Ezekiel 21:2, Ezekiel 21:3
The opening words, reproducing those of Ezekiel 20:46, indicate that the interpretation of that parable is coming. So the three variants of "south" are shown to mean respectively Jerusalem, the holy places, and the land of Israel. So, in Ezekiel 20:3, the righteous and the wicked take the place of the "green" and the "dry" tree, and the fire is explained as meaning the sword of the invader. The teaching of Ezekiel 18:1-32, had shown that Ezekiel had entered, as regards the ultimate judgment of individual men, into the spirit of Abram's words "That be far from thee to destroy the righteous with the wicked" (Genesis 18:25). But in regard to temporal judgments there would be in this case, as in the complaint of Job 9:22, no distinction. The sword went forth "against all flesh."
Sigh therefore, etc. As in other instances (Ezekiel 4:4; Ezekiel 5:1-4), the prophet dramatizes the coming calamity. He is to act the part of a mourner, whose sighs are so deep that they seem to "break his loins" (compare, for the gesture, Nahum 2:1, Nahum 2:10, Isaiah 21:3; Jeremiah 30:6). The strange action was meant to lead to questions. What did it mean? And then he is to answer that he does it "for the tidings" which are to him as certain as if they had already come. He is but doing what all would do, when the messenger brought word, as in Ezekiel 33:21, five years later, that the city was at last smitten.
Ezekiel 21:8, Ezekiel 21:9
A sword, a sword, etc. The new section (Ezekiel 21:9-17) rises out of the thought of the unsheathed sword in Ezekiel 21:3. More than most other portions of Ezekiel's writings, it assumes a distinctly lyrical character, and might be headed, "The Lay of the Sword of Jehovah." The opening words are probably an echo of Deuteronomy 32:41. The dazzling brightness of the sword is added to its sharpness as a fresh element of terror.
The sceptre of my son, etc. The clause is obscure, possibly corrupt, and has received many interpretations.
Terrors by reason of the sword; better, as in the Revised Version and margin of the Authorized Version, They (the princes of Judah, corresponding to the "rod" of Ezekiel 21:10) are delivered over to the sword with my people. At this stage, in contemplating the destruction alike of princes and of people, the prophet is bidden to make his gestures of lamentation yet more expressive, "crying, howling, smiting on his thigh" (Jeremiah 31:19).
Because it is a trial, etc. The verse has received as many interpretations, and is just as obscure as Ezekiel 21:10, with which it is obviously connected. I begin as before with that which seems most probable.
Smite thine hands together, etc. Another gesture follows, either of horror and lamentation, or perhaps, looking to Ezekiel 21:17, of imperative command. The sword is to do its thrice-redoubled work (the words emphasize generally the intensity, and are scarcely to be taken numerically, of the repeated invasions of the Chaldeans); it is "the sword of the slain" (better, pierced ones, or, with Revised Version, the deadly wounded). The next clause should be taken, with the Revised Version, in the singular—the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded; sc. the sword should smite the king as well as the people. For entereth into their privy chambers, read, with the Revised Version (margin), Ewald, and Keil, it compasseth them about.
For their ruins shall be multiplied, read, with the Revised Version, that their stumblings; and for wrapped up, pointed, or sharpened.
Go thee one way or another, etc.; i.e. as in the following, to the right hand or the left—to the north or the south. Whichever way the prophet turned (Ezekiel 20:47), he would see nothing but the sword and its work of slaughter. Jehovah had given that command with the gesture of supreme authority. He would not rest till he had appeased his wrath by letting it work itself out even to the end. With these words the "Lay of the Sword of Jehovah" ends, and there is again an interval of silence.
The new section opens in a different strain. Ezekiel sees, as in vision, Nebuchadnezzar and his army on their march. He is told to appoint a place where the road bifurcated. Both come from one land, i.e. from Babylon; but from that point onwards one road led to Rabbath, the capital of the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 11:1), the other to Jerusalem. Apparently, the exiles and the people of Judah flattered themselves that the former was the object of the expedition. The answer to that false hope is a vivid picture of what was passing in the council of war which Nebuchadnezzar was holding at that parting of the ways. The prophet sees, as it were, the sign post pointing, as with a hand, to each of the two cities The king consults his soothsayers, and uses divinations. Of these Ezekiel enumerates three:
At his right hand was, etc.; better, into his right hand came, etc.; sc. the arrow marked for Jerusalem was that which came into the king's hand as the quiver was shaken. To appoint captains; better, battering rams, in both clauses. The same Hebrew word is used in both (see note on Ezekiel 4:2). The verse paints the engineering operations of the besiegers, following on the issue of the divination. (For the mount, comp. Isaiah 37:33.)
