manifested among them. Then the law shall go forth from Mount Zion, and all nations will flow unto it to worship the King who will reign in righteousness over a regenerated world.
The sins of Israel defiled the land to such an extent that the indignation of Jehovah had to be visited upon a disobedient and gainsaying people, even when they dwelt in Egypt and were specifically warned against the idolatry of that land. They had soon turned away from the truth revealed to them, and actually worshiped the idols of Egypt so that God’s wrath and anger had been poured out upon them before they left that place of bondage; in fact, one would gather from these verses that it was in judgment that God had stirred up Pharaoh to enslave them and make their lives so hard and bitter. Nevertheless, He had wrought for His own name’s sake, in order that that name should not be profaned in the sight of the nations; and so, in due time, He had intervened in mercy and brought the people forth out of the land of Egypt. We might think that from the days of Joseph until Moses they had lived as a separate people in the land of the stranger, but this passage throws a lurid light upon their behavior in those years and after, when a new king arose who knew not Joseph.
It is evident, therefore, that they had forgotten to a great extent the revelation God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so that the message brought by Moses came to many as a new revelation of Jehovah, as the God of their fathers, who loved them still in spite of their waywardness, and had heard their cry and come down to deliver them.
One might have supposed that the remarkable signs given to them and the many wonderful evidences of God’s loving care would have turned them forever from idolatry and given them to honor Him alone, who had redeemed them to Himself; but, even after they left Egypt, they were ready at the slightest occasion to lapse into disobedience and idolatry.
“So I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them My statutes, and showed them Mine ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live in them. Moreover also I gave them My sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth them. But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they walked not in My statutes, and they rejected Mine ordinances, which if a man keep, he shall live in them; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I said, I would pour out My wrath upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them out. Moreover also I sware unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; because they rejected Mine ordinances, and walked not in My statutes, and profaned My sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless Mine eye spared them, and I destroyed them not, neither did I make a full end of them in the wilderness”—vers. 10-17.
It was the Lord Himself who brought them into the wilderness, and there at Sinai, gave them His statutes and showed them His ordinances, concerning which He said, “Which if a man do, he shall live in them.” There, too, He made known unto them His sabbaths to be a sign between Him and them, the weekly memorial that He was Jehovah, their Sanctifier. But even in the wilderness they rebelled against Him and refused to walk in His statutes. They rejected His ordinances and profaned His sabbaths; thus they had forfeited all title to blessing, and God, in righteousness, might have given them up to utter destruction had it not been that He was concerned for the glory of His own name.
Speaking anthropomorphically, He declared He would pour out His wrath upon them in the wilderness to consume them, even as we know He threatened to do when He proposed to Moses that the people should be destroyed, and a new nation should come from him who had brought them thus far on their way. But when Moses interceded for them God wrought for His name’s sake. He would not have the heathen around say that He was unable to bring His people into the land He had promised; and therefore, although He swore in His wrath that all those of adult age should perish in the wilderness, nevertheless He brought their children to that land flowing with milk and honey, as He had promised.
The real reason for Israel’s failure is given in verse 16, “Their heart went after their idols.” How mani- festly this was seen when they came to Aaron crying, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, this man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him” (Exod. 32:1). They preferred an image which they could see to the living God who could not be seen by mortal eye. So they turned to idolatry, rejecting God’s ordinances and refusing to walk in His statutes and profaning His sabbaths. But though He visited them from time to time with judgments because of their sins, nevertheless, as a nation He spared them, and did not utterly destroy them nor make a full end of them in the wilderness.
After pronouncing judgment on the older generation He called upon their children to walk in obedience that thereby they might enter into blessing.
“And I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am Jehovah your God: walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them; and hallow My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God. But the children rebelled against Me; they walked not in My statutes, neither kept Mine ordinances to do them, which if a man do, he shall live in them; they profaned My sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My wrath upon them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew My hand, and wrought for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them forth. Moreover I sware unto them in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them through the countries; because they had not executed Mine ordinances, but had rejected My statutes, and had profaned My sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Moreover also I gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 18-26.
One might have thought that the children would have learned from the folly of their parents that it is indeed an evil thing and bitter to turn away from the word of the Lord, but these soon manifested the traits of their fathers and denied themselves with idolatry. Again and again God pleaded with them to obey His word, to keep His ordinances and to do them, to hallow His sabbaths; but they rebelled against Him and spurned His testimonies. We have a sad example of this in their terrible failure at Baal-peor, when they mingled with the idolatrous people about them, and so sinned against God that in His wrath He smote them and would have destroyed them had it not been for the intercession of Moses and Aaron. He withdrew His hand and again wrought for His own name’s sake that it should not be profaned in the sight of the heathen.
But He warned His people that if they continued in their disobedience the day would come when they would be scattered among the nations and dispersed throughout all countries—a warning which has had a terrible fulfilment throughout the centuries.
Because they turned away from those statutes and ordinances which were meant for their blessing, He chose their delusions and gave them up to statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live; so He permitted them to sink to the degradation of Moloch worship and all its kindred abominations, thus going down to the level of the vilest of the heathen whom He cast out before them. Their behavior in the land was even worse than that which characterized them in the wilderness.
“Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: In this moreover have your fathers blasphemed Me, in that they have committed a trespass against Me. For when I had brought them into the land, which I sware to give unto them, then they saw every high hill, and every thick tree, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering; there also they made their sweet savor, and they poured out there their drink-offerings. Then I said unto them, What meaneth the high place whereunto ye go? So the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day. Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Do ye pollute yourselves after the manner of your fathers? and play ye the harlot after their abominations? and when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, do ye pollute yourselves with all your idols unto this day? and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will not be inquired of by you; and that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, in that ye say, We will be as the nations, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone”—vers. 27-32.
