II. Prophecies against Judah (Ezekiel 4:1–24:27)
II. Prophecies against Judah (4:1–24:27)
A. The Necessity of Judah’s Judgment and Exile (4:1–11:25)
4:1-3 Since Ezekiel was confined to his house and the courtyard around it, God directed him to use signs in the form of visuals and certain actions to convey his message. There are four such signs in chapters 4 and 5, beginning with the depiction of the coming siege against Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies when the city would finally fall around 587–586 BC.
Ezekiel gained the attention of his neighbors by drawing the easily recognizable outline of Jerusalem on a clay brick and then laying siege against it with a wall . . . ramp . . . military camps and battering rams . . . on all sides (4:1-2). The exiles observing this knew what these military devices meant, but they must have been in disbelief to think that the holy city would ever come under such a devastating attack (after all, the actual fall of Jerusalem was still about six years away). Jerusalem was the place of God’s presence and, presumably, his protection. But it was exactly that kind of thinking that Ezekiel had to dislodge from the people’s minds. Their sins had already doomed Jerusalem. God had set his face against the city and its people to such an extent that he was like an iron plate against them (4:3). The point of this sign would be hard to miss.
4:4-8 It is harder to interpret what Ezekiel did next. God required him to lie down on his sides for a specific number of days, 390 and forty respectively (4:4-6). It seems to be agreed upon that since Ezekiel would have been facing north when lying on his left side, God had the northern kingdom of Israel in mind with that action; Israel had been destroyed long before by the Assyrians in 722 BC. So, the “390” referred to the years of Israel’s iniquity according to the number of days God told Ezekiel to lie down facing north (4:4).
As a priest, Ezekiel was also to bear the iniquity of his people (4:4-5). Israel’s priests bore the people’s sins as their representatives and carried them away, which Ezekiel could not do in this situation without an atoning sacrifice. Besides, God had already consigned the people of Judah to judgment (notice the lack of a call to repentance here). Ezekiel was to lie on his right side facing south toward Jerusalem to bear the iniquity of the house of Judah, which in this interpretation had accumulated forty years of sin before its judgment (4:6-7).
4:9-13 Part of the third sign God asked Ezek-iel to act out was so repugnant to him as a priest that Ezekiel objected. He was told to take a number of grains that were common in Israel and bake them together into bread and eat them for the entire 390 days he lay on his side (4:9). The meager size of the daily loaves, eight ounces, and rations of water, a sixth of a gallon, symbolized the extreme scarcity that the people of Jerusalem would experience during the coming Babylonian siege (4:10-11; see v. 16). Then God told Ezek-iel to bake these cakes over dried human excrement in the sight of his fellow exiles to illustrate how the people in Jerusalem would have to eat ceremonially unclean food when God banished them from the land (4:12-13).
4:14-17 Ezekiel’s entire life had been dedicated to keeping God’s laws, including his dietary restrictions. So he strongly objected to using human excrement as fuel, and God granted his request to use the common fuel of cow dung (4:14-15). Nonetheless, God’s point was made. The Jews of Jerusalem would face terrible famine and thirst as the Babylonians laid siege to the city. They would be reduced to taking desperate measures that they would never have imagined in their worst nightmares. The entire population would be devastated . . . because of their iniquity (4:16-17).
Again, no offer of repentance and restoration was made. The judgment of ruin and captivity would be fully carried out.
5:1-4 Ezekiel’s signs were designed to call attention to the message he had for these first exiles in Babylon. This next sign required using a sharp sword to shave his head and beard (5:1), no doubt while his fellow exiles watched.
God provides us with an interpretation of what each part of this sign meant to Ezekiel’s audience. He was told to weigh his hair and separate it into three equal parts, each pile symbolizing a judgment against Jerusalem and its people (5:2-4). The prophet was told to burn a third of his hair on the clay model of Jerusalem he had made, take the second third around the city and slash it with the sword, and scatter a third to the wind (5:2). But Ezekiel was to save a few strands and tuck them in his robe (5:3). This last action makes it sound like the people represented by the strands would be shielded from judgment, but even some of them would be thrown in the fire that would spread . . . to the whole house of Israel (5:3-4).
5:5-6 Fire, sword, and scattering to the wind. Those were three actions against the people of Jerusalem who had not yet experienced the full wrath of God’s judgment against their gross sins and idolatry. And they all came to pass for one reason. God had set . . . Jerusalem in the center of the nations as a city on a hill, populated by his chosen people, to be a witness to his holiness by their love and devotion to him. But Israel had rebelled against his ordinances and statutes and had become more wicked than the countries that surround her (5:6).
5:7-10 Israel had committed disgraceful sins in the sight of all her neighbors, so God said, I will execute judgments within you in the sight of the nations, even decreeing a judgment so shocking that he promised he would never do it again—the horror of cannibalism within Jerusalem as the siege grew worse (5:8-10). Neither would there be mercy for the survivors of the famine and slaughter when the Babylonians finally breached Jerusalem’s walls; they would be lost in exile (5:10). The principle at work here is this: The greater the sin, the greater the consequence.
5:11-13 The relentless judgments of this chapter give us another insight into how hard Ezekiel’s ministry must have been. God swore by his own living character that he would have no pity on Israel because of the way its people had defiled his sanctuary (5:11). God provides in 5:12 the interpretation of the symbolic acts Ezekiel performed with the three parts of his hair (5:2). The few hairs hidden in his robe represent a righteous remnant preserved from immediate judgment. (Both 5:4 and the final verses of this chapter argue against their total safety.) Likely, God chose to deliver some so they would be a witness to the awfulness of Judah’s sin and the righteousness of God’s judgment, as indicated in 6:8-10.
5:14-17 The terrifying judgments are cataloged here. Notice the repetition of the phrase I, the Lord, have spoken (5:15, 17). It’s a reminder that Judah’s fate wasn’t about the hotheaded vengeance of an angry sovereign flying off the handle at his subjects. Rather, these are the pronouncements of Israel’s perfectly just and holy God whose righteous standards had been dragged through the dirt by the same people who had promised to uphold them in loving obedience. We must never extol the love of God at the expense of his just wrath against sin.
6:1 In chapters 6 and 7 Ezekiel turns from acting out signs to preaching (though note the clapping and stamping in 6:11). Nevertheless, the message of doom and destruction remained the same for the people of Jerusalem and the land of Judah. Ezekiel often used the name Israel to refer to the chosen nation, even though the northern kingdom which was known by that name was long gone. Both of these sermons begin with the prophetic formula, The word of the Lord came to me (see 7:1).
6:2-4 This first sermon is addressed to the mountains of Israel, and to the hills, to the ravines and the valleys (6:3). God spoke this way because these were the places where idolatry was flourishing among the people of Judah. The high places (6:3) were worship centers set up in the mountains because it was believed they brought the worshiper closer to the false gods to whom they were bowing down and offering sacrifices. Canaanite high places had been in the land long before the Israelites arrived, and God had ordered his people to destroy them. But during the days of the monarchy, the bad kings rebuilt them, leaving the good ones to eradicate them all over again. Unfortunately, by the time of Ezekiel, idol worship at these pagan altars and shrines was active (6:4), and God was ready to take decisive action.
6:5-10 He vowed to kill the idolaters and scatter their bones on their ruined worship sites so that the nation would know that I am the Lord (6:5-7), a phrase that appears over sixty times in Ezekiel. By using the name “Lord” (Yahweh), the name of his covenant faithfulness, God was reminding his faithless people that he was no mere offended deity. He was a grieved, loving husband whose fidelity to his covenant promises had been met by his people’s promiscuous hearts, which committed adultery and lusted after . . . idols (6:9). An idol is any person, place, thing, or thought that you look to as your source. Idolatry leads to divine discipline.
Yet in the middle of this sermon there is a promise: I will leave a remnant when you are scattered among the nations (6:8). Those in view in this statement were represented by the few strands of hair (5:3) that God told Ezekiel to hide in the folds of his robe, symbolizing those who would escape the sword, famine, and plague that he was bringing on Jerusalem through the Babylonians. These survivors were to serve as witnesses of two facts: the horrible nature of their nation’s sins in turning away from God, and that he had every right and reason to bring disaster on them (6:9-10).
