And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them,
Verses 2, 3. - Set thy face toward the mountains, etc. The formula is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel. We have had it with a different verb in the Hebrew, in Ezekiel 4:3. It will meet us again in Ezekiel 20:46; Ezekiel 21:2; Ezekiel 25:2; Ezekiel 28:21; Ezekiel 29:2; Ezekiel 35:2; Ezekiel 38:2. In this case it probably implied an outward act, like that of Daniel, when he, with a very different purpose, looked towards Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). In contrast with the widespread plains of Mesopotamia in which Ezekiel found himself, this was the chief characteristic of the land which he had left. The mountains represent the whole country, including the rivers (Revised Version, here and throughout, renders the Hebrew "water courses," to distinguish it from the "river" (nahar) of Ezekiel 1:1, 3, et al., and the "river" (nachal) of Ezekiel 47:5. Its strict meaning is that of a "ravine" or "gorge," the wady of modern Arabic, through which a stream rushes in the winter, but is dried up in the summer). All the localities are named as having been alike polluted by the worship of idols For mountains and hills as the scenes of such worship, see Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 17:10, 11; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Hosea 4:13; for the ravines and valleys, 2 Kings 23:10 and Jeremiah 7:31 (the Valley of Hinnom); and more generally, Isaiah 57:5, 6. The same combination meets us in ch. 35:8; 36:5, 6. In his address to the mountains, Ezekiel follows in the footsteps of Micah 6:2. I will destroy your high places. The words point to the most persistent, though not the worst, of all the idolatries by which the worship of Jehovah as the God of Israel had been overshadowed. The words of Ezekiel are identical with those of Leo, 26:30. The Bamoth, or high places, of Baal, are mentioned in Numbers 22:41 and Joshua 13:17, and are probably identical with the high places of Arnon in Numbers 21:28. There they are named only incidentally, not in the way of prohibition or condemnation. So, in like manner, in Deuteronomy 32:13 and Deuteronomy 33:29, if the technical sense exists at all, it is referred to only as included in the triumph of the worship of Jehovah over the hill fortresses as the sanctuaries of other gods. The absence of the word from the Book of Judges is difficult to explain, as it was precisely in that period of the history of Israel, irregular and unsettled, that we should have expected to find the people adopting the cultus of their neighbours. A probable solution of the problem is that, so long as the tabernacle and the ark were at Shiloh, that was so pre-eminently the centre of the worship of Jehovah, that the people were not tempted to forsake it, or to set up the worship upon the high places side by side with it. When, after the capture of the ark, Shiloh was a deserted sanctuary, we meet for the first time with the worship of the high places, not as a thing forbidden, but as sanctioned by the presence of Samuel, as the judge and prophet of the people (1 Samuel 9:12-14; 1 Samuel 10:5), the "high place" in the last passage being, apparently, the same as "the hill of God." In 2 Samuel 1:19, possibly from the Book of Jashar, we have the elder, less technical sense of Deuteronomy 32:12 and Deuteronomy 33:19. It would seem, accordingly, as if Samuel had acted on a policy like that of the counsel which Gregory I gave Augustine. He found the worship of the high places adopted by the Israelites from the neighbouring nations. He sought to turn them to the worship of Jehovah. So the writer of 1 Kings 3:2 records the fact that "the people sacrificed in high places," because as yet, though the ark had been brought to Jerusalem, "there was no house built unto the Name of Jehovah until those days," and that Solomon himself also "sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places." At the chief of these, the great high place of Gibeon, Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings, and had the memorable vision in which he made choice of wisdom rather than length of days, or riches and honour, returning from it, as though the cultus of the two places stood nearly on an equal footing, to offer other burnt offerings before the ark of God at Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:3-15). With the erection of the temple the state of things was, in some measure, altered, and the temple was the one legitimate sanctuary. When the ten tribes revolted under Jeroboam, they were, of course, cut off from the temple services, and the king accordingly, besides the calves at Bethel and Dan, set up high places, with priests not of the sons of Aaron, in the cities of Samaria (1 Kings 12:31; 1 Kings 13:32). From that time forward the high places are always mentioned by both historians and prophets in a tone of condemnation, whether