Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.
I. What is the sin and the voice of which the prophet speaks, and how may we ourselves be guilty of it? The father of modern philosophy and science has shown us that there are in the mind of man, as man, natural idols, which act as impediments to his acquisition of knowledge, and his search after truth. Till these idols are overthrown and broken in pieces and taken away, it is simply useless for man to pursue knowledge. His efforts will be neutralised, and their results vitiated. He will not arrive at truth. Now if this be true in the matter of human science it is not less worthy of our regard in the matter of Divine truth, and of the knowledge of God. We cannot know God, whom to know is eternal life, as long as these natural obstacles are not taken out of the way. What, then, is the practical bearing of this truth? (1) First there must be a single eye to the knowledge of God. If we have not made up our minds that the one only object worth living for is God, and the knowledge of God, we have set up idols in our hearts no less than the men in Ezekiel's time, who came and sat before him. (2) Not only must there be a clear perception of God as the one sole object of our services, but there must also be a readiness to sacrifice anything in order to know and to serve Him. The man who is not prepared at any cost to himself to know and to serve God, is not prepared to serve Him at all.
II. There are certain general principles to which it behoves us to give heed when we come to the worship of God. (1) First of all we must empty ourselves of ourselves. We must come as though our present knowledge of God were as nothing, and as if God were still to be known and learnt. (2) There is nothing which so infallibly prevents us from seeing the truth of God as secret sin. As long as sin, in one of its innumerable forms, lurks in the heart or on the conscience, the service of God will be a vain thing, because the pursuit of truth is a lie. It is that practised dishonesty, it is that cherished lust, it is that pampered self-love, it is that incurable indolence, which vitiates all your worship and renders your religion a lie.
S. Leathes, Church of England Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 209.
Ezekiel 14:4-5I. The word estranged implies a former condition of close relationship and affection, from which they have since fallen. You would not say of a mere acquaintance, if you ceased to see him, that he was estranged from you; but if the love of an old friend grow cold, if a child become indifferent to his home, or a husband fail in his devotion to his wife, you describe such a falling off as estrangement. In this temper certain elders of Israel presented themselves before the prophet of God. God's eye marked them as they came, and He warned His prophet instantly. God will not hear their prayer, nor answer them. Why? "Because they are all estranged from Me through their idols."
II. The question which God puts "Should I be enquired of at all by them?" expects the answer "No," and yet it is not the answer which He gives it. His answer admits us to a nearer view of His mysterious dealings with men. When men thus estranged and alienated from Him in heart present themselves in person before Him, He does not refuse them an audience. They pray, He hears—their prayer is answered; but how fatal is the gift which He grants! "I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols."
III. "That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart." This is God's purpose in answering the evil desires of hearts alienated from His love. Their heart is to become the snare, the net in which they shall be caught, the pitfall in which they shall be entrapped. Could we look back on our years past we should see how many wishes, cherished while we professed to give them up for God, how many talents used in vanity, how many selfish prayers persisted in and gratified, had become like the meshes of a net to take our souls withal. Look back in time, turn your face towards God in real prayer, pray that He may not fulfil His threats, nor answer any other of your prayers, except you say, "Not my will, but Thine, be done."
C. W. Furse, Sermons preached at Richmond, p. 12.
Ezekiel 14:8; Ezekiel 20:38Such is the solemn burden with which the prophet Ezekiel closes almost every paragraph of his prophecy: the proposed result of all the judgments denounced and all the mercies promised by God through his ministration. A result so announced, so repeated, cannot be unimportant.
I. When we come seriously to consider the matter, shall we not find that it is a lesson worth knowing at any price—at the price of home and comfort, of wealth and vigour, yea, of life itself, if need be? For let us think on the importance of this knowledge—to know that God is the Lord. On this, in a rational and responsible being, all real and enduring happiness depends. God is the Author of his life, the only satisfying object of his soul's desire. On communion with Him, on grace derived from Him, on growing in likeness to Him, depend both his present and his advancing power for good. To know Him, not only leads on to eternal life, but it is eternal life itself.
II. Let us endeavour to sketch the boundaries of this knowledge, and give some idea of its nature, and how it is brought about. Man of himself has it not, he requires teaching it. Moreover, it is not a knowledge which any education, however complete, could confer upon us. Education may teach the knowledge of God's works, may make a man conversant with the interesting and glorious details of creation, but it cannot teach the knowledge of God Himself. You may, and often do, find the accomplished natural philosopher, the accurate and experienced historian, the minute Biblical scholar, yet in total ignorance of the knowledge implied in those words, "Ye shall know that I am the Lord."
III. "Ye shall know that I am Jehovah." It is God's promise to His people. And it is a crowning promise—one that includes all others in itself. For the more knowledge there is of God, the more love will there be towards Him; and the more love there is towards Him the more enjoyment there will be of Him; so that they who know Him best shall stand highest in the ranks of the blessed.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii., p. 120.
Reference: Ezekiel 14:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xv., p. 146.
Ezekiel 14:12-14The language of the text is worthy of remark, because it speaks of Noah, Daniel, and Job saving their own souls by their righteousness; a form of expression to which undoubtedly many persons would object if it were used at the present day; it would be said to savour of the notion of salvation by works, and to be opposed to the doctrine of justification by faith.
I. In order to illustrate the subject, let us notice first that if we look at the history of the three holy men mentioned in the text, we shall find that they did save their souls or their lives by their righteousness. It is impossible to deny that certain great blessings did come to them because they were righteous, and if we had no religious theory at stake which we were afraid of injuring, we could not fear to say that their righteousness saved them. And it is manifestly in accordance with our own deepest sense of right and justice that this should be so; the notion that good deeds will bring a reward, and that evil deeds will bring punishment, is too deep to be rooted out.
II. Who shall say with our Lord's description of the judgment before him, that the last judgment will not be a judgment according to works, that righteousness will not save souls alive? If we have a real deep view of our redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall not be afraid to speak freely as the Scriptures speak concerning the mode of our salvation. On the one hand the Scriptures say the Lord Jesus Christ has said, our own consciences say, that the man who turns away from his wickedness and does that which is lawful and right shall save his soul alive; nothing can interfere with this great principle. At the same time, when a human being conscious of sin presents himself before God, he will feel in his inmost heart that his righteousness is as filthy rags; he will feel that he can by no manner of means save himself, but he knows that he does not depend upon himself, he comes before God as one redeemed by Christ, he claims God's mercy—not because he has done his duty, but because Christ has died.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 33.
References: Ezekiel 14:13.—W. McAll, Penny Pulpit, No. 104. Ezekiel 14:14.—H. Griffith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 401; Parker, Christian Commonwealth, Sept. 2nd, 1886. Ezekiel 14:19, Ezekiel 14:20.—J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 81. Ezekiel 14:20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1651; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvii., p. 151. Ezekiel 15:1, Ezekiel 15:2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 125. Ezekiel 15:2.—Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 22. Ezekiel 16:1, Ezekiel 16:2.—Ibid., Sermons, vol. vi., No. 323. Ezekiel 16:5, Ezekiel 16:6.—Ibid., vol. viii., No. 468.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?
Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;
That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:
And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.
And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;
That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.
The word of the LORD came again to me, saying,
Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it:
Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.
If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts:
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it:
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves.
Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast:
Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?
Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it.
And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD.