came certain of the elders of
2 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,”As the result, probably,
of the previous utterances, certain elders of
came to consult Ezekiel, wishing to know what counsels or what predictions he
had for them. In ch. 8:1 we have “the elders of
were two groups in the Population of the town, and that these represented
exiles. The term appears again in ch.20:1. More probably, however, the terms are
3 “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the
stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of
at all by them?” These men, etc. The prophet, taught by the word of the Lord,
reads the hearts of those who came to him. The words do not imply, rather
they exclude, the open practice of idolatry. The sin of the inquirers was
that they had set up idols (gillulim, Ezekiel’s favorite word; see note on (ch.6:4)
in their hearts. The Septuagint. gives διανοήματα – dianoaemata - thoughts of
their hearts - as if to express this. They were hankering after the old false
worships in which they had once, taken part. The stumbling block (see
ch.3:20) of their iniquity was set up there. That divided heart,
the “double mind” of James 1:8, made true inquiry, as it made true
prayer for guidance, IMPOSSIBLE! Shall I be inquired of at all, etc.? The
“at all” represents the emphatic iteration of the verb in the Hebrew. The
Vulgate, Numquid interrogatus respondebo eis? gives a fair paraphrase.
Idols in the Heart (v. 3)
temples in a city, containing innumerable idols — horrible monsters or
beautiful statues, works of marble, ivory, or gold. Yet if the people do not
worship them no sin is committed. We have many idols in our museums.
The idols in a missionary society’s museum do no harm to its custodians.
On the other hand, though no idol temple stands in our land, and the last
vestige of the old heathenism has been swept away centuries ago, and the
very notion of worshipping stocks and stones seems to us ridiculous, yet in
our hearts there may be things which alienate us from God. The essential
question is as to what is there enthroned as in the citadel of the soul.
HEART IS AN IDOL. It is not everything loved that we are to regard as
an idol. God does not claim the only affection of our hearts. We may love
God through the love we bear to those earthly friends who are dear to us.
But God claims the first place, the throne within. Whatever stands first in
our estimation is our god. If some human affection, pleasure, or sin takes
this pre-eminent position, and refuses to yield, when required, to the
supreme will of God, that is our god, our idol.
It is in reference to people who cherish such idols that God asks, “Should I
be inquired of at all by them?” it is not likely that such people would be
disposed to seek counsel from the true spiritual God. The idols would seem
to be sufficient. But if they should think to add the worship of the supreme
God to that of their idols, they would find that this is impossible. There are
men for whom all access to God is cut off. They who cherish evil things or
any rival affections, made evil by rivalry with the true love of the soul for
God, find that they cannot reach to God. “Ye cannot serve God and
mammon” (Luke 16:13). Observe, however, this only applies to idolatry
in the heart. Heathen people who follow the instincts of natural religion
and feel after the unseen spiritual God may find Him (Acts 17:27), though
they have scores of idols in their houses, because such a genuine search for
God implies the expulsion of idols from the heart.
GOD. We may disown God and substitute our idols. But He will not,
cannot, give us up. (“If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He
cannot deny Himself” - II Timothy 2:13). He is still our Lord, and
He must take note of the rebellion of His people. But He is also still our
Father, and, though we may not care for Him, He has not ceased to love
us. Therefore He will seek His idolatrous children and plague them with
many a trouble, until He has induced them to see their folly, cast their idols
out of their hearts, and welcome back their Lord to His rightful throne.
4 “Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord
GOD; Every man of the house of
his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his
face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that
cometh according to the multitude of his idols;” I will answer him that
cometh, etc. The two last words represent the K’ri, or marginal reading of the
Hebrew; the “therein” of the Revised Version, the Kh’-tib, or written text.
Probably we should read, as in v. 7, “I will answer him by myself.”
5 “That I
may take the house of
are all estranged from me through their idols.” The words are a threat
rather than a promise. The “double-hearted” shall be taken in the
snare which they have made for themselves.
Idolatry (vs. 1-5)
It certainly seems strange that, at this period of their national history, the
Israelites should be chargeable with the folly and sin of idolatry. The
admonitions against this offence had been so numerous, and the
chastisements following its commission had been so severe, that the reader
of Old Testament history is surprised to find that at so late a period the
temptation had not been outgrown.
· THE MULTITUDE AND VARIETY OF THE IDOLATRIES OF
neighboring peoples — from the Phoenicians upon the north, the Syrians
and Chaldeans upon the east, and the Egyptians upon the south. Each of
these idolatries had its own characteristics, and in some way sprang from,
and ministered to, the evil passions of human nature. It would almost seem
as if the kings, the great men of the land, and the common people
generally, chose such idols as harmonized with their own tastes or suited
their own convenience. At all events, the prophet speaks of idols, in the
plural, of the multitude of the idols, and of every idolater’s own special and
· THE SEAT OF THESE IDOLATRIES. The people are said to have
set them up “in their heart.” Hills, valleys, groves, high places, and altars
and temples, were indeed consecrated, or rather desecrated, by idol
worship. But all this was external. There was something much worse; the
idols were set up in the inner nature of the worshippers, and there were
honored and served. That is to say, the belief in the government of a
righteous and holy God having been abandoned, many of the Israelites
exalted the vices and crimes which the deities of the heathen embodied,
sanctioned, and encouraged, and came in their hearts to love the evils
against which, as a nation, they were called to witness.
· THE ESTRANGEMENT FROM GOD WHICH IDOLATRY
PRODUCED. In setting up the idols in their hearts the people had been
patting “a stumbling block of iniquity” before their face. The idols came
between them and their God. The house of
all estranged from me through their idols.” There can be no rivalry between
the false gods and the true. The choice has ever to be made. To exalt an
idol, a passion, a taste, a habit, an association, to a position above that
occupied by the supreme Lord of all, is to dethrone Him from His rightful
place, to forfeit His regard, to ensure His displeasure.
· THE INDIGNANT RESPONSE OF GOD TO THE DISHONOR
DONE TO HIM. It was presumed that, with wicked inconsistency, some
of the Israelites who had been seduced into idolatrous practices would
nevertheless in some time of perplexity or affliction resort to the prophets
of Jehovah to seek counsel, guidance, and comfort. In such circumstances,
how would their conduct be regarded by the Lord? The word of the Lord
to the prophet should be attentively considered, “Should I be inquired of at
all by them?...I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the
multitude of his idols.” We are not to believe that any sincere, lowly,
penitent, and believing suppliant would be rejected. But those who in their
hearts cherished the idolatry which was their shame, and yet for some
selfish purposes had the effrontery to approach the Lord for counsel and
for help, were assured that their application should meet with no favorable
response. They were double-hearted and insincere; and for such there is no
blessing, and indeed no tolerance.
· APPLICATION. It is the same today. If with all your hearts ye truly seek
Him, the request shall not be offered in vain. But it is useless to draw near
to God with the lips while the heart is far from Him.
“Therefore say unto the house of
Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your
faces from all your abominations.” Turn yourselves, etc.; literally, turn them.
But there is no sufficient ground for the margin, “Turn others,” the objective
suffix being the “faces” of the following clause. In ch. 18:30, 32 the verb is
used by itself. The prophet’s call is to a direct personal repentance, not to
the work of preaching that repentance to others.
true that God has moved towards us before we have thought of turning to
Him. It is His goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ibid. ch.5:8). But all
this precedes our action. When we begin to see salvation, the first step
must lead us to the wicket gate of repentance, and until that has been
passed through THERE IS NO HOPE FOR US! John the Baptist
prepares the way for Christ. “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”
(Matthew 3:2). We may try the short cut of pride, and think to begin the
happy Christian life without owning our sins and turning from them.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE! The result will only be a miserable hypocrisy.
“Repent, and turn yourselves,” etc. It is an action, not merely a feeling. It
cannot be without deep grief of soul, yet it does not consist in the grief;
that is but an accompaniment, though undoubtedly an inevitable
accompaniment. We cannot measure our repentance by the number of tears
shed, but by the thoroughness of our revolt against our past. Neither is
there any value in the amount of time spent in abject contrition. We are not
in this way to consider whether we have repented sufficiently. The sole
question is as to the reality and thoroughness of the change by which we
turn from the old way and seek a better way. (When I first came to
Church by Sydney Maddox on repentance. He preached that “repentance
is a turning!” – CY – 2014)
THE EVIL ONCE LOVED. The penitents are to turn from their “idols.”
Insincere repentance weeps for the sins it still clings to. The action of
repentance is inward. But its consequences are seen in outward conduct.