The whole verse is obscure, and has been very variously interpreted. I follow the translation of the Revised Version, and explain it by inserting words which are needed to bring out its meaning: It (what Nebuchadnezzar has done) shall be as a vain divination in their sight (sc. in that of the men of Jerusalem), which have sworn unto them (sc. have taken oaths of fealty to the Chaldeans, and are ready to take them again), but he (Nebuchadnezzar) brings iniquity to remembrance. The fact represented is that when the people of Jerusalem heard of the divination at the parting of the ways, they still lulled themselves in a false security. They and Zedekiah had sworn obedience, and that oath would protect them. "Not so," rejoins the prophet; "the Chaldean king knows how those oaths have been kept." The LXX. omits all reference to "oaths." The Vulgate. taking the word for "oath" in its ether sense of "sabbath," gives the curious rendering, Eritque quasi consulens frustra oraculum in eorum oculis, et sabbatorum otium imitans. In spite of the reports that reached them, the men of Jerusalem thought themselves as safe as if the Chaldean king were keeping a sabbath day. Ewald partly follows the Vulgate, and renders, They believe they have weeks on weeks, i.e. will not believe that the danger is close at hand. Keil and Havernick: Oaths of oaths are theirs; i.e. they count on the oath of Jehovah, on his promises of protection, but he (Jehovah) brings iniquity to remembrance. That they may be taken; i.e. be seized by the invader and either slain or made prisoners
The prophet adds words which in part explain these that precede. The iniquity of the people has forced, not the Chaldean king only, but Jehovah himself, to remember and to punish them.
And thou, profane wicked prince of Judah, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, O deadly wounded, etc; as in Ezekiel 21:29, where the same word is translated in the Authorized Version as "slain" The Authorized Version follows the LXX. and Vulgate, apparently in order to make the word fit in with the fact that Zedekiah was not slain, but carried into exile. The word "deadly wounded," or "sorely smitten," may rightly be applied to one who fell, as Zedekiah did, from his high estate. From the sins of the people the prophet turns to the special guilt of Zedekiah, who had proved unfaithful alike to Jehovah and to the Chaldean king, whom he had owned as his suzerain. His day had at last come, the time of the iniquity of the end of the last transgression which was to bring down on him the final punishment.
Remove the diadem, etc. The noun is used throughout the Pentateuch (e.g. Exodus 28:4; Exodus 37:1-29 :39; Le Exodus 8:9; Exodus 16:4) for the "turban" or "mitre" of the high priest, and Keil so takes it here, as pointing to the punishment of the priest as well as of the king. This shall not be the same; literally, this shall not be this; or, as the Revised Version paraphrases, this shall be no more the same; i.e. the mitre and the crown shall alike pass away—taken from their unworthy wearers. There was to be, as in the following words, a great upturning of all things; the high brought low, the lowly exalted.
I will overthrow. The sentence of destruction is emphasized, after the Hebrew manner, by a threefold iteration (Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 22:29). It shall be no more. The pronoun in both clauses probably refers to the established order of the kingdom and the priesthood. "That order," Ezekiel says, "shall be no more." Keil, however, takes the second "it"—the "this" of the Revised Version—as meaning the fact of the overthrow. That also was not final; all things were as in a state of flux till the Messianic kingdom hinted at in the next clause should restore the true order. Until he come whose right it is. The words contain a singularly suggestive allusion to Genesis 49:10, where a probable interpretation of the word "Shiloh" is "he to whom it belongs;" or, as the LXX. gives it, τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτᾷ. The passage is noticeable as being Ezekiel's first distinct utterance of the hope of a personal Messiah. Afterwards, in Ezekiel 34:23, it is definite enough.
Thus saith the Lord God concerning the Ammonites. Ezekiel has not forgotten that scene at the parting of the ways. The Ammonites, when they saw the issue of the divination, and the march of the Chaldean army to the west, thought themselves safe. They took up their reproach against Jerusalem, and exulted in its fall. They are warned, as in another strophe of the "Lay of the Sword of Jehovah," that their confidence is vain (comp. Zephaniah 2:8 for a like exultation at an earlier period).