After Jehovah had fulfilled His word and brought them through the wilderness and led them into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, it was not long until they followed in the ways of the nations which they were commanded to destroy. They erected shrines to false gods and goddesses upon every high hill and under every great tree, and there they sacrificed to demons and not to God. By such conduct they polluted themselves after the manner of their fathers and were guilty of spiritual harlotry. They did for their false gods what they never would have been asked to do for Jehovah: they sacrificed their own children, causing them to pass through the fire unto Moloch, and so polluted themselves that God could no longer tolerate them. He would not be inquired of by them. They had sought to be as the nations around; and as the nations, He would deal with them in judgment.
Nevertheless He had not forgotten His promise to Abraham—a promise reiterated again and again to his descendants. And so in verses 33 to 44 Ezekiel was given to foretell Israel’s future restoration, when all their past failure shall be blotted out, and they shall be restored to the Lord.
“As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, will I be King over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face. Like as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, saith the Lord Jehovah. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me; I will bring them forth out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Go ye, serve every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto Me; but My holy name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your idols”—vers. 33-89.
Despite all their wilfulness Jehovah was still their King, and in due time His authority shall be openly manifested. In that day He will bring them out from all the nations and countries wherein they have been scattered. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out upon those who continue in their apostasy, He will bring the remnant into what He calls “the wilderness of the peoples,” and there will enter into judgment with them face to face. As of old He had dealt with their fathers in the wilderness adjoining the land of Egypt, so will He in this coming day deal with the nation that is as a scattered people among the Gentiles, because He will own them still as His. He will deal with them in chastisement, causing them to pass under the rod like sheep being marked off by their shepherd. In that day they will be brought again into the bond of the covenant, and He will purge out from among them the rebels, and all that transgress against Him. From every land where they have sojourned He will bring them into the land of Israel, and they shall know in that day that He is indeed Jehovah, the Eternal One with whom they have to do. That the time had not come for this, however, was evident; and so Ezekiel was commanded to say to the elders who came inquiring, “Go ye, serve every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto Me; but My holy name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your idols.” Until the day of their redemption as a people they would be given up to hardness of heart and left to their own devices.
“For in My holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them, serve Me in the land: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first-fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. As a sweet savor will I accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I sware to give unto your fathers. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have polluted yourselves; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 40-44.
What a delightful picture the prophet here portrays! He speaks of a day when Jerusalem will again be recognized as the holy mount of God, “the mountain of the height of Israel,” when the restored people will be back in their land, there to serve the One from whom they had wandered so long. Once more they will bring to Him their offerings and the first-fruits of their oblations with all their holy things. He will accept their worship and their thanksgiving when He has gathered them out from the people and brought them back from the countries wherein they have been scattered; for then He will be sanctified in them in the sight of all nations. How near that day may be we cannot say. The present return of many of the Jewish people to Palestine in their unbelief may be indeed a preparation for the complete fulfilment of the prophecy. But when these words actually come to pass, the Jewish people will return not only to the land but also to Jehovah Himself. Then they will look back with shame upon their former evil ways, and will loathe themselves in their own sight for all the wickedness of which they have been guilty, as they realize that Jehovah has dealt with them, not according to their evil ways nor according to their corrupt doing, but according to the loving-kindness of His own heart.
The concluding verses of the chapter remind us of the Lord’s words to the daughters of Jerusalem as He was going out to die: “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” The green tree is that in which life is found; the dry tree is dead and fit only for the fire. So we read:
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the field in the south; and say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burnt thereby. And all flesh shall see that I, Jehovah, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched. Then said I, Ah Lord Jehovah! They say of me, Is he not a speaker of parables?”—vers. 45-49.
Ezekiel was to set his face toward the south—that is, toward the land of Israel, having especially in mind the forests of Lebanon; and he was to declare, in the name of Jehovah, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour «very green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burnt thereby.” In His indignation against the people who had so dishonored Him, He would pour out His judgments upon them as a whole, so that all flesh would recognize that it was He indeed who was thus visiting His people in His wrath and pouring out upon them the fires of judgment which could not be quenched until all those who persisted in their iniquities had been destroyed. But even after Ezekiel proclaimed this solemn message he recognized that the people were not taking in the seriousness of his words. To them he was but a speaker of parables—parables which they could not seem to understand.
The Parting Of The Ways
In God’s dealings, both with individuals and with nations, He first instructs, then admonishes if they turn away from His word. Where repentance is manifested He delights to pour out blessing, but where instructions and pleadings are met with determined and wilful rejection, He deals finally in judgment. This comes out very clearly in the present chapter, where we see that all His pleadings with Judah had availed nothing so far as bringing them to repentance was concerned. Consequently, the destroyer of the Gentiles was permitted to come down upon the land, taking vengeance on those who had so utterly disregarded the covenant made between Jehovah and Israel at Sinai.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth My sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall My sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: and all flesh shall know that I, Jehovah, have drawn forth My sword out of its sheath; it shall not return any more. Sigh therefore, thou son of man; with the breaking of thy loins and with bitterness shalt thou sigh before their eyes. And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt say, Because of the tidings, for it cometh; and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and it shall be done, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 1-7.
