Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 1. - In the ninth year. We pass from the date of Ezekiel 20:1 ( B.C. 593) to B.C. 590, and the very day is identified with that on which the army of Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:1; 2 Kings 25:1-12). To the prophet's vision all that was passing there was as plain as though he saw it with his own eyes. The siege lasted for about two years. The punishments threatened in Ezekiel 23, had at last come near. We may probably infer that a considerable interval of silence had followed on the Aholah and Aholibah discourse. Now the time had come to break that silence, and it was broken, after the prophet's manner, by a parable. In the "rebellious house" we find, as in Ezekiel 2:3 and elsewhere, primarily Ezekiel's immediate hearers, secondarily the whole house of Israel as represented by them.
Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day.
And utter a parable unto the rebellious house, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Set on a pot, set it on, and also pour water into it:
Verses 3, 4. - Set on a pot, etc. The words contain an obvious reference to the imagery of Ezekiel 11:3-7. The people had used that imagery either in the spirit of a false security or in the recklessness of despair. It is now the prophet's work to remind them that the interpretation which he gave to their own comparison had proved to be the true one. The cauldron is the city, the fire is the invading army, the metal of the cauldron does not protect them. The pieces, the choice bones, were the princes and chief men of the people.
Gather the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder; fill it with the choice bones.
Take the choice of the flock, and burn also the bones under it, and make it boil well, and let them seethe the bones of it therein.
Verse 5. - Burn also the bones under it; better, with the Vulgate and Revised Version, pile the bones. The bones of animals were often used as fuel. Currey quotes an interesting passage from Livingstone's 'Last Journal,' 1. p. 347, narrating how, when the supply of ordinary fuel failed, he made his steamer work with the bones of elephants. See a like practice among the Scythians (Herod., 4:61).
Wherefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the bloody city, to the pot whose scum is therein, and whose scum is not gone out of it! bring it out piece by piece; let no lot fall upon it.
Verse 6. - Scum. The word is not found elsewhere. The Authorized Version follows the Vulgate. Keil and the Revised Version give "rust." As the cauldron was of brass (Ver. 11), this must have been the verdigris which was eating into the metal, and which even the blazing fire could not get rid cf. The pieces that are to be brought out are the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who are to be carried into exile. There was to be "no lot cast," as was often done with prisoners of war, taking every tenth man (decimating) of the captives for death or exile (comp. 2 Samuel 8:2). All alike were doomed (Joel 3:3).
For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the top of a rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust;
Verse 7. - The parable is for a moment interrupted, and Jerusalem is the murderess who has shed blood, not where the earth might cover it (Job 16:18; Isaiah 26:21), but as on the top of a rock visible in the sight of all men.
That it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance; I have set her blood upon the top of a rock, that it should not be covered.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the bloody city! I will even make the pile for fire great.
Verse 9. - We return to the image of the cauldron, and once again, as in Ver. 6 and Ezekiel 22:3 and Ezekiel 23:37, we have the words which Nahum (Nahum 3:1) had used of Nineveh applied to Jerusalem.
Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume the flesh, and spice it well, and let the bones be burned.
Verse 10. - Spice it well; better, make thick the broth (Revised Version). The verb is used in Exodus 30:33, 35, of the concoction of the anointing oil, and the cognate adjective in Job 41:31 for the "boiling" of the water caused by the crocodile. We are reminded of the "bubble, bubble" of the witches' cauldron in 'Macbeth.'
Then set it empty upon the coals thereof, that the brass of it may be hot, and may burn, and that the filthiness of it may be molten in it, that the scum of it may be consumed.
Verse 11. - Then set it empty upon the coals, etc. The empty cauldron is, of course, the city bereaved of its inhabitants. The fire must go on till the rust is consumed. There is, however, in spite of the seemingly terrible hopelessness of the sentence, a gleam of hope, as there had been in Ezekiel 16:42. When the punishment had done its full work, then Jehovah might cause his fury to rest (Ver. 13). Till then he declares, through the prophet, there will be no mitigation of the punishment. The word has gone forth, and there will be no change of purpose.
She hath wearied herself with lies, and her great scum went not forth out of her: her scum shall be in the fire.
Verse 12. - She hath wearied herself with lies, etc.; better, it (keeping to the image of the cauldron) is worn out with labors; sc. with the pains taken to cleanse it, and yet the rust remains. The fire must burn, the retributive judgment must continue, till the work is done.
In thy filthiness is lewdness: because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee.
I the LORD have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord GOD.