Savonarola, when called to the dying bed of Lorenzo di Medici, refused to
offer any hope of pardon to the great Florentine, because, though he
professed great concern for his soul, and deep grief for his sins, he refused
to give back their liberties to the citizens. He would not act according to
the profession of repentance, and therefore the stern reformer justly judged
that the penitence could not be true and thorough.
calls upon us to repent, hut He des not require us to create new hearts in
ourselves. He expects a sincere desire for a better way. We must show our
loathing for our old past by doing all in our power to relinquish it. Then
God gives that redeeming grace which is the new birth, and whence springs
the power for better living (“But as many as received Him, to them gave
He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His
Name.” - John 1:12). Still, after receiving the grace, we need to
preserve the lowliness of the penitent, although all tears are wiped away by
the pardon of God. For we are always in danger of being dragged back into
out old selves. Illusion is brief but repentance is long.
Repent! (v. 6)
This was the admonition of every herald of God, whether under the old
covenant or the new. It was the burden of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and it was
also the burden of John the forerunner and of Jesus the Messiah. From this
it may be inferred that human nature and life, on the one hand, and the
character and government of God on the other hand, are such that
repentance is an indispensable condition of the establishment of right
relations between God and man.
· THE NEED OF REPENTANCE. If we are upon Divine authority
summoned to change, this must be because there is something wrong and
reprehensible and dangerous in man’s heart and condition; if called upon
to turn, we must be going the wrong way. The admonition of the text follows
upon a picture of
GOD! The form of the sin may vary, but the principle of sin is ever the same.
Whether in ancient or in modern times, in barbarous or in civilized states of
society, men are universally prone to sin and guilty of sin. Where there is
no sin, repentance is needless. It is in the departure of the heart’s affection
and the life’s loyalty from the
righteous God that man’s error lies.
idolatry symbolizes human iniquity.
· THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE. As more fully explained in New
Testament Scripture, this is a change of heart, of disposition, leading to a
change of character and of life. Mere sorrow for sin is not repentance,
inasmuch as emotion of every kind is to some extent matter of
temperament, and sorrow does not always lead to reformation. True
repentance goes much deeper, and prepares the way for every spiritual
blessing. He who repents looks at things otherwise than before, turus his
thoughts into another channel, his steps into another path.
· THE CALL TO REPENTANCE.
Ø It is a gracious call. The justly offended sovereign may leave the rebel to
the consequences of his acts. It is not thus that God deals with us. It is not
His wish that any should perish. He sends His messengers to the offending
race, with a summons to submission, with proffers of mercy.
Ø It is an authoritative call. He commandeth men everywhere to repent. It
is true that our Creator and Judge does not interfere with our liberty. Yet
He publishes His will as binding upon every moral agent. He has a right to
our repentance. It is our place to obey His summons, to offer the
repentance which He demands and requires at our hands.
· THE DIFFICULTY OF REPENTANCE. This lies in the very
character itself of the change. If verbal submission or outward conformity
only were required, this would be comparatively easy. But God, who
searcheth the heart, will not be satisfied save with the heart’s subjection
and conversion. Old habits of unspirituality, worldliness, and selfishness
are not readily abandoned. Especially in advanced life a radical and inward
change is effected, for the most part, only with effort and difficulty. (Therefore,
“Today is the day of salvation. (I Corinthiaqns 6:2) Call upon Him while
He is near.” - (Isaiah 55:6) It needs a supernatural motive and a
supernatural power to cause old things to pass away and all things
to become new, to exchange darkness for light, and the service of Satan
for God. Such a supernatural motive we have in the gospel; such a
supernatural power and agency in the Holy Spirit. “But as many as
received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even
to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12)
· THE FRUITS OF REPENTANCE.
1. These are exactly opposed in character to the fruits of self-indulgence.
Other seed in other soil yields other harvest.
2. Reconciliation with God replaces enmity towards God. The conditions
of salvation, as laid down in the New Testament, are “repentance towards
God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21)
3. Repentance works a change in a man’s own character; the principles and
motives and ends of life are all new.
4. Through the power of repentance a man’s relations to his fellow men are
changed — justice takes the place of wrong, and love that of hatred and
7 “For every one of the house of
up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his
iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him
concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:”
The stranger that sojourneth among you. It is noticeable that
Ezekiel uses here and elsewhere (ch.47:22-23) the familiar phrase
of the books which most influenced his teaching (Leviticus chps.16-25.;
Numbers chps.9,15; Deuteronomy passim). It is probable that some such
proselytes were found among the exiles of Tel Abib. I the Lord will
answer him by myself, etc. This, as has been seen, was probably the right
reading in v. 4. What it means is that, instead of a spoken answer by the
mouth of the prophet, there should be an answer in the discipline of life, in
the immediate utterance through the conscience, which was the voice of
God. The inquirer who came with unconfessed and unrepented hankerings
after the worship of other gods deserved and would receive no other answer.
God’s Answer (v. 7)
“I the Lord will answer him by myself.” The people inquire of the false
prophets, but God Himself will answer them. The question concerning the
coming danger will be settled by the event. That will be God’s answer, and
it will put an end to all doubt on the one side, and to all deception on the other.
grievously perplex us, and to which, as yet, we can get no reply. Those that
are frivolous may never be answered; e.g. Clement’s illustration, “Whether
the number of the stars be odd or even?” It can be of no use for us to know
the answer to such a question. No doubt there are also greater problems
which still do not concern us personally, and of these we may never have
the solution. There is no reason to suppose that we shall ever become
omniscient. But, on the other hand, there are deep, heart-searching
questions, which bear directly upon our life. We crave an answer to such
questions, and God will not leave us forever in the dark concerning them.
We may have our patience tried for a season, but at length the light will
Himself. The foolish Jews inquired of false prophets. (Many people
today are getting their information that they live by from false prophets,
such as college professors, philosophers, movie directors, celebrities,
politicians, propagandists guised as newsmen, etc. – CY - 2014). But not
even a true prophet such as Ezekiel would be entrusted with the reply.
GOD HIMSELF is to answer them. God does not act by proxy. He has
servants and agents. But He is in them, and He can dispense with them
altogether whenever He chooses. He has direct dealings with souls. If the
answer comes from God, it must be true and sufficient. In momentous
questions concerning the soul and its ETERNAL LIFE we cannot be
satisfied with a reply from any delegated authority, not from the greatest
prophet, apostle, or archangel. We want to hear THE VOICE OF
to be given by events. The
answer to the disputing Jews. That was as truly a Divine answer as a voice
from heaven would have been, for the voice would have been a shaping of
air waves, a work of God in nature. This event was God’s working in
providence. God speaks to us through His providence. History is a record
of God’s answers to man’s questions. Such an answer has many merits.
It is perceptible to all. The fall of
Ø It is clear and unmistakable. God had threatened judgment. Would His
threat prove true? Who could doubt the meaning of the terrible response?
Ø It is irreversible. An event which has once occurred can never be
undone. The lessons of history are eternal.
Ø It may come unsought. The faithless Jews neglected their God, and
inquired for oracles from the false prophets. Yet He of whom they
sought no word spoke by the awful thunders of judgment.
Ø It may come from an unexpected quarter. These unbelieving Jews
were not expecting to hear the voice of God. Therefore they were
made to hear it in most terrible tones. It is better not to wait for such
a startling reply. God has spoken in the great events of
8 “And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign
and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people;
and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” To make him, add, with Revised
Version, an astonishment; or better, I will make him amazed, as in ch.32:10.
The words are an echo of Deuteronomy 28:37. The man’s punishment shall be
open and notorious, so as to strike terror into others.
9 “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the
LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand
upon him, and will destroy him from the
midst of my people
10 And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the
punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him
that seeketh unto him;” I the Lord have deceived that prophet, etc. The teaching
of modern thought is to soften language like this into “I have permitted him to
be deceived.” The distinction was seldom, if ever, present to the mind of
the Old Testament, or indeed of the New Testament, writers. It is Jehovah
who sends the “lying spirit” in I Kings 22:20 -23. It is He who in the
latter days shall send men “strong delusions” that they shall believe a lie
(II Thessalonians 2:11). In both cases it is implied that the delusion is a
righteous punishment, is indeed the natural, because the divinely appointed,
punishment of the sin. Populus vult decipi et decipiatur, but the very
deception is a means for undeceiving them. At last their eyes shall be
opened. The punishment of the false prophet and of those who trust him is
at once retributive, and a discipline, and, if the discipline fails for them, at
least a warning for others.
The false prophets of
the fate of the people they fawned upon. A moment’s reflection must make it
apparent that the favor of the world, and even the favor of the Church, are no
guarantees for the favor of Heaven; for men may be deceived or may judge by
low, unworthy standards. But appearances are so flattering that people fall into
the snare, and take comfort from the thought that all is going well with them
among men. The one vital question is, “How do we stand before God?”
