Threatenings against hypocrites. (1-11) God's purpose to punish the guilty Jews, but a few should be saved. (12-23)
Verses 1-11 No outward form or reformation can be acceptable to God, so long as any idol possesses the heart; yet how many prefer their own devices and their own righteousness, to the way of salvation! Men's corruptions are idols in their hearts, and are of their own setting up; God will let them take their course. Sin renders the sinner odious in the eyes of the pure and holy God; and in his own eyes also, whenever conscience is awakened. Let us seek to be cleansed from the guilt and pollution of sins, in that fountain which the Lord has opened.
Verses 12-23 National sins bring national judgments. Though sinners escape one judgment, another is waiting for them. When God's professing people rebel against him, they may justly expect all his judgments. The faith, obedience, and prayers of Noah prevailed to the saving of his house, but not of the old world. Job's sacrifice and prayer in behalf of his friends were accepted, and Daniel had prevailed for the saving his companions and the wise men of Babylon. But a people that had filled the measure of their sins, was not to expect to escape for the sake of any righteous men living among them; not even of the most eminent saints, who could be accepted in their own case only through the sufferings and righteousness of Christ. Yet even when God makes the greatest desolations by his judgments, he saves some to be monuments of his mercy. In firm belief that we shall approve the whole of God's dealings with ourselves, and with all mankind, let us silence all rebellious murmurs and objections.
Ezekiel 14:1-23 . HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS ARE ANSWERED ACCORDING TO THEIR HYPOCRISY. THE CALAMITIES COMING ON THE PEOPLE; BUT A REMNANT IS TO ESCAPE.
1. elders--persons holding that dignity among the exiles at the Chebar. GROTIUS refers this to Seraiah and those sent with him from Judea ( Jeremiah 51:59 ). The prophet's reply, first, reflecting on the character of the inquirers, and, secondly, foretelling the calamities coming on Judea, may furnish an idea of the subject of their inquiry.
sat before me--not at once able to find a beginning of their speech; indicative of anxiety and despondency.
3. heart . . . face--The heart is first corrupted, and then the outward manifestation of idol-worship follows; they set their idols before their eyes. With all their pretense of consulting God now, they have not even put away their idols outwardly; implying gross contempt of God. "Set up," literally, "aloft"; implying that their idols had gained the supreme ascendancy over them.
stumbling-block of . . . iniquity--See Proverbs 3:21 Proverbs 3:23 , "Let not them (God's laws) depart from thine eyes, then . . . thy foot shall not stumble." Instead of God's law, which (by being kept before their eyes) would have saved them from stumbling, they set up their idols before their eyes, which proved a stumbling-block, causing them to stumble ( Ezekiel 7:19 ).
inquired of at all--literally, "should I with inquiry be inquired of" by such hypocrites as they are? ( Psalms 66:18 , Proverbs 15:29 , 28:9 ).
4. and cometh--and yet cometh, reigning himself to be a true worshipper of Jehovah.
him that cometh--so the Hebrew Margin reads. But the Hebrew text reading is, "according to it, according to the multitude of his idols"; the anticipative clause with the pronoun not being pleonastic, but increasing the emphasis of the following clause with the noun. "I will answer," literally, reflexively, "I will Myself (or for Myself) answer him."
according to . . . idols--thus, "answering a fool according to his folly"; making the sinner's sin his punishment; retributive justice ( Proverbs 1:31 , 26:5 ).
5. That I may take--that is, unveil and overtake with punishment the dissimulation and impiety of Israel hid in their own heart. Or, rather, "That I may punish them by answering them after their own hearts"; corresponding to "according to the multitude Ezekiel 14:9 , Romans 1:28 , 2 Thessalonians 2:11 , God giving them up in wrath to their own lie.
idols--though pretending. to "inquire" of Me, "in their hearts" they are "estranged from Me," and love "idols."
6. Though God so threatened the people for their idolatry ( Ezekiel 14:5 ), yet He would rather they should avert the calamity by "repentance."
turn yourselves--CALVIN translates, "turn others" (namely, the stranger proselytes in the land). As ye have been the advisers of others (see Ezekiel 14:7 , "the stranger that sojourneth in Israel") to idolatry, so bestow at least as much pains in turning them to the truth; the surest proof of repentance. But the parallelism to Ezekiel 14:3 Ezekiel 14:4 favors English Version. Their sin was twofold: (1) "In their heart" or inner man; (2) "Put before their face," that is, exhibited outwardly. So their repentance is generally expressed by "repent," and is then divided into: (1) "Turn yourselves (inwardly) from your idols"; (2) "Turn away your faces (outwardly) from all your abominations." It is not likely that an exhortation to convert others should come between the two affecting themselves.
7. stranger--the proselyte, tolerated in Israel only on condition of worshipping no God but Jehovah ( Leviticus 17:8 Leviticus 17:9 ).
inquire of him concerning me--that is, concerning My will.
by myself--not by word, but by deed, that is, by judgments, marking My hand and direct agency; instead of answering him through the prophet he consults. FAIRBAIRN translates, as it is the same Hebrew as in the previous clause, "concerning Me," it is natural that God should use the same expression in His reply as was used in the consultation of Him. But the sense, I think, is the same. The hypocrite inquires of the prophet concerning God; and God, instead of replying through the prophet, replies for Himself concerning Himself.
8. And I will set my face against that
and will make him a sign--literally, "I will destroy him so as to become a sign"; it will be no ordinary destruction, but such as will make him be an object pointed at with wonder by all, as Korah, &c. ( Numbers 26:10 , Deuteronomy 28:37 ).
