Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. EVERY PROPHET IS A VICAR. He represents God before the people; he represents the people before God. In his whole person, action, suffering, mission, he is a type of Jesus Christ. When men will not listen to his words, he is commanded to speak to them by deeds. The life of the prophet is a prophecy. Ezekiel deals with these captives as with sullen children. To the ignorant he became as ignorant. He condescended to their low estate. Being made dumb by reason of their perversity, he pursues his heavenly task in another way - he teaches them by pictures, object lesson and deed symbol. It is "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." So long as there remains an avenue to the heart, God will not abandon men.
II. HIS SUFFERING IS VICARIOUS. This prophet was not himself free from sin, and suffering was its effect. Yet the suffering described in this chapter is wholly vicarious. What was justly due to others was laid upon him by God. "I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity." Yet this was impossible without the prophet's willing consent. In proportion as the prophet's mind had expanded under the Divine afflatus, be had considered and comprehended the magnitude of Israel's sin. Their past and their present iniquity was clear and vivid to his mind. He saw its extent and aggravation. He perceived the moral turpitude. He felt its baseness and criminality. He foresaw its bitter fruits. The burden of a nation's sift pressed upon his conscience. He drew it in upon himself and confessed it before God. But, further, Ezekiel represented in himself the severity of Divine judgment - God's sense of sin. Hence he was required to lie upon one side for the space of three hundred and ninety days - a pain to himself, a passive rebuke to the people, in order to represent in visible form God's indignation. Yet there was pictured forth also Divine compassion. Just severity was alleviated; there was but a day for a year. Jerusalem was sacrificed, but it was in order that the people might be saved. Not an item was overlooked by God. The proportionate guilt of Israel and Judah was vividly symbolized in the several acts of the prophet. The one end sought was - repentance.
III. HIS ACTION IS VICARIOUS. The prophet was a Hebrew, a priest; he loved Jerusalem. Possibly affection was bestowed on the city, which belonged alone to God. For Ezekiel to represent the Babylonian invaders, for him to invest the city with fire and sword, this must have been gall and wormwood. Yet, in vision, he had eaten the roll of God's behests, had digested and assimilated the knowledge of his will. Therefore, in his vicarious character, he has to set his face against the city as the impersonation of the foe; he has to "make bare his arm" to typify the resolute energy of the spoiler. Be the effect upon the Jewish chiefs, already in captivity, what it may; be the effect to exasperate feeling against the prophet or to produce repentance; the prophet is constrained to fulfil his task by a Divine necessity. "Bands are upon him."
IV. HIS ENDURANCE OF RIDICULE IS VICARIOUS. We can well suppose that many who visited Ezekiel in his dwelling would fail to perceive the propriety or utility of this long and irksome penance. They would sneer and laugh at this toy siege, at this childish exposure of an outstretched arm, at this constant recumbence on one side. Be it so; the prophet continues his task unmoved. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men." Littleness and greatness are matters about which men egregiously err. Ezekiel, in his humiliation, was as magnanimous and noble an actor in life's drama as Elijah on Carmel vindicating in solitary sublimity Jehovah's power. What could be baser to the vulgar eye of the world than to bear a felon's cross through the streets, and then to hang in nakedness and pain thereon? "But God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty... and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are." Like his Divine Master, Ezekiel "despised the shame." - D.
Ezekiel 5:1-4), and saw herein the coming events thus symbolized. They would only have lost force by substituting bodily for mental action. The command of God gave to the sign the vividness of a real transaction, and the prophet communicated it to the people, just as it had been stamped on his own mind, with more impressiveness than could have been conveyed by the language of ordinary metaphor." Again, it is by no means easy to decide what is the precise reference of the three hundred and ninety days, and the forty days, each day in a year. The different interpretations have been so ably sustained by their respective advocates, that it seems to us that it would be presumptuous dogmatically to assert that it must mean either one or another. But let us endeavour to discover the homiletic aspects of this chapter.