The Prophet’s Punishment (v. 10)
The prophet is to be punished equally with the rest of the people, because
his guilt is equal to theirs. The pleas and excuses which he might suggest
are all swept away as so many refuges or lies.
· ECCLESIASTICAL RANK. There was a recognized professional
distinction between the prophets and the people; the prophets belonged to
a separate order. But “orders” have no saving efficacy. The status of the
Christian ministry affords certain earthly privileges, while it confers certain
spiritual obligations. But it is only economic, temporary, and for this
world’s service. Before God the distraction between cleric and laic
vanishes, and each soul stands in its simple human character. God judges
an archbishop as a man, not as a dignitary. His office appertains to his
powers and duties, the talents for which he will have to account. But in this
respect it is like the office of any other person — a measure for his service,
not a shelter for his sinfulness. In the world beyond the grave each soul is
but a soul; rank and office are left behind like castoff vestments. Therefore
the sinful ecclesiastic will be treated as any other sinner.
· DIVINE GIFTS. The false prophets of Ezekiel’s day do not appear to
have had any peculiar Divine gifts. They were mere pretenders. But even
those men who are especially endowed are not to consider themselves as
thereby lifted above common
standards of judgment. The prophet of
was a true messenger from God, yet a lion met him in the way and slew
him for his disobedience (1 Kings 13:26). The apostle may “have the
gift of prophecy,” yet if he “have not charity” he is “nothing”
(1 Corinthians 13:2).
· KNOWLEDGE. If the prophets did not know the right way, they
should have made themselves acquainted with it, for they were supposed to
hold the keys of revelation. But as the signpost never reaches the city to
which it is constantly pointing, the man who knows the way, and who is
capable of showing it to others, may yet be never treading it himself. Then
his knowledge will not save him. It is the same in respect to those who are
enlightened by Divine teaching, though they are not called upon to teach
others. A clear conception of “the plan of salvation” will not save a man. If
a prophet will be punished like any other man, surely the merely orthodox
believer in the dogmas of the Church will stand in a similar position of peril
if he does not add practice to creed.
guilty prophets of
Their doom was to suffer the fate of the people they fawned upon. A
moment’s reflection must make it apparent that the favor of the world,
and even the favor of the Church, are no guarantees for the favor of
Heaven; for men may be deceived or may judge by low, unworthy
standards. But appearances are so flattering that people fall into the snare,
and take .comfort from the thought that all is going well with them among
men. The one vital question is, “How do we stand before God?”
The Misleader and the Misled (v. 10)
One of the features of Israelitish life at this epoch of the Captivity was the
evident number and power of false prophets. General excitement and
change are, of course, favorable to imposture. Men sought everywhere
for guidance, comfort, hope; but, instead of having recourse to the
authorized prophets of the Lord, they went to the pretentious and
deceptive religious guides who seem to have traded upon the misfortunes
of their country. (Does not the “Secular Press” today fit this mold? – CY –
2014). These men were in the habit of saying what was expected
and desired, of uttering smooth things, of buoying up the people with the
hope that threatening calamities might be averted. Thus the effect of these
men’s counsels was to prevent the people from true repentance and TO
HASTEN THE COUNTRY’S RUIN! Ezekiel was directed to denounce
These misleaders of the nation, and to declare that they should participate
in the approaching calamities. “The punishment of the prophet shall be even
as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him.”
essence was DEPARTURE FROM GOD! Those who should have repaired
to the Source of all wisdom and authority turned aside, and “sought unto”
ignorant, self-seeking impostors. In this they sinned; and the sin was shared
by those to whom they had recourse. These pretended prophets knowingly
misled the people; for they saw no vision and heard no voice, and their
utterances were dictated, not by the law of Divine righteousness, but by the
aims of human policy. People and prophets sinned together, and suffered
ERROR. The counsel which was thus given and accepted, and
consequently acted upon, led the people astray. The only hope for
Jerusalem and for the Jews was a general humiliation, confession, and
repentance, A TURNING UNTO THE LORD! From such a course they
were deterred by the deception which they practiced upon one another,
and the delusion which they mutually encouraged. Hence the error into
which they were misled, the error of continued idolatry, unbelief, and
rebellion. (Contrast the New Testament teaching:
Ø “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge
God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things
which are not convenient……..” - Romans 1:28-32;
Ø “they received not the love of the truth…..And for this cause
God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe
A lie” – II Thessalonians 2:10-11 – CY – 2014)
PUNISHMENT. It would have been unjust to punish only those who were
led astray, for their false guides and evil counselors were to blame for
misleading them. It would have been unjust to punish only the false
prophets; for these men were induced and encouraged to practice their
deceiving arts by the readiness of their dupes to receive and to act upon
their advice. Hence COMMON GUILT entailed COMMON PENALTY!
There was little distinction in crime; there was little distinction in punishment.
Retribution is a fact in the government of the Supreme, who can never look
upon iniquity. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go
unpunished.” (Proverbs 11:21) “but the seed of the righteous shall
be delivered!” (Ibid.)
the house of
polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may
be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.”
The words come as a gleam of light through the darkness. A
restored nation, walking in the truth, the true people of God, — this lies
beyond the mystery of the evil which is allowed, or even made, to work
itself out to the bitter end.
God owns the souls of His people. “That they may be my people” is the
expression in regard to God’s design in the discipline of
regards His people as His “inheritance” (Psalm 28:9). He values them, as
His jewels (Malachi 3:17), as the “apple of his eye” (Psalm 17:8).
God’s people have rights of access and privileges to God as reconciled children.
It is indeed a great joy to be able to say, “My God.” (I highly recommend
Deuteronomy ch. 32 v. 9 – God’s Inheritance by Arthur Pink – this web site –
CY – 2014)
Disastrous Answers to Prayer (vs. 1-11)
Ezekiel’s predictions had been so gloomy and adverse, that the ciders of
nation’s ruin. Hopeful that some message more favorable might come
from God, they sought (it may be on the sabbath day) the prophet’s
presence. We must not place these elders in the same category with those
Nevertheless, they were not right at heart. The taint of idolatry was upon
these also. Good and evil may be mingled in men’s hearts in different
· OUTWARD TROUBLE OFTEN DRIVES MEN TO GOD. It is not
always so. It sometimes chafes and exasperates men. In their pain they
sometimes curse God and blaspheme Him yet the more. Perhaps affliction,
in itself, has no softening, subduing influence. But the Spirit of God
frequently uses affliction as His instrument, His pruning knife, in order to
make the soul fruitful. This much is certain, that many have found a season
of affliction a season of salvation. Certain it is that “whom the Lord loveth
He correcteth;” and not a few of the redeemed adopt David’s language as
their own, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept thy
Word.” (Psa.m 119:67)
· YET THE RETURN IS SOMETIMES OUTWARD, NOT
COMPLETE. In human nature there is a strong bias to be satisfied with
what is merely outward in religion. To utter words of prayer, we imagine,
must be successful To come into God’s house, no matter what may be our
motives or intentions, we think, must please God. Do we not confer a
favor on Him? Has He not engaged to do us good? Yet how often is the
heart away when the body is present? How often do We bring our idols
with us into that sacred place? How often do we worship mammon, or
pleasure, or fashion, under pretence of worshipping God? How often do
our words far exceed our desires? Hypocrisy and idolatry are as common in
sanctuaries now as in the days
preoccupied with its own wishes and plans and ambitions, while we are
using the words, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” We want our own
ends, while we profess to yield unto God.
· GOD REPLIES, NOT TO OUR WORDS, BUT TO OUR TEMPER
OF MIND. “Ihe Lord will answer him that cometh according to the
multitude of his idols.” Men often think that they lay a trap for God, but
God takes them in their own snare. We try to use God for the attainment of
some worldly end, and we think sometimes that we succeed, but we are
always outwitted. Men’s words are often veils to hide the facts, and we
may deceive others; we cannot deceive God. To give to such men blessing
would be to do them harm. For such the only real blessing is self-humiliation,
inward contrition. True faith in God is the only measure of
success, and faith is loyal, candid, self-submissive. Four sympathetic men
brought a paralytic to Jesus; but Jesus first read the yearning desire of the
sufferer’s heart, and said, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” (Luke 520)
For God is a Spirit, and deals with the human spirit. Therefore in prayer
we should\ always imitate David, “I lift up my soul unto thee.”
· GOD’S AIM IS LOFTIER THAN THE AIM OF THE SUPPLIANT.
The aim of the suppliant is usually temporary relief — deliverance from
some present evil. But God sees that present trouble is the best blessing —
the rough husk that contains nourishing meat. Our object is enjoyment;
God’s object is soul profit. He yearns to see repentance — the first cry of
the new life. “Thus saith the Lord God; Repent.” God’s aim is remote, but
right noble. His design is that “the
His purpose is that “they may be my people, and I may be their God.” If we
will not allow God’s purpose to prevail, He will not allow our low and vain
purposes to succeed. If we set ourselves in hostility against God, only ruin
can result. If God sends us to
may expect to meet an overwhelming storm. God’s will must become our
will; then only shall we have rest.
