Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.
And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.
And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them.4–9. The prophet shall be strengthened to perform his hard task
Having taken in the “words” of the Lord (Ezekiel 3:4) there opens up before the prophet a general view of the mission he is sent upon. It is an arduous one. The difficulties are not of a superficial kind. He is not sent to foreign nations, who would not understand his words, but to Israel. They can well understand, but they will not listen. Their refusal to listen unto him is but an example of their life-long refusal to listen unto God. They are resolute and obstinate in their disobedience, but the prophet shall be made more resolute than they.
For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel;5. a strange speech] lit. deep of lip (or speech) and heavy of tongue. The former expression perhaps refers to the inarticulateness with which, to one unacquainted with their language, foreigners appear to speak; and the other to the thickness of their utterance. The first half of the expression occurs again Isaiah 33:19, a people of deep speech, so that thou canst not perceive; and the second half is said of Moses, Exodus 4:10.
Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.6. many people] Rather: peoples, i.e. different foreign nations.
Surely, had I sent thee] More exactly: surely if I sent thee … they would hearken. There is some difficulty about the construction, but the sense is sufficiently clear. The heathen have a greater susceptibility for the truth than Israel, which has acted more wickedly than the nations (ch. Ezekiel 5:6-7, Ezekiel 16:48; Ezekiel 16:51. Cf. Jeremiah 2:10-11). Others would render: but I send thee to them (Israel), they will understand thee. The last words, however, cannot mean “understand thee;” they mean “hearken unto thee,” as Ezekiel 3:7, where the phrase is the same.
But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.7. impudent and hardhearted] See on ch. Ezekiel 2:4.
Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads.
As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.9. harder than flint] Cf. Jeremiah 5:3, “they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.”
though they be a rebellious] Rather: for they are. See ch. Ezekiel 2:6. What gave the prophet invincible courage in the face of the opposition of the people was in the main the assurance that he was sent of God, that God was with him, and that his word was given him to speak. Comp. Isaiah 50:7, “For the Lord Jehovah will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”
Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.10–15. The Prophet’s Particular Mission to the Exiles at Tel Abib
Though Ezekiel’s mission, like that of all the prophets, was to the house of Israel as a whole (Ezekiel 3:5), yet immediately his work lay among the captives in the midst of whom he lived. It is remarkable, however, how little reference is made in his prophecies to the particular circumstances of the exiles. The attention of the prophet, as well as those around him in captivity, seems to have been engrossed by the events occurring in Palestine, and especially in the capital. And the truths spoken by him, though uttered in the ears of the exiles, bear reference to all Israel. Though he occasionally draws a distinction between those left in the land and the exiles carried away with Jehoiachin, of whom he was one (ch. Ezekiel 11:15), in general he regards the exiles as representatives of Israel, and feels when addressing them that he is speaking to the whole house of Israel. In the gradual defining of his task more clearly these exiles are now referred to. He is bidden go to them of the captivity (Ezekiel 3:11), and he came to them of the captivity to Tel Abib. And now that he is entering upon his ministry there comes to him: (1) the command anew to hear and receive into his heart the words that God shall speak to him (Ezekiel 3:10). (2) next the command to announce himself as a prophet of the Lord: thus saith the Lord (Ezekiel 3:11). And (3) with this command comes the sense of the divine impulse carrying him forward to his service: then the spirit lifted me up … and I came to them of the captivity (Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:14-15).
And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the LORD from his place.12. the spirit took me up] See on Ezekiel 2:2. This “lifting up” by the spirit must be interpreted according to ch. Ezekiel 8:1-3, it was part of the trance. The great theophany or vision of God in ch. 1 was not an external phenomenon which the prophet beheld with his actual eyes, it was a vision which he saw, being in a trance. The same is true of all the words heard by him, and all the actions done in ch. 2, 3, they took place in the spirit, not outwardly. See after Ezekiel 3:21.
I heard behind me] The prophet had been in the presence of the theophany (ch. 1) during all that has hitherto been narrated (ch. Ezekiel 2:1 to Ezekiel 3:12), and thus when he was lifted up and carried away it seemed to him that he left the theophany behind him.
a great rushing] The word is used of an earthquake, and of the roar of battle (Isaiah 9:5, confused noise); also of the rattling of chariots (Jeremiah 47:3; Nahum 3:2). In ch. Ezekiel 37:7 it is said of the sound of the coming together of the dry bones, but it appears nowhere employed of the noise caused by voices speaking.