they were in Israel or Judah (1 Kings 14:4), but they had become so deeply rooted in the reverence of the people that even the better kings of Judah, who warred against open idolatry, like Asa (1 Kings 15:14), Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43), Jehoash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Azariah (2 Kings 15:4), left them undisturbed; while in the history of the northern kingdom the cultus of the Bamoth reigned paramount (2 Kings 17, passim). It was not till Hezekiah, presumably under Isaiah's influence, removed the "high places" (2 Kings 18:4) that we find any serious attempt to put them down. They had been tolerated, apparently, because, as in Rabshakeh's taunt (2 Kings 18:22), they were nominally connected with the worship of Jehovah. Under the confluent polytheism of Manasseh they naturally reappeared (2 Kings 21:3: 2 Chronicles 33:3). The reformation of Josiah was more thorough (2 Kings 23, passim; 2 Chronicles 34:3), and was probably stimulated by Hilkiah and Huldah. The discovery of the book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy), with its condemnations of mountain sanctuaries, though, as we have seen, the Bamoth were not prohibited by name, roused the zeal of the prophets, especially of the priest prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and when the Bamoth-cultus revived, after the death of Josiah, the former was strong in his protests (Jeremiah 7:31, et al.), all the more so because now, as in the earlier stages of their history, they had become high places of Baal (Jeremiah 19:5; 32:55), and were associated with abominations like those of the worship of Moloch in the Valley of Hinnom. So it was that Ezekiel, writing on the banks of the Chebar, is now led to place them in the forefront of the sins of his people.
And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.
And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.
Verse 4. - Your images, etc. The "sun images" of the Revised Version shows why these are mentioned as distinct from the "idols." The chammanim were pillars or obelisks identified with the worship of Baal as the sun god, standing on his altars (2 Chronicles 34:4), coupled with the "groves," or Asherim (Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9), and with the "high places" in 2 Chronicles 14:5. I will cast down your slain men before your idols. As in the prophecy against Bethel (1 Kings 13:2), and in Josiah's action (2 Kings 33:16), this was the ne plus ultra of desecration. Where throe had been the sweet savour of incense there should be the sickening odour of the carcases of the slain. The word for "idols" (gillulim), though found elsewhere, notably in Ezekiel's favourite textbooks (Leviticus 26:30; Deuteronomy 29:17), is more prominent in his writings (where it occurs thirty-six times) then in any other book of the Old Testament, and means, primarily, a cairn or heap of stones, which, like the "sun images," came to be associated with Baal. Ezekiel repeats both words in ver. 6, with all the emphasis of scorn. He predicts the coming of a time when the work of destruction should be done more thoroughly than even Josiah lind done it. When that time came, the familiar formula, "Ye shall know that I am the Lord," should receive yet another fulfilment.
And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.
And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.
Verse 8. - Yet will I leave a remnant, ere. The thought, though not the word, is that of Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:20; Zephaniah 2:7; Zephaniah 3:13; Jeremiah 43:5. For these, at least, the punishment would, in greater or less measure, do its work; and, in remembering Jehovah, they would find the beginning of conversion.
And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
Verse 9. - Because I am broken with their whorish heart. The words have been very differently rendered.
(1) The Revised Version mainly follows the Authorized Version, but gives, they shall remember... how I have been broken, etc. So taken, the words are boldly anthropomorphic, and ascribe to Jehovah the word which implies the strongest form of human distress. The "whorish heart" of the people has made Jehovah himself "broken-hearted."
(2) Most recent critics, however, follow the rendering of the Vulgate (contrivi), and take the verb, which is passive in form, as being like a Greek verb in the middle voice, transitive in form, with an implied reflex force. So we get, as in the margin of the Revised Version, "I have broken their whorish heart." So taken, thought and words are both connected with Psalm 51:17, and the self-loathing that follows has its counterpart in Job 42:6. The thought is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31), and, we may add also, of Leviticus (Leviticus 26:39-42).
And they shall know that I am the LORD, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them.