Whiles they see, etc. The words may possibly refer to Nebuchadnezzar's diviners in Ezekiel 21:21, but more probably to those whom the Ammonites themselves consulted. The pronoun "thee" in both clauses refers to Ammon. The result of those who divined falsely was that the sword would be drawn against the necks of the Ammonites and threw them upon the heap of the slaughtered ones. For them, as in the words that end the verse, reproducing those of Ezekiel 21:25, punishment is decreed, and that punishment will come.
Shall I cause it, etc.? The question of the Authorized Version suggests a negative answer, as though the speaker were Jehovah, and the sheath that of his sword. The Revised Version, which translates it, with Keil, the LXX; and the Vulgate, as an imperative, deals with it as addressed to the Ammonites. They am told to sheath their sword; it would be of no avail against the sharp, glittering weapon of Jehovah. Their judgment would soon come on them in their own land, not, as in the case of Judah, in the form of exile (comp. Ezekiel 25:1-8 as an expansion of the prophet's thought).
I will blow against, etc. The imagery of fire takes the place of that of the sword. The brutish men (same word as in Psalms 49:10; Psalms 92:6) are the Chaldean conquerors. The fact that the adjective may also mean "those that burn" may, in part, have determined Ezekiel's choice of it.
For Ammon there is no hope of a restoration like that which Ezekiel speaks of as possible for Jerusalem, and even for Sodom and Samaria. Its doom is written in the words, it shall be no more remembered (comp. Ezekiel 25:7).
The common fate of righteous and wicked.
Both the righteous and the wicked are to be cut off. Though not equal in moral character, they are to share in the same general calamities.
I. IT IS A FACT THAT THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER WITH THE WICKED. We see this fact in everyday experience, and it would be a falsehood to formulate a doctrine which seemed to our short-sighted judgment more just, if it did interpret events.
1. From human conduct. The bad policy of a king brings war and its attendant miseries on a whole nation. The crime of a father bequeaths poverty, shame, and misery to his whole family.
2. From natural calamities. An earthquake will shake down a church upon the heads of the most devout worshippers, with as terrible a slaughter as that which follows the overthrow of some theatre of sinful revelry.
II. THE COMMON LIFE OF MANKIND NECESSITATES THIS COMMON FATE. There is a certain solidarity of man. We are members one of another, so that if one member suffers, all the members suffer. This is one penalty we pay for the union with our fellow men which on the whole is immensely helpful Without such a union there would be no society, no organic connection between individuals. The rich, full life that grows out of the mutual ministries of man would then be impossible.
III. IT IS AN AGGRAVATION OF A CALAMITY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS SHARE THE FATE OF THE WICKED. The wicked could well be spared, and it might seem to be a good thing for the world that their places should be vacant; but every good man has his good work which suffers when he is taken away. The guilt of those who bring disaster on the innocent is all the greater on this account. No worse thing can happen to a people than that its saving elements should be taken away. They are the salt of the land.
IV. THE RIGHTEOUS WHO SUFFER WITH THE WICKED ARE NOT ULTIMATELY INJURED, The injustice is temporary.
1. The outward suffering is an inward blessing. The physical nature of the suffering may be the same in both eases; but its moral character differs entirely according as it is deserved or not. When it falls on innocent men it is not punishment; there is no curse in it; it comes as the fire that purges the silver.
2. The temporary suffering will be followed by eternal blessedness. We may say of the righteous and the sinful who were victims of a common calamity, "In their death they were not divided." But after death there is a swift and searching separation. Then it is seen that the righteous were taken from the evil to come.
V. THE COMMON FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED MAY BE A MEANS OF SAVING BOTH. It was so in the Captivity. Good men like Daniel and "The Three Children" were taken to Babylon together with the corrupt courtiers of Jerusalem, and there they maintained the flame of ancient Hebrew piety, so as to prepare for a renewed people's restoration. Christ died the sinner's death that he might save the sinner, after he himself had been raised up from the dead in victory over sin.
The sword of war.
I. THE SWORD OF WAR BRINGS FEARFUL TROUBLE. When the hoarded judgment bursts over the head of the guilty nation of Israel, it falls in the form of war. Those people who speak lightly of war as being "good for trade," as "opening careers for men," and as "developing manly virtues," etc; would do well to consider that the fearful monster is regarded in the Bible as the worst of plagues. David was a man of war and he knew what its horrors meant. It was with no nervous fear like that of King James who shuddered at the sight of a sword, with no sentimental tremors of an effeminate nature, that the old warrior David chose the horrors of a pestilence in preference to those of war. Note some of its evils.
