Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The vision being finished, there follows a series of connected prophecies, extending through Ezekiel 19, just as the vision of Ezekiel 4, 5 was followed by the prophecies of Ezekiel 6, 7; and in this case, as in the former, the prophecy includes symbolical action (Ezekiel 12:3-7). In Ezekiel 12:9 the people are represented as inquiring the meaning of this action, and in Ezekiel 12:8 the Divine answer is spoken of as given “in the morning” after the action; it was, therefore, undoubtedly actually performed. The object of this whole series of prophecies is the same as that of the preceding vision: to show the worthlessness of the trust in the preservation of the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem, and in an early release from the Babylonian yoke. In the present chapter the prophet is required to foreshow the captivity of the king and the people by a symbolical action (Ezekiel 12:3-7); to explain this action (Ezekiel 12:8-16); to set forth by another symbolical action the distress of the people (Ezekiel 12:17-20); and, finally, to meet the objection that these things will either never occur, or at least will be long delayed (Ezekiel 12:21-28).
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) A rebellious house.—Comp. Deuteronomy 1:26; Romans 10:21. The seeing not and hearing not is that perverse refusing to see and to hear so often spoken of in Scripture. (See Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 6:9; Jeremiah 5:21; Matthew 13:14-15.) It was because of this disposition that the prophet was to give them a sign to which they could not shut their eyes.
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) Prepare thee stuff for removing.—The same words are translated in Jeremiah 46:19, “Furnish thyself to go into captivity.” Stuff includes all that an emigrant would require, clothes, utensils, &c.; and “removing” is the same word as is translated captivity in Ezekiel 12:4. The symbolical action was that of one preparing to leave his home to go into captivity. The prophet is to make his preparations during the day, and to carry forth his stuff (Ezekiel 12:7), but not himself to go forth until even (Ezekiel 12:4). The action seems to be that of one who must abandon his home, using the whole day to carry out all he can with the purpose of saving it, and then himself leaving the house when the day is done.
Dig thou through the wall in their sight, and carry out thereby.(5) Dig thou through the wall.—This is a sub sequent action, as shown by Ezekiel 12:7. The wall was probably of adobe, sun-dried brick, the common building material of the country, and there was, therefore, no great difficulty in digging through it; but this way of entering the house indicates something of stealth and secrecy. He was to carry forth his goods openly through his door during the day, and then to re-enter at evening, and secretly to carry forth those things which he would not otherwise be allowed to take away.
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) Bear it . . . carry it.—The pronouns are not in the original, and are better omitted. Otherwise, the “it” might seem to refer to the stuff already carried out during the day. Read, “Thou shalt bear upon thy shoulders, and carry forth in the dark.” The word rendered “twilight” is used only here and in Ezekiel 12:12, and in Genesis 15:17, and means dark.
That thou see not the ground.—This covering of the face might primarily be a token of grief; but as the whole action is distinctly prophetic (and is so interpreted; see Ezekiel 12:11-14), so especially was this sign. (See the account of the capture of Zedekiah in 2Kings 25:4-7; Jeremiah 39:4-7; Jeremiah 52:7-11.) The king, with his men of war, escaped from the city secretly by night, was pursued and captured, and carried to Riblah, where his eyes were put out, and he was then taken in chains to Babylon.
And in the morning came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,(8) In the morning.—This implies that the foregoing symbolical action was actually performed, since the Divine message comes in answer to the inquiry of the people (Ezekiel 12:9), “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) All the house of Israel.—The burden (or message of woe) was directed immediately to the king and his princes, but the people were also necessarily involved. Israel is here, as elsewhere, used. for the then existing nation, which was considered as representing the whole, although composed chiefly of the tribe of Judah.
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) Your sign.—The change of pronoun is intentional. The prophet’s action was to be a sign not only to Zedekiah and the people in Jerusalem, but also to those in captivity, since they rested their hope upon the safety of the holy city.
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) They shall dig through the wall.—This circumstance is not mentioned in the history of Zedekiah’s flight; yet it is not necessary to understand it figuratively, since such a breach in the walls at a place unwatched by the enemy might easily be arranged to secure secrecy, and as easily be passed over in the brevity of the historical account. (See Note on Ezekiel 12:6.)
Shall cover his face,—This he would naturally do to avoid recognition; but the words were doubtless meant also as an intimation of what is more plainly hinted in the following verse.
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) Yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there.—The prophet does not explain how this could be; but Jeremiah (Jeremiah 52:11) makes it plain by recording that Zedekiah’s eyes were put out in Riblah, before he was carried to Babylon. Josephus has a curious story (Antiq. x. 7, § 2), that Zedekiah was inclined to believe the warnings of Jeremiah that he should be carried captive to Babylon; but when Ezekiel sent this prophecy to Jerusalem, saying that he should not see the land, he conceived the two prophecies to be contradictory, and so disbelieved them both. Zedekiah’s death in Babylon is mentioned in 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) I will scatter toward every wind.—The people of Judah were not carried captive to Babylon only, but many of them were scattered wherever they could find refuge; and, finally, the remnant left in the land by Nebuchadnezzar, after the murder of his governor Gedaliah, escaped into Egypt (Jeremiah 41-43).
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.(16) May declare all their abominations.—This they were to do, that the false impression that God was unable to protect His people might be removed from the minds of the heathen, and the truth that He was punishing them for their sins be made known. They should do it both by word of mouth (as in Jeremiah 22:8-9), and also by their conduct (as in Ezekiel 14:22-23). The word “few” is literally, as shown in the margin, men of number, i.e., men who can easily be numbered or counted; and in the very similar expression in the original for “declare,” there is a play upon the word, something like our “count” and “recount.”
They shall know, may grammatically refer either to the heathen, or to the Israelites in their dispersion; but the latter is so constantly the refrain of these prophecies (see Ezekiel 12:20, e.g.), that it is also to be understood here.
Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness;(18) Eat thy bread with quaking.—This is another symbolical action, the meaning of which is immediately explained. The prophet is to eat and drink as men in the terror and distress of a siege.
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) Unto the people of the land,—i.e., of the land of Chaldæa: Ezekiel’s fellow-captives. All these prophecies, though concerning Jerusalem and its people, were immediately addressed to the exiles, and their teaching was primarily for them. It is not unlikely, however, as St. Jerome says, that all these prophecies of Ezekiel were sent to Jerusalem, and the corresponding utterances of Jeremiah, made in Jerusalem, were sent to Chaldæa.
From all that is therein.—The margin, which is the literal rendering, explains this: “The land shall be stripped of its richness and excellence, of all that makes it desirable.”
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(21-28) These verses contain two distinct messages from the Lord (Ezekiel 12:21-28), both designed to meet the objection that warning prophecies had been uttered now for a long time, and as they had not come to pass there was no reason to expect their fulfilment, at least until some far distant future. It is always the tendency of sinful man to take this ground while experiencing the long-suffering and forbearance of God (see Ecclesiastes 8:11; Amos 6:3; Matthew 24:43; 1Thessalonians 5:3); and the scoff, “Where is the promise of His coming?” will still continue to the end of time (2Peter 3:4). In this case, the objection was evidently encouraged by false prophets (Ezekiel 12:24), and accordingly the following chapter is devoted to them.
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) In the land of Israel, is not here simply equivalent to the “in Israel” of Ezekiel 12:23, but refers to a proverb current among those who had not yet been carried into captivity, and who fancied that they should not be.
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) The effect of every vision.—The sense would be made clearer by rendering “the accomplishment” of every vision.