Blessed be the glory of the Lord] According to the present text these words were uttered with a sound like “a great rushing,” though no intimation is given who they were who uttered the words. But (1) the phrase “blessed be the glory of the Lord” has no parallel; and it is hardly admissible to take the “glory of the Lord” as equivalent to “the Lord” or “the name of the Lord” or even his “glorious name” (Psalm 72:19). Even the fact that the “glory” is distinct from the divine chariot, which it may leave (ch. Ezekiel 9:3), and that a voice may come from where it is (Ezekiel 43:6) is hardly sufficient to justify such an expression. (2) It is natural to take the “great rushing” of this verse to be the same as that in Ezekiel 3:13, where it is the roar of the wings of the living creatures and the wheels when the chariot is in motion. (3) With the present text the exclamation “Blessed,” &c., might come from the cherubim. There is no other passage in the prophet where the cherubim are represented as praising God, although the seraphim do so in Isaiah 6, and the living creatures in Revelation 4, and this might possibly be the meaning, particularly as the reading “Blessed,” &c., is the only one known to the versions. Luzzatto, and independently of him Hitzig, proposed to read: when the glory of the Lord rose up from its place; cf. ch. Ezekiel 10:5; Ezekiel 10:19, Ezekiel 11:22-23. The reading implies a change of only one letter.
I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing.13. I heard also the noise] More fairly: and the noise. The words seem to state the cause of the great rushing sound in Ezekiel 3:12, it came from the wings of the living creatures touching one another when they flew, and from the wheels. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 1:9; Ezekiel 1:11; Ezekiel 1:23.
So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.14. in bitterness] i. e. indignation, or anger, Jdg 18:25 (angry fellows), 2 Samuel 17:8. Similarly “heat of spirit” is fury or wrath. The prophet was lifted up into sympathy with God and shared his righteous indignation against Israel. Again Jeremiah is his model: “Therefore I am full of the fury of the Lord; I am weary with holding in: Pour it out upon the children in the street and upon the assembly of young men together,” Jeremiah 6:11. LXX. omits “bitterness.”
but the hand] Rather: and (or, for) the hand. See on ch. Ezekiel 1:3. Cf. Jeremiah 15:17, “I sat not in the assembly of them that make merry, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand; for thou hast filled me with indignation.”
Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.15. The name Tel-abib means possibly, Hill of corn-ears, or shortly, Cornhill; but see against this Frd. Del. Heb. Lang. p. 16. Names compounded with the word Tel, hill, are very common. The place is not otherwise known.
and I sat where they sat] This is the Heb. marg. (Ḳri); the text is as R.V., “and to where they dwelt.” The passage is almost certainly corrupt. Most probably the words: “that dwelt by the river Chebar, and” should be omitted: then I came to them of the captivity to Tel-abib where they dwelt; and I sat there astonied among them seven days.
astonished among them] R. V. astonied, i.e. dumb and motionless. Ezra 9:3-4, “And when I heard this word I rent my garment and my mantle, and sat down astonied,” Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31. There was enough in the prophet’s circumstances to produce a conflict of feelings in his mind—the sin of Israel, who were yet his own people; the task before which he stood, and his close and awful communications with heaven. The simple feeling of bitterness and indignation which filled his mind when he newly left the presence of God became broken into a tumult of feelings when he saw the face of men. Zeal for God becomes tempered and humanized in actual service. Ezekiel felt himself a prophet a moment ago, now he feels himself a watchman (Ezekiel 3:17 seq.). Comp. the pathetic story of Samuel and Saul, 1 Samuel 15:25-31.
seven days] Job’s friends “sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights; and none spake a word unto him; for they saw that the affliction was very great.” The week was the first large division of time, and the long period of motionless silence expresses the strength of the prophet’s emotions. Ezra sat in stupor only until the evening.