The term “son of man” used here in ver. 2, and elsewhere in this book, seems to designate Ezekiel as the representative man standing for God among His people in a day of apostasy. He who had pleaded on their behalf was now called upon to set his face against Jerusalem and to declare the judgments that were destined to fall upon the land of Israel which was covered with heathen sanctuaries, all of which were an offense to Jehovah who had declared Himself to be the one true and living God. Because of their many sins He arrayed Himself against them and was about to draw His sword out of its sheath and cut them off as a people. This would involve the destruction of the righteous with the wicked; it could not be otherwise when an invading army swept over the land. But though the righteous may have to suffer in a temporal way, their souls will be gathered with all those in whom God had found faith throughout the centuries.
The sword of the Lord in this instance was really the sword wielded by Nebuchadnezzar. In other words, God had put that sword into his hands and instructed him to use it against all flesh from the south to the north, that all in those nations might know that it was a divine judgment which was falling upon them.
Though it was given to Ezekiel to declare this, there was not to be on his part any hardness of spirit or inward satisfaction when he saw his prophecies being fulfilled; rather he was to deliver the word of Jehovah in bitterness of soul as he realized what his people were to suffer because of their many offenses. He could not but sigh even as he proclaimed the word. When his hearers should look on and ask the reason for this perturbation of spirit, he was to reply that it was on account of the invading armies, before which every heart should melt, and their own hands should be feeble, and the spirit of every man in Israel should faint, and all knees should be weak as water. Nothing could now restrain the judgment so long deserved, but which God held in check ever since the days of the godly king Josiah.
The prophet has more to tell us about the sword of the Lord in verses 8 to 17.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith Jehovah: Say, A sword, a sword, it is sharpened, and also furbished; it is sharpened that it may make a slaughter; it is furbished that it may be as lightning: shall we then make mirth? the rod of My son, it contemneth every tree. And it is given to be furbished, that it may be handled: the sword, it is sharpened, yea, it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer. Cry and wail, son of man; for it is upon My people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: they are delivered over to the sword with My people; smite therefore upon thy thigh. For there is a trial; and what if even the rod that contemneth shall be no more? saith the Lord Jehovah. Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thy hands together; and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the deadly wounded: it is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded, which entereth into their chambers. I have set the threatening sword against all their gates, that their heart may melt, and their stumblings be multiplied: ah! it is made as lightning, it is pointed for slaughter. Gather thee together, go to the right, set thyself in array, go to the left, whithersoever thy face is set. I will also smite My hands together, and I will cause My wrath to rest: I, Jehovah, have spoken it”—vers. 8-17.
Jehovah commanded Ezekiel to cry, “A sword, a sword, it is sharpened, and also furbished”; that is, scoured in order that it might gleam brightly as it flashed in the hands of the warrior, like lightning striking down all who came in its way.
In view of the terrible conditions which this implied, the question is asked, Shall we then make mirth? The human heart is ever ready to minimize and make light of the judgments of God, and men, instead of being sobered by divine visitations and brought to repentance, often try to forget unpleasant conditions, and in order to keep their morale, join in all kinds of folly and sin—like those of whom we read in the book of Revelation, who will be making merry in the day of wrath, sending presents one to another. Times such as those that Israel was called to pass through and which many nations have endured in the last half’ century, call for sobriety and seriousness of purpose rather than for careless joviality and merriment.
“No room for mirth or trifling here
For worldly hope or worldly fear,
If life so soon is gone,
If now the Judge is at the door,
And all mankind must stand before
The inexorable throne.”
It is far better, in such solemn times, to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, as the preacher tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes; but men in their folly try to forget reality by frivolous behavior and incitement to joviality. If ever there was a time when people ought to be serious, it is when the judgments of God are abroad in the land and when the rod of chastisement is falling upon His people.
This furbished sword of the Lord is sharpened that it might deal out death to everyone who dared to stand against it. It was to be given into the hand of the slayer; namely, the King of Babylon and his armies. To stand against these would be useless, for God had forsaken His people because of their sins. Therefore. Ezekiel was to cry and wail because of the judgments that were to fall on his people and upon all the princes of Israel, who were to be delivered over to the sword and smitten upon the thigh—that is, in the place of strength—they were to be cut down in weakness. Nothing could turn back the invader now: the day for repentance is past. The sword which had already been unsheathed in the hand of Pharaoh-necho, and earlier by Nebuchadnezzar, was now to be used the third time, and is designated as the sword of the deadly wounded. Against all the gates of the cities of Judah this glittering sword was to be seen until the hearts of the people should melt and they would stumble in their blindness and wickedness as the Chaldean armies, like lightning, came down upon the land. It made no difference where the people should turn, whether they went to the right or to the left, God’s wrath would find them out and they would fall before the invader, for Jehovah had spoken it.
In verses 18 to 23 we see the King of Babylon standing at the parting of the ways, where the slightest thing might have turned him northward rather than southward to invade the land of Palestine, but inasmuch as God Himself had decreed the latter, the king’s own diviners advised him to take that course.
“The word of Jehovah, came unto me again, saying, Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the King of Babylon may come; they twain shall come forth out of one land: and mark out a place, mark it out at the head of the way to the city. Thou shalt appoint a way for the sword to come to Kabbah of the children of Amnion, and to Judah in Jerusalem the fortified. For the King of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver. In his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build forts. And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, who have sworn oaths unto them; but He bringeth iniquity to remembrance, that they may be taken”—vers. 18-23.