6:11-13 After this brief interlude, Ezekiel returns to his message of God’s judgment without mercy or pity. The Lord instructed Ezekiel, Clap your hands and stamp your feet as signs of derision against the house of Israel for all of its sins. God made it clear that none of them would be spared from the disasters of sword, famine, and plague (6:11-12). He would not relent but would exhaust his wrath on them so that their slain would lie among their idols (6:12-13). Though God’s justice is often delayed, it is not to be disregarded.
6:14 The people’s sin was so complete and so widespread that God vowed not to stop until he had wiped out the idolaters from the wilderness to Diblah, which some Old Testament manuscripts read as “Riblah” (see CSB note), a northern city in the land of Israel. To date, there is no record of a city named “Diblah,” and the letters d and r in Hebrew are very similar, so a scribe could easily have substituted one for the other. The reading “Riblah” fits the context, giving the meaning, “from the south [the wilderness] to the north [Riblah],” the entire land. Regardless, the judgment would cause the people to know that the Lord was their true God.
7:1-7 Ezekiel’s second sermon drove the nail into Judah’s coffin: An end! The end has come on the four corners of the earth. The end is now upon you (7:2-3). In other words, there would be no relenting. God’s fierce anger would judge and punish his people for their detestable practices without pity, until they came to know that Yahweh was their true God (7:3-4).
The suddenness of Judah’s judgment is pictured as a herald running to unsuspecting people with an announcement of imminent disaster (7:5) that is so close it would cause panic on the mountains among the idolaters (7:7). They had been celebrating in their idolatry amid a false sense of ease and security. They thought God didn’t see them or wouldn’t act because they were still his people, doing their religious duty at the temple (alongside their false worship). Besides, there was prosperity in Jerusalem and they had false prophets telling them that everything was fine.
7:8-14 That illusion was about to be shattered—very soon. God promises a second time in this sermon to exhaust his anger by punishing them for their sins without pity until they learned that he was the one who was judging them and that their misfortunes weren’t just terrible coincidences (7:8-9). God uses the imagery of a budding plant to illustrate this message, much like when Jeremiah spoke of an almond tree in bloom (Jer 1:11-12) to illustrate coming judgment. So here the message was the same, except that in this case the blossom was Judah’s arrogance producing the violence that would come upon the people to punish their wickedness (7:10-11).
Interestingly, God uses the term crowd four times in 7:10-14 as a term of derision for people who are considered hopeless, those about whom little that’s positive can be said. That crowd in Jerusalem included those of wealth, the eminent—the merchants who had accumulated a lot of gold and silver by their transactions (7:11). God’s judgment, then, would also have economic consequences, which will always happen when his people ignore his kingdom agenda and misuse wealth for their own greed and self-satisfaction. When the Babylonians began to attack and besiege Jerusalem, both the buyer and the seller would suffer loss, for all of their commerce and profit would mean nothing: all would be lost (7:12-13). And the city would find no help in its army, because it was part of the whole crowd, which was utterly useless in the day of Jerusalem’s disaster (7:14).
7:15-21 In fact, there was simply no place to go to escape. Those who tried to run away would find the sword of the Babylonians waiting to kill them; those who stayed inside Jerusalem would face plague and famine; and those who hid in the mountains would wail and moan at the catastrophe (7:15-16). If the rest of this sermon points back to Jerusalem, it pictures a people shaking so hard in terror that they literally wet themselves and try in vain to show some repentance by wearing sackcloth and shaving their heads bald (7:17-18). The silver and gold they valued so highly gets discarded in disgust as they realize it will not satisfy their appetites. After all, these things were the stumbling blocks that brought about their iniquity. They would become plunder for the Babylonians (7:19-21).
7:22-27 Most shocking of all is that God would allow the Babylonians to profane his holy temple (7:22). At this revelation, the exiles listening to Ezekiel in Babylon and the recipients of his prophecies back in Jerusalem knew the full horrors of God’s coming judgment. Jerusalem would no longer be the city of peace, but the place from which they would be led in chains. Though the people would listen frantically to all kinds of rumors coming out of Babylon and other places that spoke of rescue or relief, they would all prove false. Nothing would hold back God’s hand until his sinful people had learned that he alone is God (7:25-27).
8:1-6 The variety of means God gave Ezekiel to express his judgment on his people continues with a series of visions in chapters 8–11. Ezekiel was transported in visions of God to Jerusalem as he sat in his house with the elders of Judah, who were no doubt there seeking a word from the Lord (8:1-3). Ezekiel describes all of his visions before telling the elders what God had shown him (see 11:25).
The importance of these visions was made known to him from the start by the glorious appearance of a figure comprised of fire from the waist down who gleamed of amber from the waist up (8:2). He carried Ezekiel to the inner gate that faces north at the temple, where he saw a statue that provoked God to jealousy (8:3). Ezekiel must have been appalled at the sight of this pagan idol (perhaps an Asherah pole used in sexually degrading worship) defiling God’s temple, where the glory of the God of Israel alone was to reside (8:4). But this scene marked only the beginning of Judah’s detestable practices that caused God to ask Ezekiel essentially, “Can you believe what you are seeing? Do you understand now why I have to leave my temple? And you haven’t seen anything yet!” (8:5-6).
8:7-12 Indeed, the state of affairs in Ezekiel’s homeland were much worse. In his vision Ezekiel dug through a hole in the wall of the inner court and went through a doorway (8:7-9). There he found a room with a wall on which was engraved . . . every kind of abhorrent thing—crawling creatures and beasts—as well as all the idols of the house of Israel (8:10). Seventy elders, representing the leaders of Jerusalem, were worshiping these images, including a man Ezekiel knew, Jaazaniah son of Shaphan. The men were offering incense in idolatrous worship, without any fear or remorse because they had concluded that God had abandoned the land and no longer saw or cared what they did (8:12).
8:13-15 God warned the prophet to be prepared for the next shock: You will see even more detestable acts that they are committing (8:13). Then Ezekiel was transported to the outer court where he saw a group of women weeping for Tammuz (8:14), the Babylonian god who was believed to provide vegetation. He supposedly died in the summer, as the hot Middle Eastern climate dried up the plants, and descended into the underworld as his worshipers mourned for him. He’d emerge in the spring, bringing new life and vegetation. His worship included all manner of immorality, yet these women of Judah were worshiping this degrading deity instead of the God of Israel who provided them with all the bounty of their land.
8:16-17 The Lord had one more disgusting practice within the temple to show Ezekiel. The twenty-five men the prophet saw must have been priests, based on their location between the portico and the altar. They were standing in that holy place, not interceding with God for the people, but with their backs to the Lord’s temple and their faces turned to the east . . . bowing . . . in worship of the sun (8:16). This is exactly the kind of thing Paul describes when writing to the church in Rome: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator” (Rom 1:25). It was an act of deliberate contempt toward God. Such things always result in degrading lifestyles and the deterioration of the culture (see Rom 1:18-32).
8:18 Though these priests had departed from the Lord to worship a false deity in his temple, they probably kept up the pretense of serving the Lord by going through their priestly rituals when the people came to do their religious duty. But God had drawn the line and said, “Enough!” His faithless people had angered him beyond the point of restoration. God was entirely just in judging his people without pity despite their last-minute cries for mercy.
9:1-2 Ezekiel’s visions contained so many images of God’s righteous wrath poured out on the people of Jerusalem that Ezekiel feared the house of Israel would be wiped out completely (see 9:8). God called loudly, suggesting urgency, for Jerusalem’s executioners to line up, each . . . with a destructive weapon in his hand (9:1). This was a group of six men coming from the north with war clubs. A seventh man, a scribe, also came at God’s command, carrying writing equipment.