And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,16–21. More precise definition of the prophet’s appointment: he is set to be a watchman
So soon as the prophet is face to face with the exiles, and is able to see the sphere and materials of his work, he receives a more precise account of his position—he is appointed a watchman or sentinel. The watchman stands on his watch-tower to observe, and his office therefore is to warn, should danger be seen approaching. Isaiah 21:6, “Thus saith the Lord, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Jeremiah 6:17, “Also I set watchmen over you and said, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet, but they said, We will not hearken;” Habakkuk 2:1; comp. 2 Kings 9:17-20. The appointment of Ezekiel as watchman was not a change upon his original appointment as “prophet” (ch. Ezekiel 2:5), it is only a more precise definition of it. The term, which had already been used by Jer. (Jeremiah 6:17), expresses the duties and part of a prophet of this age. Ezekiel entered on his prophetic career with his ideas as to the course of events to come fixed and matured. The fall of Jerusalem was a certainty. And his true place was in the midst of a people whom this great calamity had overtaken. The destruction of the state was not the end of Israel or of the kingdom of God. Israel would be gathered again, and the kingdom of God reconstituted. But it would be on new principles. God would no more deal with men in the lump and as a state, he would deal separately with each individual soul (ch. 18). The destruction of the former state, however, was not the final judgment. Before the new kingdom of God arose men would have to pass through a new crisis, and to pass through it as individual persons, and the issue of this crisis would be “life” or “death” to them. It is in this full sense that Ezekiel speaks of the wicked dying and the righteous living. To “live” is to be preserved and enter the new kingdom of God, to “die” is to perish in the crisis and be excluded from it. The idea of a “watchman” implies danger imminent (ch. Ezekiel 33:1-6), and the coming crisis is the ideal danger before the prophet’s mind. Hence the part of the watchman is to warn men in regard to this coming sifting of individual souls, and to prepare them for it. The idea is part of the prophet’s individualism, his teaching regarding the freedom and responsibility to God of the individual mind (ch. 18, 33). Hence the watchman warns all classes of men, the wicked that he may turn from his evil lest he “die,” and the righteous that he may be confirmed in his righteousness and “live.” The watchman’s place is behind the destruction of the old state and in front of the new and final kingdom of God, for the reconstruction of which he labours. This place is given him in ch. 33.
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.18. When I say unto the wicked] The watchman spies danger approaching, so the prophet receives intimation from the Lord (Ezekiel 3:17). This intimation given to the prophet is represented as a threat spoken directly to the wicked. If the prophet as a watchman perceive this danger of death to the wicked and fails to warn him, the wicked shall die for his own sin indeed, but his blood will be upon the watchman. He that fails to save life kills; and blood will be required of him, of every man’s hand the blood of his brother. Proverbs 24:11-12, “Deliver them that are carried away unto death … If thou sayest, Behold, we knew not this, Doth not he that weigheth the hearts consider it?”
in his iniquity] Perhaps: through his iniquity. It is of the nature of sin that it is made the instrument of its own punishment, Job 8:4. “Warning” will naturally be of many kinds, suitable to those warned; some may be deterred and others allured from their evil.
Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.20. I lay a stumbling-block] i.e. something over which he shall fall and perish; Leviticus 19:14, “Nor put a stumbling-block before the blind.” When God prepares such a stumbling-block for the righteous who has sinned, unless he is warned he will fall and be broken, and his blood will be on the prophet.
Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.21. The case of the righteous is even more complex and perilous for the watchman than that of the wicked, though it might not be thought so. The wicked has to be warned to turn from his evil, and so has the righteous if he sins. But the righteous has also to be warned, in ways that are suitable, lest he fall into evil. Only when the righteous is seen maintaining his righteousness unto the end can the watchman feel that he has delivered his own soul in regard to him. Like a ship laden with a precious freight he has to be anxiously piloted into the haven.