I. INQUIRE THE REASON WHY, IN THIS CHAPTER AND ELSEWHERE, GOD HAS MADE KNOWN HIS WILL BY REMARKABLE SYMBOLS. There are many such symbols in the prophecies by Ezekiel. And in those by Jeremiah we have the rod of an almond tree, and the seething pot (Jeremiah 1:11-16), the linen girdle, and the bottles of wine (Jeremiah 13), the potter's earthen vessel (Jeremiah 19), the two baskets of figs (Jeremiah 24), and the yoke of iron (Jeremiah 28). Many other examples might be cited item other portions of the sacred Scriptures. We cannot think that these striking symbols were employed to conceal truth, or to make the apprehension of the truth more difficult. That would have been inconsistent with revelation - the contradiction of revelation. And it seems to us that it would have been out of harmony with the character of God to have used remarkable symbols to obscure his Word. They were intended rather, we conceive, to arouse attention, to stimulate inquiry, and impress upon the mind the truths shadowed forth by them. Fairbairn has well said, "As the meaning obviously did not lie upon the surface, it called for serious thought and inquiry regarding the purposes of God. A time of general backsliding and corruption is always a time of superficial thinking on spiritual things. And just as our Lord, by his parables, that partly veiled while they disclosed the truth of God, so the prophets, by their more profound and enigmatical discourses, sought to arouse the careless from their security, to awaken inquiry, and stir the depths of thought and feeling in the soul. It virtually said to them, "You are in imminent peril; direct ordinary discourse no longer suits your case; bestir yourselves to look into the depths of things, otherwise the sleep of death shall overtake you."
II. ENDEAVOUR TO SET FORTH THE MEANING OF THESE REMARKABLE SYMBOLS.
1. Here is a representation of the siege of Jerusalem. (Vers. 1-3.) Directions are given to Ezekiel to portray a siege of the holy city; and to prepare the fort or siege tower, and the mound, and the encampments, and battering rams, and lay siege to it. Notice:
(1) The great Agent in this siege. The prophet was to besiege it, acting as the representative of Jehovah. "If the prophet, as commissioned by God, enters on such a siege, the real besieger of Jerusalem is the Lord God; and the Chaldeans appear as mere instruments in the Divine hand" (Schroder). Nebuchadnezzar and his army unconsciously did the work of God. And the prophet was to do his work with resolution and might (ver. 7). The uucoveted arm indicates one about to engage in vigorous exertion (cf. Isaiah 52:10). So the siege here foreshadowed would be prosecuted with determination and power.
(2) The cause of this siege, The sin of the people has brought it upon them. This is indicated by the iron pan or plate which Ezekiel was to set up between himself and the city (ver. 3). "It is clear from the expression, between thee and the city, that a relation of separation, of division, between Jerusalem as portrayed upon the brick and the representative of God is m, ant to be expressed. Only on the ground of such a relation between God and Jerusalem can we explain alike the hostile attitude of the prophet's race, and especially the clause, and it is in siege, and along with that, vers. 1 and 2" (Schroder). "Their iniquities had separated between them and their God" (Isaiah 59:2). That their calamities were caused by their sins appears also from the prophet being called to bear the iniquity of the house of Israel and the house of Judah (vers. 5, 6). And in the last verse it is expressly stated that they should "consume away for their iniquity." Sin is the one great cause of suffering and sorrow, of calamity and loss.
2. Here is a representation of the sufferings of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
(1) These are symbolized by the prostrate attitude of the prophet bearing the sins of the people (vers. 4-6). In the former portion of the chapter Ezekiel represents the Lord; but here and in subsequent verses he represents the besieged and suffering people. His lying down, and inability to turn from one side to another, "is a figure of the wretched condition of the people during the time of the siege" (cf. Psalm 20:8; Isaiah 50:11; Amos 5:2).
