Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
A prophecy very similar to this was uttered by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23), only a few years before, against the false prophets in and around Jerusalem. It is not unlikely that Ezekiel may have read it; as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:1) certainly sent some of his prophecies to those in the captivity, and it is altogether probable that he knew its substance. He, however, addresses himself here to the false prophets among the captives (see Ezekiel 13:9), and in the latter part of the chapter (Ezekiel 13:17-23) especially to the prophetesses. In both parts their conduct is first described (Ezekiel 13:3-7; Ezekiel 13:17-19), and then their doom (Ezekiel 13:8-16; Ezekiel 13:20-23). Such false prophets have always been a chief hindrance to the truth (just as false teaching within the Church now is far more dangerous than any attack from without), and they especially abounded in times of difficulty and danger. Jeremiah speaks repeatedly of their opposition to him in Judæa (Jeremiah 14:13-14; Jeremiah 23:9; Jeremiah 23:13; Jeremiah 23:16; Jeremiah 23:21; Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 27, 28.), and expressly mentions also their activity among the exiles (Jeremiah 29:15-22).
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!(3) Foolish prophets.—They were certainly foolish who undertook to forge the name of the Omniscient, as it were, to utterances of their own devising. Folly according to the use of the word in the Old Testament, was not merely an intellectual failing, but was always associated with moral obliquity. (See Psalm 14:1, and Proverbs throughout.) The last clause of the verse is better expressed in the margin: these prophets were. “seers of that which they have not seen.”
O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts.(4) Like the foxes in the deserts.—The comparison is sufficiently close if it is considered as extending only to these mischievous men living unconcerned among the ruins of their state and country, as the foxes find their home in desolated cities (Lamentations 5:18); but many extend the simile to the undermining of the ground by the foxes, as these prophets accelerated the ruin of their people.
Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD.(5) Ye have not gone up into the gaps.—The change of person is frequent enough in prophecy, and especially common in Ezekiel. It is changed back in Ezekiel 13:6, and changed again in Ezekiel 13:7. The gaps refer to the breaches in the wall made by the enemy, which became the rallying point of every brave leader (see Ezekiel 22:30), and the following words express essentially the same thought. The word “hedge” should rather be translated wall—“neither have ye built up the wall.” The false prophets, like the hireling shepherds of John 10:12, were only selfish, and had no care for the flock. The whole language is figurative, the breaches in the material walls representing the moral decay of the people.
They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.(6) They have made others to hope.—Omit the word “others,” which is not in the original, and translate, “The Lord hath not sent them that they should hope”—i.e., they have no ground to expect that their prophecies will prove true, because they have no warrant for uttering them.
EXCURSUS D: ON CHAPTER 13:6, 7, AND 17.
In these verses a broad and crucial distinction is made between the self-imagined vision and that which is sent from the Lord. It may be that in this case the prophets and prophetesses were untrue to their own convictions, and wilfully declared what they knew to be false; or it may be that they simply uttered as God’s message that which they had persuaded themselves would be the issue. This point is not entirely clear from the passage, and is of secondary importance. What deserves to be carefully noted is the difference here made between subjective views of truth—that which conies “out of their own heart”—and those objective communications which God gave to His true prophets. This distinction has a most important bearing upon the whole subject of revelation, and establishes clearly the fact that the Scriptures look upon it as something expressly communicated to their writers, and not as a thing which could be the result of their own thought and reflection. He, therefore, who puts “Thus saith the Lord” before that which God has not in some objective way made known to him, must fall under the condemnation pronounced here and elsewhere upon “the prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak” (Deuteronomy 18:20).
And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.(9) The assembly of my people.—The original word bears also the meanings placed in the margin, but the sense here is correctly given in the text. The several clauses are intended to emphasise the utter exclusion of the false prophets from the people of God: they shall not be in the congregation; their names shall not be written in the genealogical registers of Israel; they shall not even enter the land when the purified and repentant people should once more return.
Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered morter:(10) One built up a wall.—The original word is used for a partition wall—of course a comparatively slight wall—as noted in the margin; in Ezekiel 13:12, however, the ordinary word for an outer, or a city wall, is used. One of the false prophets would build a wall, set up of his own device—some vision as a defence against the warnings of calamity; and his fellows would join in his deceit by covering this wall “with untempered mortar.” The word is not the usual one for plaster, and indeed is used in this sense only in these verses and in Ezekiel 22:28. Elsewhere, the word is used in Job 6:6 = unsavoury, Lamentations 2:14= foolish things, and a closely-related form in Jeremiah 23:13=folly (marg., an absurd thing). Here (and also in Ezekiel 13:11; Ezekiel 13:14-15) it must mean plaster, but the use of the word elsewhere shows plainly enough what sort of plaster is intended. Calvin understands it of mortar mixed with sand and water only, the lime being left out. It is still a common practice in the East, as it has always been, to cover over their walls with stucco. In this case the other false prophets are represented as joining with the one who built the wall by covering over its weaknesses and defects with a fair-seeming plaster. (Comp. Matthew 23:27; Acts 23:3.) They helped on the delusion by giving it the weight of their influence, and persuading the people to believe a lie.
Say unto them which daub it with untempered morter, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it.(11) Great hailstones.—Hail is unusual in Palestine, but its destructive effects were well known. The figure of this prophecy may be compared with the parable of Matthew 7:27.
Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?(12) Where is the daubing?—The basis of all their false prophesying being destroyed by the coming judgments, the folly and falsehood of their words would be exposed to the eyes of all. As it is said in Ezekiel 13:14, the wall itself being thrown down to its very foundation, they who have tried to make the people trust in it shall be overwhelmed in its ruin.
Likewise, thou son of man, set thy face against the daughters of thy people, which prophesy out of their own heart; and prophesy thou against them,(17-23) Likewise, thou son of man, set thy face . . .—This passage deals with a class of people the false prophetesses, who are not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. True prophetesses, as in the case of Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), and, at this very time, Huldah (2Kings 22:14; 2Chronicles 34:22), and somewhat later, Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), are frequently spoken of, and continued to exist in New Testament times, as in the case of Anna (Luke 2:36). It was naturally to be expected that as false prophets dogged the steps of the true, the same thing would happen with the other sex, and we find express mention of a false prophetess in Revelation 2:20. Their course, in prophesying “out of their own heart” deceiving the people, was essentially the same as that of the false prophets; but they are described as doing this in ways suited to their sex. Of the general meaning of this description there can be no doubt; but it is difficult to follow it with certainty in the details, because of the occurrence of some words of uncertain meaning, found nowhere else, and of some others in an unusual sense. Without attempting a discussion of each single word, (which would be useless except with a careful examination of the original), the following is given as the most probable translation of Ezekiel 13:18-21; but it is to be remembered that several of the words, like the similar ones in Isaiah 3:16-24, are so uncertain that there is a difference of opinion in regard to their exact meaning :—“Woe to those who fasten charms on every finger-joint, that place kerchiefs on heads of every height to snare souls. Will ye snare the souls of my people, and keep your own souls alive? (19) And will ye profane me with my people for handfuls of barley, and for pieces of bread, to slay souls that should not die, and to make live souls that should not live, by your lying to my people who hearken to a lie? (20) Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against your charms, when ye snare the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and will let the souls go, the souls that ye are snaring like birds. (21) Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be snared; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” (See Excursus 8 at the end of this book, on Ezekiel 13:6-7; Ezekiel 13:14.)
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and will ye save the souls alive that come unto you?(18) Souls.—This word is used in the Old Testament in a variety of significations. Here and in the following verses it is nearly equivalent to persons.
And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies?(19) Handfuls of barley.—It was an ancient custom to bring presents to a prophet on consulting him (1Samuel 9:7-8; 1Kings 14:3); but as barley was a cheap grain, and handfuls a very small quantity, these words show the exceedingly small gains for which these false prophetesses were willing to pervert the truth, and lead the people to destruction. God was “polluted” by attaching His name and authority to that which was not true, and would not come to pass, thus “making Him a liar” like themselves. Like all falsehood, their lies tended both ways—to entice the upright to their ruin, and to give false security to the wicked. It is always impossible that a perversion of the truth, especially in regard to the Divine judgments, can be harmless.
Hear your lies.—Or, hearken to a lie. The words imply a willingness to listen to the pleasing falsehood, and the state of things is that described by Jeremiah 5:31. “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so.”
Therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.(23) Ye shall see no more vanity.—As so often the judgment is expressed in the same form with the Sin. These false prophetesses had sinned by their lying visions, and they should see them no more, because the event should soon expose their utter falsity to the eyes of all. The result would be the deliverance of God’s people, whom they sought to ensnare, and their own conviction, not in penitence, but under judgment, that He is the Lord.