1. Destructiveness. It must be a fallacy to regard it as "good for trade." Whatever temporary and artificial fillip commerce may receive during the actual campaign is paid for ten times over by the subsequent collapse. England was thrown back for generations by the Napoleonic wars. The soldiers are withdrawn from productive work; ordinary commerce is stopped; and a vast amount of property is directly destroyed.
2. Suffering. Every one who has witnessed the scenes of a battlefield turns from the recollection of them with loathing and horror. War is not a pageant of drums and trumpets and flying banners; it is a huge Inferno of groans and agonizing deaths. Thousands lie wounded on the field, some trampled on by charging steeds, some anguished for want of the drop of water which cannot be reached, sick with the blazing heat of the sun or chilled to the marrow in snow and frost. Thousands are cut off in the flower of their youth, sent prematurely to the grave before their real life work is begun. And every death means a household of bitter mourning in the old home.
3. Wickedness. War lets loose the lowest passions. Hatred and bloodthirsty vengeance are engendered, and men are brought down to the level of wild brutes. Too often savage lust follows, and the vilest outrages are committed.
II. THE SWORD OF WAR MAY BE USED AS A DIVINE CHASTISEMENT.
1. Sharpened by sin. National misconduct lays a people open to the ravages of war. The curse may be earned immediately by insolent and unrighteous dealings with other nations; or it may be brought less directly and not as we could anticipate. Yet the awful fact remains—National sin necessitates national judgment, and the most awful and yet the most common national judgment is war.
2. Directed by God. This was the case with the wars of judgment that visited Israel. Israel's sin sharpened the sword, but God's hand guided it. For the providence of God cannot be excluded, even from so lawless and monstrous a thing as war.
The satisfaction of God's fury.
This is a most awful subject. Gladly would we leave it alone. Oh for a fresh sight of God's eternal love, instead of this horror of great darkness, this vision of wrath and judgment unrestrained and fully satisfied! Yet the fearful words are before us and they invite our earnest regard.
I. GOD'S FURY IS FEARFULLY PROVOKED BY SIN. It is only against sinners that these dreadful words are written. The righteous may share the temporal calamities that smite the wicked (Ezekiel 21:4), but they incur none of the wrath of God that lies behind those calamities. Nevertheless, as we are all sinners, there is little comfort in this thought. Consider how greatly sin provokes wrath.
1. It is committed in full daylight. The Jews possessed the land. We know Christ. We cannot plead ignorance. Even the heathen have accusing consciences.
2. It is committed against love. We sin against our Father, to whom we ewe everything, and who has been infinitely gracious to us.
3. It is committed in spite of warnings. Israel had her grand procession of minatory prophets from Elijah to Ezekiel. We have the warnings of the Bible.
4. It is committed without necessity. There is a better way and a happier. Nothing but the most wilful perversity can make us choose the evil path. A saving hand has been held out to protect us. When we sin we reject that help.
5. It is committed after God's long suffering has been tried. He has long refrained from punishing. Yet men have made his long suffering an excuse for greater sin. Thus they have "treasured up wrath for the day of wrath."
II. GOD'S FURY CANNOT BE RESISTED.
1. It cannot be opposed by men's powers. The sinner has to contend with the Almighty and the All-wise. The stoutest must fall in such a contest, and the most cunning must fail in the foolish attempt to outwit God.
2. It cannot be opposed by any excuses. Unhappily, there is no doubt as to the guilt of the sinner. He had opportunities of return, and he rejected them. Conscience must paralyze resistance.
3. It cannot be opposed by God's love. There is no schism in the nature of God. Love itself must approve of wrath directed against hardened impenitence.
III. GOD'S FURY WILL BE SATISFIED.
1. It will not fail. Nothing that God attempts can fail. This we may infer as a conclusion from the observations under the previous head.
2. It will not endure forever. When it has accomplished its work it will rest. It may be that some of the results of it will endure forever. The slain man will not arise again on earth, but he is not being killed continuously. The ruined city may never be rebuilt, and yet the earthquake that overthrew temples and palaces has long subsided, and all is now still and calm.