Two ways were marked out for the Chaldean armies: a road leading toward the north, up into Ammon; another toward the land of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar is represented as pausing at the intersection of the roads, not fully decided whether to besiege Rabbah, the capital of the Ammonites, or to go on to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. He called his soothsayers to advise him as to which city he should first seek to subdue. Using various means of divination, such as shaking of arrows, consulting with teraphim, or luck-pieces as we say, and slaughtering of victims and looking into the liver in order to assist in these prognostications, they pointed out that everything indicated that he should go to Jerusalem. Little did they know, and little did he understand that, after all, it was the very God of Israel who Himself was overruling in all this and leading the haughty king from the land of Shinar, to move upon the Holy City which had become so defiled by Israel’s sin. It was God Himself who had brought the iniquity to remembrance that they might be destroyed and taken captive by this heathen prince.
The king of Judah is addressed directly in the verses that follow:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand. And thou, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Remove the mitre, and take off the crown; this shall be no more the same; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall l)e no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him”—vers. 24-27.
This is one of the most striking prophecies in the Old Testament. It tells of the complete setting aside of the royal house of David because of the wickedness of its princes until the day in which Messiah should come and set up the kingdom so long predicted. In spite of all the warnings they had received, the kings who sat upon David’s throne had gone farther and farther from God until their iniquity and transgressions had become so flagrant that He could no longer condone them and consent to dwell among His people; therefore, He declared, “O deadly-wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day is come in the time of the iniquity of the end.” There was to be no further respite. The warnings that had fallen from the lips of all the prophets must now culminate in condign judgment, and so the decree went forth, “Remove the mitre, and take off the crown; this shall be no more the same.” That is, there shall be no more a man of David’s line sitting on the throne of David until great David’s greater Son should appear in power and glory.
God says, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.” Since the carrying away of the people to Babylon, following the destruction of Jerusalem, there has never been a king recognized by God as sitting upon the throne of Israel. Hosea’s prophecy, found in the third chapter of his remarkable book, has had its fulfilment. Israel still abides without a king, without a prince, without a priest, and so shall it abide until Messiah Himself appears the second, time to take His great power and reign.
“And thou, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah concerning the children of Amnion, and concerning their reproach; and say thou, A sword, a sword is drawn, for the slaughter it is furbished, to cause it to devour, that it may be as lightning; while they see for thee false visions, while they divine lies unto thee, to lay thee upon the necks of the wicked that are deadly wounded, whose day is come in the time of the iniquity of the end. Cause it to return into its sheath. In the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy birth, will I judge thee. And I will pour out Mine indignation upon thee; I will blow upon thee with the fire of My wrath; and I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy. Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I, Jehovah, have spoken it”—vers. 28-32.
In these last verses of the chapter we learn that even though Ammon had escaped the sword of judgment for the moment because of Nebuchadnezzar’s turning toward Jerusalem, nevertheless they, too, were to feel the sharpness of that sword when a little later Nebuchadnezzar would turn against them also. While they had not been in covenant relation with God as Israel was, nevertheless their wickedness and corruption had so offended the Holy One of Israel that He was about to judge them and pour out His indignation upon them, blowing upon them in the fire of His wrath, even as upon His own people whom the Ammonites had often persecuted in the past.
The Bloody And Defiled City
When God set His name at Jerusalem and appointed it to be the capital of Immanuel’s land, He called it “the Holy City.” Such it had been in former days when His people gathered there to worship in His sanctuary, and the voice of praise and thanksgiving ascended with the smoke of the incense to heaven. But alas, all this had been changed. By the wickedness of its people Jerusalem had become so utterly denied that God was now about to forsake it completely. Instead of being a city of truth and righteousness it was filled with falsehood and wickedness; instead of being a citadel of holiness it had become unclean with the blood of thousands of little children who had been offered in sacrifice to Moloch. Idolatry with its false priests reared its horrid head in the very place where once the priests of the Lord honored His name. Time after time God had sent His prophets to protest against the evils that were manifest among His people, but things had grown worse and worse until now the city was so wholly polluted that He was about to give it over to the cruel enemies who were besieging it.
Surely, there are lessons in all this for the professing Church today. In the beginning, as recorded in the book of Acts, and as we may gather from a careful reading of the Epistles and the messages to the seven churches of Asia in the book of The Revelation, the people of God of this age of grace delighted in His Word and loved His truth, clinging to the name of the Lord Jesus and seeking to honor Him; but little by little declension came in; the Church took up with the ways of the heathen, out of which she had been called; and finally, we find the Lord Himself declaring that He is about to spue her out of His mouth. Nevertheless, so long as the Saviour tarries, a remnant will abide to whom the things of God shall be precious; but when these are taken away at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him, all that is left of Christendom will be rejected by God, and finally fall under His judgment when the Lord Jesus appears in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those that know not God.
“Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, And thou, son of man, wilt thou judge, wilt thou judge the bloody city? then cause her to know all her abominations. And thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: A city that sheddeth blood in the midst of her, that her time may come, and that maketh idols against herself to defile her! Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed, and art defiled in thine idols which thou hast made; and thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come even unto thy years: therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the nations, and a mocking to all the countries. Those that are near, and those that are far from thee, shall mock thee, thou infamous one, and full of tumult”—vers. 1-5.