9:3 But before these men were told what to do, Ezekiel watched as the glory of the God of Israel began to depart from his people; his presence left the holy of holies in the innermost part of the temple and moved to the building’s threshold. It was only the first step in a sad journey of abandonment by a holy God who could no longer live among a sinful people. But of all the judgments God would inflict on Israel, this was the most crushing. God’s people had turned their backs on him, and in response he was turning his back on them. Believers today can forfeit the fellowship of God’s active presence operating in their lives when they live with unaddressed sin (see 1 John 1:5-9).
9:4 As God’s presence, symbolized by his glory, was moving through and out of the temple, he commanded the scribe to go throughout Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of everyone who grieved over the detestable practices they saw being committed in (what was supposed to be) God’s holy city. This is a reference to the righteous remnant, the ones who shared God’s view of sin. God has always had his faithful ones, even when the majority of his people are at their worst. In the days of Ahab and Jezebel, for instance, when the prophet Elijah complained that he was the only faithful one left in Israel, the Lord told him that there were “seven thousand” others who had “not bowed to Baal” (see 1 Kgs 19:18).
9:5-7 We’re not told how many righteous people were marked, but everyone else in Jerusalem was to be consigned to death—young and old, male and female, without pity (9:5; for more on God’s lack of pity on them, see 5:11; 7:4, 9; 8:18; 9:10). The killings were to begin with the elders (the priests) whom Ezekiel saw in the temple with their backs turned to God (9:6; see 8:16). Their corpses in the house of God would defile it (9:7), but it had already been defiled by the idols and the false worship.
9:8-11 So the men God ordered to kill Jerusalem’s inhabitants began carrying out their orders, to Ezekiel’s horror: Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel? (9:8). God’s greater concern was the overwhelming iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah. His people had grown so spiritually calloused that they thought he had abandoned the land (9:9), which in their warped minds meant they could do anything they wanted without fear of reprisal. In one way, though, they were right: God’s presence was in the process of departing from Jerusalem—but not because he no longer cared for his inheritance. The people’s sins had brought disaster on them, while the righteous remnant had been marked out for God’s mercy amid his wrath (9:11).
10:1-2 Ezekiel signals a new part of his vision by saying he looked again and saw something like a throne, the throne of God from which he spoke to the man clothed in linen who had been marking the faithful remnant in Jerusalem. This time, as Ezekiel watched, God ordered the angelic figure to scoop his hands full of blazing coals from the altar in the temple and scatter them over Jerusalem to purify the city in burning judgment. Indeed, Jerusalem would be cleansed by destruction as the Babylonians burned the city and temple to the ground.
10:3-8 Ezekiel’s vision also included the reappearance of the cherubim (10:3) and the four wheels (see 10:9) that the prophet had seen at the beginning of his calling (1:4-28). Earlier, these were called “four living creatures” (1:5), but now they are clearly identified as the cherubim who are continually in God’s presence (see also 10:20). They were standing next to the temple when the angelic figure entered it, and the cloud filled the inner court (10:3), signifying God’s glorious presence.
But instead of inhabiting his temple, which had been defiled by idol worship, God was in the process of departing his house and the now unholy city. That’s why Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord move to the threshold of the temple, as the courtyard where Ezekiel was standing was illuminated by the brightness of the Lord’s glory (10:4-5). Ezekiel was once again in the middle of a vision of overwhelming glory and magnificence, but it was also a vision of judgment. He watched as the angelic being clothed in linen obeyed God’s command and took the fiery coals from the hand of a cherub and went out to fulfill his mission (10:6-7).
10:9-14 Ezekiel’s description of his second vision of the four wheels and cherubim matches his first one (1:4-28) in most details (10:9-11) except for a couple of additions. Here the bodies of all these figures are described as full of eyes all around (10:12), which suggests God’s all-seeing omniscience. The wheels are also called the wheelwork (10:13), as if spinning in readiness to carry God’s presence and glory on his chariot-throne out of the temple and away from Jerusalem.
10:15-20 The final part of Ezekiel’s vision in this chapter must have been heartbreaking for him. Ezekiel had pled for God to spare his sinful people, but now he had the unhappy responsibility of recording for his fellow exiles in Babylon—and for the Israelites back in Jerusalem who thought God was still with them—news of the departure of God’s presence from the temple and the city where he had chosen to put his name.
As Ezekiel watched, no doubt in anguish, the cherubim ascended and the wheels moved beside them as God’s chariot-throne lifted up from the temple and prepared for lift-off (10:15-16). These cherubim were the same living creatures he has seen by the Chebar Canal in chapter 1 (10:20). For one moment, as God moved away from the threshold of the temple, his glory paused at the entrance to the eastern gate of the Lord’s house (10:18-19). But this was it, the last stop on the way out of the temple and the city. God’s glory was departing. And the absence of God’s presence leaves his people in a hopeless situation.
11:1-4 In the last portion of Ezekiel’s vision, he was carried by the Spirit to the eastern gate of the temple, where he saw twenty-five men, probably the same ones who were earlier worshiping the sun in the temple (11:1; see 8:16). He recognized two of these men who were leading the people of Jerusalem into sin by plotting evil and giving wicked advice (11:2). They were telling the inhabitants of Jerusalem to ignore Ezekiel’s warnings of judgment, build houses, and settle down. They compared Jerusalem to a strong iron pot that would keep its people, the meat in the pot, safe from the fire (11:3). That kind of blind arrogance aroused God’s righteous anger, and he thundered, Prophesy against them. Prophesy, son of man! (11:4). The wording here is important. In Ezekiel, we see God regularly use the expression “son of man” to refer to the prophet as a term for the frailty of mankind in contrast to God.
11:5-11 The Spirit of the Lord came to Ezek-iel with a serious dose of reality for the leaders and people of Jerusalem. God knew what they were thinking, and he also knew of their violence (11:5). They had filled Jerusalem’s streets with those they had slain, the righteous in the city (11:6). Therefore, God said he would reverse the leaders’ imagery of the safe pot, dumping Jerusalem’s people out of it and bringing the sword of the Babylonians against them (11:7-8). He would hand the city and its people over to foreigners who would judge them at the border of Israel (11:9-10). Here we see, then, that God uses evil people, places, and things to judge the sin and rebellion among his own people.
This prophecy was fulfilled when those captured in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s army were brought to him at his army headquarters in Riblah in northern Israel to be either executed or sent into exile (see 2 Kgs 25:18-21). In another six years or so, Ezekiel and his fellow exiles in Babylon would be mourning the deaths of thousands more of their fellow Jews and watching the survivors join them in captivity.
11:12-15 This judgment did not come from Babylon. Ultimately, it came from the one whose statutes they’d ignored (11:12). Judah’s secret sins on earth were an open scandal in heaven. But Ezekiel was still so distressed at the judgments coming on his people that when Pelatiah (one of the twenty-five evil leaders in 11:1) died, the prophet fell facedown to plead with God not to wipe out the house of Israel completely (11:13). Meanwhile, the residents of Jerusalem scoffed at the relatives of the exiles in Babylon. Though the relatives had the right to redeem the property of their exiled families, the wicked people of Jerusalem told them that the land had been given to them as a possession (11:15).
11:16-20 The selfish people mentioned in verse 15 were using geography to determine God’s favor, but he was using an entirely different, spiritual standard. Ezekiel was told that he and his fellow exiles were actually the remnant of Israel whom God had said he would preserve—the first promise of restoration in the book of Ezekiel.
This prophecy has a near and a far fulfillment, which is true of so many Old Testament prophecies. God did reassemble his people from the countries where they were scattered, and he has given them the land of Israel again today (11:16-17). But, importantly, they do not have the new spirit that God said he would give them, replacing their heart of stone with a heart of flesh (11:19). These promises await the time when Israel collectively recognizes Jesus Christ as her Messiah (see Zech 12:10), and Christ establishes his millennial kingdom with his throne in Jerusalem. It’s doubtful if Ezekiel understood everything he wrote, but he recorded it under the Spirit’s inspiration for our encouragement as we wait for Christ’s return.