(2) The miseries of the people are also represented by the scarcity of food and its loathsome associations. The prophet is directed to "take wheat, and barley, and beans," etc. (ver. 9). "It is suggested in this way that the besieged will in their distress be compelled to gather together everything that can possibly be turned into bread. This state of matters is represented yet more strongly by means of the one vessel, which shows that of each separate sort not much more is to be had" (Schroder). Ezekiel, moreover, has to take his food by weight and measure, and only at long intervals (vers. 10, 11). And although in that country less is needed to sustain life than in our colder climate, yet the quantity allowed the prophet is not more than half what is usually regarded as necessary. The quantity, as some one observes, was too much for dying, too little for living. So would the people suffer want and hunger during the long siege. From the scarcity of food we proceed to its impurity. It is represented as having been baked with fuel of the most offensive kind - with human ordure (ver. 12). But in answer to a pathetic appeal of the prophet, he is allowed to use the dried ordure of cattle instead thereof. To this he made no objection. "He was, in fact, used to it; for the dried dung of beasts is used for fuel throughout the East wherever wood is scarce, from Mongolia to Palestine. Its use, indeed, extends into Europe, and subsists even in England." The significance of this symbol is stated: "Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them." The reference is to the impurities of heathenism. Those who in their own land had disregarded the commands of God would in their exile find the corruptions of heathenism a grievous offence unto them. And then in its close (vers. 16, 17) the chapter recurs to the sufferings during the siege. The misery was to grow and to become so great as to cause amazement and dismay. The people would take their scanty portion in deep sorrow; and so great would be the scarcity of the prime necessaries of life as to strike them dumb with anguish. Such were the miseries which they had brought upon themselves by their long course of sin.
III. APPLY THE INSTRUCTIONS WHICH THIS SUBJECT HAS FOR US.
1. An impressive illustration of the omniscience of God. Nothing less than infinite knowledge could have foretold to Ezekiel the things symbolized in this chapter. They did not seem in the least degree probable when he published them. "If we accept," says Dr. Currey, "the fifth year of Jehoiachin's captivity (as is most probable) for the year in which Ezekiel received this communication,... it was a time at which such an event would, according to human calculation, have appeared improbable. Zedekiah was the creature of the King of Babylon, ruling by his authority in the place of Jehoiachin, who was still alive; and it could scarcely have been expected that Zedekiah would have been so infatuated as to provoke the anger of the powerful Nebuchadnezzar." Yet he did so; and this prophecy was fulfilled. Nothing can be hidden from God (Psalm 139.). To him the future is visible as the present. This is exhibited by Isaiah as an evidence that the Lord is the true God (Isaiah 41:21-29; Isaiah 44:6-8; Isaiah 46:9-11).
2. Sin transforms persons and places in the sight of God. Think of what Jerusalem had been before him: "the city of God;" "the faithful city;" "the holy city;" "the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth." But now, alas, how changed it is! Formerly he had been its Defender; now he has become its Besieger. Sin darkens and deforms human character; it takes away the glory of cities and covers them with shame.
3. The certainty of the punishment of sin. The chosen people shall not escape punishment if they persist in sin. The sacred city, with the temple which God had chosen as his dwelling place (Psalm 132:13, 14), will afford no protection to a people who have obstinately rebelled against him. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished;" "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," etc. Sin carries within itself the germ of its own punishment.
4. The power of God to inflict punishment upon the obstinately rebellious. He can use the heathen as his instruments for this purpose. He can break the staff of bread, and dry up the springs of water, etc.
I. THE GENERAL LESSONS VIVIDLY PRESENTED BY A CITY ENDURING A STATE OF SIEGE.
1. Community in civic life. Every city always has its own social characteristics. Citizens take a pride in the prosperity and glory of their city, especially if it be the metropolis of the nation. In our own time Paris was besieged by the German army, and its unity was never so realized as when thus encompassed by the enemy.
2. Community in resistance and hostility. Distinctions of rank and of social position almost vanish when a common danger threatens every class alike. Each man takes his share in the defence of the city, in bearing the common burden. All are drawn together by their community in dread or in defiance of the foe.
