And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house…
The prophet notes the exact date of the vision, so that, if any doubt arose, the circumstance could be verified, so long as any one of these elders survived. These details of day and month may seem to many readers needless and tedious; yet, in an earlier day, they probably served an important purpose, and may be again useful in a future age. Even now they demonstrate with what diligent care the prophet preserved the records of Divine manifestations. The three hundred and ninety days during which Ezekiel was to be a living sign were now fulfilled.
I. THE OCCASION. The occasion arose out of a visit made to Ezekiel by the elders of Israel. Genuine inquiry on the part of men is always pleasing to God. If men ask after truth from righteous motive, God is prepared to meet them. The response from heaven may not be in the mode men expect, yet some response there will be. On this occasion, too, God was honoured in the person of his messenger. It becomes us to use those channels for information which God has opened. If we are at our Sovereign's footstool, we shall not have long to wait.
II. GOD'S GRACIOUS MANIFESTATION. It was an act of grace that God should reveal himself to his prophet, so that through the prophet he might reveal himself to the elders. In every age God has chosen the most fitting agencies through which to manifest himself to men.
1. It was an exact repetition of a former appearance. This was to intimate that God's designs had in no respect changed. There were the same splendours of majesty - the unchangeable glory - of Jehovah; there was the same appearance of radiant fire in the loins and feet, to indicate that he was about to march through the land in righteous indignation. "Verily, a fire goeth before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about." "For he cometh to judge the earth."
2. A mighty energy was put forth. There was the form of a hand, by which the prophet was lifted up. From first to last we need Divine assistance. So feeble is human nature, that at every step we need gracious succour, both to learn and to do God's will. We must be separated from earthly scenes - have elevation of mind - if we would see things as God sees them.
3. Personal effort. There was place and scope for the prophet's exertion. Man must cooperate with God. "I beheld." Ezekiel must use his eyes. In that state of ecstasy to which he had been raised there is need for special activity. Human nature at present cannot long endure the ecstatic state. Golden opportunities such as these are brief. Therefore note well the precious lessons.
III. THE GRADUAL DISCLOSURES OF ISRAEL'S GUILT. The glory of God was manifest in the temple.
1. In the clear light of Jehovah's presence we see the real character of sin. The eye of man needs the medium of light through which to discern objects; and a special revelation of God is required in which to discover the turpitude of sin. It was when God came near to Job that this exemplary man exclaimed, "I abhor myself." It was when Christ first revealed his glory to Peter that he put up the prayer, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
2. All forms of idolatry provoke God's jealous anger. We take this "image of jealousy" as an allegorical representation of the many sided idolatry of Israel. Whatever forms their idolatries assumed, they all had this in common - they usurped Jehovah's place; they supplanted his authority. In stupendous condescension, God speaks to us after the manner of a man. As the strongest passion which fallen man knows is jealousy, so God represents this as the picture of indignant sentiment in his own breast. He sets high value on our human love. It is the most precious thing we can give him. Hence, we wound him in the tenderest part when we erect a rival in his place. This is a root sin.
3. Sin becomes most heinous of all sin when committed in the temple. God's dwelling place on earth is designed to be a fount, whence streams of blessing may flow to every province of our human life. To defile this fount is to send a stream of pollution into the domestic, commercial, and political life of the nation. If there be idolatry in the temple, there will be idolatry in the home; there will be disorder everywhere. The sanctuary will always be a source of life or of death to the whole empire.
4. God's disclosures of our sin are gradual. This method has two advantages:
(1) It gives us a clearer conception of the magnitude and the degrees of sin.
(2) It serves to deepen impression, while it does not overwhelm us with despair. If we desire to know the truth respecting our sin, God's Spirit will lead us from point to point, so that we may have an ever-deepening sense of our iniquity.
IV. THE HEINOUSNESS OF ISRAEL'S OFFENCE.
1. Its secrecy. The prophet had to break through the wall in order to discover it. Men will often indulge secretly in sins which they are ashamed to commit openly. The censure of our fellow men is often a useful deterrent. The opinion of others is a mirror, in which we see ourselves. Every man has his "chamber of imagery" within. Idolatry in the heart precedes the idolatry of temple worship. Can we not find some image of evil painted on the wails of our imagination - some form of mammon, or pleasure, or self? Therefore "keep thy heart with all diligence."
2. The deceitfulness of sin. It had blinded men's eyes to the fact of God's presence - to the fact of certain discovery and certain retribution. A growing acquaintance with sin convinces us of its many wiles to deceive. Few men venture to sin until they forget God's omniscience; and the habit of forgetfulness leads swiftly to atheism.
3. The sin was spread by most pernicious example. The men who ought to have been beacons and bulwarks against idolatry were pioneers in iniquity. Men holding high rank, whether in Church or in state, cannot sin as others do. Their influence is enormous, and it is inevitable that they lead others to heaven or to hell. Every station has its responsibilities. If, in Israel, the princes and elders had set a high example of pious obedience, in all likelihood the fortunes of the nation had been retrieved. If the helmsman be blind, there is small chance for the safety of the ship.
4. This sin is seminal; it soon produces a brood of other sins. Idolatry blossomed into sensual lust - into vice, disorder, and violence. The idolatries of the heathen suited the popular taste, because they did not curb natural inclination; gave a dangerous licence to every sensual and selfish passion. They who have driven from the heart the love of God are soon filled with every vile affection. They who have ceased to fear God soon cease to have any regard for others' weal. Sin rapidly generates a swarm noxious vices. The women who wept for Tammuz at the door of the temple were, without doubt, living in shameless prostitution. To depart from God is to run into every excess of iniquity. The more we examine the matter, the more flagrant and aggravated human sin appears. Superficial observers may talk of sin as a mere bagatelle; but they who search out the matter conclude that language is too poor to describe the cursed thing. It is the heaviest calamity that can rest on a human being; worse than poverty, or pain, or ill-repute, or desertion, or death: "He is in danger of eternal sin. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD fell there upon me.
WEB: It happened in the sixth year, in the sixth [month], in the fifth [day] of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell there on me.