11:21-25 Ezekiel’s visions ended with a return to the reality of Jerusalem’s sin and the Spirit’s final departure from the city, leaving the people without God’s presence and protection (11:21-23). The departure of God’s glory had happened once before at the tabernacle, in the days of Eli the priest when the ark of the covenant was captured and Eli was judged for failing to restrain his two evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Sam 3-4). In recognition of God’s judgment, Phinehas’s wife named her son “Ichabod,” which means, “no glory.” Maybe no one thought such a thing would ever happen again. Regardless, the warning of Ichabod even applies to the church: when it abandons Christ, its lampstand is removed (see Rev 2:5).
At this point, Ezekiel’s vision of Jerusalem ended and he returned to Chaldea (11:24). There he spoke to the exiles about all the things the Lord had shown him (11:25).
B. The Hopelessness of Judah’s False Optimism (12:1–19:14)
12:1-2 The people of Jerusalem certainly thought they were in no danger of having God’s glory depart from their midst again. They couldn’t see or hear any trouble coming their way from God, but they were a house full of rebels who had willfully chosen to make themselves blind and deaf to God’s Word (12:2). Everything looked great to them because their leaders and false prophets were telling them to relax, but the nation’s optimism would be blown away like smoke when the Babylonians returned.
12:3-6 God commanded Ezekiel to perform two more sign actions to deliver his next message. He was to pack his bags and go into exile as his fellow exiles in Babylon watched (12:3). Ezekiel was to do this twice, once in the daytime while the people looked on, and a second time at night by digging through the wall and taking the bags out through it. This second time he was to cover his face to symbolize that those going into exile would never see the land of Israel again (12:4-6).
12:7-16 Ezekiel obeyed (12:7). Before much longer, the people back in Judah and Jerusalem would know, as Ezekiel and the first exiles knew, what it was like to pack their bags, sling them over their shoulders, and leave their homeland to go into captivity (12:10-11). The prophecy was even more ominous for Zedekiah, the puppet king whom Nebuchadnezzar had placed on the throne in Jerusalem (12:12-14). He tried to escape the city at night, but the Babylonians overtook him and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar, who killed Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes and then gouged them out so that he never saw Babylon even though he was taken there (12:13; see 2 Kgs 25:1-7). What was the reason for all of this tragedy? People needed to know that God is the Lord (12:15-16). And this is a sobering reminder that if people will not respond to God voluntarily, they will be forced to do so by his judgment.
12:17-20 Ezekiel’s second sign was brief, but also telling. God told him to eat and drink with trembling and anxious shaking (12:17-18). The display of nervousness reinforced the word the Lord had delivered to Jerusalem and Judah earlier (see 4:16). Indeed, the people would eat their bread with anxiety and drink their water in dread as God stripped the land bare and destroyed its cities because of the inhabitants’ violence (12:19). This was the only way these spiritually blind and deaf rebels could be brought to see and understand that the Lord alone was their God.
12:21-25 Following these two signs, Ezekiel delivered a series of messages announcing certain judgment (12:21–14:23). The first one begins with God’s view of the sinful people of Judah, who thought they had an answer for everything. They even had a proverb that basically said, “Ezekiel keeps insisting doom is coming. But nothing has happened yet!” (12:22). To this God replied, I will put a stop to this proverb. . . . For in your days, rebellious house, I will . . . bring it to pass (12:23-25). In other words, he’d heard enough of their nonsense. Every word he had spoken would happen—not in the distant future—but in their lifetime.
12:26-28 Part of the people’s false optimism was tied to their belief that Ezekiel was prophesying about distant times. His vision, they reasoned, was related to concerns many years from now (12:27). Thus, they assumed they could live at ease and let the next generation worry about things. Yet God promised them that they themselves would experience the disaster of his judgment: None of my words will be delayed any longer (12:28).
Sometimes people today think similarly. Since they see no divine judgment looming on the horizon, they assume all is well. But the fact that God does not immediately punish us for our sins doesn’t mean he takes no notice of them or isn’t offended by them. The reason that judgment is delayed is because God is giving people time to repent and put their faith in his Son. Nevertheless, death can take anyone at any time, and “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment” (Heb 9:27). We must urge people not to think that they have plenty of time to “get right with God.” Our message should be the same as Paul’s message: “See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2).
13:1-3 Judah’s false perception of reality was partially driven by the lying prophets in its midst. These men claimed to speak for God but spoke out of their own imagination (13:1-2). In other words, they were “yes men” who no doubt said whatever the nation’s political leaders wanted to hear—for their own profit. The damage they were doing was made even worse because the prophetic office was Judah’s last hope for a true word from God. After all, the civil leaders were mostly corrupt, and the priests were worshiping the sun in God’s temple (8:16). The prophets should have stepped into the gap; instead, they proclaimed visions from the Lord though they had actually seen nothing (13:3).
13:4-12 The prophets were like jackals feeding on the ruins of the people (13:4). Instead of restoring the wall around the house of Israel to keep out the enemy (13:5), they saw false visions and spread lies when the Lord did not send them (13:5-6). The only word that would be fulfilled concerning these lying prophets, then, would be God’s pronouncement of judgment against them (13:8-9). They led the people astray, making a false promise of peace when there was no peace to be found. They uttered deception, covering up their flimsy position before God by whitewashing over the truth with lies, the way a poor builder would try to hide his defective work (13:10). But God would expose their lies, leaving the people to wonder, too late, what happened to all the false prophets’ glowing promises (13:11-12).
13:13-16 The prophets would be exposed when God unleashed the fury of his judgment on Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians (13:13). At that time the whitewashed wall of lies they had built would collapse, and the city of Jerusalem would be laid open to the invaders who would destroy it. As a result, the people would come to know that the Lord alone is God, and the false prophets would be no more (13:14-16).
13:17-19 God’s anger was also stirred against Judah’s prophetesses, who in this case were more like sorceresses or spiritists. Like their male counterparts, they were also speaking out of their own imagination (13:17), using pagan occult objects such as magic bands to trick the gullible into believing they warded off evil spirits or brought good luck. In fact, these women ensnared lives by their trickery (13:18), even using their evil powers to cause people who should not die to be put to death (13:19).
13:20-23 If God’s people were where they should have been spiritually, these sorceresses would have been executed for their evil. But they were tolerated and patronized for their abilities. Therefore, God would take it upon himself to deal with them when he brought an end to Jerusalem and Judah.
14:1-4 Ezekiel also had a message for the hypocritical elders among the exiles in Babylon. They were harboring idols in their hearts and had placed sinful stumbling blocks before themselves, while pretending to seek a word from God (14:1-3). Maybe they wanted to hear when their captivity would end or some other good news, but God had a very different word for them in Ezekiel’s fourth message of certain judgment (14:1-11). It began with the elders sitting in front of him but broadened to anyone from the house of Israel who turned to idols and then presumed to come to the prophet for a word from God (14:4).
14:5-8 Anyone who would inquire of God while secretly worshiping idols would indeed get an answer from him, but not the answer desired. God’s answer would be a word of judgment: I will turn against that one and make him a sign and a proverb; I will cut him off from among my people (14:8). He would make the idolater an example to others so that they understood what would happen to those who make a pretense of following God but whose hearts are far from him. There are many people today who follow the same path, and it remains a dangerous route.
The Lord didn’t want to judge his people; instead, he wanted them to see the folly of their ways and turn back to him. He wanted to recapture their hearts, so he urged them through Ezekiel, Repent and turn away from your idols (14:6). God has the same message for people today. Unbelievers are urged to turn from their idols to trust in Jesus Christ. And even Christians are urged to guard themselves from idols (1 John 5:21). This is the only way to experience true blessing from God, in fact. Since God is a jealous God, there is no room for competing deities in our lives (see Exod 20:5; 34:14; Jas 4:5).
14:9-11 If a prophet was deceived and answered an idolater, he was clearly a false prophet whom God himself had deceived for the purpose of exercising his judgment (14:9). Both the prophet and the idolater would bear their punishment (14:10). God’s goal was to prevent his people from straying and defiling themselves. He desired to see them restored: Then they will be my people and I will be their God (14:11).