3. It will be satisfied when it has accomplished its end. God's fury is not like his love. It does not spring unprovoked from his own heart. It is roused by sin, and when it has punished sin, it is satisfied. But this is the most awful satisfaction of it. There is another satisfaction, viz.:
4. It will be satisfied when it is propitiated. This is not stated in the verse before us. But it is the burden of the gospel. Christ our Advocate propitiates the wrath of God (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2). Then if we have confessed our sin, and sought the saving help of Christ, we need fear the wrath of God no longer. It is satisfied.
I. TRANSGRESSIONS ARE DISCOVERED BY GOD AS SOON AS THEY ARE COMMITTED. He is present when the deeds are done; his eyes are always open to observe the conduct of his creatures; he is not negligent of sin. We start, therefore, with the position that there is no such thing as secret sin. The appearance of secrecy arises from the fact that the great Witness withholds his evidence for the present. Such a position leads to the inevitable conclusion that some day the most hidden evil may be made manifest. God holds the key, and he will unlock the door whenever he sees fit.
II. TRANSGRESSIONS WILL BE DISCOVERED TO THE UNIVERSE IN THE FUTURE JUDGMENT. This must be what the judgment really means. We have been accustomed to the picture of a vast assize, as though God needed to go through the forms of a criminal trial with souls, every secret of whom has been perfectly known to him from the first. Such a trial would be an empty form, a mere theatrical display. But God will make the justice of his action apparent to all, and in doing so the secrets of all hearts will be revealed.
III. TRANSGRESSIONS ARE LIKELY TO BE DISCOVERED ON EARTH. It is scarcely possible for a man to play the hypocrite successfully till his secret is sealed in death. At some moment of inadvertency he is almost certain to lift the mask, and then the discovery of his deceit, once made, will destroy forever the reputation of years. Sin will work its fruits in the bad man's life. Though never confessed in words, it is expressed in tone and temper. The very features of the countenance set themselves to the character of the life within. Moreover, sudden surprises and unexpected turns of events will reveal a man to the world. The long buried secret comes to light. Achan's Babylonish garment is brought to light (Joshua 7:18-20). Ananias and Sapphira cannot conceal their lie (Acts 5:9). Eugene Aram cannot hide the corpse of his victim. Dimsdale is driven to reveal the scarlet letter that burns in fire on his breast.
IV. TRANSGRESSIONS MAY BE HIDDEN BY FORGIVENESS. In the expressive Hebrew phrase, they are then said to be "covered." The only way to have our transgression thus buried out of sight is for us first to confess it to God. Thus we need to pray that be will search us and try us, and see if there be any wicked way in us (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24). Until our sins are brought home to our consciences, there is no hope that they will be permanently hidden. If we forget them, God will remember them. For God to forget them we must first remember them. When transgressions are thus owned to God, we are in the condition to receive his pardon, after which we may take the assurance, "Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more." The sins are then banished "as far as the east is from the west." They are "buried in the depth of the sea." God does not goad his restored children with their old sins.
Revolution and restoration.
I. REVOLUTION. God overturns Israel and its institutions by repeated acts in the successive invasions of Nebuchadnezzar. The ruin is utter. No city has sustained so many sieges as Jerusalem, or has been so often sacked and destroyed. Now, we are reminded that these terrible disasters are elements in a Divine judgment and discipline. It is God who overturns. There is, therefore, a providential purpose in the event.
1. Revolution must precede restoration. The Divine education of mankind is not a continuous, unbroken development. The earthquake has its mission as truly as the April shower. Evil must be overthrown before good can be built up. This may mean a violent process. We are too mild in some of our methods of treating sin. Undoubtedly, God has not committed his sword of judgment to us, but he expects his servants to testify against sin, and so to pull down the strong walls of Satan. Aggressive work is absolutely necessary. While we preach the gospel of peace, we have also to fight against intemperance, commercial corruption, and all evil customs and institutions.
2. This revolution must be universal. There is a sweeping comprehensiveness in our text. Political revolutions, indeed, may not be called for, for now we have to engage in spiritual work. But there must be revolution in every region of life.
1. The revolution prepares for a restoration. Mere destruction perfects nothing. It is necessary only as preliminary to something constructive. Blank nihilism is the most barren philosophy. The "everlasting no" is not a gospel for hungry humanity. After the revolution there must be a new order, and after repentance there must be a new life.
2. The restoration can only be accomplished by Christ. Until Christ came the Jews were never truly restored, though they had returned to their land. In Christ Israel had its long hoped for redemption (Luke 2:29, Luke 2:30), though, alas! most of the nation rejected it, and left it to others. It is easy to demolish an ancient effete system. The difficulties begin with building up a new and better one. We cannot establish a new social order, nor can we even stir up a better life in our own breasts. The weary world waits for the full coming of Christ to restore its overturned peace and order.
