Ezekiel 33
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Second Section. Ch. 33–39. Prophecies of Israel’s Restoration and Eternal Peace

Only one date appears in connexion with these prophecies, that in Ezekiel 33:21. Though this date does not stand at the beginning of ch. 33 seq., it may be held to indicate the time generally to which the whole seven chapters are to be assigned. There is something suspicious, however, in the date of the arrival of the fugitives—fifth day of tenth month of twelfth year—nearly, a year and a half after the fall of the city. The Syr. read or suggested eleventh year, which would leave about six months for the news of the city’s fall to be carried by messengers to the exiles in Babylon, and this date is now very generally accepted. The various chapters may not all belong to the same period. The dates throughout the book are little else than rubrics of a very general kind, under which, in default of more precise details, a number of discourses, extending over considerable periods, have been grouped. The occupation of part of the country by Edom (35:36) would not take place just close upon the fall of the kingdom; and perhaps the state of despondency of the people and their sense of sinfulness (Ezekiel 33:10) was one which the fall of the country and the confirmation of the predictions of the prophet took some time to create in their minds. The precise dates are of little consequence, it is the general situation alone that is important. The fall of the city is presupposed (Ezekiel 33:21), the overthrow of the royal house (Ezekiel 34), the extinction of the nationality (Ezekiel 37), the dispersion of the people among all nations (Ezekiel 36:16 seq.), the occupation of part of the country by Edom and the neighbouring tribes (35; cf. Jeremiah 41), and the complete prostration of men’s minds under their calamities and the unbearable burden of the sin that had occasioned judgments so unparalleled (Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:13; Lamentations 2:20, &c.). Only the prophet stood erect, while all others were overwhelmed in despair. The greatness of the blow had stunned them, and, as the prophet had foreshewn (Ezekiel 24:23), a stupor had fallen on them. Yet the Lord had not made a full end of Israel. The old era was closed, but a new era was about to open, and a new Israel about to arise. It is of this new era that the prophet has now to speak, and of the hopes of the new Israel and of the conditions of being embraced in it. It is in these chapters that the prophet’s contributions to Old Testament theology are chiefly to be found. The passage contains these general conceptions:—

First, ch. 33. The function of the prophet in preparation for the new age. It is to awaken the moral mind, to create the sense of individual worth and responsibility, and to shew that the conditions of belonging to the new Israel are moral only. This chapter defines the place of the individual human mind, and its duties; the following chapters describe rather the divine operations in bringing in the new and perfect kingdom of the Lord.

Second, ch. 34. The royal house, the shepherds of the people, had destroyed alike themselves and the flock (17, Ezekiel 19:14). The Lord himself will take in hand the gathering of his scattered sheep together, and the feeding of them henceforth; he will appoint his servant David to lead them.

Third, ch. 35–6. The land, the mountains of Israel, usurped by aliens, shall be rescued from their grasp and given again to the people as of old. The reproach of barrenness shall no longer cleave to it; the mountains of Israel shall shoot forth their branches and yield their fruit to the people, and man and beast shall be multiplied.

Fourth, ch. 37. The nation is dead and its bones bleached, but there shall be a resurrection of the dead people and a restoration of them to their own land. Two kingdoms shall no more exist there, but the Lord’s people shall be one, and his servant David shall be prince over them for ever.

Fifth, ch. 38–9. The peace of his people shall be perpetual. The Lord shall be their everlasting defence. When the armies of Gog come up from the uttermost regions of the earth, with all the nations which have not heard Jehovah’s fame nor seen his glory, to assail his people, drawn by the hope of boundless plunder, they shall be destroyed by fire out of heaven.