14:12-20 Ezekiel’s fifth and final message was an unusual affirmation of Judah’s inevitable judgment regardless of who prayed for its deliverance. The Bible is filled with examples of the power of intercessory prayer, but here God declares the futility of such prayer in this case—not because of any lack of power within prayer, but because of Judah’s hopeless descent into sin. It had exhausted God’s patience—“exhausted” is a fitting word here since God said at least five times in Ezekiel that Judah’s people were so sinful that he was going to “exhaust” his anger against them (see 6:12; 7:8; 13:15; 20:8, 21).
So, how bad was it for Judah? Through Ezekiel, the Lord proposed a hypothetical situation in which a nation sinned against him by acting faithlessly, causing him to stretch out his hand in judgment (14:13). It doesn’t require a genius to understand who this hypothetical nation was. But God didn’t identify it yet. The focal question was, could such a faithless nation be spared? As it turned out, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel, and Job—were in it, they would rescue only themselves by their righteousness (14:14). Regardless of the destruction that the Lord was to bring upon such a faithless land—famine (14:13), dangerous animals (14:15), sword (14:17), or plague (14:19)—even these three couldn’t rescue anyone but themselves (14:16, 18, 20). Clearly, Noah, Daniel, and Job had accomplished much for God by faith. But they couldn’t pull this one off. They were three of the greatest examples of faith and godly favor; nevertheless, their righteousness could not protect such a wicked land.
Contrast this with the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is able to save all sinners by his own righteousness. Anyone who trusts in Christ as his sin-bearer, in fact, is granted a righteousness that is not his own—“the righteousness from God based on faith” (Phil 3:9).
14:21-23 These four devastating judgments—sword, famine, dangerous animals, and plague—are what God vowed to send against Jerusalem (14:21). They foreshadow the four horsemen that God will unleash on an unbelieving world during the great tribulation (see Rev 6:1-8). Importantly, not every person in Judah would die. There would be survivors who would be taken to Babylon so Ezekiel and the other exiles could be consoled about the devastation . . . on Jerusalem (14:22). The consolation, however, wasn’t based on the righteousness of these survivors. Rather, the people exiled previously would see the newcomers’ unrighteous conduct and actions, and Ezekiel would know that it was not without cause that God brought destruction on Jerusalem (14:23). That God was just in his judgment.
15:1-8 God used Ezekiel’s pen and person in numerous ways to convey his message of judgment. In chapters 15–17 the prophet tells three parables to deliver his indictment: the stories of a useless vine (15:1-8), an adulterous wife (16:1-63), and two eagles (17:1-24).
The parable of the useless vine is quite simple. God did not create the wood of the vine to be made into furniture or some other useful item requiring strength (15:2-3). Its job was to hold the fruit it was designed to produce, and then become fuel to be devoured in the fire (15:4-5). The message for the residents of Jerusalem was clear. They had escaped the fire of Babylon when the enemy first came in 597 BC, but the reprieve was only temporary. The fire would still consume them and make the land desolate when God brought down the final curtain of judgment (15:6-8).
16:1-5 The second parable is an extended story of Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness and ingratitude to God for all of his goodness and provision, with the city serving as a representative of the Jewish people. Jerusalem’s sins had become so detestable that it was as if her people had become the offspring of an Amorite and Hethite. These were two pagan peoples in the land of the Canaanites whose practices the Jews had adopted (16:2-3). Against this background, God pictured Jerusalem as an abandoned and uncared for infant thrown into the open field because no one wanted her (16:4-5).
16:6-14 God himself took pity on the thrashing baby and selected her as his own, providing her with everything necessary to make her thrive and mature into a young woman of beauty (16:6-7). Then, when Jerusalem became of marriageable age, God spread the edge of his garment over her in a covenant of marriage, pledging protection and provision, and she became his beloved (16:8). God described in great detail how he dressed his bride in the finest of clothing and jewels, giving her everything fit for a queen and even providing her with a queen’s food (16:9-13). She became extremely beautiful and attained royalty under all this attention (16:13). Jerusalem’s fame spread among the nations because of the way her great God had blessed her and bestowed his splendor on her (16:14).
16:15 Shockingly, though, instead of praise and obedience to God, the Lord’s bride (his people) trusted in her own beauty—the very thing with which God had blessed her. She let her looks and fame go to her head and turned from her Provider to prostitute herself to idols in the most degrading ways possible! Jerusalem’s idolatry is described in terms of adultery. Ezekiel 16:5-34 contains sexually graphic imagery to depict the nation’s idolatrous sins.
16:16-26 Jerusalem used the beautiful clothing God had given her to make high places for idols, and she used his gifts of beautiful jewelry to make sexually degrading male images (16:16-17). She even offered God’s oil, incense, and food in worship to the idols (16:18-19). Worse, she also killed her sons and daughters as sacrifices to the pagan gods of the nations around her (16:20)! This was a particular outrage to God, for his bride who had been left to die in infancy was now killing the children he himself had given her (16:21-22).
So brazen was she about her actions that she wasn’t even embarrassed to bring her idolatry from the high places right into the streets of Jerusalem, practicing it in every square and at the head of every street, essentially becoming like a shameless prostitute who offered her body to any man who passed (16:23-25). The reference to her dalliances with Egyptian men in particular (16:26; see also the Assyrians and Babylonians [“Chaldea”] in 16:28-29) may refer to the Israelites’ foreign alliances as well as their searching for new pagan gods to worship.
16:27-34 God didn’t simply watch while his bride chose unfaithfulness. He gave her over to her enemies, including the Philistines who attacked Israel at various times. And even these pagan nations were embarrassed by the depths of Jerusalem’s indecent conduct (16:27)! God also made sure there was no satisfaction for Jerusalem in her lewdness, even as she continually lusted for more (16:29-30). She became so desperate to satisfy herself that she offered her services to her foreign lovers without payment, even bribing them to be with her (16:31-34)!
16:35-43 Considering the evidence before him, God had no recourse but to pronounce judgment on his promiscuous bride. First, he read the charges against her (16:35-36). Then he pronounced his verdict with the reasons for it (16:37-43). The irony of Jerusalem’s prostitution with her pagan lovers is that they, unlike the spiritual husband she’d scorned had done throughout her history, would not rally to her defense because they cared nothing for her. They would be her executioners! These verses describe the desolation the city of Jerusalem and its people would suffer under the final Babylonian assault to come.
Jerusalem’s leaders had tried to please the invaders earlier to stave off destruction, but it was to no avail. God had already pronounced sentence. Even though he had been a loving and faithful husband, his bride had broken covenant with him. The Babylonians would burn the houses in Jerusalem and execute judgments . . . in the sight of many women—no doubt referring to atrocities—because that was the only way to stop Jerusalem from being a prostitute. It was the only way to calm God’s anger (16:41-42). They had brought their judgment on themselves (16:43). And it all happened because God’s people had forgotten what he had done for them.
16:44-47 God had more evidence to present regarding the justice of his harsh judgment against Jerusalem. Here the analogy turns from the city being a wife to a daughter (14:44-45). Jerusalem was compared to her two sisters: Samaria in the north and Sod-om in the south (16:46). Both cities had committed detestable practices, but Jerusalem had become even more corrupt than they (16:47).
16:48-52 Sodom was legendary for its sin, revealed here to be a lack of concern for the poor along with its detestable acts (homosexuality, rape, and violence) (16:48-50). Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, had long since been destroyed by the Assyrians for its idolatry, but even its people did not commit even half the sins of Jerusalem (16:51). Both of these wicked cities, in fact, appeared more righteous than Jerusalem (16:52). This is an incredible statement of the extent of the city’s sin, which was committed despite its people having the greatest of spiritual advantages—including the temple and the manifest presence of God.
16:53-58 Nevertheless, destruction was not the last word because God had not written off his sinful people. The closing verses of this long parable begin with the surprising prophecy that Sodom and Samaria will be rebuilt in Christ’s millennial kingdom along with Jerusalem (16:53). But first Jerusalem, still being pictured as a disgraceful sister, would have to bear her shame (16:54)—even though in her former pride she had scorned her sister Sodom (16:56). Jerusalem would later feel the same scorn by the nations around her as she had to bear the consequences of her depravity and detestable practices (16:57-58).