3. Community in the experience of suffering. Hunger and thirst, privation and want of rest, are shared by all the citizens of a beleaguered city. Men who partake the same calamity are drawn together by their common experience. The annals of a siege will usually be found to contain the record of remarkable cases of heroic unselfishness and public devotion.
II. THE SPECIAL LESSONS PRESENTED BY THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM. There may well have been manifested a community in spiritual discipline and profit.
1. The vanity of human pride and ambition was strikingly exhibited. The Jews were a vain glorious people; they possessed many distinctive marks of superiority raising them above the heathen, and their knew and boasted that it was so. They took credit to themselves for much for which they ought to have offered thanks to God. Their self-confidence and glorying were rebuked in the most emphatic manner when their fair and famed metropolis was besieged and threatened with destruction. This lesson is impressed upon their countrymen with unsparing faithfulness by the ancient Hebrew prophets.
2. Equally pointed was the lesson conveyed as to the utter vanity of merely human help. The Jews did indeed sometimes seek alliances which might befriend and assist them in their distress; but against such alliances they were repeatedly warned by the prophets, whose duty it was to assure their countrymen of the vanity of the help of man. Especially were they rebuked for seeking friendship and aid from Egypt against, the forces of the Eastern foe; and they found such friendship hollow, and such aid ineffectual.
3. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah generally were, by the siege of the city, directed to seek Divine deliverance. The city might fall; its walls might be levelled with the dust; its defenders might be slain; its inhabitants decimated. But all this might be overruled for the nation's real and lasting good, should calamity and humiliation lead to repentance, should Divine favour be entreated, and a way of salvation be opened up to the remnant of the people. - T.
I. WHETHER WILLINGLY OR UNWILLINGLY, IN EVERY NATIONAL CALAMITY THE INNOCENT SUFFER WITH THE GUILTY. The guilt is the nation's, the suffering is the individual's. The righteous may witness against the city's sin and rebellion, but they are overtaken by the city's catastrophe. It is not always that the city is spared for the sake of the ten righteous who are found therein. One common ruin may, as in the case of Jerusalem, overwhelm the inhabitants, alike those who have erred and offended, and those who have raised their voice in protest and in censure.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS BEAR THE INIQUITY OF THEIR NEIGHBOURS BY SENSITIVENESS TO THEIR SINS. As Lot was vexed with the filthy conversation of the dwellers in Sodom, as there were those in Jerusalem who sighed and cried for all the abominations done in the city, so in the midst of a corrupt and ungodly community there may be those who lay to heart their neighbours' iniquity, and who feel bitter distress because of conduct which to callous sinners brings no sorrow. It may be granted that this is to some extent a matter of temperament; that a sensitive character will be afflicted by what a calmer, colder disposition bears with impunity. Yet every good man should watch himself, lest familiarity with abounding sin should dull the edge of his spiritual perceptions, lest he should cease to be distressed because of the prevalence of iniquity.
III. THE RIGHTEOUS BEAR BY SYMPATHY THE SUFFERINGS WHICH SIN ENTAILS UPON THEIR NEIGHBOURS. A siege is usually accompanied by most painful and heartrending incidents; wounds and privations, pestilence and violent death, are all but inseparable from so frightful an aspect of human warfare. The prophet was not a man to think of such incidents, to realize them by vivid imagination and confident anticipation, without being grievously affected. Who is there, with a heart to feel, who can picture to himself the miseries, the disease, the want, the bereavements, which sin daily brings upon every populous city, without taking upon himself something of the burden? We are commanded to "weep with those that weep." And when the calamities which befall our neighbours are the unmistakable results of transgression of Divine commands, we do in a sense bear their iniquities, when we feel for them, and are distressed because of the errors and follies which are the occasion of afflictions and disasters.