Ch. 33 The function of the Prophet

Though the prophet seems the chief figure in the chapter, he is really but the medium through whom the principles of the new kingdom of God and the conditions of entering it are enunciated. These principles are: (1) that God desires that men should live. (2) The new Israel shall be composed of members who enter it individually. (3) The condition of entering on man’s part is repentance. (4) Man is free to repent—to do good or do evil. The righteous may fall from his righteousness and sin; and the sinner may turn from his evil and do righteousness. He that doeth righteousness shall live; and the soul that sinneth shall die. These principles of the worth and freedom of the individual man, though latent in many parts of the Old Testament, had never been stated so explicitly before. They are no more than what all men will now allow. If pressed indeed and regarded as exhaustive (as everything in this prophet is pressed to his disadvantage), they might seem to ascribe more power to man than he possesses. But in subsequent chapters the prophet lays sufficient emphasis upon the operation of God in regenerating the individual mind and in founding the new kingdom. It would be a novelty indeed if an Old Testament writer were found ascribing too much to man and too little to God. There is a certain vagueness in the prophet’s delineation. It is evident that he is moving among religious principles, and that the enunciation of them is his chief interest; the time and circumstances in which they shall operate are left indefinite. When he says that the righteous shall live and the sinner die, the question, When? naturally occurs. No precise answer is given. But there floats before his view an approaching crisis. The advent of the new era presents itself as a moment of trial and decision; it is like the approach of war upon a people (Ezekiel 33:1-6). The remarkable passage ch. Ezekiel 20:33-44 may be compared in supplement of the present chapter.

The chapter contains these parts:

(1) Ezekiel 33:1-6. Illustration taken from life—the part of the watchman in war. It is his duty to blow the trumpet when danger is coming. If he does so, the fate of those who hear will lie at their own door. If he fails, the blood of those that perish will be on his head.

(2) Ezekiel 33:7-9. Such is the place of the prophet: the same his duties and responsibilities.

(3) Ezekiel 33:10-20. This is the place of the prophet, but the state of the people’s mind is such that his warnings may be addressed to deaf ears. Their calamities have stunned and paralysed the people; they feel lying under an irrevocable doom, entailed upon them by their past history—our sins be upon us, we pine away in them; how, then, shall we live? Nothing is reserved for them but to bear the inexhaustible penalty of their past evil, until, like those in the wilderness, they fall prostrated beneath it. In answer to this stupor of despair comes the voice from heaven with two consoling words: first, that Jehovah has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but desires that all should turn and live; and secondly, it is not by that which men have been that they shall be judged, but by that which they shall become. The past writes no irrevocable doom over men.

(4) Ezekiel 33:21-29. Fugitives from Judaea arrive among the exiles saying, the city is smitten. This confirmation of all the prophet’s past predictions opens his mouth and gives him boldness to address his countrymen. He proceeds to pass judgment on those left in the land, and to state anew that the conditions of inheriting the land are only moral.

(5) Ezekiel 33:30-33. The confirmation which the fall of the city gave to the prophet’s past predictions awakened the interest of his fellow exiles in him and his words.

Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
1–6. The illustration—duty of the watchman in war.

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:
2. of their coasts] of their number, from among them, cf. 2 Kings 9:17.

If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
3. The trumpet was the signal of danger, Hosea 8:1; Amos 3:6; Jeremiah 6:1.

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
4, 5. He that heareth the trumpet and taketh not warning, his blood shall be on his own head; he is responsible for his own death, which shall not be laid at the door of the watchman.

He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
6. Although in Ezekiel 33:2 Jehovah is said to bring the sword upon the people (Ezekiel 14:17), and presumably for their sin, the language of the present verse leads over from the illustration to the thing meant to be illustrated.

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
7–9. Similar to the part of the watchman is that of the prophet. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 3:17 seq. The evil, corresponding to the sword in the illustration, in regard to which the prophet is to warn the people, is left undefined. As in the case of all the prophets, however, the turning point in the fortunes of the exiles appeared to Ezek. of the nature of a divine interposition and judgment, and it is this general idea that colours his language. Except in the two or three passages, Ezekiel 13:5, Ezekiel 30:3, cf. Ezekiel 38:19, the day of the Lord is not referred to in Ezek.