16:59-63 In spite of all this, God would remain faithful to his covenants. The oath Israel made refers to the Mosaic covenant (16:59), the only one established by oath. The covenant made with you in the days of your youth refers to the Abrahamic covenant, and the permanent covenant speaks of the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which also includes believers in Christ (16:60). In his millennial kingdom Jesus Christ will rule over all, and Israel will be fully redeemed and will know the Lord as it experiences the new covenant nationally (16:62).
17:1-2 Ezekiel’s third and final parable in this section uses the imagery of two eagles and a tree. The Lord told the prophet to pose a riddle and speak a parable to the house of Israel (17:2). A riddle in the Bible is a puzzle, an enigma to be solved—as in the case of Samson’s riddle to the Philistines (see Judg 14:12-14). It’s hard to know how far to press the distinction in this chapter; perhaps the actions of the first eagle were intended as a riddle and those of the second were meant to be a parable.
17:3-21 At any rate, this chapter is best understood by pairing the actions of the eagles with their interpretations. In this first instance, that means reading 17:3-4 and 17:11-12 together. The huge eagle who came to Lebanon and plucked off its topmost shoot to take it to another land was clearly Nebuchadnezzar, which means that Lebanon stood for Jerusalem (17:3-4, cp. 17:12). This referred to the king’s first invasion of Judah in 597 BC when he took King Jehoiachin, “the topmost shoot,” to Babylon and installed Zedekiah in his place.
Nebuchadnezzar left Judah and Jerusalem intact, though weakened (17:5-6; explained in 17:13-14). It was low in height, humbled by Babylon with its branches turned toward Nebuchadnezzar in subjugation (17:6). When Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah on the throne in Jerusalem, he made a covenant with him, putting him under oath to be faithful to his Babylonian overlord (7:13). Nebuchadnezzar further weakened Judah by taking away the leading men of the land, but the kingdom of Judah would survive if Zedekiah would keep covenant (17:13-14).
Since Judah’s people were faithless and had broken their solemn promise to keep their covenant with God, however, Zedekiah wouldn’t think twice about breaking his promise to Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of keeping his pact with Babylon, this vine (Zedekiah) bent its roots toward the other huge eagle in Ezekiel’s parable—that is, he revolted by going to the king of Egypt for military help in breaking Babylon’s grip on Jerusalem (17:7-8, explained in 17:15).
Go back to 17:5-6 to recall how Nebuchadnezzar planted Zedekiah in Jerusalem as a vine whose branches were bent toward him—which was God’s will and part of his judgment on his people. This was stated again in 17:8 to reinforce the deceit and futility of Zedekiah’s revolt, which failed completely because he found no aid in Egypt. The king, acting foolishly, had broken his covenant and would find no escape (17:15). Pharaoh with his mighty army would provide no help when Jerusalem was attacked (17:17).
Think of Ezekiel’s immediate readers here, his fellow exiles and the people still in the land of Judah who thought they were fine and needed no repentance. If he wrote chapter 17 about 592-591 BC, he was writing somewhere between five or six years before the final invasion and destruction of Jerusalem and Zedekiah’s horrible fate. There were plenty of false prophets around in those days, both in Babylon and in Jerusalem, telling the people what they wanted to hear. Even after the final exile to Babylon, in fact, when Jerusalem was in ruins and the temple was gone, they were saying the exile would be brief. Thus, the early exiles may have said to one another, “We don’t believe what Ezekiel has been saying. We’re rooting for Zedekiah and the Egyptians to whip these Babylonians and bring us back home. We can’t believe God will let his holy city and temple be destroyed.” And when the rest of the people joined them in exile with their horror stories of the ruin of Jerusalem, they still had false prophets in their midst who told them they would be there for a short time—surely not seventy years. The truth was that it would take a long time for God to bring his people to their knees.
The parable continued with the ruin of Zedekiah (17:9-10, explained in 17:16, 18-21). Nebuchadnezzar would tear out his roots (17:9), using the imagery of Zedekiah and Jerusalem as a vine. He would wither completely (17:10), an image that God made clear in that Zedekiah would die in Babylon (17:16). Why? Because he despised the oath by breaking the covenant (17:18). Now, that’s a statement that we need to read carefully. God hates covenant-breakers, even those who made a covenant with a pagan king! In 17:19-21 Ezekiel provides a detailed prophecy of what happened to Zedekiah and his army when they tried to escape out the back gate as the Babylonians broke into Jerusalem (see 2 Kgs 25:1-10).
17:22-24 This chapter of destruction, desolation, and judgment ends with a prophecy not only of restoration and hope for the faithful remnant, but also of the coming of the Messiah who will establish his glorious kingdom. The phrase tender sprig (17:22) alludes to another prophecy regarding Messiah: “A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa 11:1). Although the nation was reduced to a stump by the judgments Ezekiel was announcing, there was grace. These verses also picture other nations that will come under Messiah’s reign as he rules the world from his throne in Jerusalem. This promise may have seemed remote to the people of Ezekiel’s day, especially with judgment impending; nevertheless, God sealed it with his word.
18:1-2 In chapter 18 the people’s twisted view of the situation brought about by their spiritual myopia reached a new low: they blamed God for judging them unfairly. So God put aside the visuals and the parables to deliver a hard-hitting message about personal responsibility for sin. At the time, a proverb was going around that excused the people from facing their sins: The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge (18:2). The saying was so well known that Jeremiah, who also wrote to the Jews in exile, quoted it (see Jer 31:29-30). And the idea behind it was that those in the land under Babylon’s heel were suffering, not because they had sinned, but because their parents had. They were confusing the cumulative effects of sin with each person’s responsibility for his or her personal sins.
18:3-20 But God had had enough of that nonsense. He clarified that the person who sins is the one who will die (18:4). Then he presented three hypothetical cases to illustrate the principle. A righteous man will live by his righteousness (18:5-9); but if he has a violent son, that son will certainly die for his own evil (18:10-13). If this evil man in turn has a son who does not follow his father but does what is right, he will certainly live (18:14-17). His rotten father, however, will die for his own iniquity (18:18). Then the principle is restated: The person who sins is the one who will die (18:20). God wanted to make it clear that he judges people for their own sins—not for the sins of their parents.
18:21-24 Don’t miss the news of hope for the person willing to abandon his sin. This chapter is not teaching that salvation is attained through works. The good or evil these hypothetical men, and the people of Jerusalem, were practicing was the outflow of hearts that were or were not in right standing before God. Therefore, God’s plea here was for the people to recognize and repent of their sin and turn to him for forgiveness.
18:25-30 Yet Judah insisted on blaming God for being unfair in his judgments, so he turned their argument on its head. It was their way that was unfair (18:25). They had the common (and wrong) view that God weighed actions and if the good outweighed the bad, a person was okay in his sight. But God proved that salvation was a matter of where you end up, not where you start. That’s why he told Judah in essence, “If you repent I will judge you based on your repentance, not your wickedness.” That’s good news. But he also reversed it and said, “If you don’t repent, I will judge you on your wickedness, not how good you were before you turned to wickedness.”
18:31-32 We know God was talking about the condition of a person’s heart and not works salvation because of his second call to repentance: Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. . . . For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death. . . . So repent and live! (18:31-32). Ultimately, the only way to be saved is by getting a new heart. And the only way to get a new heart is to repent, trust Jesus Christ, and receive a transformed heart through the work of the Holy Spirit (see Ezek 36:26-27; cp. Jer 31:31-34).
19:1-4 To cap off this section (12:1–19:14), thus putting to rest any false hope the people of Judah and Jerusalem had of escaping God’s judgment and the prophecies of exile, Ezekiel was commanded to take up a lament for the princes of Israel (19:1). A lament was normally a dirge or funeral song honoring someone who had died, although the three kings alluded to in this chapter deserved none.
