Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Fourth Section, Ch. 12–19. The necessity of Israel’s destruction
The preceding symbols, such as those in ch. 4–12 and ch. 8–11, had foreshewn the certainty of the nation’s fall, a new series of discourses demonstrate the necessity of it. Many thoughts and considerations occurred to men’s minds which invalidated the force of the prophet’s threats and disinclined them to receive them, or at least left them in hesitation. They had been for long familiar with threats of judgment, but the threatened storm had passed over. There were also men who saw into the future as well as Ezekiel, who, however, discerned no signs of approaching calamity, but foretold peace and security. And further, was not Israel the people of Jehovah, whom he could not cast away? In a new series of discourses the prophet disposes of such considerations, adding also positive reasons which demonstrate the moral necessity of the nation’s removal. The section has these divisions—
(1) ch. Ezekiel 12:1-20. Symbol of the king’s secret flight and capture.
(2) ch. Ezekiel 12:21-28. The popular delusion that prophecies of evil failed to come true, or referred to the distant future, shall receive a speedy and terrible refutation.
(3) ch. 13, 14. The prophets who foster such delusions and preach peace, prophesy out of their own heart and lie. The deceivers and those deceived by them shall perish together.
(4) ch. 15. Will the Lord destroy the nation of Israel, his own people?—Israel among the nations is like the vinebranch among the trees: what was it ever good for? Particularly, what is it good for now when half-burnt in the fire? Only to be flung again into the fire and wholly consumed.
(5) ch. 16. Let the history of Jerusalem be judged and estimated! Has it not been a persistent course of ingratitude and unfaithfulness? Can the issue of it be anything but destruction?
(6) ch. 17. And the perfidy of Zedekiah against the king of Babylon, must it not be chastised?
(7) ch. 18. The principles of the divine government.
(8) ch. 19. Dirge over Judah and her royal house.
Ch. 12. Symbol of the flight and capture of the king
The passage is without date, but the signs were subsequent to those already described. The first part, Ezekiel 12:1-20, is rather of the nature of a preface, repeating the certainty of the downfall of the city and nation, while all that follows up to ch. 19 supports this certainty by shewing the moral necessity of Israel’s destruction.
(1) Ezekiel 12:1-2. An introduction characterizing the house of Israel as blind and unable to discern the signs of the times, and therefore in need of new proofs to convince them.
(2) Ezekiel 12:3-7. A symbolical action, prefiguring the fate of the king and people on the capture of the city.
(3) Ezekiel 12:8-16. Exposition of the symbol: the failure of Zedekiah’s attempt at resistance, his flight and capture, exile and death in Babylon, with the dispersion of the people into all lands.
-4Ezekiel 12:17-20. A new symbol of the life of anguish and terror which the people shall lead under the foreign invaders.
(5) Ezekiel 12:21-25. Warning against a proverb current in Israel to the effect that “visions,” that is, prophecies of evil, did not come true.
(6) Ezekiel 12:26-28. Warning against a less blameable form of unbelief, the idea that prophecies, such as those now given, referred to a distant time, and that it would be long ere they were fulfilled.
The word of the LORD also came unto me, saying,
Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.2. The people of Israel among whom the prophet dwells is a rebellious house (ch. Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 2:6-8, Ezekiel 3:26-27). His former signs meet with no belief from them. They have eyes but see not: they behold events and history with their bodily eyes, but fail to discern the moral meaning in them. Events are just events to them, the nature of the God who animates the events remains undiscovered by them (Isaiah 6:9; Isaiah 42:20; Jeremiah 5:21; Mark 8:18). And the signs and words of the prophet make no impression on them; they say, “Doth he not speak parables?” (ch. Ezekiel 20:49). Therefore new signs must be given them (Ezekiel 12:4).
Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for removing, and remove by day in their sight; and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place in their sight: it may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house.3. stuff for removing] Lit. articles of exile, i.e. such articles as one carries with him when going as a fugitive into exile.
and remove by day] Lit. remove as into exile. The word is wanting in LXX., which reads: prepare for thyself articles of exile by day in their sight. This is more natural.
remove from thy place] The words seem to describe generally the whole symbolical action which the prophet is to perform.
though they be a rebellious] for they are.