IV. THE RIGHTEOUS MAY SOMETIMES, BY THUS PARTICIPATING IN THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR NEIGHBOURS' INIQUITY, BE THE AGENTS IN BRINGING ABOUT REPENTANCE AND DELIVERANCE. Our Lord Jesus Christ so identified himself with the sinful race whose nature he assumed, that he is said to have been "made sin" for us; he "bore our sins in his body on the tree." This was seen, by the infinite wisdom of our Father in heaven, to have been the one way by which salvation could be brought to this sinful humanity. Now we are reminded that, in his endurance of the results of men's sins, Jesus left us an example that we should follow in his steps. He is, indeed, the only Propitiation from sin, the only Ransom for sinners. But the principle underlying redemption is a principle which has an application to the spirit and to the moral life of all the followers of Christ. They are in this world, not simply to keep themselves pure from its evil, but to help to purify others from that evil. And this they can only do by bearing the iniquity of their fellow men; not by keeping themselves aloof froth sinners, not by merely censuring and condemning sinners, but by taking the burden of their sins upon their own renewed and compassionate hearts, by entering into their temptations, and helping to rescue them from such snares; and, above all, by bringing them, in compassion and sympathizing love, into the fellowship of that Divine Saviour who gave himself for us, and who bears and takes away the sin of the world. It is by him only that the world's iniquity is to be pardoned and to be abolished, and to be replaced by the love of and by obedience to a righteous and holy God. - T.
this, viz. to convince the people that their expectation of a speedy return to Jerusalem was vain and futile. Their honoured city, around which God had so long thrown the shield of his protection, could not (so they thought) long remain in the power of the heathen. To explode this bubble delusion, God represented before their eyes the rigours of a military siege, the privations and hardships of the beleaguered inhabitants, along with the final discomfiture of the city's guilty defenders. The prophet in Babylon is still a scapegoat for the people. On him the weight of the stroke at present rests. The bends of sympathy with the people's best interests constrained the prophet to suffer with them and for them. Hence, during three hundred and ninety days he ate no pleasant bread; he lived on the narrowest rations. In the midst of surrounding plenty, he fared (for sublime moral reasons) with the hard pressed and beleaguered Jews. Now, famine has its moral uses.
I. IT BRINGS TO MEMORY THE FORMER AFFLUENCE OF GOD'S PROVISION. If it is possible to sustain our life with ten ounces of bread per diem, and this bread of the coarsest description, then all that we obtain beyond this is proof of the exuberant kindness of our God. As transgressors against God's Law, we should not expect more than bare subsistence - mere prison fare; we have no right to claim even that. Taking this scale with which to measure our former possessions and comforts, we may gain some conception of the amazing love of God. Would that, side by side with a clear idea of his goodness, there was also adequate impression! Every gift of Providence, in excess of bare sustenance, is a token of God's tender affection; brings a message of kindness - is a gospel.
II. FAMINE MAY WELL CONVINCE US OF OUR SINS. We may safely conclude that it is not for small reason that God deprives men of nature's kindly gifts. The internal monitor, as well as the external prophet, teaches us that this interruption of providential supplies is God's act. Many and strange factors may intervene, but a clear eye looks through and beyond all inferior causes, until it discovers the rule of the great First Cause. The pride of earthly kings, the march of armies, the scrutiny of martial sentinels, biting frosts, blustering winds, inroads of insects - a thousand things may serve as the nearest visible cause of famine; but a devout mind will regard all these as the agents and administrators of the most high God. For no other reason would he manifest his anger, save for moral transgression, wilful disloyalty! He would have us to see and to feel how great an evil is sin, by the serious mischief it works - yea, by the severity of his own displeasure. Even famine serves as the Master's ferule, if it brings us back to childlike obedience.
III. FAMINE PROVES TO US HOW EASY IT IS FOR GOD TO AFFLICT. Very obvious is it that frail man hangs on God by a thousand delicate threads. Ten thousand minute avenues are open by which an enemy can approach, chastisement come near. We almost shudder as we think of the manifold forms, and of the majestic ease, with which the avenging God could scourge his rebellious creatures. Let him but change one ingredient in the all-nurturing air, and instead of inhaling health, we should, with every breath, inhale fiery poison. If but the appetite fail, if the digestive organs become weak, if secretions stay their process, lassitude and decay speedily follow. It is enough that God should speak a word, and life for us would be stripped of charm. We should crave to die.