· GOD TURNS UNSUCCESSFUL SUPPLIANTS INTO BEACONS.
“I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a
proverb.” As battlefields, saturated with human gore, yield larger crops of
grain, so out of all evil God will bring ultimate good. Cain’s published sin
served as a restraint upon
God and for righteousness. In the long run, everything contributes to the
good of mankind. The wrath of man shall bring praise to God. Man’s crime
serve as a dark background, the better to set forth the brilliant hues of
Divine mercy. Yet how slow men are to note the various warnings which
God sets up! Self-examination is a rare virtue,
· ANSWERED PRAYER MAY BE HEAVIEST DISASTER. The
Gadarenes prayed that Jesus would depart out of their coasts, and He
departed. The man who has practiced deceit shall be himself deceived.
Pharaoh hardened his heart against God until at length God joined in the
process: “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” He who will not accept any
answer from God except that which chimes in with his own wishes shall
have his wish gratified, but it will prove his ruin. To Ephraim God at last
said, “He is joined to his idols: let him alone.” He who blasphemes against
the Holy Spirit is “in danger of eternal fire.” And this is the heaviest
punishment a man can receive. “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still.”
(Revelation 22:11) The most notable example of this principle in God’s
government is seen in the case of Ahab. He had set his heart upon war
against Ramoth-Gilead. He would not be dissuaded. Yet he wished to
have the appearance of God’s approval, in order to gain allies. At length
the Lord said, “Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at
Ramoth-Gilead?” “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the
Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said, Wherewith? And
he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his
prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and shalt prevail also.”
(I Kings 22:20-22) If foolish men prefer flattering delusions to the naked
truth, God will at length abandon them to this fatal influence. He punishes
sin with sin.
· THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ALLOWS OF NO
EXEMPTION. Pauper and prince are amenable to the same law in the
punishment of him that seeketh unto him.” No office, however honorable,
will serve as a cloak for sin, nor alleviate the weight of punishment.
Righteousness deals with man as man, and takes no note of names or titles.
If a king drinks poison, it produces the selfsame effect as if a ploughboy
drank it. It will avail us nothing to say to the white-robed Judge, “Lord,
Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?” (Matthew 7:22) Office may
increase our responsibility; it does not add to our purity; it gives no passport
to heaven. Not genius, nor power, commends men to God; only moral
goodness. “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you;
but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
Hypocritical Inquirers of God (vs. 1-11)
“Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me,” etc.
In the former chapter false prophets and prophetesses were severely
rebuked by the Lord God through His true prophet. In this one certain
elders who came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, while their
hearts were given up to idols, are reproved, exhorted, and warned. The
paragraph before us presents the following connected topics for
consideration, which we will notice in the order in which they are
presented by the prophet.
· MEN HYPOCRITICALLY INQUIRING OF THE LORD GOD. “Then
came certain of
the elders of
word of the Lord came unto me, saying,” etc. (vs. 1-3). These elders
who came to inquire of God through His prophet were probably of the
number of his fellow exiles. They came to consult the prophet of Jehovah,
yet they were idolaters at heart. They had “set up their idols in their heart,”
etc. (v. 3). Their idolatry involved practical atheism. Genuine belief in the
existence of the Lord Jehovah would have effectually precluded idolatry.
Men of such character could not sincerely inquire of God. There can be no
real approach unto Him without faith in the reality of His being. “He that
cometh to God must believe that he is, and that He is a rewarder of
them that diligently seek Him.” etc. (Hebrews 11:6). Their
seeking information or counsel of the Lord was not true; they were not
whole-hearted in so doing, but hypocritical. They are, says Hengstenherg,
the “representatives of those who only outwardly fear God, but inwardly
serve the spirit of the world and the age.” How many meet in God’s house,
unite in His worship, and listen to the ministry of His holy Word, as though
they were genuine inquirers of His will, who yet have idols in their hearts!
Seeming to sincerely “inquire in his temple,” yet they are devoted to the
pursuit of rank or riches, power or pleasure, etc.
· HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD ANSWERED
ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN HEART. “Therefore speak unto them,
and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of
Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart,” etc. (vs 4, 5). Different
interpretations are given of these two verses. Thus Hengstenberg: “The
question in v. 4” (he places a note of interrogation at the end of that
verse; so also does Schroder) “is in the sense of a negative, ‘I will not
answer;’ and this negative has its ground in v. 5. God leaves sinners
without answer or help, that they may come to a knowledge of their sin.
‘To take in the heart’ (v. 5) is to touch the conscience.” Another
interpretation is that He would give them an answer as delusive as the idols
which they had taken into their hearts. The case presents itself to us thus:
The spiritual state of these elders prevented them from truly hearing the
word of the Lord. They were not sincere in their inquiries of Him. They
would not receive the truth which His servants Jeremiah and Ezekiel
proclaimed. Nay, more, in their then moral condition they could not receive
the truth of God. With their hearts devoted to idols, how could they
apprehend and hold fast the pure words of the Lord? So He would send
them a message answerable to their own character. These “idolatrous
oracle seekers have to expect what corresponds to their state.” Hence their
own hearts were their seducers. God deals with men according to their
character. “With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful, .....and with
the froward, thou will show thyself froward.” (Psalm 18:25-26). “The sin
and shame, the pain and ruin, of sinners are all from themselves, and their
own hearts are the snares in which they are taken; they seduce them, they
betray them; their own consciences witness against them, condemn them,
and are a terror to them. If God take them, if He discover them, if He convict
them, if He bind them over to His judgment, it is all by ‘their own heart.’
‘O Israeli thou
hast destroyed thyself.’ (Hosea 13:9) The house of
is ruined by its own hands, ‘because they are all estranged from me
through their idols’” (Matthew Henry).
· HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD EXHORTED TO
COMPLY WITH THE CONDITIONS OF ACCEPTABLE APPROACH
UNTO HIM. “Therefore
say unto the house of
God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your
faces from all your abominations.” Here is a true message from God for
them if they will accept it. Repentance towards God was their present and
imperative duty. From the Lord the
departed, and their true repentance would be a returning to Him, and
renunciation of their abominable idolatries. Repentance is not mere regret,
or self-reproach, or sorrow, or tears. It is that grief for sin which leads to
reformation of life. “Repentance,” says Shakespeare, “is heart’s sorrow,
and a clear life ensuing.” Now, this was necessary as a condition of
approaching God acceptably. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will
not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). Men should “pray in every place, lifting up
holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). “Let us
draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith,” etc. (Hebrews 10:22).
When men inquire of God in this spirit, He will grant unto them gracious
· HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD WARNED OF THE
CONSEQUENCES OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN. “For every one of the
separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and
putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh
to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer
him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him
a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people;
and ye shall know that I am the LORD. And if the prophet be deceived
when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet,
and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the
midst of my people
iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment
of him that seeketh unto him;
That the house of
astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions;
but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord
GOD.” (vs. 7-11). Here they are solemnly warned that, if they would
not turn from sin unto God:
Ø They should encounter the Divine displeasure. “I will set my face
against that man,” etc. (v. 8). God cannot look upon sin with
indifference. He hates it. And if sinners persist in it, He will set His face
against them, and visit them because of their transgressions. He did this in
the case of the
o slaughter, and
were the consequences of their aggravated and long continued
sins and crimes.
Ø They should become the victims of their chosen delusions. “If the
prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have
deceived that prophet,” etc. (vs. 9, 10). They had chosen idols for their
gods; they believed the false prophets rather than the true ones; and if they
persisted in their choice they must take the consequences thereof. This was
God’s answer to their inquiries. He had shown them that by true
repentance they would put themselves into right relations with Him. But if
they would not repent, He would no more speak to them by His prophets,
but by His judgments in the just consequences of their sins. Their chosen
prophets would be deceived, and would deceive those who inquired of
them, and both the prophets and the inquirers should “bear the punishment
of their iniquity.” But in what sense can the Lord be said to deceive the
false prophet, and then to punish him? It is certain that He cannot sin, and
that He is not the author of sin. “The deception proceeds originally from
indwelling sin (James 1:14), otherwise it could not be the object of
punishment.” But it was both permitted and regulated by God. He controls
both sin and the consequences thereof for the accomplishment of his own
glorious purposes (compare Psalm 76:10). When Nebuchadnezzar besieged
of the Lord Jehovah, yet unconsciously he was doing that will; and
frequently the Lord says that he would do those things which the army of
the Chaldean monarch did (compare ch. 4:16; 5:8-17). God employed
the Chaldeans, and regulated and controlled their movements, for the
working out of His own plans; yet they were free in those movements, and
had no idea
that in them they were the agents of the Lord God of
these false prophets were used by Him in the way of judgment, and were
controlled by Him; but they acted voluntarily in the course which they
pursued, and they who consulted them did so of their own will; and both of
them should become the victims of their cherished delusions, and “bear the
punishment of their iniquity.”