Ezekiel was called upon to act as a judge in the name of the Lord, bringing to the inhabitants of Jerusalem the divine indictment of their manifold crimes and offenses against the law of the Lord which they had spurned. The city had become completely defiled by the blood shed in the midst of her; that is, primarily the blood of the poor innocents, which, in their fanaticism, the people had devoted in sacrifice to their vile demon gods. Then too, we may think of blood shed because of the miscarriage of justice, when those who protested against the sins of the people were hated and slain by their fellows. Because of all this Jerusalem had become a reproach and a mocking in the countries roundabout, even as we are told in the New Testament that through apostate Judaism the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. They who should have ever witnessed to Jehovah’s faithfulness and by holy lives have manifested their subjection to and appreciation of His Word, had sunk to so low a depth that their heathen neighbors looked on with amazement and ridiculed their pretensions of being the chosen people of the Lord.
Item after item follows, indicating the low level morally to which the leaders of Israel had sunk.
“Behold, the princes of Israel, every one according to his power, have been in thee to shed blood. In thee have they set light by father and mother; in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the sojourner; in thee have they wronged the fatherless and the widow. Thou hast despised My holy things, and hast profaned My sabbaths. Slanderous men have been in thee to shed blood; and in thee they have eaten upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they have committed lewdness. In thee have they uncovered their fathers’ nakedness; in thee have they humbled her that was unclean in her impurity. And one hath committed abominations with his neighbor’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter. In thee have they taken bribes to shed blood; thou hast taken interest and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by oppression, and hast forgotten Me, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 6-12.
The princes of Israel who should have led the people in devotion to the Lord, were the chief trespassers. In the guilty city the children spurned the guidance of their parents, setting light by father and mother; they oppressed the strangers who sojourned among them: they wronged the fatherless and the widow. Instead of reverently regarding the holy things of the Lord, they despised His sacrifices and profaned His sabbaths. By false accusation they caused the innocent to be put to death; and worshiped the gods of the heathen upon the high places. Abominable excesses of the vilest character were linked with all this heathen worship so that they behaved more like beasts than rational human beings.
We shrink from meditating upon or even reading the awful charges brought out in verses 10 and 11, but God draws aside the veil by which they attempted to cover their filthiness, and shows up their moral defilement in all its dreadfulness. All things are naked and open to His holy eyes, and He cannot but deal in judgment with those guilty of such sins as are here described. Bribery, and that of the worst type, was also common among them. Even the magistrates accepted gifts in order to bias their attitude toward those unjustly accused before them, so that they condemned to death the innocent that they themselves might be enriched. Extortion and covetousness were prevalent among all classes—all these evils were the result of their having forgotten God, the One who had delivered them from Egypt and had watched over them through all the years of their sojourn in Canaan.
“Behold, therefore, I have smitten My hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee. Can thy heart endure, or can thy hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I, Jehovah, have spoken it, and will do it. And I will scatter thee among the nations, and disperse thee through the countries; and I will consume thy filthiness out of thee. And thou shalt be profaned in thyself, in the sight of the nations; and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 13-16.
How could the Holy One of Israel do other than express His disapproval of those who were so guilty and who gave no evidence whatever of a desire to repent and get right with Him whom they had so dishonored.
The challenge of ver. 14 might well speak to any today who are bent upon taking their own way and have refused to heed the voice of God calling to repentance and to subjection to His Word: “Can thy heart endure or can thy hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?” Men may flaunt the will of God while in health and strength, and because sentence against their evil works is not immediately carried out they may think that God has forgotten, but the day is surely coming when He will arise in His wrath to visit upon the wilful and disobedient His indignation against sin and iniquity. What human heart can then bear up in that awful day, or whose hands will be strong enough to hold back or to resist the omnipotent power of the God they have defied? That which Jehovah has declared must come to pass; though judgment is His strange work, and He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, yet His very holiness demands that sin be punished.
How literally have verses 15 and 16 been fulfilled! For centuries, yes, for two millenniums, Israel has been scattered among the nations and dispersed throughout the countries. Eventually, as a result of the suffering they are called upon to endure, a remnant at least will face their sins, confess their iniquities, and look upon Him whom they have pierced: then their filthiness shall be consumed out of them, and they shall know that Jehovah is indeed their God. Until that day they remain among the nations as dross rather than the precious treasure they once were in the eyes of the Lord.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, the house of Israel is become dross unto Me: all of them are brass and tin and iron and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are the dross of silver. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye are all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As they gather silver and brass and iron and lead and tin into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in Mine anger and in My wrath, and I will lay you there, and melt you. Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you with the fire of My wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst thereof. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have poured out My wrath upon you”—vers. 17-22.
The figure used in this paragraph is that of the casting of various metals into the crucible and exposing them to furnace heat in order that they may be melted together, and then the different metals be separated, one from the other. Of silver, which reflects the face of the refiner, there was very little, for few indeed heeded the voice of the Lord. The great majority were like brass and iron and lead, base metals which God could only cast away in His wrath and indignation.
We know that when Messiah comes He shall sit as a Refiner of silver, and then there will be manifested a people to the praise of the Lord who shall reflect His image and glorify Him in the earth.
The last section is a somewhat lengthy one, including verses 23 to 31.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto her, Thou art a land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey: they have devoured souls; they take treasure and precious things; they have made her widows many in the midst thereof. Her priests have done violence to My law, and have profaned My holy things: they have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they caused men to discern between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, that they may get dishonest gain. And her prophets have daubed for them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, when Jehovah hath not spoken. The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery; yea, they have vexed the poor and needy, and have oppressed the sojourner wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them, that should build up the wall, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore have I poured out Mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath: their own way have I brought upon their heads, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 23-31.
