Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter continues and concludes the vision; yet its scenes are not to be considered as consecutive with those which have gone before. In Ezekiel 9 all who had not the Divine mark upon their foreheads were slain by the destroying angels; in Ezekiel 10 the city itself was given up to fire; but here the evil-doers are again seen, and again made the subject of the prophetic denunciation. It is, therefore, rather a looking at the same things from another point of view than an account of them in historical sequence. The prophetic vision shifts as in a dream, without any attempt to be consecutive.
The first part of the chapter (Ezekiel 11:1-12) is occupied with judgment upon the sins of the princes, while the latter part (Ezekiel 11:13-21) foretells the Divine blessing upon the repentant and restored remnant of the exiles. At the close (Ezekiel 11:22-25) the glory of the Lord is seen to depart altogether from the city, and the prophet is restored to Chaldæa to communicate the vision to the captives.
Moreover the spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the LORD'S house, which looketh eastward: and behold at the door of the gate five and twenty men; among whom I saw Jaazaniah the son of Azur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.(1) Brought me unto the east gate of the Lord’s house.—This is the same place, the main outer entrance to the whole Temple enclosure, to which the prophet had seen the cherubim go (Ezekiel 10:19). It is not expressly said where he was brought from; but the last place mentioned was the court of the priests (Ezekiel 8:16), and so far the vision appears to be consecutive. Standing in that innermost court, he had seen the Divine presence go forth to the outer entrance; and he also is now transported thither.
Here he sees twenty-five men, the same number whom he had seen worshipping the sun in the inner court. They appear, however, to have been priests, while these seem to be secular leaders. Hence they are generally supposed to be a different set of men. It is nevertheless by no means impossible that they may be the same idolatrous priests, who, by prostituting their holy office to idolatry, gained an ascendancy over a sinful people. Otherwise, the number twenty-five may represent the king, with two princes from each of the twelve tribes; or is possibly a number without any other especial significance than as representing a considerable array of the most prominent people of the nation. Two of these are mentioned by name. If the Jaazaniah here is the same with the Jaazaniah of Ezekiel 8:11, it settles the point that the men here are not to be understood of the priests, since he there represented a different class (see Note on Ezekiel 8:11). The names are significant: Jaazaniah = Jehovah hears, son of Azur = the helper; Pelatiah = God rescues, son of Benaiah =Jehovah builds. Names of this sort were common enough among the Jews, but they seem here intended to bring out the false hopes with which the people beguiled themselves; and in view of this, the sudden death of Pelatiah (verse. 13) was particularly impressive. These princes were active in misleading the people to their destruction.
Which say, It is not near; let us build houses: this city is the caldron, and we be the flesh.(3) It is not near; let us build houses. -Neither the text nor the marginal reading of the Authorised Version quite accurately represent the original. The expression is literally not near to build houses; and it is to be explained by the prophecy and narrative of Jeremiah 29. After the 10,000 (among whom was Ezekiel) had been carried captive—and apparently shortly after—Jeremiah had sent word to the captives to build houses and make themselves comfortable. because the captivity would be long (Ezekiel 11:5-10). This greatly offended the captives; and Shemaiah, a false prophet among them, had consequently sent letters to Jerusalem asking that Jeremiah might be punished for thus prophesying (Ezekiel 11:24-25). The princes of the people now appear in Ezekiel’s vision as taking up this prophecy of Jeremiah’s and contradicting it: “this need of building houses for a long captivity is not near!” In Ezekiel 7:2-3; Ezekiel 7:12; Ezekiel 12:23, Ezekiel expressly declares that it is very near. The princes further confirmed the people in their fancied security by comparing the city to a caldron, the strong walls of which should protect the flesh within it, i.e., the people, from the fire of all hostile attack. In the prophecy of Ezekiel 24:6 this figure is taken up, and a very different application given to it; it is also turned against them immediately in Ezekiel 11:7. In consequence of this attitude and these sayings of the princes, the prophecy of Ezekiel 11:5-12 is now directed against them.