3–7. Symbolical action, prefiguring the escape and capture of the fugitives
The details of the symbol seem to be as follows: First, the prophet prepares “stuff for removing”—such articles as one meaning to escape would carry with him. These things being prepared, he brings them out. It is not said where he deposits them; it would be in some place convenient to make his escape from, in the vicinity of the wall of the city. These things he does before the eyes of the people during daylight. His action represents the conduct of persons in a besieged city, whose movements are free within the city; hence this part of the action is done openly (Ezekiel 12:3-4). Secondly, these preparations having been made by day, the prophet himself goes out in the even, in the darkness, and digs through the wall, making his escape at the opening, and carrying on his shoulder the articles which he had prepared to take with him in his flight. Besides doing this in the darkness he covers his face. In doing all this he is a “sign” to the house of Israel: in this way shall the king and those with him seek to escape into exile from the enemy when the city is about to fall into their hands (Ezekiel 12:4-7).
Then shalt thou bring forth thy stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removing: and thou shalt go forth at even in their sight, as they that go forth into captivity.4. Then shalt thou bring] And thou shalt. The prophet is to bring forth the articles which he had prepared, depositing them in some convenient place in readiness to carry with him when he escapes.
and thou shalt go forth] Possibly: and thou shalt go forth thyself, as R.V. The second half of Ezekiel 12:4 is to be connected with Ezekiel 12:5, describing the prophet’s action so far as it symbolizes what refers to the persons of the fugitives.
Dig thou through the wall in their sight, and carry out thereby.5. Dig through the wall] Naturally the “wall” is not the wall of his house, but the city wall. He brought out his articles of flight by day, making them ready for the night-time when he was to escape through the wall. It is absurd to suppose, as is usually done, that he carried his things back into the house, and digged through the wall of his house in the evening. This would mar the action and be ridiculous. The “wall” is the city wall. The question whether Tel Abib was a walled place is of no importance, because the actions were probably not actually performed.
In their sight shalt thou bear it upon thy shoulders, and carry it forth in the twilight: thou shalt cover thy face, that thou see not the ground: for I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel.6. The verse refers to the prophet’s going out through the city wall, bearing on his shoulder the bundle of articles he carried with him in his flight.
in the twilight] in the darkness. So Ezekiel 12:7. The word again only Genesis 15:17.
cover thy face] This might be to disguise himself, but the next words “thou shalt not see the land” (ground) seem to require a different sense. Cf. Ezekiel 12:12-13.
a sign unto … Israel] A typical sign, as explained Ezekiel 12:11, “As I have done so shall it be done unto them.” Comp. ch. Ezekiel 24:24; Ezekiel 24:27; Isaiah 8:18; Isaiah 20:3; Zechariah 3:8.
And I did so as I was commanded: I brought forth my stuff by day, as stuff for captivity, and in the even I digged through the wall with mine hand; I brought it forth in the twilight, and I bare it upon my shoulder in their sight.7. with mine hand] lit. with hand, i.e. by force, Isaiah 28:2. LXX. omits.
in the twilight] the darkness, as Ezekiel 12:6, so Ezekiel 12:12.
Ezekiel 12:8-16. Exposition of the symbol.
The action of the prophet is a representation of what shall happen in the last days of the siege. The king and those about him shall prepare for flight; they shall go out secretly through the walls, but shall be captured and brought to Babylon.
And in the morning came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,8, 9. in the morning] This circumstance might seem to imply that the prophet really performed the actions described. But though in this case performance of the action was not an impossibility it was probably only narrated (see on ch. 4). The natural sequel of the action (supposing it done), the curiosity of the people, is described, just as the action itself was, as if it had literally been shewn.
Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said unto thee, What doest thou?
Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel that are among them.10, 11. The general meaning of these verses is clear enough—the prophet’s action is a representation of what shall happen in Jerusalem in the case of prince and people, but Ezekiel 12:10 is very obscure, and probably not in its original form.