Ø They should become the means, under God, of leading his people to
unto him. “That the house
me,” etc. (ver. 11). This was the Divine design in the punishment of the
sinful people. “‘God punishes sins by means of sins,’ but the end is the
of righteousness. His people, purified by trials, will cleave to
him whom they have forsaken, and become a converted, sanctified people,
joined unto their God by a covenant which they will not break” (‘Speaker’s
Commentary’). The judgments of God aim at the promotion of the well
being of man.
1. Here is solemn warning against insincere approach unto God.
2. Here is encouragement to approach God sincerely and humbly. (Vers.
6, 11.) — W.J.
Religious Reciprocity (v. 11)
The relations of the soul with God are reciprocal. There is first of all a
mutual approach, and there will be a communion so long as the religion is a
living fact. The mutual relationship may be looked at from either of its
centers. But first its common character must be considered.
· RELIGION CONSISTS IN SPIRITUAL OWNERSHIP. There is an
appropriation on both sides. This involves certain important facts.
Close connection. We hold what we own. It is true a man in
may be the proprietor of an
connected with it by immediate agency. Religion implies a close relation
between the soul and God.
Ø Powers of use. We have rights over what we own. The inheritance
which is so tied up that the heir cannot touch it or do anything with it, is
scarcely to be called property; the rights of ownership are shadowy indeed
in such a case. Real ownership confers rights and powers. So it is in
religion. The mutual ownership here confers mutual rights and powers.
Value. A man may own what is worthless — leagues of
of desert sand. Still, as a rule, he makes the most of his property, and if
he is proud of owning anything, we may be sure that he values it. Now,
the mutual religious ownership of God and the soul is referred to in a
way to show that it is prized.
· THE SPIRITUAL OWNERSHIP OF THE BIBLE IS RECIPROCAL.
Ø God owns the souls of His people. “That they may be my people” is the
expression in regard to God’s
design in the discipline of
regards His people as His “inheritance” (Psalm 28:9). See v. 11 in
exposition above - CY - 2021)
o He has close relations with them. Truly connected with all His
children, He draws more near to His own people, and
communicates Himself especially to them.
o He exercises special powers over them. God has a double
right to command His confessed servants.
o He values them, as His jewels (Malachi 3:17), as the “apple
of His eye” (Psalm 17:8).
Ø God’s people own God. They do not only confess His Name.
o They realize a close fellowship with Him.
o They have rights of access and privileges of reconciled
children in the home which do not as yet belong to the poor,
o They value these privileges, or, if they do not, they are like
the elder son of the parable, and do not truly realize their
ownership in God. It is indeed a great joy to be able to say,
· THE ESTABLISHING AND CONFIRMING OF THIS
RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP IS THE GREAT END OF THE
DISCIPLINE OF LIFE. It is the re-establishing of an old broken
she had lost it by sin. We are all God’s children by birth; but by sin we
too have lost the privileges of sonship. The great hindrance lies in our
rebellion against God.
Abraham, nor of her covenant relationship with God, for the covenant
was broken by sin, and the family claim disowned. The only way to secure
this happy condition again is to give up the newer connection with sin.
Now, God sends severe discipline to lead to that result (v. 10). He uses His
rod to drive the wanderer home.
The Purposes of Punishment (v. 11)
No thoughtful person can believe that the supreme Lord of all inflicts
punishments upon men because He delights in the sufferings of His
creatures, or is indifferent to those sufferings. This passage of Scripture,
like other passages, teaches us that, when God punishes, it is with a view
to the good of those who are punished, or of others, or of both.
It is a question how far punishment should aim at the correction of the
individual offender, how far at the production of A WHOLESOME
IMPRESSION UPON SOCIETY! Whether the false prophets and those
who resorted to them were spared to profit by the chastisement which
befell them, we have not the means of judging. But in any case the
punitive afflictions were intended for the general good of the house of
Radical error is
corrected. “That the
astray from me.”
Ø The habits of transgressors are reformed. “Neither defile themselves
any more with all their transgressions.”
The remedy for disease must first be applied, then health will follow. So it
is in spiritual things. Forgiveness is a means to sanctification. Salvation is
both from sin and unto obedience and holiness. Accordingly, the prophet
represents the re-establishment, the fresh ratification, of the covenant
between God and
The two sides of this covenant are presented as in their harmony and
completeness justifying the discipline appointed by Divine wisdom and
Ø “That they may be my people.” That is, not only in name, but in
reality; not only de jure, but de facto.
Ø “That I maybe their God.” That is, theirs to acknowledge with
sincere reverence, to love with devotion and fervor, and to serve
with diligence and fidelity.
12 “The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, 13 Son of man, when
the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out
mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send
famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: 14 Though these three
men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls
by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.” A new section begins, implying as
before an interval of silence. What follows presents a striking parallelism to Jeremiah
15:l-2. There also we have the “four sore judgments,” the declaration that not
even the presence of Moses and Samuel would avail to save the people.
They were obviously selected by Jeremiah as examples of the power of
intercession (Exodus 32:11-14; I Samuel 7:9; 12:23). Ezekiel’s
selection of names proceeds on a different footing. He chooses exceptional
instances of saintliness that had been powerless to save the generation in
which they lived; perhaps, also, such as were well known, not only in the
race before the Flood; Job had not saved his sons (Job 1:18); Daniel,
though high in the king’s favor, had not been able to influence
Nebuchadnezzar to spare the people of
of this last name is significant, as showing the reputation which even then
Daniel had acquired. In v. 13, for the land, read “a land.” For staff of bread,
see ch.4:16. The phrase comes from Leviticus 26:26.
Noah, Daniel, and Job (v. 14)
These three men are selected from ages far apart, and from the greatest
diversity of circumstances. In temperament and external history there is
little resemblance between them. Noah the patriarch, looms on the horizon
of history in epic grandeur; Daniel is the brave hero in a tyrant’s court, and
the man of skill and science in a civilized society; Job belongs to the region
of pastoral life, and his tragic story carries us out among the Bedouin. So
wide is the range of excellence! Good men are not confined to one age, nor
to one set of circumstances, nor to one school of thought, nor to one style
of life. They are not found exclusively in antiquity, in modern times, in
town, in the country, among the great, among the simple. There is a
breadth and a variety in the possibilities of saintliness. We need not all copy
one type. He who cannot emulate the knowledge of Daniel may follow the
patience of Job. Nevertheless, in spite of these diversities, there are certain
great common features that belong to the three Old Testament saints, and
account for the present association of their names.
Ø All three were holy men, true to God and upright in life. His goodness
is the greatest fact in a good man’s character, and it constitutes a bond
of union between all the true people of God.
Ø All three were faithful in circumstances of isolation. They all had to
break from prevalent habits, and dare to stand alone:
o Noah against the world’s sin and impenitence,
o Daniel against heathenism,
o Job against a false orthodoxy.
Ø All three were sorely tried. The faith of each was assailed in a severe
and most exceptional manner.
Ø All three were victorious by means of firm fidelity. They conquered,
and they conquered in quiet ways — by obedience, patience, faith,
THREE GREAT SAINTS IN THIS SITUATION. Though Noah,
Daniel, and Job united to plead
all in vain.
Ø This was contrary to expectation. There is power in intercession; there is
a special power in the intercession of a “righteous man” (James 5:16);
there is a still greater power in united prayer (Matthew 18:20).
Yet here the union of three of the very best men, selected from all ages,
could not secure the
Ø The cause of the predicted failure of such an intercession was hardened
impenitence. God is not inexorable. He is ready to listen to prayer; nay,
He is more anxious to save than we are to plead for salvation. (“The
Lord ……is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should
Perish, but that all should come to repentance.” - II Peter 3:9). He
sent His Son to save the world, an infinitely greater act than the most
impassioned pleading of the best men. Therefore the failure cannot
be attributed to His hardness. But it would be unjust and injurious to
spare the impenitent on any plea.
Ø The intercession of Christ succeeds where that of the best of men fail.
His prayers are worth those of ten thousand Noahs and Daniels and
Jobs. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25),
and HE ALONE, bearing the weight of the whole world’s guilt,
MAKES ATONEMENT FOR THE SINS OF ALL MEN with
ample sufficiency. We could not trust to the intercession of the
saints, even if we were sure of obtaining it; and the words of
Ezekiel are only hypothetical, merely by way of illustration.