This passage, ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 3:21, is not quite easy to estimate. There are two questions suggested by it, viz., first, how does the prophet represent the occurrences? and secondly, how is his representation to be interpreted? In answer to the first question, it is evident that all narrated from ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 3:12 or Ezekiel 3:15 belongs to the prophet’s trance. The vision of God in ch. 1 and his inspiration under the symbol of eating a book, as also his commission generally, all belong to the sphere of ecstatic experience. This is manifest so far as the great Theophany of ch. 1 is concerned; but all that follows, ch. Ezekiel 2:1 to Ezekiel 3:12, was transacted in the presence of this Theophany, and like it must be regarded as part of the trance or ecstasy. In Ezekiel 3:12, however, it is said that the vision of God went up from him, and if this were to be interpreted as ch. Ezekiel 11:24-25, where the same vision of God departed from him and he reported all he had seen during it to them of the captivity, we might suppose that the ecstasy was over. In ch. Ezekiel 3:15, it is said that he came to them of the captivity. It is added, however, that the spirit took him up and carried him there, that he sat among the captives dumb seven days, and that the hand of the Lord was strong upon him. All these expressions are usual to describe prophetic ecstasy, e.g. Ezekiel 8:3, Ezekiel 37:1, Ezekiel 40:2. In the passage ch. Ezekiel 33:22, “the hand of the Lord” might describe something less than the full ecstasy, though this is not certain. After the prophet’s statement that he came to them of the captivity to Tel-abib, we might have expected some account of his ministry among them, but nothing of this is given; what follows is a more precise definition of his office, which is to be that of a watchman. The representation appears to be that the place by the river Chebar where the vision of God was seen by him was at some distance from Tel-abib, and that when the vision went up from him he “came” to the captives at that place. This “coming,” however, is described as being taken up and carried by the spirit, terms usual to describe prophetic ecstasy, and it almost seems that the prophet does not strictly distinguish between what he did in the spirit, in vision, and what he did bodily and in reality.
If the last remark be true, it may suggest how the prophet’s representation is to be interpreted. On the one hand the extent and variety of the incidents represented as occurring in the trance, the things seen and heard, the prophet’s emotions and the like, hardly form any argument against the literal reality of the account. The rapidity of the mind’s operation in such conditions is well known. Naturally the thoughts of God and of the people and of himself and all the general ideas described as presenting themselves in the vision are not to be regarded as absolutely new to the prophet’s mind. They had many times before occurred to him, at least separately and in fragments. But now in a more exalted frame of mind than usual they are reproduced in connexion with one another and with a power to influence the mind to action which they had not before possessed. This is how the inaugural vision of all the prophets, Isaiah (6) and Jeremiah (1) as well as Ezekiel are to be understood. It is probable that the prophet was subject to trances, for the vision is but a higher form of the mental condition which clothes its thoughts in symbols, and this symbolism is characteristic of the whole Book.
On the other hand the presumption is that the various incidents described did not occur precisely as represented. It is probable that these three chapters cover the earliest part of the prophet’s ministry, extending over a considerable period. But in the first place he has condensed the events and experiences of this period, the thoughts and feelings which he had in his intercourse with the exiles and the reception he met with at their hands, into the present brief statement. And secondly, he has thrown the experiences of this period into a symbolical form; the thought of God, of the divine majesty and greatness, which filled his mind at first and constantly, is presented under the form of the Theophany (ch. 1) always present with him. The feeling that he was a true prophet of God, commissioned to declare his will, and that the divine presence was always with him is symbolised in the other actions which follow (2, 3). At a later time looking back over this early period, recalling his vivid sense of God, of his presence with him directing all he did and inspiring all his words, he has presented the religious meaning of the period under the symbol of a trance in which he was in the immediate presence of God (cf. 8–11).
And the hand of the LORD was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee.22. the hand of the Lord] A trance or ecstasy from the Lord. It is probable that the prophet’s retiring to the “valley” was merely transacted in vision. He felt himself transported away from the presence of men to some lonely retreat, and there the glory of the Lord seemed again to stand before him (cf. ch. Ezekiel 8:1-3).
into the plain] R.V. marg. the valley. This is scarcely a general term, meaning the plain country in opposition to Tel-Abib, where the exiles dwelt; some particular place in the neighbourhood called the “valley” is meant. According to Ezekiel 3:23 the place was not identical with the other by the river Chebar, where the Vision of God first appeared to the prophet. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 37:1 seq.