3. This restoration will be fully satisfactory.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
It is a pathetic spectacle, this of the prophet, in his exile away in the northeast, turning by Divine command his gaze, sorrowful and sympathizing, towards Jerusalem, the holy places, the land of Israel. The present is sad enough, but Ezekiel has to bear the oppressive anticipation of the future. He hears the assurance of the God whom his countrymen have offended by their infidelity that worse calamity, even disaster, and death are about to befall the remnant in Palestine. The sword is about to be drawn out of its sheath, and the righteous and the wicked alike are about to feel the keenness of its edge.
I. PROVIDENCE REGARDS A NATION AS HAVING A CORPORATE LIFE. Israel was a unity, and the scattered tribes were regarded by the King of nations as one people. It is the same with other communities. Every nation has its own national life, its own organic unity. Each subject or citizen is a member of the body, and his existence has meaning in this relation and all that it involves.
II. RECTORAL LAW ACCORDINGLY DEALS WITH A NATION AS A WHOLE. The inhabitants of the earth are under moral government and control, are subject to law and to the Divine Lawgiver and Judge. God is the God of nations. So much is this the case that political authority is represented in Scripture as being a Divine institution: "The powers that be are ordained of God." As Providence designs that men should live in communities, so God determines the discipline, the moral education, through which nations must pass. God is in history; which is uninteresting and meaningless unless his hand is recognized, and the operation of his rule observed with admiring reverence.
III. THIS PRINCIPLE INVOLVES THAT THE WICKED PARTICIPATE IN THE PROSPERITY, AND THE GOOD IN THE ADVERSITY, WHICH COME UPON A NATION. Individuals are not always in sympathy with the community of which they form a part. There are other currents in a stream beside its main flow. Broadly speaking, the nation which publicly and flagrantly violates the moral law undermines its own life and prepares the way for its own dissolution. When the catastrophe comes, those who have protested against the nation's sins, and have endeavoured to stem the torrent of unbelief and ungodliness, are carried away in the general destruction.
IV. SUCH RETRIBUTION DOES NOT, HOWEVER, AFFECT THE INDIVIDUAL MORAL PROBATION OF MEN. God deals with men upon general principles—according to broad, intelligible laws. We cannot see how it could be otherwise. Yet this seems to involve many cases of individual hardship, and even injustice. How can this be avoided? The Judge of all the earth will surely do right. How, then, can we explain the fact that—in the language of Ezekiel—the Eternal, with his sword, cuts off the righteous and the wicked?
V. THIS ARRANGEMENT IS EXPLAINED BY, AND HARMONIZES WITH, THE JUDGMENT AND RETRIBUTION OF A FUTURE STATE. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. The anomalies of the present state of being are such as to suggest that this is only a probationary state, that we do not now and here see the unfolding of the complete purposes of the Lord and Judge of all. The Scriptures reveal a state in which retribution and compensation shall be complete, as we know they are not here. The righteous and the wicked shall not always be confused in one common category, and consigned to one common doom. The discrimination which is not exercised now shall be exercised hereafter. Prosperous sinners shall not forever elude the righteous judgment of God. The suffering and patience of the virtuous and pious shall one day be rewarded, not only by the approbation of the Judge, but by an everlasting recompense.—T.
Ezekiel 21:6, Ezekiel 21:7
The sign of sighing.
In the case of Ezekiel, perhaps more than in any other of the prophets, actions were adopted as prophetic signs, more effective than words. The tidings conveyed to the prophet, and through him to his fellow countrymen, were of so mournful an import that such indications of mental distress as sighing and weeping were natural expressions of the feelings which he could not but experience. It was appointed for him in this way to excite the curiosity of his people, and, in response to their inquiries, to inform them of coming evils.
I. THE CAUSE OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING.
1. The trouble which was about to come upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of the whole land of Israel, in the invasion of the country, the siege of the metropolis, and the violent death of many of the inhabitants.
2. The sinful rebelliousness of the people, by which they were bringing upon themselves these calamities and disasters.
3. Ezekiel's deep and sincere sympathy with sufferers, and his sorrow for their evil ways, so that he felt for his fellow countrymen as he would have felt for himself.
II. THE SEVERITY OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING. It was "with bitterness," "with the breaking of the loins," i.e. sighing shaking the whole bodily frame, and evincing the pungent distress afflicting his spirit.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING.