When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?
10. If our transgressions] Better, direct: our transgressions … are upon us. The people had come to regard their calamities as due to their sins and evidence of them. They had come round to the prophet’s view of their history, for they saw his predictions fulfilled. But the new view came with a crushing weight upon them. The calamities of their country were unparalleled (Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:13; Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 3:1; Lamentations 4:6; Lamentations 4:9), and equally unparalleled must have been their guilt (Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:14; Lamentations 2:14; Lamentations 4:13; Lamentations 5:7). And their calamities seemed final, their sin was expiable only by their complete destruction.

we pine away] Or, waste away. The word expresses not mental but physical wasting away, ending in complete dissolution. See the very similar figures, Isaiah 10:18; Isaiah 17:4; cf. Ezekiel 4:17; Ezekiel 24:23; Leviticus 26:39.

10–20. Despondency of the people, making the prophet’s appeals to them of none effect. Removal of the despair by two gracious words from the Lord.

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
11. Jehovah’s answer to the people’s despondency and despair of “life.” These verses must be estimated from the point of view of the people’s despair of life, to which they are an answer. The passage is not directly an affirmation of the rectitude of God, although this is indirectly affirmed in answer to the people’s objection, founded on traditional ways of thinking, that the Lord’s ways are not equal. The divine rectitude is not the point of view from which the prophet looks; he speaks in answer to the people’s despondency. And his answer is twofold: first, God’s desire is that men should live; and secondly, the past is not irrevocable. Not according to what men have been but according to what they shall be or become, will God judge them.

Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.
12. It would have been enough to illustrate the earnest exhortation, Turn ye, why will ye die? (Ezekiel 33:11) by the assurance that if the wicked turns his past sins will not be remembered against him (Ezekiel 33:16). But the prophet states the truth in a more general form. His purpose is to teach also the general truth that the past of one’s life does not of necessity determine the future either in itself or in the judgment of God. This, next to the assurance of God’s gracious will regarding men (Ezekiel 33:11), was the truth most needed to comfort the people and awaken them out of the stupor which lay on them into a moral life and activity again.

It is merely to distort the prophet’s words to say that he teaches that a man’s past life goes for nothing, and that he will be judged merely according to what he is found doing “at the moment” of the judgment. The prophet is not speaking of moments. He speaks to men overwhelmed by a judgment of God which seemed to leave no hope for the future, and he lays down the principle needful for the moral awakening of the people that the past is not irrevocable, that a future of possibility lies before them. It is too true that the evil of a man’s past life prolongs itself into the future and that sin cannot at once be done with. Yet we “believe in the forgiveness of sins;” and this is the truth which the prophet desires to teach his countrymen, over whelmed with the thought of their own evil past. When he says the righteous shall “live” he means by living the complex thing, having the favour of God and having an external felicity corresponding to this.

Old Testament prophets and saints were hardly able to conceive the first of these two things existing apart from the second. And the prophet probably still considers them inseparably connected. And hence, when teaching that the son shall not suffer for the sins of the father, and that the righteous shall “live” and the wicked “die,” he has been charged with inculcating a doctrine more false to reality than the old one which it was designed to supersede. But here again a certain injustice is done to the prophet. No doubt when he uses the word “live” he employs it in the pregnant sense, viz. to enjoy the favour of God and to have this favour reflected in outward felicity. But just as Jeremiah relegates the principle that the children shall not suffer for the sins of the father to the new era about to dawn, so Ezek. agrees with him. Neither prophet is laying down a new principle which is to obtain in the world, the world going on as it had done before. Ezek. feels himself, as all the prophets do, on the threshold of a new Epoch, the era of the perfect kingdom of God, and it is in this new era that the principle which he enunciates shall prevail. See at the end of ch. 18.

When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.
13. Cf. Ezekiel 3:20, Ezekiel 18:24.

Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;
14. Cf. Ezekiel 3:18, Ezekiel 18:27.

that which is lawful] Lit. as marg., (just) judgment and justice.

If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.
15. Instances of a return to righteousness on the part of the wicked, cf. Ezekiel 18:7; Exodus 22:1; Exodus 22:4; Numbers 5:6-7.

the statutes of life] By walking in which a man shall live, ch. Ezekiel 13:21, Ezekiel 20:11; Leviticus 18:5. As elsewhere “life” is used in the pregnant sense of enjoyment of the favour of God and the external prosperity which is the reflection and seal of it.