The lioness who gave birth and reared her cubs (19:2) was Israel, the nation that had produced so many great kings. But the first one referenced here is generally agreed to be Jehoahaz, an evil king who came to the throne in Jerusalem after the early death of his father, good King Josiah (see 2 Kgs 23:31-32). Jehoahaz devoured people through his bad decisions during his three-month reign, but he was captured by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt who led him away with hooks (Ezek 19:3-4; see 2 Kgs 23:33).
19:5-9 Then came another bad king, Jehoiachin. He also reigned just three months in Jerusalem, causing great suffering, before Nebuchadnezzar captured him and took him to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 23:34–24:6). Jehoiachin never returned home, so his roar could no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel (Ezek 19:9).
19:10-14 The third and last king is lamented here, King Zedekiah. Nebuchadnezzar left Zedekiah on the throne and left Jerusalem intact like a vineyard, still planted in the holy land to flourish if the king would only keep his covenant (19:10-11). But when Zed-ekiah broke his word, the Babylonian army came and uprooted Jerusalem in fury as fire consumed the holy city (19:12; see 2 Kgs 24:18-7). Its people were deported to a dry and thirsty land (19:13). With the Babylonian exile, the last Davidic king was removed from the throne. There was no longer . . . a strong branch, a scepter for ruling (19:14). Nevertheless, that branch and scepter will be restored in Jesus Christ when he comes to rule on his millennial throne. He is “the Son of David” (Matt 1:1), “the King of Israel” (John 1:49), and “the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev 5:5).
C. The History of Judah’s Sins (20:1–24:27)
20:1 If the people of Judah retained any optimism that God would somehow come down at the last minute and rescue their nation from destruction, that bubble was about to pop. Ezekiel dates the event here to the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month. That puts it in 591 BC, about the seventh year of Zedekiah’s doomed rule in Jerusalem. Some of Israel’s elders approached Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord—that is, to seek an oracle from God for them. Their inquiry isn’t recorded, but judging from the response to it they had not come in humble repentance and with hearts fully devoted to God. They wanted good news from God without having a willingness to follow God.
20:2-4 As I live, I will not let you inquire of me. God flatly refused to speak to these elders because of their sins and those of Judah’s people, whom they represented (20:3-4). His repeated question to Ezekiel, Will you pass judgment against them, will you pass judgment, son of man? is like a command in Hebrew: “Judge these people! Judge these people!” That’s why God told the prophet to explain the detestable practices of their fathers to them (20:4). That is the outline of 20:1-32 in a nutshell. It has the force of a legal indictment.
20:5-9 Ezekiel obeyed and reviewed Israel’s history from the nation’s beginning to his own day. The reference to God choosing Israel during the days of Moses was not a denial of his choice of Abraham and his descendants to be his people. It was a recognition that Israel was born as a nation when God sent Moses to lead them out of the land of Egypt (20:5). God also searched out the land of Canaan for them and called them to get rid of any idols they had worshiped in Egypt (20:6-7). But they rebelled against him, and he considered pouring out his wrath on them (20:8). He did not do it so that his holy name would not be profaned in the eyes of the nations (20:9).
20:10-17 Then Ezekiel reviewed the nation’s travels from Egypt to Mount Sinai, where God gave them his statutes and explained his ordinances to them (20:10-11). From there he led them into the wilderness where they rebelled against him (20:13). He would have destroyed them then, but he stayed his hand for the sake of his name (20:13-14). Nevertheless, Moses’s generation had died in the wilderness because the Lord refused to bring them into the land he had given them (20:15). Their hearts went after their idols instead of the God who redeemed them (20:16). He could have brought the nation to an end in the wilderness; instead, he spared them from destruction (20:17). Their children would live to enter the promised land.
20:18-31 God gave the same commands and the same offer of blessing and land to the children of the exodus generation (20:18-20), but they too rebelled (20:21). Once again, he could have wiped the nation out. But he withheld his hand and acted for the sake of his name (20:22). Though God’s people cared nothing for his glory, God himself is always zealous for it. He warned them that if they turned to idols, he would drive them out of the land (20:23). But it made no difference. They just turned to idolatry with such abandon and passion that they practiced a level of vileness and degradation their ancestors would never have imagined: child sacrifice (20:26). Their punishment, then, was richly deserved.
Ezekiel wrapped up his review and said that his generation was no better than their fathers (20:30), which was why God refused to have anything to do with the elders who had come to inquire of him (20:31; see 20:1-4).
20:32-44 Still, in keeping with God’s eternal purposes, the Lord also had a message of hope and restoration for Israel (20:33-44). The language in these verses cannot be matched to the return from exile in Babylon, or to any era in Israel’s history. This gathering, then, is yet in the future, when God reclaims Israel from the countries where it was scattered (20:34). Israel will then be led into the wilderness for the purpose of judgment, as God did after the exodus from Egypt (20:35-36). But this time all the rebels will be weeded out and only true believers will enter the land, which is a picture of Israel’s purging in the tribulation and their worship of Messiah Jesus in his millennial kingdom. At that time, Israel’s worship will be accepted and the nation will repent of all its unfaithfulness and idolatry (20:44).
20:45-49 In the meantime, the fire of judgment was going to be released on Judah. Even though the Babylonians would come from the north, the destructive fire they would ignite would burn from south (the Negev) to north and would not be extinguished (20:46-48). But the people’s stubborn unbelief was such that even then they mocked Ezekiel, saying, Isn’t he just composing parables? (20:49). In other words, they said, “He’s merely making up stories. All is well.”
21:1-7 Since the people of Judah refused to listen to Ezekiel’s message about the fire in the south, God decided to make it inextricably clear by giving them this word: Son of man, face Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel (21:2). Then he changed the imagery of judgment to a sword that would devour without mercy through the land of Judah, also moving from the south to the north (21:3-4). At this revelation, Ezekiel was told to groan bitterly. When the people asked him why, he was to tell them it was because of the terrible news of the approaching judgment (21:6-7).
21:8-17 The message of this section has several parts, beginning with the picture of a sword of God being sharpened and polished to prepare for a great slaughter (21:8-11). Ezekiel was again told to cry out and wail for the extent of this judgment that would leave no one on the throne of David in Jerusalem (21:12-13). The sword would strike again and again until God had satisfied his great wrath (21:14-17).
21:18-22 The next part of the message concerns the way God would lead Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem when he arrived to put down Zedekiah’s revolt and destroy Jerusalem. The Ammonites, whose capital was Rabbah (modern-day Jordan with its capital of Amman), had also rebelled against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar reached a crossroads and had to decide whether to attack Jerusalem or Rabbah (21:19-20). He consulted all of his pagan objects and rites, but God intervened and led him to Jerusalem where he set up his siege ramps and walls (21:21-22).
21:23-32 Yet even as Babylon was building these siege works, some in Jerusalem thought Nebuchadnezzar’s actions were the result of false divination and would fail (21:23). So God made it known that he had given over Zedekiah, that profane and wicked prince of Israel, to judgment (21:24-25). Jerusalem would be a ruin (21:27).
What about the Ammonites? God had a sword of slaughter poised for them as well (21:28). Ammon was the first on a list of nations that were to be judged for their mistreatment of Israel, with God indicating it would be invaded and destroyed by “the people of the east” (see 25:1-5).
22:1-5 The indictment against Judah and her people continued with a repeat of the question/indictment that began in 20:4: son of man, will you pass judgment? (22:2). The new emphasis here is Jerusalem’s shedding of blood (22:2-4; also 22:6, 9, 12-13, 27). It referred to the violence in the city that was a sin against one’s fellow man (22:3-4).
22:6-16 The leaders of Judah led the people in breaking God’s laws, one by one. Father and mother were mistreated; the resident alien was exploited; the fatherless and widow were oppressed (22:7). They profaned God’s holy things and Sabbaths (22:8). There was also every form of depravity within the nation: sexual sin, bribery, and brutal extortion—all at the hands of a people who had forgotten their holy God (22:9-12). Therefore, God would clap his hands in derision against his dishonest people and against the blood shed among them. Their courage would melt when judgment came and they were scattered (22:13-15).