Here the Lord again emphasizes the defiled condition of the land of Israel and its barrenness because He had withdrawn the rains on account of His displeasure with His people. Moreover, there was, as it were, a conspiracy of her prophets—that is, those who professed to speak in the name of the Lord, who themselves being deceived sought to deceive the people by promising peace when there was no peace. Their soft words and false predictions proved the ruin of many souls and led to the loss of Israel’s treasure and precious things. Widows were multiplied because husbands went forth at the bidding of these prophets to defend the land when God Himself had declared He would not protect them against their enemies. The priests in the temple profaned the holy things of Jehovah as they carried on their hypocritical service. There was no longer a distinction made between the things that were of God and those that had to do with the common life of the people; neither did they discern between that which was clean and that which was unclean. The sabbaths of the Lord, which were given for their blessing, were no longer valued but rather profaned.
Again an indictment is brought against the princes because, instead of shepherding the flock, they were like fierce ravening wolves let loose upon the people, shedding the blood of the innocent and destroying souls in order that they might thereby enrich themselves. The prophets, like man-pleasing preachers today, sought to make the people comfortable in their sins, thus daubing with untempered mortar, seeing false visions and divining lies in the name of the Lord of truth. The people followed after their unreliable spiritual guides, giving themselves over to oppression and robbery and affliction, rather than aiding the poor and needy.
Under such conditions Jehovah looked for even one man among them who should act for Him, standing against the iniquities and building up the wall of the city and closing its gaps, but He found none. Ezekiel himself, we must remember, was no longer in Palestine but on the banks of the River Chebar in Chaldea. In the land itself and in the defiled city there was not one to plead for the people, save Jeremiah, whose message was spurned, and he himself cast into prison. Therefore, there was none to stand between the people and the judgment that their sins deserved; so God declared He was pouring out His indignation upon them and consuming them with the fire of His wrath—and all this because of their own wilfulness; they had taken their own way, and so brought down these calamities upon their guilty heads.
The Apostasy Of Israel And Judah
In this lengthy chapter God once more goes over the ground of His controversy with Israel and Judah, picturing them as two sisters whom He brought up out of the land of Egypt and charged to be faithful to Him, but who both turned away from Him, following idolatry in its vilest forms.
“The word of Jehovah came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they played the harlot in Egypt; they played the harlot in their youth; there were their breasts pressed, and there was handled the bosom of their virginity. And the names of them were Oholah the elder, and Oholibah her sister: and they became Mine, and they bare sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem Oholibah”—vers. 1-4.
The word “Oholah” means “her tent”; whereas “Oholibah” means “My tent is in her.” “Tent” and “tabernacle” are of course the same thing, so that the meaning is clear. Jehovah never identified Himself with the worship which Jeroboam set up for the ten tribes. The sanctuary to which the people there went was simply their own tabernacle, but it was otherwise with Judah: God Himself had set up His tabernacle in the midst of her; He dwelt in Judah and linked His name with Jerusalem in a way He never did with the ten tribes after they revolted from subjection to the house of David. At last they went wholly over to the same type of idolatry as that which characterized Israel up to the time that they were carried away into Assyria.
As we have already seen, spiritual adultery is idolatry, turning away from the one true and living God to idols; and God uses the figure of an unchaste woman to represent both Israel and Judah in their grave sin of infidelity toward Him. People of fastidious taste and delicacy of sentiment naturally shrink from reading such verses as these, but we need to remember the words that describe sin are in themselves not unclean or unholy; it is the evils that are back of the words that are so vile in the sight of God and should be detested by every right-minded person.
“And Oholah played the harlot when she was Mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbors, who were clothed with blue, governors and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses. And she bestowed her whoredoms upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them; and on whomsoever she doted, with all their idols she defiled herself. Neither hath she left her whoredoms since the days of Egypt; for in her youth they lay with her, and they handled the bosom of her virginity; and they poured out their whoredom upon her. Wherefore I delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted. These uncovered her nakedness; they took her sons and her daughters; and her they slew with the sword: and she became a byword among women; for they executed judgments upon her”—vers. 5-10.
Under the figure of harlotry God here sets forth the sin to which Israel in the north had given herself. She had followed after all the evil ways of her unclean idolatrous neighbors, and so eventually God Himself had forsaken her. One might have supposed that all this would have had a salutary effect upon the people of Judah and would have led them to abhor the sins that had brought ruin upon their neighbors to the north; but alas, alas, so prone is the heart of man to evil, and so true is it that “evil communications corrupt good manners,” that Judah soon went just as far into the same type of wickedness and spiritual lewdness as did her sister in the north. All this comes out clearly in verses 11 to 21.
“And her sister Oholibah saw this, yet was she more corrupt in her doting than she, and in her whoredoms which were more than the whoredoms of her sister. She doted upon the Assyrians, governors and rulers, her neighbors, clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men. And I saw that she was defiled; they both took one way. And she increased her whoredoms; for she saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins, with flowing turbans upon their heads, all of them princes to look upon, after the likeness of the Babylonians in Chaldea, the land of their nativity. And as soon as she saw them she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her soul was alienated from them. So she uncovered her whoredoms, and uncovered her nakedness: then My soul was alienated from her, like as My soul was alienated from her sister. Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, remembering the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. And she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses. Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, in the handling of thy bosom by the Egyptians for the breasts of thy youth”—vers. 11-21.
Because of her vileness God, the Holy One, could no longer condone her offenses, and must deal with her as her sins deserved in accordance with His warnings.