CHRIST IS OUR ONE ADVOCATE WITH THE FATHER!
(I John 2:1) Nevertheless, for the impenitent even His mighty
intercession, which shakes the very gates of hell, is ineffectual.
Christ shed tears over
Illustrious Piety (v. 14)
Ezekiel was especially commissioned to set forth and to impress upon the
people the individual, the personal, aspect of religion. In many places, as
here, he lays stress upon the accountability of each several man to God.
One cannot deliver another from deserved punishment. Each must answer
for himself, must reap the reward of his deeds, whether good or evil. A
man’s piety cannot save his ungodly neighbor when the time of reckoning
and judgment arrives. No matter how good our friends may be, their
goodness does not excuse our irreligion. If the city has sinned, the city
must suffer. Even if the wisest and the best of men are in it and plead for it,
the city cannot be justified or spared for their sake. Men so conspicuous
for virtue and piety as Noah, Daniel, and Job have not power to save the
land from famine, from the sword, from noisome beasts, from the
pestilence, when these are sent as chastisements from the Lord of all.
CELEBRATED. Why these, rather than other illustrious instances of
human goodness, were selected is a question which cannot be answered
with certainty. But the context disposes the student of this passage of
prophecy to consider these men as instances of remarkable piety in the
midst of surrounding ungodliness.
Ø Thus Noah stands in contrast with the self-indulgent and irreligious
population of the world immediately before the Flood; as a preacher
of righteousness, he protested against the sins and the secularism
and unbelief of his time.
Ø Daniel also was “faithful among the faithless;” he and a selected few
were called upon to witness against the idolatry of their heathen rulers
and masters, and against much unfaithfulness on the part of their
companions in captivity.
Ø Job was a true servant of Jehovah, who was encompassed by idolatries
to which he did not yield, and who alone of his own kindred was
faithful to his God in all his ways.
These three men all saw disasters come upon those with whom
they were associated. If they could not deliver their neighbors in the day
of judgment, if their virtues and piety availed only for themselves, was it
credible that their presence in
from destruction? It is observable that the “righteousness” of these three
men is admitted, and with commendation, by the Lord God Himself. There
may be danger in praising and flattering the good because of their
goodness. But there are occasions when it is just and right to acknowledge
the moral excellence, the human merit, of men, always with a clear
understanding that all goodness is from God, that in His view all human
character is imperfect, and that nothing can be claimed from Him as a just
reward even by the purest and the most useful among mankind.
REGARDED. It was an honor to be selected by a good man and a
prophet like Ezekiel for special approval and commendation. But it was a
higher honor to be mentioned thus by the direction of THE LORD
GOD HIMSELF! It is not erroneous to attribute to the Eternal a personal
interest in the sons of time, a regard of that nature with which one who
judges with justice and appreciation esteems the excellent among his fellow
beings. On the contrary, Scripture justifies us in taking such a view of our
Father God, who is never represented as indifferent and heartless, but rather
as looking with satisfaction and favor upon those who delight in His Law
and do His will. There have been occasions upon which the intercessory
prayers offered by such have been received with favor, and have been
graciously answered, to the relief and comfort of those for whom they
have been presented.
BELOVED SERVANTS OF GOD TO DELIVER THE REBELLIOUS
FROM PUNISHMENT. It is evidently intended to convey the impression
that God was willing to do great things at the intercession of men so good
and so favored as those named; but that He would not for their sake
contradict His own declarations, reverse His own laws, and abandon His
own moral government. Hence the lesson may be learned that “every man
shall bear his own burden” (Galatians 6:5), that in the day of account no
man shall deliver his brother. No hope can be vainer than that of those who
rely for their salvation upon the merits and influence of their family, their
friends, their Church, however dear to God. It is plain that, as religion is a
personal matter, as its claims come home to the individual, every hearer of
God’s Word is bound to use for himself those means by which he may,
BY GOD’S GRACE, be delivered from the chain of sin and THE DOOM
15 “If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it,
so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the
beasts:” Noisome beasts (see note on ch.5:17).
16 “Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD,
they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be
delivered, but the land shall be desolate. 17 Or if I bring a sword upon
that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and
beast from it: 18 Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the
Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only
shall be delivered themselves.”
19 “Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon
it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast:” Pestilence is joined with blood,
as in ch.5:17; 38:22, as indicating its death-bearing character.
20 “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, saith the Lord
GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but
deliver their own souls by their righteousness. 21 For thus saith the
Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments
and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?”
The Privilege and Power of the Godly,
Their Nature and Limitation (v. 20)
“Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God,”
etc. Three very distinguished men are here mentioned, two of whom had
long passed away from this world and all its scenes, the other was yet
amongst men upon earth. Yet Noah and Job are spoken of as still in being.
Absent from this world, they were yet living and present in the great
universe of God. These undesigned testimonies to man’s immortality, to be
met with frequently in the Scriptures, afford the basis for a strong
argument in support of that fact.
“The dead are like the stars by day,
Withdrawn from mortal eye;
But not extinct, they hold their way
In glory through the sky.
Spirits from bondage thus set free
Vanish amidst immensity,
Where human thought, like human sight,
Fails to pursue their trackless flight.”
Daniel at this time, like Ezekiel, was an exile in
both for his piety and his position. Noah, Daniel, and Job were all good
men and great men; they are enrolled amongst the most illustrious of our
race. The prophet in this paragraph predicts “four sore judgments upon
Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the
pestilence,” by reason of their idolatry and other sins. And in the text he
declares that, when the hour of judgment arrives, even the presence of such
men as Noah, Daniel, and Job in the doomed city would not avail to save
any but their own souls.
good men even in the extremest dangers and the most irresistible
judgments. “They shall… deliver their own souls by their righteousness.”
History affords remarkable examples of the deliverance of the good in
times of sore peril (compare
Noah -Genesis 7:23;
But it is not often that the godly are exempted from the calamities and
judgments which befall the wicked. Thus Daniel, Ezekiel, and other holy
men were carried into
punishment of idolatry, and were now suffering that exile with them.
But invariably “they deliver their own souls by their righteousness.”
If their bodies be not delivered, yet their souls are. Amid the overthrow
of cities, the ruin of countries, or even the wreck of the world, their
spiritual interests are secure. Moreover, though they are not exempt
from general calamities, yet to them the calamities wear a different
aspect from that which they present to the wicked. They are sustained
under them, and enabled to bear them with heroic patience. The suffering
which comes to the wicked as the judgment of a stern Ruler comes to
the righteous as the chastisement of a loving Father. And, by His grace,
out of the scars of suffering, God will bring the beauties of holiness.
The darkness and anguish which embitter and harden the heart of the
wicked (for example, Revelation 16:9), will increase the trust and
tenderness and refine the graces of the righteous. “Say ye to the
righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit
of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him:
for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” (Isaiah 3:10-11)
and Job had power to do much for their fellow men; that they could do
much in averting destruction and saving man. The warning that these three
saints would not be able to screen them from this judgment implies the
belief on the part of the people
them, by their lives and prayers, would turn aside the threatening storm. If
any can turn away the judgments of Heaven from a nation of evil doers,
good men can do it. God may spare the wicked because of the righteous.
The power of good men to avert Divine wrath from a people has at least
Ø The power of moral influence with men. They are “the salt of
the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Were it not for their influence society
would become hopelessly corrupt, and the storm of God’s judgment
would sweep the guilty race from the earth.
Ø The power of intercession with God. We have illustrious examples of
this (compare Genesis 18:23-32; Exodus 32:11-14, 30-34; Numbers
11:1-3; 14:13-20; 16:44-50). Who can estimate the power of the
intercession of good men?
Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall
deliver neither son nor daughter.” When the sin of a people has come to
its height, and the decree has gone forth for their ruin, the piety and prayers
of the best men shall not prevail to finish the controversy. This is here
asserted again and again, that, though these three men were
this time, yet they should deliver neither son nor daughter, not so much as
the little ones should be spared for their sakes. This shows how DARK AND
TERRIBLE the guilt of the inhabitants of
(compare Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 15:1). When the forbearance of God is
exhausted, any number of the holiest of men cannot ward off the stroke of
doom. Character may become so utterly depraved that REFORMATION
IS IMPOSSIBLE (This is why God meant for men to train up their
children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and WHY IT IS SUCH
A MISTAKE THAT
HERSELF FROM CHURCH AND STATE, IN ESSENSE
SEPARATING HERSELF FROM GOD ALMIGHTY! - CY – 2014)
and then NOTHING BUT JUDGMENT REMAINS! Moral disease may
become so deeply rooted and strong that no influence can overcome it, no
power eradicate it, and THEN DESTRUCTION IS INEVITABLE!
When the Divine means of reformation have all been tried, and all have
failed, what remains is UTTER RUIN! Abused patience will turn at last
into INEXORABLE WRATH!
Ø Our subject speaks earnestly to parents concerning the salvation of
their children. If you would have your children saved you must begin
to work early and wisely (Deuteronomy 6:4-12; Ephesians 6:4).
While the chains of evil habits are unforged, and the heart
is susceptible of sacred impressions, and the conscience sensitive,
and the sympathies tender, we must seek the salvation of our children
if we would secure it. (Remember that “The chains of habit are
too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken!! Also,
“It is easier to take your children in to
Out!” – CY - 2014). Oh, the time may come when the holiest of
men “shall deliver neither son nor daughter” from the storms of
Ø Our text reminds us all that salvation is a personal concern. Our
continuance in sin may lead, nay, must lead, to a moral condition in
which the prayers of the most loving and sainted parents may avail
nothing for their own son or daughter. You must believe on
Jesus Christ for yourself, repent of your sins yourself. You must
“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
(Philippians 2:12). There is no working by proxy here. “Each one
of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12).
Therefore “strive to enter in by the narrow gate,” (Matthew 7:13).
“Give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure.”
(II Peter 1:10)
22 “Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought
forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto
you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be
comforted concerning the evil that I have
even concerning all that I have brought upon it. 23 And they shall comfort
you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have
not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD.”
The words end with a gleam of hope shining through the judgments. For Ezekiel,
as for Isaiah, there is the thought of a “remnant that shall return” (Isaiah 10:20-22).
It has been questioned whether “the ways and the doings” which are to bring
comfort to men’s minds are those of the evil past or of the subsequent repentance.
I incline to the view that they include both. Men should see at once the severity
and the goodness of Jehovah (Romans 11:22). His punishments had not been
arbitrary nor excessive. They had also been as a discipline leading men to repentance.
In each of those facts there was a ground of comfort for men who asked the
question, which Abraham asked of old, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth
do right?” (Genesis 18:25). In either aspect men will recognize that
God has not done without cause all that He has done. In this way the
prophet seeks, as others have done since, to justify the ways of God to
man. Ezekiel’s word for “remnant” is, it may be noted, not the same as
Isaiah’s, its primary significance being “these that escape.” Ezekiel does
not quote the earlier prophet, though his thoughts are in harmony with him.
Human Atonement Valueless (vs. 12-23)
The hopeful among the Jews probably remembered that in times of former
correction God had yielded, in some measure, to the intercessions of the
saints. If they had not gained all that they asked, they had gained some
advantage. Why might that not occur again? Might not God concede some
of His demand? This was impossible, for the first necessity was that
righteous government be maintained. No good can ever come to men by
TAMPERING WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS!
thing for men to affect surprise at the severity of God’s chastisement.
(How can a Just God allow such thing to happen? I heard this often
in secular circles in comments on various things that happen in our society!
CY – 2014). Yet this is only an outcome of their ignorance. They have no
conception of THE TREMENDOUS EVIL OF SIN! Its magnitude defies
all human measurement. We cannot follow it into all its ramifications of
mischief. We see the beginning of the vicious stream; the ending is beyond
our sight. It is an injury to the moral universe, and we cannot estimate it.
Had Eve foreseen all the painful results of taking the forbidden fruit,
surely she would have resisted the tempter. (Had Abraham known
of the modern jealousies between the Jews and the Arabs, no doubt
he would have thought twice before going into Hagar! – CY – 2014)
not always possible for men to discriminate between great sins and small;
yet even men can discover when sin becomes rapidly contagious, and when
it is largely influential for evil! When a man, by a plausible embellishment of
vice, entraps ten thousand others into the snare, and makes his vice
fashionable, popular, universal, — his sin is heinous. (Like “Jeroboam,
As for a disease that has become epidemic the severest remedies are employed,
so when a sin becomes national, terrible chastisement is demanded. To
vindicate His righteous law, God sometimes employs the scourge of pestilence;
sometimes famine; sometimes war; sometimes a plague of locusts. But
when iniquity breaks out with virulence, or becomes aggravated and
stubborn, He will combine all his methods of chastisement, in order to
cleanse the land. Always His punishments are well apportioned, never
excessive. The balance is in the hand of Infinite Wisdom.
RIGHTEOUSNESS. The messenger of Jehovah singles out for mention
three men who were eminent for piety and faith. His language implies that
if any men could prevail with God to abate His penalties, these were the
men. It was useless for him to make mention of men of inferior piety. Any
righteous man would not suffice. To have any hope of success, he must be
a man of transcendent purity. This conviction was universal in the minds of
the people. It was founded on reason, on experience, on the records of past
Ø Had not Moses gained a respite for the nation by his righteous
Had not Samuel averted
the stroke of Divine anger from
Ø Had not Noah’s righteousness secured the safety of seven persons
beside himself? Why should it not be so again?
Ø Daniel was living among them — a man eminent for loyalty to Jehovah.
Ø Were not Jeremiah and Ezekiel interceding for the people?
If anything could save the nation from utter destruction, surely it was the
righteous zeal of these godly men!
A SINGLE PENALTY FROM OTHERS. A man’s personal righteousness
will always serve as a screen for himself, never as a shield for others. Far
be it from God to destroy the righteous with the wicked! (Genesis 18:25).
This would be to obliterate eternal distinctions. This would be for God
to act against Himself. The righteous are safe when dangers are thickest.
They have an invulnerable panoply. And the prayers of the righteous have
often gained temporary advantages for the unrighteous. Such intercession
has obtained a brief respite for repentance — has obtained a postponement
of the catastrophe. Yet as a righteous man, however zealous, has no power
to transform the moral nature of another man, he cannot deliver him WHEN
GOD APPEARETH FOR JUDGMENT! ETERNAL JUSTICE IS
THE MAIN PILLAR OF THE UNIVERSE, and, if justice fails, the
universe wilt be shivered.
MEN ALL DIVINE PENALTIES. This is an argument ad hominem. If the
righteousness of the best men that ever lived cannot quench one fiery dart
of God’s vengeance, much less can it quench all the darts in God’s quiver.
There was a propriety in every particular form of chastisement which God
employed; it would therefore be unbecoming every attribute of His nature
to suspend that chastisement, while the causal sin yet remained. Men little
surmise the terrible necessity there is for retribution, because THEY DO
NOT PERCEIVE THE MAGNITUDE OF SIN! It is a fearful thing
to provoke the anger of the living God. (“For our God is a consuming
fire! - Hebrews 12:29)
RIGHTEOUSNESS CLEAR TO MEN. It is possible that the elders of
course. They did not know the
full extent of
the root of discord. But God would spare a few — most probably the best
— of the inhabitants of
to Tel-Abib, and join the older members of the Captivity. But so base and
intolerable will the characters of this remnant appear, that the elders
themselves will confess that God’s judgments were not a whit too severe
— that a less chastisement would be inadequate. This act of God exhibits
the graciousness of His character. He deigns to explain and to justify His
ways unto His trustful children. “The secret of the Lord is with them that
fear Him, and He will show them His covenant” (Psalm 25:14). He
takes them into his fullest confidence.
· GOD MAY APPEAR TO ACT WITHOUT CAUSE. We cannot
discover design in all the movements of nature so easily as we may detect
this in its structure. Though we may be startled at times by the aptness of
the providential overruling of history, too often we are perplexed,
dismayed, confounded. The wicked
man flourishes like a
and the good man is persecuted or perishes in a vain conflict with adverse
circumstances. Psalmists of old noticed this familiar fact, and grieved over
it (e.g. Psalm 17:10). of his power who can understand?” There is mystery
in God’s providence in nature and in the world. There are difficulties which
puzzle and perplex us when we are suddenly confronted with situations in life!
Job said, “Lo, these are but the outskirts of His ways: and how small a
whisper do we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can
understand?” (Job 26:14). We know that God has mind, and that
He exercises what with us would be called forethought. The righteousness
and love of God make it certain that he does not act without a cause..
· GOD DOES NOT ACT WITHOUT CAUSE.
Ø The failure to discover a cause is no proof that it does not exist. We
cannot limit the range of existence to the scope of our knowledge. There
are hidden physical causes which the most searching scientific analysis
has failed to trace: why may there not be also hidden final causes, deep
purposes of God, which no mind of man can reach?