1. It was an evidence of patriotism; for Ezekiel himself was far from the scene of approaching retribution, and it did not affect him personally, but through his patriotic identification of himself with all that concerned his people.
2. It was an evidence of his faith in Divine assurances. There is no reason to suppose that mere political foresight enabled the prophet to anticipate the coming, evil; yet he realized its certain approach with such intensity as to call forth the manifestation of feeling here described.
3. It was a warning to the careless and insensible. There were many for whom Ezekiel sighed who sighed not for themselves; yet theirs was the sin, and theirs the punishment now imminent.
4. It was a summons to repentance. If the prophet cried and sighed for the abominations wrought among the people, how much more did it become those who by their sins had provoked the anger of the righteous God to consider their ways, to weep because of their guilty ingratitude and persistent disobedience, and to flee from the wrath to come! how much more did it behove them to call upon the Lord that he might have mercy upon them, and upon their God who could abundantly pardon!—T.
Among the great powers that have affected human history must be reckoned the sword. As the emblem of physical force, of the superiority of the great of the world, it has special significance for the student of human affairs. The vision of the sword revealed to Ezekiel the impending doom of the land of Israel, and particularly of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. When he saw in imagination the glittering blade and the keen edge, his mind anticipated the awful fate which was about to overtake his afflicted and sinful fellow countrymen.
I. THE SWORD IS THE IMPLEMENT OF HUMAN AMBITION AND VENGEANCE.
II. THE SWORD IS THE WEAPON OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION UPON THE NATIONS. Whilst it is unquestionable that wars and fightings come from human lusts, it is to the religious man, to the student of Scripture, equally plain that a Divine Providence overrules all the conflicts of the nations to accomplish wise purposes, and even purposes of. benevolence. The Assyrian power directed its forces against the land of Israel, under the influence, doubtless, of human passions and purposes by which those passions were suggested. But Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and Rome were pewees which the God of Israel employed to bring about the ends fixed upon by his own wisdom and faithfulness. As an instrument by which punishment was inflicted upon the idolatrous and rebellious, the sword was not only the sword of Nebuchadnezzar, but the sword of the Lord of hosts.
III. THE SWORD IS A SUMMONS TO HUMILIATION AND REPENTANCE. Ezekiel himself evidently regarded it in this light. He was directed to cry and howl, to smite upon his thigh, to smite his bands together, when he beheld in vision the weapon which was about to chastise his rebellious countrymen. There are minds which need to face the consequences of sin in order that they may admit the awfulness of sin itself. When the displeasure of the Almighty is revealed against the iniquities of men, they are sometimes roused to reflection and inquiry, and so it may be to repentance.
IV. THE SWORD IS THE SYMBOL OF THE POWER BY WHICH SIN IS SLAIN. The sons of Israel were not alone in the practice of sin, in ingratitude, and disobedience. Men in every age and in every place are found guilty of rebellion against the holy and. righteous God. Well is it when they turn against their own sins the edge of the spiritual sword, when they attack their vices, their follies, their crimes, as the enemies of God, and, by slaying with the Divine weapon the rebellious forces, avoid the otherwise inevitable judgment and retribution which overtake the impenitent.—T.
The impartiality of Divine justice.
Very picturesque and memorable is this portion of Ezekiel's prophecies. The prophet in his vision beholds the King of Babylon on his way to execute the purposes of God upon the rebellious and treacherous prince of Judah, and upon his partakers in sin. He sees him at some point of this expedition, standing on the northeast of Palestine, uncertain whether in the first instance to direct his arms against Rabbath, the capitol of the Ammonites, or Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judah. He is at "the parting of the way," and calls to his aid, to help him to a decision, not only the counsel of the politician and the commander, but that also of the diviner. The bright arrows, on which the names of the two cities are inscribed, are drawn as in a lottery, the images are consulted, the liver is inspected by the augur. The prophet sees the resolve taken to proceed against Jerusalem; yet at the same time, he predicts that the children of Ammon shall not escape the edge of the glittering sword of retribution and vengeance.
I. DIVINE JUSTICE MAKES USE OF HUMAN AGENCIES OF RETRIBUTION, OFTEN THEMSELVES UNCONSCIOUS OF THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THEY ARE EMPLOYED. The King of Babylon was appointed as the minister of righteous avenging upon both Judah and Ammon. Unawares to himself, he, in his military operations, was carrying out the predictions of God's prophets, and the decree of God himself. Infinite wisdom is never at a loss for means by which to bring to pass its own counsels and resolves.