Ch. Ezekiel 3:22-27. The prophet abandons public exercise of his ministry
The verses form the preface to ch. 4–24, all the prophecies that bear upon the fate of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, up to its fall. The prophet under the “hand” of God goes out into the “valley,” and the same Theophany appears to him as at the first by the river Chebar. He is in communication with the same great God, and all his actions are determined by his commands. According to the interpretation put upon ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 3:21 above, he had exercised his office of watchman among the people, speaking to them publicly in the name of the Lord, for some time. Possibly the time was not very long, for this passage comes in under the same general date as all that preceded it. His ministry had met with resistance, the people would not hear, as he had anticipated. A public ministry among them was fruitless; the burden of his preaching to them was distasteful. He warned them against their idolatries, from which they would not turn; and foretold the downfall of their city and country, a thing which they heard with an incredulous ear and would have none of. Therefore the prophet feels instructed of God to cease to be a public “reprover” (Ezekiel 3:26) for a time. The people refuse to believe his words when he speaks of the downfall of their beloved city, they will be constrained to believe events when they happen; and then the prophet, his word being confirmed, will speak with boldness, his mouth will be opened, and he will be able to impress upon more ready listeners the lessons of God’s righteous providence. His silence meantime is not an absolute one, it is only a change of method; but this so-called silence continues till the actual destruction of the city. In ch. Ezekiel 24:27, it is said, “in that day (when tidings come of the city’s fall) shall thy mouth be opened and thou shalt speak and be no more dumb, and they shall know that I am the Lord;” and in ch. Ezekiel 33:21 seq., when those that escaped came bringing tidings, saying, the city is fallen, it is said: “then my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.” No motive is assigned for the change in his prophetic method, beyond the unwillingness of the people to listen, “for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:26). At the same time as a prophet of the restoration with its new principles (ch. 18, 33), a watchman appointed to speak no more to the state but to individual men, his ministry proper could not commence till the state had fallen. See note on ch. Ezekiel 3:17.
Second Section. Ch. Ezekiel 3:22 to Ezekiel 7:27The second section of the Book contains these parts:
(1) Ch. Ezekiel 3:22-27. A preface in which the prophet is commanded to confine himself to his own house, and abandon for a time his public ministry.
(2) Ch. Ezekiel 4:1-4. A series of symbols representing the siege of Jerusalem, the scarcity during it, the pollution of the people in exile among the nations, and the terrible fate of the inhabitants on the capture of the city.
(3) Ch. Ezekiel 5:5-17. Exposition of these symbols.
(4) Ch. 6. Prophecy against the mountains of Israel, the seats of Idolatry.
(5) Ch. 7. Dirge over the downfall of the state.
Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river of Chebar: and I fell on my face.
Then the spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine house.24. shut thyself within thy house] The words are not to be pressed to mean more than abstention from the exercise of his ministry in public. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 8:1, Ezekiel 11:25, Ezekiel 14:1 &c.
But thou, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them:25. they shall put bands upon thee] that is, the exiles, as the words “thou shalt not go out among them” imply. The expression can hardly be merely equivalent to the pass., “cords shall be put upon thee” (Sep. Vulg.). The language is a figure for the restraint of opposition (ch. Ezekiel 4:8).
And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house.26. I will make thy tongue cleave] The restraint imposed by the opposition of the people is acquiesced in by God, it is part of his purpose. His providence will meantime be the best teacher of the people. The prophet’s “dumbness,” however, is compatible with much speaking at least by signs to those who will hear. He is “dumb” in the sense of the Psalmist, “I was dumb, not opening my mouth, because thou didst it” (Psalm 39:9; Isaiah 53:7; cf. Ezekiel 24:27; Ezekiel 33:22).
But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.27. Eventually the prophet’s mouth will be opened, his word will be confirmed, and he will no more have to speak to incredulous ears. (Comp. ch. Ezekiel 29:21). During the existence of the kingdom all the prophets from Amos downward had stood in opposition to the mass of the people. Their teaching whether on religion or on policy ran counter to the inclinations of the multitude. The fall of the state, however, which they had so unanimously predicted gave them consideration in the eyes of the people, and led even the unthinking masses to feel that they were true interpreters of the mind of God and of his government. Passages like ch. Ezekiel 33:10, “Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then should we live?” shew the change taking place in the people’s thoughts, and how they were coming round to take that view of their history which this prophet, as well as his predecessors, had so persistently inculcated. It is not easy to form any clear conception of the prophet’s ministry during the years preceding the fall of the state, but such passages as the above suggest the kind of thoughts which he expresses under the symbols of “dumbness” and “opening of the mouth.” It is unnecessary to say that the “binding” of the prophet here (Ezekiel 3:25), which continues till the fall of Jerusalem, is quite different from the binding in ch. Ezekiel 4:8, which lasts only for a period of days, and is a symbol of Israel bearing its iniquity in exile.