9. I the Lord have deceived that prophet--not directly, but through Satan and his ministers; not merely permissively, but by overruling their evil to serve the purposes of His righteous judgment, to be a touchstone to separate the precious from the vile, and to "prove" His people ( Deuteronomy 13:3 , 1 Kings 22:23 , Jeremiah 4:10 , 2 Thessalonians 2:11 2 Thessalonians 2:12 ). Evil comes not from God, though God overrules it to serve His will ( Job 12:16 , 1:3 ). This declaration of God is intended to answer their objection, "Jeremiah and Ezekiel are but two opposed to the many prophets who announce 'peace to us." "Nay, deceive not yourselves, those prophets of yours are deluding you, and I permit them to do so as a righteous judgment on your wilful blindness."
10. As they dealt deceitfully with God by seeking answers of peace without repentance, so God would let them be dealt with deceitfully by the prophets whom they consulted. God would chastise their sin with a corresponding sin; as they rejected the safe directions of the true light, He would send the pernicious delusions of a false one; prophets would be given them who should re-echo the deceitfulness that already wrought in their own bosom, to their ruin [FAIRBAIRN]. The people had themselves alone to blame, for they were long ago forewarned how to discern and to treat a false prophet ( Deuteronomy 13:3 ); the very existence of such deceivers among them was a sign of God's judicial displeasure (compare in Saul's case, 1 Samuel 16:14 , 1 Samuel 28:6 1 Samuel 28:7 ). They and the prophet, being dupes of a common delusion, should be involved in a common ruin.
11. Love was the spring of God's very judgments on His people, who were incurable by any other process ( Ezekiel 11:20 , 37:27 ).
12. The second part of the chapter: the effect which the presence of a few righteous persons was to have on the purposes of God (compare Genesis 18:24-32 ). God had told Jeremiah that the guilt of Judah was too great to be pardoned even for the intercession of Moses and Samuel ( Psalms 99:6 , Jeremiah 14:2 , 15:1 ), which had prevailed formerly ( Exodus 32:11-14 , Numbers 14:13-20 , 1 Samuel 7:8-12 ), implying the extraordinary heinousness of their guilt, since in ordinary cases "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (for others) availeth much" ( James 5:16 ). Ezekiel supplements Jeremiah by adding that not only those two once successful intercessors, but not even the three pre-eminently righteous men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, could stay God's judgments by their righteousness.
13. staff of . . . bread--on which man's existence is supported as on a staff ( Ezekiel 4:16 , 5:16 , Leviticus 26:26 , Psalms 104:15 , Isaiah 3:1 ). I will send a famine.
14. Noah, Daniel . . . Job--specified in particular as having been saved from overwhelming calamities for their personal righteousness. Noah had the members of his family alone given to him, amidst the general wreck. Daniel saved from the fury of the king of Babylon the three youths ( Daniel 2:17 Daniel 2:18 Daniel 2:48 Daniel 2:49 ). Though his prophecies mostly were later than those of Ezekiel, his fame for piety and wisdom was already established, and the events recorded in Daniel 1:1-2:49' had transpired. The Jews would naturally, in their fallen condition, pride themselves on one who reflected such glory on his nation at the heathen capital, and would build vain hopes (here set aside) on his influence in averting ruin from them. Thus the objection to the authenticity of Daniel from this passage vanishes. "Job" forms the climax (and is therefore put out of chronological order), having not even been left a son or a daughter, and having had himself to pass through an ordeal of suffering before his final deliverance, and therefore forming the most simple instance of the righteousness of God, which would save the righteous themselves alone in the nation, and that after an ordeal of suffering, but not spare even a son or daughter for their sake ( Ezekiel 14:16 Ezekiel 14:18 Ezekiel 14:20 ; compare Jeremiah 7:16 , 11:14 , 14:11 ).
deliver . . . souls by . . . righteousness--( Proverbs 11:4 ); not the righteousness of works, but that of grace, a truth less clearly understood under the law ( Romans 4:3 ).
15-21. The argument is cumulative. He first puts the case of the land sinning so as to fall under the judgment of a famine ( Ezekiel 14:13 ); then ( Ezekiel 14:15 ) "noisome beasts" ( Leviticus 26:22 ); then "the sword"; then, worst of all, "pestilence." The three most righteous of men should deliver only themselves in these several four cases. In Ezekiel 14:21 he concentrates the whole in one mass of condemnation. If Noah, Daniel, Job, could not deliver the land, when deserving only one judgment, "how much more" when all four judgments combined are justly to visit the land for sin, shall these three righteous men not deliver it.
19. in blood--not literally. In Hebrew, "blood" expresses every premature kind of death.
21. How much more--literally, "Surely shall it be so now, when I send," &c. If none could avert the one only judgment incurred, surely now, when all four are incurred by sin, much more impossible it will be to deliver the land.
22. Yet . . . a remnant--not of righteous persons, but some of the guilty who should "come forth" from the destruction of Jerusalem to Babylon, to lead a,. life of hopeless exile there. The reference here is to judgment, not mercy, as Ezekiel 14:23 shows.
ye shall see their . . . doings; and . . . be comforted--Ye, the exiles at the Chebar, who now murmur at God's judgment about to be inflicted on Jerusalem as harsh, when ye shall see the wicked "ways" and character of the escaped remnant, shall acknowledge that both Jerusalem and its inhabitants deserved their fate; his recognition of the righteousness of the judgment will reconcile you to it, and so ye shall be "comforted" under it [CALVIN]. Then would follow mercy to the elect remnant, though that is not referred to here, but in Ezekiel 20:43 .
23. they shall comfort you--not in words, but by your recognizing in their manifest guilt, that God had not been unjustly severe to them and the city.