“Therefore, O Oholibah, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will raise up thy lovers against thee, from whom thy soul is alienated, and I will bring them against thee on every side: the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them; desirable young men, governors and rulers all of them, princes and men of renown, all of them riding upon horses. And they shall come against thee with weapons, chariots, and wagons, and with a company of peoples; they shall set themselves against thee with buckler and shield and helmet round about: and I will commit the judgment unto them, and they shall judge thee according to their judgments. And I will set My jealousy against thee, and they shall deal with thee in fury; they shall take away thy nose and thine ears; and thy residue shall fall by the sword: they shall take thy sons and thy daughters; and thy residue shall be devoured by the fire. They shall also strip thee of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels. Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee, and thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt; so that thou shalt not lift up thine eyes unto them, nor remember Egypt any more. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will deliver thee into the hand of them whom thou hatest, into the hand of them from whom thy soul is alienated; and they shall deal with thee in hatred, and shall take away all thy labor, and shall leave thee naked and bare; and the nakedness of thy whoredoms shall be uncovered, both thy lewdness and thy whoredoms”—vers. 22-29.
Such words as these require very little comment. They are too plain to need exposition. The language used is so clear that any reader will understand readily why God was thus dealing with His people. In spite of all His expostulations they had persisted in their unclean behavior and had laughed to scorn the admonitions of the prophets He sent to them.
“These things shall be done unto thee, for that thou hast played the harlot after the nations, and because thou art polluted with their idols. Thou hast walked in the way of thy sister; therefore will I give her cup into thy hand. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Thou shalt drink of thy sister’s cup, which is deep and large; thou shalt be laughed to scorn and had in derision; it containeth much. Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of astonishment and desolation, with the cup of thy sister Samaria. Thou shalt even drink it and drain it out, and thou shalt gnaw the sherds thereof, and shalt tear thy breasts; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because thou hast forgotten Me, and cast Me behind thy back, therefore bear thou also thy lewdness and thy whoredoms”—vers. 30-35.
God was about to give them up to the same kind of punishment that had been meted out already to Sa- maria, and they should learn in bitterness of soul what it meant to depart from the living God—from Him who would so gladly have cast all their sins behind His back if they had but turned to Him in contrition of heart.
He chides them because, having forgotten Him, they had cast His Word behind their backs and given themselves up to every type of idolatry.
“Jehovah said moreover unto me: Son of man, wilt thou judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare unto them their abominations. For they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands; and with their idols have they committed adultery; and they have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto Me, to pass through the fire unto them to be devoured. Moreover this they have done unto Me: they have denied My sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned My sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into My sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of My house. And furthermore ye have sent for men that come from afar, unto whom a messenger was sent, and, lo, they came; for whom thou didst wash thyself, paint thine eyes, and deck thyself with ornaments, and sit upon a stately bed, with a table prepared before it, whereupon thou didst set Mine incense and Mine oil. And the voice of a multitude being at ease was with her: and with men of the common sort were brought drunkards from the wilderness; and they put bracelets upon the hands of them twain, and beautiful crowns upon their heads”—vers. 36-42.
Israel and Judah both had been warned of the peril involved in apostasy; yet both had deliberately turned away from the truth they had once known and given themselves over to following after the ways of the surrounding nations. They had defiled the sanctuary of Jehovah and profaned His sabbaths, doing for their idols what God never would have asked them to do for Him—sacrificing their own children at the behest of the demon-inspired priests of their high places. Like an unchaste woman who sought in every way to at- tract men to her, they had made every effort to incorporate into their own economy the ways of the heathen, both religious and political; and thus had so dishonored God that He could do no other than repudiate them and visit judgment upon their heads.
“Then said I of her that was old in adulteries, Now will they play the harlot with her, and she with them. And they went in unto her, as they go in unto a harlot: so went they in unto Oholah and unto Oholibah, the lewd women. And righteous men, they shall judge them with the judgment of adulteresses, and with the judgment of women that shed blood; because they are adulteresses, and blood is in their hands. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will bring up a company against them, and will give them to be tossed to and fro and robbed. And the company shall stone them with stones, and despatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire. Thus will I cause lewdness to cease out of the land, that all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness. And they shall recompense your lewdness upon you, and ye shall bear the sins of your idols; and ye shall know that I am the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 43-49.
Solemn indeed are the words with which this section closes. How unspeakably sad the state into which Judah had fallen! She who had once been a bright gem in the diadem of Jehovah now had fallen to the very lowest depth, and God was about to cast her out of His sight, to send her down to Babylon—there to learn in bitterness of soul what a mistake she had made in rejecting Him and refusing to heed His Word and following after the strange gods of the nations, which, in reality, are no gods but simply demons seeking the destruction of those who sacrifice to them.
The Death Of The Prophet’s Wife A Sign To Israel
The prophecies recorded in the last four chapters seem all to have been delivered in the seventh year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity (20:1). The message of chapter 24 is dated on the tenth day of the tenth month of the ninth year. Despite all the optimistic promises made by false prophets who declared that the scattered families of Judah would soon return in peace to their land, conditions continued to grow worse.
“Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this selfsame day: the king of Babylon drew close unto Jerusalem this selfsame day. And utter a parable unto the rebellious house, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Set on the caldron, set it on, and also pour water into it: gather the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder; fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock, and also a pile of wood for the bones under the caldron; make it boil well; yea, let the bones thereof be boiled in the midst of it”—vers. 1-5.