II. DIVINE JUSTICE PUNISHES THE PRIVILEGED WHO ARE UNFAITHFUL TO THEIR PRIVILEGES AS WELL AS THOSE WHOSE PRIVILEGES HAVE NOT BEEN EXCEPTIONAL. Although the descendants of Abraham were selected from among the nations for a special purpose connected with God's plans for the moral government of the world, they were not thereby released from their righteous obligations, or from liability to punishment in case those obligations were repudiated. Israel's election did not secure exemption from the consequences of defection and rebellion. Rather was the guilt of the nation deemed to be aggravated by their neglect to use aright the many advantages with which they were favoured. On the other hand, the Ammonites were not secured against righteous retribution merely because they were less highly privileged than Israel. They had a measure of light, and they were responsible for walking in the light they enjoyed; and if they loved darkness rather than light, they secured their own condemnation.
III. DIVINE JUSTICE DECIDES WHICH GUILTY NATION SHALL BE CORRECTED, AND WHICH SHALL BE DESTROYED. Into the secret counsels of God it is not given us to enter. Facts are before us; and we see that, according to this prophecy, Ammon was committed as fuel to the fire, and was no more remembered; that the very name of the Ammonites vanished out of human history; and we see that the Jewish people survived, and were brought forth from the furnace into which they were cast. We can only apply to these facts our faith in the Divine righteousness, and hold fast by our conviction that in this, as in all his dealings with men, the Eternal Ruler has acted upon principles of unquestionable equity.
IV. DIVINE JUSTICE SUMMONS SINFUL NATIONS TO REPENTANCE AND NEWNESS OF LIFE. These predictions and their fulfilment in history have been recorded for our instruction. What we read in Scripture is fitted to deepen within our nature the conviction that this world is under the righteous government of God. And we shall be foolish indeed if we do not infer from this fact the necessity of repentance and of renewal; if we are not led to welcome the assurance that for the penitent there is mercy, and for the lowly, life. - T.
Ezekiel 21:26, Ezekiel 21:27
The Divine reversal.
The judgments of God are not in vain. The sword is not sheathed until the purposes of infinite righteousness are achieved. War leads to such an end, to such a place, as eternal wisdom approves. No good end would be answered by Divine interposition, did all things go on as before. A Divine reversal crowns the work.
I. THE HISTORICAL FACT. The primary reference of the prophet is doubtless to the downfall of the usurping, rebellious, treacherous, plotting prince of Judah, i.e. Zedekiah. His true policy lay in subjection to Nebuchadnezzar; instead of adopting and holding fast by this policy, he was ever endeavouring to free himself from the yoke, in the vain hope of independence. It was foreseen and predicted by Ezekiel that this should lead to his destruction.
II. THE MORAL, GOVERNMENTAL PRINCIPLE SUGGESTED BY THIS FACT. We learn that the Omnipotent Ruler is not indifferent to what happens among the nations, that he works in and through the ordinary laws of human action, and may sometimes work by extraordinary and exceptional means. Certain it is that his ways are not as men's ways. The great are often overthrown, and the feeble exalted, by the operation of his wise and merciful providence. God confounds all human policy and defeats all human expectations, exalts the low, and at the same time abases the high. The mitre and the crown are taken from the forehead of the powerful, and are placed upon the lowliest, brows.
III. THE TYPICAL AND SPIRITUAL APPLICATIONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE. There is a grandeur in this language which seems almost to compel its reference to greater events than those which happened in Jerusalem during the Eastern captivity. The kingdom of sin is mighty, and then have often felt how utterly vain it is to expect that kingdom to yield to any human attack. Ignorance and error, vice and crime, superstition and infidelity, have through millenniums of human history acquired over humanity a power which seems irresistible and invincible. But there is One "whose right it is" to reign, and he, the Son of God, has come in the flesh, and has come in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. In his favour, and in order to secure his universal conquest, his everlasting dominion, the Most High is overturning, ever overturning. He is the High Priest, the rightful King, of the humanity whose nature he assumed, and fur whose salvation he died. The mitre and the crown are his of right, and to him they shall be given. Every usurper shall be defeated and disgraced; and Christ, whose right it is to reign, shall receive the kingdom, and his dominion shall have no end.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The subject matter of this prophecy is substantially the same as the fo