Ye have multiplied your slain in this city, and ye have filled the streets thereof with the slain.(6) Ye have multiplied your slain.—Crimes of violence, as well as of licentiousness, are always the fruit of defection from God. In this case the apostacy of the people had produced its natural result; and the abundant crimes against life formed a prominent feature of the terrible indictment against the city.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Your slain whom ye have laid in the midst of it, they are the flesh, and this city is the caldron: but I will bring you forth out of the midst of it.(7) Your slain . . . they are the flesh.—They had boasted of the protection of their strong city: it should be a security only to the dead who had fallen by their own violence. The living who vainly trusted in its strength should be brought out of it, and delivered as captives to the stranger. The prophecy here takes up their own simile of Ezekiel 11:3, and shows that it shall not avail them. On the contrary, in Ezekiel 11:11 it is expressly said that the figure, in their sense of it, shall not be true. The use of and repeated recurrence to this singular figure may illustrate the familiarity of the people with language of this kind, and help us to appreciate the figurative character of many of Ezekiel’s expressions.
Ye shall fall by the sword; I will judge you in the border of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.(10) In the border of Israel.—The judgment should be cumulative: first, the sword should come upon them (Ezekiel 11:8); then they should be driven out of the city in which they trusted, and delivered into the hands of strangers (Ezekiel 11:9); and then, finally—what was most terrible to a Jew—they were to be arraigned and punished “in the border,” i.e., at the extremity or outside of the land of Israel. Historically, it appears from 2Kings 25:20-21, and Jeremiah 52:9-11, that the general of Nebuchadnezzar, after the capture of the city, carried the people of the land to the king at Riblah, just on the northern confines of Palestine. There Nebuchadnezzar pronounced his cruel judgments upon them, slaying the king’s sons before his eyes, and executing many others, and then, putting out Zedekiah’s eyes, carried him and the rest captive to Babylon. By all this, not in repentance, but through the experiencing of the Divine judgments, they should be at last forced to recognise Jehovah as the Almighty Ruler and Disposer of events. This place of the judgment, and this consequence of it, are emphatically repeated in Ezekiel 11:11-12.
And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?(13) Pelatiah . . . died.—This Pelatiah was one of the “princes of the people” mentioned in Ezekiel 11:1-2 as “those that devise mischief and give wicked counsel.” The prophet’s mind is greatly affected by his sudden death, and he earnestly intercedes that in the judgments God will not “make a full end of the remnant.”
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(14) Again the word.—This does not mark the beginning of a separate prophecy, but only the Divine answer to the prophet’s intercession. This answer differs entirely from the denunciations that have gone before, because it no longer relates to the people of Jerusalem (for whom intercession was in vain: Ezekiel 9:9-10), but turns to the exiles, and foretells God’s mercy and blessing upon them.
Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the LORD: unto us is this land given in possession.(15) Thy brethren—i.e., those who were with Ezekiel in the Captivity. The expression is made emphatic by repetition, and by the addition, “men of thy kindred.” The people remaining in Jerusalem, with arrogant confidence in themselves, and without sympathy for the exiles, had said to them, by words and by deeds, “We are holier than you; we dwell in the chosen city, we have the Temple, the appointed priesthood and sacrifices, and we have in possession the land of the Church of God; you are outcasts.” The prophet is taught that these despised exiles, deprived of so many privileges, are yet his true brethren, and that he is to regard these as his true kindred rather than the corrupt priests at Jerusalem. In this word there is an allusion to the office of Göel, the next of kin, whose duty it was in every way to assist his impoverished or unfortunate kinsman. Still further, these exiles are called “all the house of Israel wholly; “the others, not these, are cast out, and God will make His people from those who are now undergoing His purifying chastisement. This contrast is carried out in the following verses.
Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.(16) Therefore say.—These words, again repeated in Ezekiel 11:17, refer to what the people of Jerusalem had said in Ezekiel 11:15. Their saying these things was a reason, not for what God would do, but for His declaring His merciful purpose beforehand.
As a little sanctuary.—Rather, as a sanctuary for a little. The original word is to be taken as an adverb rather than an adjective, and in itself may refer either to time or to amount: either a sanctuary for a little time, or a sanctuary in some degree. The connection points to the former as the true sense; for a little while, during the term of their captivity, God’s presence with them spiritually would be instead of the outward symbolical presence in His Temple. The contrast is striking. God has already said that he would abandon the Temple, and give up Jerusalem to destruction, and cast out its people; but now to the exiles, scattered among the heathen, He would Himself be for a sanctuary.
Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.(17) I will give you the land of Israel.—Again in contrast to the people of Jerusalem, who claimed the land as their own exclusive possession. They shall be cast out; the exiles whom they despised shall be gathered again and possess the land. (Comp. Numbers 14:3; Numbers 14:31-32, where when the people refused the Divine command to take possession of the land, and feared that their little ones should be a prey, the doom came that they should all themselves perish in the wilderness, but their little ones should inherit the land.)