None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
16. Cf. Ezekiel 18:22.

shall be mentioned] Or, remembered against him, as Ezekiel 33:13.

Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal.
17. Cf. Ezekiel 18:25; Ezekiel 18:29.

When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.
18, 19. These verses sum up the whole principles of the passage, cf. Ezekiel 18:26-27. On Ezekiel 33:20 cf. Ezekiel 18:25; Ezekiel 18:29.

But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.
Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.
And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me, saying, The city is smitten.
21. The date here given is about a year and a half after the city’s fall. Considering the constant intercourse between the mother country and the exiles this period is very long. Some MSS. as well as the Syr. read eleventh year, leaving about six months for the news to travel by messenger. (Eleven and twelve are easily confused in Heb.).

our captivity] That of Jehoiachin, ch. Ezekiel 1:2. “One that had escaped,” lit. the fugitive, may refer to one or more, cf. Ezekiel 24:26.

21, 22. Fugitives from Judaea arrive among the exiles announcing that the city had fallen. This confirmation of all the prophet’s anticipations, which the exiles had received with so much incredulity, opened his mouth, gave him confidence to speak before his fellow exiles. And he announces what shall be the fate of those left in the land (Ezekiel 33:23-29).

Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.
22. Though the date is inserted here, it is probably to be understood as applicable to the whole chapter, for Ezekiel 33:1-2 the prophet is commanded to speak publicly to the children of his people. In the evening he felt the hand of the Lord upon him, he fell into an excitation. Thoughts such as those in Ezekiel 33:1-20 of the new Israel that God would create and of the conditions of belonging to it filled his mind. He was well aware that the city’s fall was inevitable, to him it was as good as fallen. And full of the new thoughts of the future he felt himself standing before his fellow exiles with an impulse strong upon him to speak to them of this future in the name of the Lord. In the morning the fugitives arrived with the confirmation of all his past predictions.

until he came to me] should come: against his coming, Exodus 7:15.

no more dumb] i.e. silent, Psalm 39:2; Isaiah 53:7.

Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
23–29. The confirmation by the fugitives of all his previous predictions gave the prophet boldness to speak anew, and what he says is but a continuation of that which he had said before, and had been so literally confirmed. He had predicted the city’s fall because of its sins, and his prophecy had been verified; those remaining in the land continue in the sins for which the city fell, and its fate shall certainly overtake them. The judgment must be carried out till the offences cease. But the teaching of these verses is the natural supplement also to that in Ezekiel 33:1-20. Those remaining in the land presume that they shall inherit the land because they are in it, notwithstanding their evil conduct: the inheritance of the land will be given on different conditions (Ezekiel 33:1-20, cf. Ezekiel 36:25-38, Ezekiel 37:23).

Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance.
24. Regarding those remaining in the land even before the fall of the city, cf. Ezekiel 11:5-12; Ezekiel 11:14-21; Jeremiah 24. Those remaining in the land express their confident hopes. Though reduced in numbers they are still many in comparison of the single individual Abraham. Yet he was multiplied in such a way as to take possession of the land; much more may they hope yet to assert their claims to it. They perhaps hardly argued on mere natural probabilities; they felt themselves the heirs of the promises made to Abraham, and in spite of disasters hoped that Jehovah would fulfil them to them. They display the same temper as the people had always shewn; they have a faith in Jehovah but no knowledge of what Jehovah is (Amos 5:14; Hosea 4:1; Jeremiah 4:22; Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 5:4). Another prophet of this age applies the strange history of Abraham and his multiplication to comfort “the few men of Israel” who followed after righteousness, Isaiah 51:2.

inhabit those wastes] The ruined cities chiefly, Ezekiel 33:27; but cf. Ezekiel 36:4.

the land is given us] Words of confident anticipation.

Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land?
25. The claim of the remnant is repudiated by Ezek. with indignation. They persist in the sins for which their country fell, and the same judgment shall overtake them.

ye eat with the blood] i.e. eat flesh slaughtered in such a way that the blood remains in it. According to the law animals had to be slaughtered in such a way as to drain away the blood, which was poured into the ground, where not dashed upon the altar. An example of a prohibited way of slaughtering was breaking the neck, Isaiah 66:3. Cf. Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16; 1 Samuel 14:32. See on Ezekiel 18:6; Ezekiel 18:11; Ezekiel 18:15, Ezekiel 22:9.

lift up your eyes] See Ezekiel 18:6. On “shed blood” Ezekiel 22:6; Ezekiel 22:9.

Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbour's wife: and shall ye possess the land?
26. stand upon your sword] Hardly means, the footing on which ye deal with men is the sword; but probably, ye occupy yourselves with the sword, cf. Ezekiel 44:24.

work abomination] The term is mostly applied to religious practices contrary to the pure religion of Jehovah. On the other sin named cf. Ezekiel 18:6, Ezekiel 22:11. Ezekiel 33:25-26 are wanting in LXX. The passage is vigorous and apart from the anomalous form “ye work” (where fem. n is due to following t) altogether unsuspicious. The omission in LXX. may have arisen from the eye of the translator straying from the words “Lord God” Ezekiel 33:25 to the same words Ezekiel 33:27.

Say thou thus unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; As I live, surely they that are in the wastes shall fall by the sword, and him that is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and they that be in the forts and in the caves shall die of the pestilence.
27. The “wastes” are the desolate cities; those that still hover about these ruins shall be slain by the enemy. The “open field” is the country, now depopulated and “the possession of wild beasts;” and the “forts,” coupled with caves, are the natural fastnesses of the land. Those taking refuge there shall die of the pestilence, due to crowding and famine. The remnant shall be exterminated from the land.

For I will lay the land most desolate, and the pomp of her strength shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, that none shall pass through.
28. Cf. Ezekiel 7:24, Ezekiel 24:21, Ezekiel 30:6-7. The “mountains of Israel” are the mountain land of Israel.

Then shall they know that I am the LORD, when I have laid the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.
Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD.
30. are talking against thee] the children of thy people who talk of thee. The construction has a certain inconsequence in it. On “talk” cf. Malachi 3:16. The “walls” afforded a shade, under which men gathered for conversation.

one to another] The form “one” is Chaldee rather than Heb. The clause says the same thing as next clause and is wanting in LXX.

30–33. Demeanour of the people towards the prophet

The confirmation which the fall of the city gave to the prophet’s past predictions awakened the interest of his fellow exiles in him and his words. They congregated together in knots under the shadow of the walls and in the doors of the houses discussing his sayings. Recent events had given him a more prominent place in their thoughts. There was something also in the new truths he was uttering, in his outlook into the future and in his appeals to the individual mind, causing each to turn his eyes inward upon himself, that touched them and awakened a certain reality of concern. Still it was in the main curiosity rather than genuine seriousness that led them to listen to him. There was a certain charm, more perhaps in the kind of future presented by the prophet than in his manner of presenting it, which was like sweet music; but though they listened the drift of their minds was too steadily set in another direction to be changed.

And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
31. On “come unto thee” cf. Ezekiel 8:1, Ezekiel 14:1, Ezekiel 20:1.

as my people] The construction is very hard. LXX. omits.

with their mouth … love] The language is peculiar, but can hardly have any other sense. LXX. Syr. read: for falsehood is in their mouth and their heart &c. The term “covetousness” or gain has, especially in later books, the general sense of advantage, self-advancement, Isaiah 56:11.

And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
32. lovely song of one] lit. a lovely song; one that hath. The comparison “like a lovely song” is as usual inexact; “like” merely indicates the circumstances—as when there is a lovely song. The prophet is compared to the singer as A. V.

And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.
33. when this cometh] but when it cometh to pass. The general it (fem. as usual in general references) is the judgment or crisis, the idea of which underlies all the prophet’s words and is presupposed in them. Cf. Ezekiel 2:5.

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