Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter consists of two communications (Ezekiel 33:1-33). The first of them is without date, but at least a very probable conjecture may be formed of the time when it was uttered. In Ezekiel 33:21-22, it is said that Ezekiel was informed in the morning by a fugitive from Jerusalem of the destruction of the city, and in accordance with the promise of Ezekiel 24:27, his “mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.” But it is added in Ezekiel 33:22 that “the hand of the Lord was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came.” It is clear, then, that Ezekiel uttered some prophecy on the evening before that recorded in the latter part of the chapter, while there is none bearing such a date. The prophecy of the earlier part is, however, just such an one as might be expected at that time; for it is a renewal of the charge to him in his work on entering afresh on his prophetic activity towards Israel. There can, therefore, be no reasonable doubt that this is the prophecy of the evening before he received the official tidings of the fall of Jerusalem, and is placed, like all his other prophecies (except those against foreign nations), in its proper chronological order.
The prophecy itself is an amplification of the charge given in Ezekiel 3:16-21, but also with constant reference to Ezekiel 18.
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
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) Set him for their watchman.—The same figure as in Ezekiel 3:17. Ezekiel 33:2-9 form the introduction to this renewed commission, and closely correspond to Ezekiel 3:17-21. Yet these verses have also a distinct retrospective object, and explain to the people why he had hitherto spoken to them so much of judgments and in such warning tones; this had been his duty, both in obedience to God’s commands and in regard for their welfare, and it would still be his duty in the future. The passage is too clear to need comment.
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) How should we then live?—Formerly, when the prophet had given them warning of impending judgments, the people had refused to believe: now, however, when those judgments had been realised, they despaired, and cried out, “If all this is in punishment for our sins, how can there yet be any hope for us?”
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) I have no pleasure.—Comp. Ezekiel 18:28; Ezekiel 18:32. Ezekiel meets the despair of the people by the assurance, long before given in another connection, that the Creator and Father of all can have no pleasure in the death of any, and adds an earnest exhortation to repentance that they may be saved. Yet it was very important that there should be no misunderstanding in regard to the basis of acceptance with God, and the prophet therefore, in the following verses (12-20). briefly reiterates the teaching of Ezekiel 18 in regard to the individual responsibility of every one for himself before God. This teaching has already been explained under Ezekiel 18.
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) In the twelfth year.—Comp. 2Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 52:12. It was now a year and five months since the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and this seems to be a long time to be occupied in carrying the news to Chaldea. The news itself must have reached Babylon long since, but Ezekiel was to receive the tidings, doubtless with full and circumstantial details, from the mouth of a fugitive, and there are reasons why this could not well have occurred earlier. After the capture of the city, the general, Nebuzaradan, took the mass of the people and the abundant spoil to carry them to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:15-27). He first took them to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, where a few were executed, and some time must have been occupied in settling the affairs of the desolated land. After this, the journey of the captives, carrying along with them the weighty spoil, was a slow one, and perhaps with frequent halts. We know from Ezra 7:9 that the returning captives, not thus hindered, occupied exactly four months in the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. It is not surprising, therefore, that it should have been four times as long from the capture of Jerusalem to the arrival of the captives in Chaldea. This prophecy was nearly two months before that recorded in Ezekiel 32.
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) Was upon me.—The sentence becomes clearer by translating this in the pluperf.: The hand of the Lord had been (already) upon me.
Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(23) Then the word.—There is no reason to doubt that the following prophecy was uttered immediately after the arrival of the fugitive; but there may have been a short interval. None of the prophecies from this point to the close of Ezekiel 39 are dated. Ezekiel 40-48 form one continuous prophecy, which closes the book, and is dated more than twelve years after the present one. We are then to suppose that the prophecies, to Ezekiel 39 inclusive, were uttered at intervals during these twelve years, but we have no means of fixing their dates more exactly.
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) Inhabit those wastes.—It is said in 2Kings 25:12; 2Kings 25:22; Jeremiah 52:16, that the poor of the people were left in the land for vine-dressers and for husband. men, and that these were joined by fugitive Jews from Moab and Ammon and other places. It is to these that the present part of this prophecy (Ezekiel 33:23-29) is addressed, and it is plain that the murder of Gedaliah, and consequent flight into Egypt, had not yet taken place.
Abraham was one . . . we are many.—The argument used by these people was a simple one: the land was promised to Abraham and his seed in perpetuity. He was but one, and the promise was fulfilled; we, his seed, are many, and it cannot fail us. This disposition to rely upon their descent from Abraham was characteristic of the Jews in all ages (see Matthew 3:9; John 8:33-39). The same tendency to trust in the external privileges given them is apt to be found in all ages among those whose hearts are alienated from God. These Jews, to avoid the force of the prophet’s reproofs, passed from one subterfuge to another. First it was that God would not abandon His holy city and Temple; then that the judgments were so far in the future that they need cause no present alarm; now, when these warnings had all been fulfilled, they clung to the fact that the land was theirs by promise, forgetting the conditions which had been attached from the first to its enjoyment.
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) Ye eat with the blood.—The people who remained in the land went on as before in their course of sin. The crimes here charged upon them (Ezekiel 33:25-26) are the same as those all along alleged against them, and Jeremiah gives a sad picture of their open rebellion against the express commands of God (Jeremiah 42, 43). This particular sin of eating flesh with the blood had been repeatedly forbidden, first to Noah (Genesis 9:4), and again under the Law (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:16).
Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbour's wife: and shall ye possess the land?(26) Ye stand upon your sword.—Not to engage in war, which cannot here be thought of, but to take part in individual crimes of violence.
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) In the forts—is rather, in the natural fastnesses in which the land abounded.
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) Most desolate.—When the people of the northern kingdom had been carried into captivity, the land had been re-populated by colonies brought from various quarters by the king of Assyria, for the ten tribes were not to return; but now the land of Judah was to be left utterly desolate and uninhabited, that it might yet be re-occupied by the returning exiles. The complete dispersion of the people, not to be effected even by war and conquest, was finally accomplished by the flight of the remnant into Egypt (Jeremiah 43:5-7), in consequence of their fears.
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) The children of thy people.—The few remaining verses of this chapter are concerned with those in exile—perhaps not so much those who had been with Ezekiel all along as fresh captives of a worse moral character now just brought from Jerusalem. Yet of them all alike it was still true that they were much more ready to listen with deferential air to the words of the prophet than to take them to their hearts and act upon them in their life. The prophet is here warned (Ezekiel 33:30-33) not to be misled by the apparent compliance of the people, as he had been before strengthened against their opposition (Ezekiel 3:8-9); but it must have carried a pang deep into his heart to know how superficial was the effect of those labours to which he had devoted himself with such faithfulness.
Against thee.—Rather, of thee. The people are not represented as opposed to Ezekiel, but rather as enjoying his eloquence, and talking about him as they met one another, but without any serious effort to follow his counsels—much like the treatment of a popular preacher by his people at the present day.
By the walls and in the doors.—Better, within the walls. The meaning is, both privately and publicly.
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) As the people cometh.—In the original, according to the coming of a people—i.e., in crowds. In the following clause, “as my people,” there is an emphasis on the pronoun, as the true people of God. Such was their outward bearing, while their inward disposition was far different.
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 to pass.—“This” refers to what the prophet is commissioned to utter. By the fulfilment of his prophecies of judgment they had already been brought to an outward recognition of his authority; it remained that by the fulfilment of the prophecies yet to come their hearts, or at least the hearts of the better part of them, should be bowed in true submission to the Divine will, as made known through him.