And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.(18) They shall take away.—Chastened and purified by their chastisement, they should return to the land to do away utterly with the abominations which had caused their exile. Historically, this was fully realised in the abomination in which idolatry, the great sin of the people, was ever after held among the Jews. The change of person from you to they, though so common as not necessarily to call for remark, may yet here possibly indicate that what is foretold was to belong rather to their children than to themselves.
And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:(19, 20) Here follows one of those germinant and ever developing prophetic promises which in fuller and fuller degree have formed from the very first, and still form, the hope of the future. True religion and a service acceptable to God must spring from a subjection of the affections of the heart to His will. Accordingly, the promise to Israel of old was: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 30:6). This, too, had been the prayer of the devout penitent, “Create in me a clean heart “(Psalm 51:10). But this change is necessarily the most difficult to effect in man, and consequently the promise, though with some degree of accomplishment as the ages roll by, still looks forward to the future. Ezekiel here, and with more fulness in Ezekiel 36:26-27, speaks of it as a part of the blessing of the restoration. A marked progress was then made towards it in the hearty abandonment of idolatry, and the better Appreciation of religion as a matter of internal heart. service; but the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33, given about the same time, shows that it looked forward to the Messianic days for a more complete realisation. And certainly under the Christian dispensation a great advance has been made in this respect; but even the closing Book of Revelation still points forward to the future state of existence, when this promise shall attain its full realisation (Revelation 21:3). It is remarkable that this closing prophecy of the inspired volume follows exactly the plan here laid out, of adding to this glorious promise the warning to “the fearful and unbelieving.” What Ezekiel foretells of the time of the restoration must therefore be considered as not expected then to receive its ultimate and complete fulfilment, but only a fulfilment in a degree, to be ever after more and more realised, until it shall reach its consummation in the heavenly state.
(19) One heart.—Unity of purpose among the restored exiles was to be at once a consequence and a condition of their improved moral condition. The opposite evil is spoken of as one of the sins of the people in Isaiah 53:6 : We have turned every one to his own way.” Self-will, which leads to division, and submission to God’s will are necessarily contradictory terms. Hence the corresponding promise in Jeremiah 32:39 : “I will give them one heart and one way,” and the blessed realisation of this, described in the first fervency of the early Church (Acts 4:32): “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.”
Stony heart . . . heart of flesh.—This phraseology is peculiar to Ezekiel, but the same thing is often described in other terms. The figure here seems to be that of a stony heart as unnatural, in the higher sense of that word, unfitting, and incongruous; this is to be removed, and in its place is to be substituted “an heart of flesh “—one that can be moved by the Divine appeals, and is suitable to the whole being and condition of the people. (Comp. Ezekiel 36:26.) The effect of this change will be obedience to the Divine will, and consequently a realisation of the covenant relation in a fellowship with God.
But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord GOD.(21) I will recompense their way.—In striking contrast to the mercy granted to the repentant, is set forth here, as in Revelation 21:8, the Divine wrath upon the impenitent. It has never been promised that all men shall be brought to a true sense of their relations to God, for human responsibility, and consequently power of choice, is not removed; but God’s grace is never in vain, and if it does not lead to blessing through its acceptance, must result in greater condemnation through its rejection. (Comp. 2Corinthians 2:16.)
The heart of their detestable things, is a figurative expression. Idols in themselves are inanimate things, but the heart of the people was so given to the spirit of idolatry and alienation from God, that the abstract, as usual with this prophet, is represented in this concrete, figurative form.
Then did the cherubims lift up their wings, and the wheels beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.(22) And the wheels beside them.—These are the wheels described as with the cherubim, and animated in their movements by one common impulse with them and, as all along, the Divine glory was above.
And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.(23) Stood upon the mountain.—This mountain, on the east of the city, is that which was afterwards known as the Mount of Olives. It is considerably higher than the city, and commands a view over its entire extent. Here the Divine glory rested after taking its departure from the Temple and the city in the vision of the prophet. Here, in the vision of a later prophet (Zechariah 14:4), the Lord is represented as standing in the day of final judgment. Here, not in vision, the incarnate Son of God proclaimed the second destruction of the obdurate city (Matthew 24; Luke 21:20); and from the same mountain He made His visible ascension into heaven (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:11-12). The vision is now closed, and the prophet is transported in spirit back into Chaldæa, to declare what he had seen to his fellow-captives, and show them the vanity of their trust in the preservation of the guilty city.