This burden concerneth the prince] lit. the prince (is) this burden in Jerusalem. The term “burden” has also the sense of “oracle,” but Ez. does not use it in this sense and there is no reason to find any play upon the word as Jeremiah 23:33. The allusion can only be to the last words of Ezekiel 12:7—I bare it upon my shoulder; and the meaning would be: this bearing or loading has reference to the prince (Ezekiel 12:12). With this sense the following words must run: and all the house of Israel which are in the midst of it (Jerusalem—with a change of one letter). The objection to this that if the relative were subject the pronoun would not be expressed after it (Hitz., Keil) is worthless. But there are other objections more valid: “all the house of Israel” could hardly be used of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the phrase usually refers to the larger Israel, existing in all places. R.V. “this burden concerneth the prince … and all the house of Israel among whom they are;” but concerneth is said of the “prince” and of “all the house of Israel” in different senses. Notwithstanding the objections to it the easiest course is to read: in the midst of it (Jerusalem) as above. Corn. omits the verse as a gloss.
Say, I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them: they shall remove and go into captivity.11. I am your sign] i.e. a sign to you—the exiles, to whom he is speaking; while done “to them” refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Cf. Ezekiel 12:6.
And the prince that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the twilight, and shall go forth: they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby: he shall cover his face, that he see not the ground with his eyes.12. shoulder in the twilight, and shall] The balance of clauses requires: shall bear upon his shoulder; in the darkness shall he go forth (or, carry forth—a slight change of reading, which obviates the unnatural and).
that he see not the ground] Rather as R.V., because he shall not see the land.
with his eyes] Lit. by eyesight himself. The language is unnatural. LXX. “that he may not be seen by eye, and he himself shall not see the land.” Whether original or not this rendering combines the two ideas expressed by “covering the face,” viz. that of disguise (Job 24:15), and that of inability to see (Job 9:24). The prophet clearly foresaw the fall of the city and the captivity of the king, and he may have threatened the king with a chastisement for his rebellion which, though barbarous, was not unusual in that age. If he did so it is still probable that afterwards when composing his Book he made the references to the putting out of the king’s eyes more distinct (Ezekiel 12:13).
My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare: and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there.13. The king’s flight shall be unavailing; he shall be captured and brought blinded to Babylon, where he shall die. As the Lord fought against Jerusalem in the siege, so it is he that ensures the capture of the king. It is in his net that he is ensnared and taken; Hosea 7:12, “when they go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of heaven.” Cf. Ezekiel 17:20; Ezekiel 32:3.
yet shall he not see it] The eyes of Zedekiah were put out by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah. 2 Kings 25:5 seq.; Jeremiah 52:8; Jeremiah 52:11.
And I will scatter toward every wind all that are about him to help him, and all his bands; and I will draw out the sword after them.14–16. All the armies and aids of the king shall be dispersed and pursued with the sword. They shall be scattered among the nations, and their history shall bring to their knowledge what Jehovah, their God, truly is. A remnant of them shall be spared among the nations that they make known to them their abominations, and these also shall learn what the God of Israel is. Jerusalem and Israel is set in the midst of the nations round about (ch. Ezekiel 5:5), its history is a drama enacted before the eyes of mankind, and the drama when finished will reveal, not only to Israel but the nations of the world, Jehovah in his fulness. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 14:22-23, Ezekiel 17:24, Ezekiel 20:9, Ezekiel 38:23, Ezekiel 39:23; Isaiah 5:16; Jeremiah 22:8.
And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall scatter them among the nations, and disperse them in the countries.
But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen whither they come; and they shall know that I am the LORD.
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,17–20. A new symbol of the terror and violence and desolation about to come upon the land.
Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness;18. It is obvious that this symbol could not have been actually performed. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 4:16.
And say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord GOD of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel; They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land may be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein.19. Jerusalem and of the land] Rather: Jerusalem in (lit. upon) the land.
because of the violence] The punishment of violence is violence. The internal wrong and oppression shall be avenged by a crushing violence and destruction from without. Amos 3:9-11. The phrase “desolate from all that is therein,” lit. from its fulness, means desolate and emptied of its fulness.
And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,21–28. Warning against despising of prophecy
The prophet felt that such threats as those just uttered (Ezekiel 12:1-20) were neglected and little thought of. People disposed of such prophecies by saying that they did not come true; or, if they did not go so far, by saying that they referred to the distant future. Ezekiel warns them that Jehovah’s threatenings bear upon the present time, and that they shall be fulfilled.
Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?22. The days are prolonged] i.e. time passes and becomes long. The words are a generalization upon the fact that prophecies of judgment are not fulfilled; time goes on and “every vision faileth,” remains a dead threat. LXX. omits “every,” giving even a more comprehensive sense. The reference is specially to prophecies of judgment, and there was room for misapprehension in regard to these, because being drawn forth by moral evils existing when they were uttered, they were of the nature of threats, the object of which was to bring the people to repentance, and thus prevent their own fulfilment. For the same reason they were often of a general character, and thus when their fulfilment was postponed or when they were not literally fulfilled, men judged that they were merely uttered in the air. The moral purpose and consequently the contingent character of prophecy is expressly taught in Jeremiah 17, and was well understood by intelligent persons in Israel, as appears from the reasoning of the princes in regard to the prophecy of Micah, Jeremiah 26:17-19.
Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.23. Judgment had been so often threatened and so often deferred that the failure of prophecy to realize itself became a proverb. Too superficial to apprehend the meaning of its postponement these scoffers made light of the threatened judgment (2 Peter 3:3; 2 Peter 3:9). Now they shall be undeceived. For similar popular sentiments, cf. Jeremiah 5:13-14; Jeremiah 17:15.
the effect of every vision] Lit. the word—the contents, of every vision.
For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel.24. Another thing which robbed the word of the true prophets, who threatened judgment, of its force was the fact that there were other prophets who spoke in a contrary sense, preaching peace and security. Prophets, though alike speaking in the name of Jehovah, contradicted one another, and the people, even if anxious to know the truth, had no criterion whereby to judge between them. The scene between Jeremiah and Hananiah (Jeremiah 28) is very instructive as to the condition in which the people were left. There was nothing in Jeremiah to shew him to be a true prophet, and nothing in Hananiah to prove him false. Truth and falsehood could be distinguished in those days in no other way than now: he who has to distinguish must find the criterion in himself—he that is of the truth heareth my voice. The people believed that Jehovah spoke by prophets, but by which prophets, whether Jeremiah or his opponents, they had to decide out of their own hearts, and not unnaturally (Micah 2:11) they despised Jeremiah as a false prophet and held to his opponents (Jeremiah 18:18).
no more … flattering divination] These false prophecies of peace shall cease, for the same judgment which confirms the true prophecy shall annihilate the false. The term “divination” was employed of the methods of reaching the mind of the deity used by the native populations of Canaan (Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 6:2). They were such appliances as lots, arrows, and other methods of augury (Ezekiel 21:21). Possibly these methods had in some degree passed into use in Israel, and were employed by a low prophecy. In true prophecy these mechanical arts were discarded: Jehovah spoke to the mind of the prophet in his mind. Here, however, the word “divination” is used of the oracles of the prophets who were false, even though not employing any external arts of augury. Their prophecy is called “flattering,” lit. smooth, because it promised immunity from trouble and disaster. Cf. Jeremiah 14:14.
For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD.25. for I am the Lord] Rather: for I the Lord will speak. Lit. for I the Lord will speak what word I shall speak, and it shall come to pass. The sense is given by A.V. The word which the Lord speaks to this generation shall be fulfilled before it pass away.
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying,26–28. If others did not go so far as to disregard prophecy altogether, they concluded that the prophecies bore reference to the future, and that the judgments threatened would not come in their day (Isaiah 39:8). This also was an inference not unnatural. The prophecies of the true prophets were moral and designed even when threatening to turn men away from their sins, and thus in a manner to frustrate their own fulfilment. They were not absolute predictions, but conditional threats, which might be averted on repentance and amendment (Jonah; Jeremiah 18; Joel 2:14). And in point of fact the most terrible threatenings of judgment were connected with the “day of the Lord,” which might be supposed not very near (Isaiah 5:18-19). Cf. on Ezekiel 12:22; Habakkuk 2:3.
Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off.
Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord GOD.28. word which I have spoken] which I shall speak, lit. what word I shall speak. Cf. for construction, Jeremiah 14:1; Jeremiah 46:1; Amos 5:1.