Ø The proved purpose of God in known regions suggests the existence of
a like purpose in unknown regions. We can trace more purpose in
creation than in providence; but since the same God rules over both,
it is to be presumed that the spirit of design which pervades the one
runs through the other. We know that God has mind, and that He
exercises what with us would be called forethought. Moreover, it is
impossible to suppose that His principal dealings with His own
children will be aimless when His less momentous works are instinct
Ø The righteousness and love of God make it certain that he does not act
without a cause. Reckless action is morally defective. Ethics bears
directly on motive and purpose. A just God must have a righteous
object with which to act. The love of God emphasizes the assurance
of purpose in providence, for no one would treat those dear to him
with heedless indifference. This is especially applicable to the infliction
of chastisement. A just and merciful God cannot send chastisement
without adequate cause.
DECLARED. It is impossible for us to see it yet, for we cannot look
beyond the grave, nor can we scale the heights of Divine thought in the
infancy of our spiritual experience. The schoolboy cannot see the utility of
all his lessons. But if he has been well taught in boyhood, when he is a man
he will look back on the hard training with appreciative satisfaction, and
will therefore order a similar process for his children. It would not be well
for us to see the end yet, for we must be trained by faith. But earthly
experience often throws back light on dark passages of life, and they then
flash into a new meaning which calls forth gratitude as well as wonder.
Beyond this world the fuller explanation will come. (I personally believe
that it will take eternity to understand it all! - CY – 2014) “For our
light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more
exceeding and ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY!” (II Corinthians 4:17).
The Reasonableness of God’s Action (vs. 22-23)
There is that in human nature to which religion appeals, and by which
religion asks to be judged. Religion does indeed speak with authority, but
the authority is that of wisdom and righteousness. Man’s judgment and
conscience approve the order of Divine providence, and the tenor of Divine
revelation. More particularly, upon the suggestion of this passage, it should
be remarked that:
· THE DEALINGS OF GOD INCLUDE BOTH JUDGMENT AND
SPARING MERCY. The prophet speaks both of “the sore judgments upon
and daughters.” GOD IS EVER A GOD OF JUSTICE AND A GOD OF
· GOD’S DEALINGS OFTEN PERPLEX OBSERVERS. “His ways are
in the great waters.” “Who can by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7)
The firmest believer in Divine providence has frequent occasion to confess his
utter inability to explain the events which happen around him. Why are some
men prosperous, whilst others pass through affliction and calamity? Why
do some escape in seasons of disaster, whilst others are overwhelmed?
Why are God’s ways often to all appearance inconsistent with a regard to
the equitable treatment of the wicked and the good? Such questions ever
recur. They may, indeed, in the case of some observers, never be put; but
when put they cannot be answered.
· YET TO REFLECTING MINDS GOD’S DEALINGS DO, ON THE
WHOLE, APPEAR CONSISTENT WITH REASON AND
RIGHTEOUSNESS. Individual facts may be difficult to reconcile with our
religious beliefs, but general principles and laws, when we rise to them, are
recognized as just and good. And the higher the view we take of human
nature and human life, the more do anomalies disappear. If we clearly
perceive that man is made for goodness, and not for enjoyment, that the
earthly life is a discipline and a preparation, that the great end of all is that
man may share the Divine nature and the Divine life, — such convictions
will help us to see and feel the wisdom and the goodness that distinguish
God’s government of men. There is in God’s ways no error and no caprice.
· GOD’S DEALINGS WITH NATIONS, AS WITH INDIVIDUALS,
ARE INTENDED TO PROMOTE MORAL IMPROVEMENT. The
expression used is very remarkable. The Lord assures those who observe
His treatment of
concerning the evil brought upon
true benevolence, of the Divine ways shall in due time be made apparent.
The cause for which what has been done has been ordered by providence
shall be recognized and shall be approved as justifying the great Ruler and
His government. Thus shall His Name be glorified.
The Righteousness of God Doubted and Vindicated
“Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth,”
etc. Our text, as Fairbairn points out, “is addressed to the people already in
exile, who are regarded as viewing the destruction about to be executed on
prophet tells such there would certainly be a remnant — not, however, in
the proper sense, as if they were themselves deserving persons, or spared
for blessing for the sake of the pious among them — but a remnant still so
wedded to sin, and so manifestly deserving of severe chastisement, that
every one would recognize the justice of God’s dealings toward them. ‘Ye
shall see,’ to use the language of Calvin, ‘the men to be so wicked, that ye
shall be forced to confess the city was deserving of destruction, and the
men themselves worthy of death. And instead of murmuring and fretting
against God, ye shall be satisfied it could not have been otherwise ordered,
their wickedness was of so desperate a nature; so that with soothed and
tranquil minds, ye shall henceforth proclaim my righteousness, and cease
any more to utter the complaints which now disturb your minds!’” Let us
· THE CONCERN OF THE GOOD FOR THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF
GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS. Ezekiel foresaw that his fellow exiles would
be amazed at the sternness of
the judgments of God upon
judgments would be of great severity. And amongst the exiles there were
some pious persons who would be troubled with doubts as to whether the
Lord had sufficient cause for what He had done there. They would be
distressed with the suspicion that perhaps the visitation of God had been
disproportionate in its severity — that the sins of the people had not
merited such punishment. And they would be distressed with misgivings as
to the righteousness of God in the matter. “So long as we do not
understand that God on just grounds acts sternly, so long are our souls
distressed and tormented.” Somewhat thus Abraham felt respecting the
doom pronounced on
after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the
righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from thee: shall not the
Judge of all the earth do right?” We have here, as Robertson, in
fragmentary but striking and suggestive notes, remarks, “a suspicion of the
Divine justice: the most horrible with which the mind of man can be
tempted. Dreadful to doubt one’s own salvation, and feel suspended over
the gulf! But a more terrible gulf when we doubt whether all is right here.
‘Oh, to see the misery of this bleeding world!’ Consider for a moment the
misconception of these words, ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do
right?’ They have been used to prove the sovereignty of God. God is
Judge, therefore what He does is right. He has a right, and therefore it is
right. But Abraham does not say that. So far from acquiescing in the
predestinarian feeling — it is to be, and therefore it is right; God is a
sovereign, and may do what He pleases — (“....our God is in the heavens:
He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased.” Psalm 115:3) He is precisely
doubting this, whether, though God be Judge, His deeds are right, taking the
moral sense of Abraham as a text, and considering it horrible if God’s acts
do not agree with it. It is a perilous way of speaking, ‘God has a right to decree
what He will; my salvation, your damnation.’ It is not so the Bible speaks. It
appeals to the sense of justice, ‘Are not my ways equal?’ (ch. 18:25) God
never says, ‘I create a thing right, therefore I do it.’ God’s will does not make
a thing right. It is God’s character which determines His will. For else, if the
devil had created this world, wrong would be right, because his will, and we
should have the terrible doctrine — might makes right” (‘Life and Letters,’
Appendix 3.) This is as applicable to the doubts and fears of the exiles as to
the righteousness of God in His
of Abraham as to the doom of the cities of the plain. This concern of godly
men for the righteousness of God’s dealings implies:
1. An inward sense of righteousness. It is a testimony to the existence and
exercise and majesty of the moral sense in man. It is an outcome of the
working of conscience.
2. Deep solicitude for the honor of God. Any doubt of His holiness, or of
the rectitude of His doings, causes sore pain to His people, and it does so
because the glory of His character is unspeakably dear to them!
· THE CONVICTION OF THE GOOD OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF
GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS. The Lord, by the prophet, assures the troubled
exiles that they should know that He had not done without cause all that He
had done in
Ø This conviction would be wrought by the manifestation of the
wickedness of the people. “Therein shall be left a remnant that shall be
carried forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto
you, and ye shall see their way and their doings,” etc. The remnant that
should be carried into captivity would make it clear, from their degradation
and sin, that the
judgments inflicted upon
guilty inhabitants thereof. The exhibition of their wickedness would
justice of God in their punishment. The pious exiles in
would perceive “that such corruption had deserved such destruction.”
God’s righteousness is clearly manifest in those that perish, as well as by
means of those that escape.”
Ø This conviction would bring peace to the good. “Ye shall be comforted
concerning the evil that I have brought
lies in the justification of the ways of God. Their painful doubts as to His
righteousness would be destroyed. Their faith in Him would be established.
And faith brings PEACE and REST to the soul.
Ø The production of this conviction was ordered by God. He did not chide
or condemn them for their painful doubts; but promised them evidence for
the invigoration and confirmation of their faith. And He so controlled
events as to bring about this result. It appears from this that He is
o for the vindication of His own righteousness, and
o for the peace of His people.
Wherefore in His own time He will remove every cloud that veils the
rectitude of His works and ways, and make it apparent to the whole
intelligent universe that all His purposes and operations are just and true.
Jesus said, “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed;
neither hid, that shall not be known. (Luke 12:2)
1. Let us cherish a strong assurance of the righteousness of God in all His
designs and deeds.
2. If in anything His righteousness seems hidden from us, let us wait
patiently for His own vindication thereof.
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