IV. THIS SCARCITY PROVES THAT PRESENT CHASTISEMENT IS DISCIPLINARY. It is not sudden and irremediable death. If God intended that, he would have chosen some other punitive weapon. But this reduction of food to a minimum, this suspension of enjoyment, these obnoxious necessities in preparing a meat, all indicate correction with a view to repentance. If only the sighs of true penitence arise, then quicker than flashing light does God run to remove the burden from our shoulders. To punish men is a grief to God; to pardon is his delight. Yet if present corrections avail nothing to produce righteous obedience, the final infliction will be irrevocable and overwhelming.
V. PRAYER MODIFIES, IF IT DOES NOT REMOVE, THE SEVERITY OF THE STROKE. The windows of heaven were shut and opened again at the breath of Elijah's prayer. Ezekiel humbly remonstrates with God that he may not be required to violate ceremonial purity. At once the command of God is modified. The tenderness of the prophet's conscience is to be respected. God alters not his plans without sufficient cause; this is sufficient cause. This particular step in his procedure was clearly foreseen; and it was to bring out this request from Ezekiel that the first demand was made. Prayer not only expresses mental desire; it strengthens it also. It does us good every way. It fits us to enjoy, and to improve, the blessing. It softens chastisement. - D.
I. A LESSON OF CORPORATE UNITY. As a city, Jerusalem had sinned by rejecting Jehovah's worship, and by honouring the gods of the nations; by disobeying Jehovah's laws, and following sinful impulses and indulging in sinful practices. As a city, Jerusalem sinned; as a city, Jerusalem suffered and fell. The innocent, no doubt, suffered with the guilty; those who mourned over the defection of Judah with those who were prominent agents in that defection. No man can live apart from his neighbours; least of all is this possible in the life of the city, which is characterized by a unity that may be designated corporate.
II. A LESSON OF PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE. Bread, water, and fuel are mentioned in this chapter as necessaries of life; without them men are condemned to famine and to death. The body is in correlation to nature - to the provision made for its sustenance and strength. If the supply be cut off, the body perishes. Familiar and commonplace as this truth is, men need, in their pride and self-confidence, to be reminded of it. The haughty Jews stood in need of the lesson. Let an army invest the city, and it is only a question of time; for the besieged, if unable to beat back the besiegers, must sooner or later surrender to the force of hunger, if not of arms.
III. A LESSON OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. It is in this light that the calamities attending a siege are presented by the prophet. Men may see in a beleaguered city only a political fact, a military incident, the consequence of well known causes, the cause of well understood effects. To see all this is justifiable; to see nothing but this is blindness. A thoughtful and pious mind will look through, will look above, all that is phenomenal. There is purpose in human affairs, there is Divine meaning, there is revelation. When men, oppressed by adversity and threatened with ruin, are "astonied one with another, and pine away in their iniquity," it is possible that they may be so stupefied as to recognize no moral law in their experience, their fate. but the enlightened discern in such events indication of the Divine displeasure and indignation with sin. Chastisement, punishment, is no chimera invented by a heated imagination; it is a sober, albeit a painful fact, from which there is no escape and no appeal. The judgments of God are abroad in the earth; and this is that the inhabitants thereof may learn righteousness.
IV. A LESSON OF REPENTANCE AND OF MERCY. This lesson is not, indeed, explicitly presented in this passage; yet the whole prophetic symbolism leads up to it. Why are men hungry but that they may call for the bread of life? and upon whom shall they call but upon God? Whither shall the parched and thirsting turn but to him who has the water of life, for the quenching of their thirst and the satisfaction of their souls? To whom shall the afflicted address themselves but to him who can turn the outward curse into a spiritual blessing, who can make the scourge the means of healing, and the sword the means of life? In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy; and it is ever true that they who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. - T.