Also the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verses 15-17. - Behold, I take away from thee, etc. The next word of the Lord, coming after an interval, is of an altogether exceptional character, as giving one solitary glimpse into the personal home life of the prophet. The lesson which the history teaches is, in substance, the same as that of Jeremiah 16:5. The calamity that falls on the nation will swallow up all personal sorrow, but it is brought home to Ezekiel, who may have read those words with wonder, by a new and terrible experience. We are left to conjecture whether anything in the prophet's home life furnished a starting-point for the terrible message that was now borne in upon his soul. Had his wife been ill before? or, as the words, with a stroke, suggest, did it fall on him, as a thunderbolt "out of the blue"? I mention, only to reject, the view that the wife's death belongs as much to the category of symbolic visions as the boiling cauldron. To me such a view seems to indicate an incapacity for entering into a prophet's life and calling as great as that which sees nothing but an allegory in the history of Gomer in Hosea 2, 3. We, who accept the Scripture record as we find it, may believe that Ezekiel was taught, as the earlier prophet, to interpret his work by his own personal experience. To Ezekiel himself the loss of one who is thus described as the desire (or, delight) of his eyes (the word is used of things in 1 Kings 20:6, of young warriors in Lamentations 2:4, of sons and daughters in Ver. 25), must have been, at first, as the crowning sorrow of his life; but the feelings of the patriot-prophet were stronger even than those of the husband, and his personal bereavement seemed as a small thing compared with the desolation of his country. He was to refrain from all conventional signs of mourning, from weeping and wailing, from the loud sighing (for forbear to cry, read, with the Revised Version, sigh, but not aloud), from the head covered or sprinkled with ashes (Isaiah 61:3), and from the bare feet (2 Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:2), from the covered lips (Leviticus 13:45; Micah 3:7), which were "the trappings and the garb of woe" in such a case. Eat not the bread of men. The words point to the custom, more or less common in all nations and at all times, of a funeral feast, like the parentalia of the Romans. Wine also was commonly part of such a feast (Jeremiah 16:7). The primary idea of the custom seems to have been that the mourner's friends sent the materials for the feast as a token of their sympathy.
Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down.
Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men.
So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.
Verse 18. - So I spake unto the people in the morning, etc. In yet another way the calling of the prophet superseded the natural impulses of the man. He knew that his wife's hours were numbered, yet the day was spent, not in ministering at her deathbed, but in one last effort to impress the teachings of the time upon the seared consciences and hardened hearts of his countrymen and neighbors. I cannot help referring to the poem 'Ezekiel,' by B.M., published in 1871, as expressing the meaning of the history better than any commentary.
And the people said unto me, Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou doest so?
Verse 19. - We must read between the lines what had passed in that eventful night of sorrow. The rumor must have spread among the exiles of Tel-Abib that the prophet had lost the wife whom he loved so tenderly. They were ready, we may imagine, to offer their consolations and their sympathy. And, behold, he appears as one on whom no special sorrow had fallen. But that strange outward hardness had the effect which it was meant to have. It roused them to ask questions, and it was one of the cases in which the prudens interrogatio, which if not in itself the dimidium seientiae, at least prepared the way for it. The form of their question implies that they had a forecast that the strange conduct was, in some way, connected with the prophet's work. Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us?
Then I answered them, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Speak unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the excellency of your strength, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth; and your sons and your daughters whom ye have left shall fall by the sword.
Verse 21. - The desire of your eyes. There is something exquisitely pathetic in the iteration of the phrase of Ver. 17. To the priest Ezekiel himself, to the people whom he addressed, the temple was as dear as the wife to the husband. It was also "the pride of their power" (Revised Version), the "pity of their soul" (margin). The former phrase comes from Leviticus 26:19. When that temple should be profaned, when sons and daughters should fall by the sword, then they would do as the prophet had done. They would learn that there is a sorrow which is too deep for tears, something that passeth show. The state which the prophet describes is not one of callousness, or impenitence, or despair. The people shall mourn for their iniquities;" this will be the beginning of repentance. Leviticus 26:39, 40 was obviously in the prophet's thoughts. We note that Ver. 24 is the one solitary passage since Ezekiel 1:3 in which Ezekiel names himself. As single acts and gestures had before (Ezekiel 4:1-12) been a sign of what was coming, so now the man himself was to be in that hour of bereavement.
And ye shall do as I have done: ye shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.
And your tires shall be upon your heads, and your shoes upon your feet: ye shall not mourn nor weep; but ye shall pine away for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another.
Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do: and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
Also, thou son of man, shall it not be in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their minds, their sons and their daughters,
That he that escapeth in that day shall come unto thee, to cause thee to hear it with thine ears?
Verses 26, 27. - Yet another sign was given, not to the people, but to the prophet himself. For the present there was to be the silence of unutterable sorrow, continuing, day after day, as there had been before (Ezekiel 3:26). Then there should come a messenger from Jerusalem, reporting its capture and destruction, and then his mouth should be opened. The messenger does not come till nearly three years afterwards (Ezekiel 33:21); and we must infer that there was no spoken message during the interval, but that from Ezekiel 25:1 onward we have the written words of the Lord that came to him from time to time, not as messages to Israel, but as bearing on the fate of the surrounding nations. We have, i.e., what is, strictly speaking, a paten-thesis in the prophet's work.
In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.