Verse 10. - I have not said in vain, etc. The thought of that self-loathing and repentance reconciles Ezekiel to his work. To "labour in vain" is the great misery of all workers for God. A time will come when he shall see that God has not sent him to such a work "in vain." What before was dark will be made clear unto him (comp. Ezekiel 14:23). Ezekiel's words, "not in vain," are echoed frequently by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:14, 58; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Philippians 2:16, et al.). The corresponding phrase, "I have broken their eyes," sounds strange to us; but, after all, the heart is not literally broken more than the eyes, and figuratively the same words may be applied to either, so that there is no need for supposing, with some critics, that a more appropriate verb has been dropped out. Eyes and heart were alike involved in the sin (Ezekiel 20:7, 8, 24; Numbers 15:39), and both came under the same chastisement that was to lead them to repentance.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.
Verse 11. - Smite with thine hand, etc. The outward gestures were to give a dramatic emphasis to the mingled indignation and sorrow with which the prophet was to utter his woe. A like action meets us in Ezekiel 21:12. Instances of its use for other feelings meet us in Ezekiel 22:13; Numbers 24:10 (anger); Jeremiah 31:19 (shame).
He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them.
Verse 12. - He that is far off, etc. The three forms of judgment named in ver. 11 have each their special victims. Pestilence comes chiefly on those who are outside the city, exposed to the weather changes and the taint of unburied corpses (ver. 5); the sword of the Chaldeans on those who venture on a sally, or try to escape from the city; famine presses heaviest on those who are besieged within it. None can escape the judgment. The word besieged is the same as in Isaiah 1:8; but it may have the sense, as in Isaiah 49:6, of "kept," or "preserved," for the worst evil of the three.
Then shall ye know that I am the LORD, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols.
Verse 13. - The thought is the same as in ver. 6, but the localities are given in greater detail. The "hills" and "mountains" were naturally the scenes of the worship of the "high places," and these were commonly associated with groves of trees, as in Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Isaiah 57:5. In Hosea 4:13, oaks (or terebinths), poplars, and elms are specifically named (comp. Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 16:4). Where they did offer sweet savour, etc. The phrase is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel as a priest (Ezekiel 16:19; Ezekiel 20:28, 41), and is specially prominent in the books which he must have studied. It meets us three times in Exodus, seventeen in Leviticus, seventeen in Numbers, and seldom elsewhere. The crowning sin, from the prophet's point of view, was that the incense which was due to Jehovah had been lavished on the false gods of the nations.
So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the LORD.
Verse 14. - More desolate than the wilderness towards Diblath; better, with the Authorized Version, from the wilderness. The name does not appear elsewhere, and has not been identified. Assuming the Authorized Version rendering, we must think of Ezekiel as naming, as Dante haines the Valdichiana ('Inf.,' 29:47), some specially horrible and desolate region. For such a region the name of Diblah (a cake of figs) does not seem appropriate. Taking the Revised Version translation ("from the wilderness toward Diblah"), we have a phrase analogous to "from Dan to Beersheba," as denoting the extent of the desolation. The "wilderness" is usually applied to the nomad region south of Palestine, and this would lead us to look for Diblah in the north, and so to look elsewhere than to the two places Beth-diblathaim (Jeremiah 48:22) and Almon-diblathaim (Numbers 33:46), both of which are in Moab. The difficulty was solved by Jerome by the conjectural emendation of Riblah, the two Hebrew letters for d and r being often written by copyists for each other. Riblah (it is a suggestive fact that the two chief manuscripts of the LXX. the Alexandrian and the Vatican, have Deblatha, or Deblaa, in 2 Kings 23:33; 2 Kings 25:6) was a fortified town on the north road from Palestine to Babylon, where the Babylonian kings used to take up their position during their invasions of the former. Within a short time after Ezekiel wrote this chapter, it became memorable in its connection with Zedekiah's sufferings (comp. 2 Kings 23:33; 2 Kings 25:6, 20, 21; Jeremiah 39:5, 6; Jeremiah 52:9, 10, 26). Its probable site is fixed on the banks of the Orontes. The evidence, on the whole, is, I think, in favour of this interpretation. It is adopted by Ewald, Cornill, Smend, Gesenius, and most recent critics. An additional fact in its favour is that Hamath, in the same region, appears as an ideal northern boundary in Ezekiel 47:16.