Nebuchadnezzar, who was now the reigning monarch, had gone up against Jerusalem a second time, and God was about to use him to execute His judgment upon the guilty city whose inhabitants still seemed insensible of the real danger to which they were exposed. Ezekiel again likens Jerusalem to a great cooking vessel, and its inhabitants as the flesh to be boiled in it. The army of the Chaldeans surrounding the city were like the fire which should cause the pot to boil furiously until those within the city were utterly destroyed.
In the verses that follow he enlarges upon this illustration, applying it with terrible force to the people of the stricken city where once Jehovah had set His name, but which He now disowned because of its manifold iniquities.
“Wherefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe to the bloody city, to the caldron whose rust is therein, and whose rust is not gone out of it! take out of it piece after piece; no lot is fallen upon it. For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the bare rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust. That it may cause wrath to come up to take vengeance, I have set her blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe to the bloody city! I also will make the pile great. Heap on the wood, make the fire hot, boil well the flesh, and make thick the broth, and let the bones be burned. Then set it empty upon the coals thereof, that it may be hot and the brass thereof may burn, and that the filthiness of it may be molten in it, that the rust of it may be consumed. She hath wearied herself with toil; yet her great rust goeth not forth out of her; her rust goeth not forth by fire. In thy filthiness is lewdness: because I have cleansed thee and thou wast not cleansed, thou shalt not be cleansed from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused My wrath toward thee to rest. I, Jehovah, have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 6-14.
Instead of “the holy city,” Jerusalem is called “the bloody city,” for it had become utterly filthy and defiled by the idolatrous wickedness of its people. Like a disgusting mess simmering in its own filth, the doomed inhabitants were exposed to the vengeance of the God whose law they had spurned and whose grace they had despised. As they had poured out their sacrifices upon the high places to their false gods who were powerless to save, so should they be emptied out upon the top of the rock and cast into the dust as unclean and unfit for God’s acceptance. He Himself would make the pile for fire great against them, and instead of baring His arm to deliver them He would give them up to that destruction which their sins deserved. Jerusalem is again likened to a false and unchaste woman who has broken wedlock. She had wearied herself with lies in her effort to cover her infamy and hide her shame, but all was of no avail. So manifest was her corruption that her filthiness and lewdness could not be purged or cleansed away until she had endured the fury of the Lord which her guilt deserved.
What God had spoken He would surely bring to pass. There would be no changing His mind or giving further opportunity to repent. They had sinned beyond remedy, and so judgment must take its course.
“Also the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: yet thou shalt neither mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud, make no mourning for the dead; bind thy headtire upon thee, and put thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men. So I spake unto the people in the morning; and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded”—vers. 15-18.
In this section we have a personal experience of the prophet. His wife, whom he loved tenderly, was to be taken away suddenly by death; yet he was not to show any outward sign of mourning, for as he suffered so should the people as a whole suffer. He was commanded to refrain from weeping for the dead, but was to endure in stolid silence the grief which he was called to face.
That day he prophesied as usual, though with this heavy cloud hanging over his head; and at evening his wife died. His heart must indeed have been heavy, but in the morning he gave no evidence of the grief that was stirring within his soul except that he remained dumb, much to the astonishment of the people who undoubtedly knew of his sincere affection for his wife. They wondered at his apparent indifference.
“And the people said unto me, Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou doest so? Then I said unto them, The word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Speak unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth; and your sons and your daughters whom ye have left behind shall fall by the sword. And ye shall do as I have done: ye shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. And your tires shall be upon your heads, and your shoes upon your feet: ye shall not mourn nor weep; but ye shall pine away in your iniquities, and moan one toward another. Thus shall Ezekiel be unto you a sign; according to all that he hath done shall ye do: when this cometh, then shall ye know that I am the Lord Jehovah”—vers. 19-24.
When his neighbors questioned Ezekiel as to his strange behavior he explained that his loss was but a small one as compared with the sorrows and bereavements that were to come to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all the people of Israel.
The Lord God had decreed that because of their behavior His sanctuary would be given over to profanation and destruction. Israel, the desire of His eyes, was to be given up to death. Her sons and daughters were to perish by the sword of a cruel and vindictive enemy. So terrible would be the carnage that the survivors would be literally paralyzed with horror and would be dumb in the greatness of their grief. Thus, they should do as he, the prophet, had done in the hour of his soul’s distress—they should not put on the gar- ments of mourning nor show signs of their anguish because of the dead. Rather were they destined to pine away in their own sins, grieving because of what they themselves were called upon to endure.
In this way Ezekiel was their sign; for they should do as he had done when the word of the Lord had been fulfilled, and they should know that He was the Lord God who executed judgment against the unconfessed sin of His people.
“And thou, son of man, shall it not be in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their heart, their sons and their daughters, that in that day he that escapeth shall come unto thee, to cause thee to hear it with thine ears? In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him that is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: so shalt thou be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am Jehovah”—vers. 25-27.
When the city was taken and multitudes slain and those who had escaped should come to Ezekiel for help and comfort, then he was to be dumb no longer but to speak unto them the Word of the Lord as He should give it in that day. Judgment must follow disobedience, but God delights to show mercy to all who confess and forsake their sins.
Surely there is a message in all this for us today. We who call ourselves Christians have drifted far from the truth as set forth in the Word of God. How can we hope to escape when He arises to deal in judgment with those who have turned after the things of the world, thus dishonoring His name? Oh, that there might yet be a great returning to God and His Word, that there might come revival and blessing ere the close of this dispensation of grace!