22:17-22 The images of fierce judgment kept coming. God next gave Ezekiel a word picture of Jerusalem as his furnace of judgment (22:20-21). He would consume the city and its people until there was nothing left but the dross or scum that is scraped away after metal is refined. Because all of you have become dross, he said, I am about to gather you into Jerusalem (22:19). There the Babylonians could burn them in the fire of God’s fury (22:21). Then his sinful people would know that he is the Lord as his wrath was poured out on them (22:22). How much better it is for God to confirm his sovereignty in our lives by blessing our obedience than by punishing our disobedience!
22:23-29 The people came under specific indictment in groups for this catastrophe, beginning with the prophets who conspired to seize wealth from the populace by seeing false visions and lying divinations (22:25, 28). The priests failed to teach God’s law and profaned his holy things, closing their eyes to even the Sabbaths (22:26). They were the (intentionally) blind leading the blind. The officials, meanwhile, were nothing but greedy bureaucrats, destroying lives in order to make profit dishonestly (22:27). Even the people of the land were corrupt and deserved judgment (29:29).
Here we get a picture of a society in complete chaos and breakdown. Every sphere of authority in God’s kingdom program—from the religious leaders, to the civil government, and even the family unit—was failing in its responsibility to carry out God’s kingdom agenda.
22:30-31 Not one person could be found to stand in the gap on God’s behalf and stop his hand of judgment from falling on everyone (22:30). This is the principle of representation that allows God to hold back his judgment if he has sufficient intermediaries whose righteousness can be credited to the benefit of the unrighteous. When such representatives are absent and the people do not repent, then judgment falls (see Gen 18:22-33; 1 Cor 7:13-14).
23:1-4 To further illustrate Judah’s unfaithfulness, God gave Ezekiel another parable to tell his listeners and to record for his readers. This one, like the parable of Sodom and Samaria (see 16:44-59), concerned two sinful women, sisters (23:1). They acted like prostitutes in Egypt, behaving promiscuously (23:3). Together these “sisters” represented the entire nation of Israel, which spent its youth in Egypt where its people first succumbed to idol worship. Oholah represented Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (which by this time had been destroyed), and Oholibah represented Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah (23:4). Their sexual promiscuity was metaphorical for their idolatry—their spiritual adultery—against the Lord. They worshiped false gods and made alliances with the surrounding nations.
23:5-10 The parable unfolds as Oholah (Samaria) sought out her lovers, the Assyrians (23:5), as the rulers of the northern kingdom prostituted themselves to that pagan nation. Because God’s people did not give up their promiscuity that began in Egypt (23:8), God handed them over to the Assyrians to be oppressed and eventually killed by them. Israel was destroyed in 722 BC (23:10).
23:11-13 Unbelievably, Oholibah (Jerusalem) watched all this unfold, yet became even more depraved in her lust than Oholah (23:11). Her lusting after the Assyrians (23:12) probably refers to the actions of King Ahaz of Judah, who sought an alliance with Assyria to beat back an invasion from Israel (the northern kingdom) and Aram (see 2 Kgs 16). In doing so, he made Judah a vassal state of Assyria for the next century. King Josiah freed Judah for a while, but he was killed and Judah came under Egyptian power.
23:14-21 To throw off Egypt, King Jehoiakim turned to the Babylonians and willingly made Judah its vassal state (23:14-17). But when Babylon proved to be a harsh taskmaster, God’s nation came full circle and turned to Egypt for aid. Thus she revisited the depravity of her youth and turned to the country that had originally enslaved her (23:19-21). But her attempt to be rescued by Egypt proved futile. In God’s sight the spiritual promiscuity of Oholibah / Jerusalem was as vulgar as actual prostitution. Instead of turning back to God for help and protection, Judah multiplied its unfaithfulness by continually turning to new pagan “lovers” for the same.
23:22-27 Therefore, there was nothing left for Oholibah but judgment at the hands of her lovers, whom God would incite against her in disgust (23:22). This is a reminder that God sometimes uses the unrighteous to judge his people (see Hab 1:12-13).
Ezekiel declared God’s condemnation in horrific terms. The armies of the entire Babylonian kingdom would come against Jerusalem with devastating effect (23:23). They would inflict punishment similar to the mutilation that was often carried out in that part of the ancient world against a prostitute to ruin her beauty (23:24-27). When the Babylonians were finished with Jerusalem, she would no longer be attractive to anyone.
23:28-35 Ezekiel declared that Jerusalem would be left stark naked, exposing the debauchery of God’s faithless people for all to see (23:28-29). The people of Judah acted like a prostitute with the nations, as did the people of Israel, so they would drink from the cup of Israel’s punishment (23:30-34). The Lord stated clearly the reason for Jerusalem’s judgment: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your indecency and promiscuity (23:35). The leaders and people of Jerusalem would pay the price for their betrayal of their covenant God.
23:36-39 This chapter concludes with a side-by-side comparison of the two sisters’ sins and judgments. Both Oholah and Oholibah, the northern and southern kingdoms, engaged in detestable idolatry of the most disturbing kind (23:36). They sacrificed their children in the fire as food for the idols (23:37) and on the same day went into God’s sanctuary to profane it (23:37-39). Our theology matters. Worship and obedience to the true God will result in righteousness and justice, but worship and obedience to idols results in the worst kinds of immorality and violence against the helpless.
23:40-49 The adulterous way both kingdoms lured other nations into alliances is graphically portrayed as a prostitute adorning herself to lure her lovers into her room (23:40-41). God said his people went for the lowest dregs of society, drunkards from the desert, along with common men (23:42). But righteous men, probably a reference to God’s prophets like Ezekiel, would pronounce judgments on these adulteresses (23:45). The penalty for adultery was stoning, and their enemies would cut them down with their swords . . . kill their sons and daughters and burn their houses (23:47)—all of which happened when both Samaria and Jerusalem fell to invaders. In this way God made an end of their depravity (23:49).
24:1-3 This section (Ezek 20–24) concludes with one last parable and message. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel on a specific and important day (24:1). That’s why God commanded the prophet to write down today’s date, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem (24:2). This date was the same as is recorded in 2 Kings 25:1. It occurred in 588 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar and his army came against Jerusalem to begin the final siege. In other words, the collapse of the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah was near. So the parable of a boiling pot that God told Ezekiel to deliver to that rebellious house was extremely timely (24:3).
24:4-14 Some of Jerusalem’s leaders had given its people false assurance by using the imagery of Jerusalem as a strong “pot” in which its inhabitants were safe inside, like “meat” (see 11:3). But that was far from the truth. Jerusalem was a rusty pot that was about to be set on fire and brought to a boil by the Babylonians, consuming everyone and everything in it. Jerusalem had become a city of bloodshed, and the blood she shed was still present within her—she didn’t even try to cover up her crimes (24:6-7). So God would expose them when he himself piled up the kindling for the fire under the pot of her judgment until it was empty (24:9-11). Judah’s people had frustrated God’s every effort to purify them of their uncleanness, so he had no recourse but to bring judgment (24:12-14).
24:15-19 Ezekiel had delivered his distressing message again and again, but now it would take a heartbreaking turn for him. The Lord was taking away his wife, the delight of his eyes, and forbidding him to lament or weep or let his tears flow at her death (24:16-17). It was a hard command, and Ezekiel had little time to prepare for the blow. That may be why the people were especially surprised at Ezekiel’s lack of outward mourning and wanted to know what it meant—sensing it was a prophetic message to them (23:18-19).
24:20-27 Ezekiel obliged them with a word from God. The prophet’s message was of overwhelming loss for his fellow exiles, who were about to lose their beloved city and many loved ones when Jerusalem was destroyed and her people slaughtered. But the exiles, like Ezekiel, would be unable to grieve because of the draining effect of God’s judgment (23:20-24). Once again, Ezek-iel stated the purpose of God’s judgment: When this happens, you will know that I am the Lord God (24:24). And when the news of the disaster came, Ezekiel’s mouth would be opened to talk with the messenger (24:27), since he had previously been forbidden to speak except what God told him to say (see 3:25-27).