Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter consists of two distinct but closely-connected prophecies, the first of which (Ezekiel 14:1-11) was called out by the coming of the elders to enquire of the prophet, and announces to them that God will not answer, but will destroy idolatrous enquirers; while the second (Ezekiel 14:12-23) shows the falsity of the hope that God will spare the land for the sake of the righteous that may be therein. Both of these are closely connected with the prophecies that have gone before, and are doubtless placed in their chronological order, as uttered in the second year of Ezekiel’s ministry, the sixth or seventh year of his captivity.
Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.(1) Certain of the elders of Israel.—There is no distinction intended here between the elders of Israel and the elders of Judah mentioned in 8:1, and therefore there is no occasion to suppose a deputation sent to the prophet from Jerusalem. Israel is now becoming the ordinary name of the existing nation, except where it is used with some special mark of distinction. The object of their enquiry is not mentioned, nor is it even expressly said that they made any enquiry; but the message to them implies this, and from what is said to them we may probably gather what was uppermost in their minds. Already told by the previous prophecies that God would not spare Jerusalem for its own sake, and that His long forbearance hitherto was no warrant for its continuance, they still evidently cherished the hope that, however sinful they might be in themselves, their city would yet be delivered for the sake of the holy men who lived therein. With such thoughts in their minds the elders came and sat before the prophet, in whose fearless words they had already learned to have confidence, and waited what he might have to say to them.
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?(3) Have set up their idols in their heart.—It was not the open idolatry of Judæa which is reproved among these elders of the captivity; that had already passed away, but still their heart was not right. Like Lot’s wife, they longed for that which they dared not do. With such a disposition, they were in the greatest danger, putting “the stumbling-block of their iniquity,” the temptation to sin, directly before them. And not only so, but they kept themselves in a state of alienation from God, so that it was idle to imagine He would allow Himself to be enquired of by them. The question implies the negative answer which is fully expressed in the following verses.
Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;(4) Will answer him that cometh.—The words that cometh, not being in the original, should be omitted. The verb answer in the original is in the passive, and has a reflexive sense=“I will show myself answering,” a softer form than the English. The principle that when man persists in going counter to God’s known will He will allow him to misunderstand that will, is abundantly established by such instances as that of Balaam (Numbers 22:20) and of Micaiah (1Kings 22:15). No man can hope to know what God would have him to do unless his own heart is truly submissive to the Divine will. The threat here is, that the man coming to inquire of God with a heart full of idolatry, shall receive no true answer from that Omniscience which he does not respect; but will rather find himself deceived by the illusions of his own heart. This idea is more fully developed in the following verse. (Comp. Isaiah 44:20.)
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.(6) Repent and turn.—The announcements of the previous verses form the basis for the earnest call to a true repentance. There can be no hope for Israel in any merely outward reformation; they have to do with the Searcher of hearts, and the only repentance acceptable to Him is that which has its seat in the affections of the heart.
For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:(7) Or of the stranger.—Under the Mosaic legislation, “the stranger” living among the Israelites was bound to observe a certain outward deference to the law of the land, just as a foreigner in any country now is bound to respect in certain things the law of the country in which he lives. Israel being a theocracy, its fundamental law against idol-worship could not be violated with impunity by those who sought the protection of its government (Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:1-2, &c.). In this case, however, outward idolatry is not alleged, as the accusations of this verse and Ezekiel 14:4 refer only to the secret idolatry of the heart; and the point insisted upon is not so much the idol-worship in itself, as the hypocrisy of attempting to join with this the enquiring of the Lord. God declares that He will answer such hypocrisy, in whomsoever it may be found, not by the prophet through whom the enquiry is made, but by Himself interposing to punish the enquirer, and to make him an example to deter others from a like course.
And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.(8) Will make him a sign.—The text of the Hebrew is here preferable to its margin, which has been followed by our translators, as well as by the ancient versions. There is a similar threat in Deuteronomy 28:37; and the clause should be rendered, “will make him desolate (or destroy him) for a sign and a proverb.” The English almost loses the idea of the wonder which will be occasioned by the severity of God’s dealings with the false worshipper.
And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.(9) And if the prophet be deceived.—The exact sense of the original is, “If a prophet be persuaded and speak a word, I the LORD have persuaded that prophet.” The thought is thus in close connection with what precedes; in Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ezekiel 14:7, the Lord has refused to allow an answer through the prophet to the hypocritical enquirer; but if the prophet, by giving the desired answer, allows himself to become a partaker of the sin which God abhors, then God will treat him according to that general method of dealing with sin which is here described. He “persuades” the prophet in the same sense in which He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, by making such persuasion the natural consequence of the immutable moral laws which He has ordained. Men are held back from sin only by God’s own Holy Spirit drawing them towards Himself. When they set this aside by transgressing God’s commands, the inevitable tendency—the tendency under the moral laws God has established—is to further sin. Hence the prophet who allowed himself to be persuaded, contrary to God’s command, to answer the hypocritical enquirer at all, would inevitably be persuaded further to answer him according to his desires. God does not force men either to receive the truth or to act righteously. If, notwithstanding His remonstrances, their hearts are set upon wrong, He will even give them up and “send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie” (2Thessalonians 2:11). We are too often told in Scripture of this method of the Divine dealing to leave any room for us to misunderstand the principle. The result is a terrible one, but it is quite in keeping with all we can observe of the Divine work in nature. The man that refuses the medicine, must sink under the disease. The principle is clearly exemplified in the case of Ahab (1Kings 22:19-23), where the Lord is represented as sending a lying spirit into the mouths of the prophets, that they might counsel the king to the wrong course he was already determined to take. God is declared to do this because it was the result under His moral laws of the wicked and domineering spirit of the king who had driven away the true prophets and gathered around himself those who were willing to pervert their office and prophesy falsely to gratify his wishes. Of course this is not to suppose that God can ever be the author of sin and deceit; but He has ordained that sin shall punish itself, and when the heart rejects Him, He withdraws His Spirit from it and gives it up to its own delusions. Thus when Saul’s heart became alienated from God, and “the Spirit of the Lord departed from” him, the evil spirit, which came instead, is said to be “from the LORD” (1Samuel 16:14). This kind of judgment is necessarily more common in times of great and general declension from the right. Hence false prophets were especially abundant towards the close of the kingdom of Judah, and form a marked characteristic in the New Testament prophecies of “the last days.” No more terrible judgment can be imagined than that of thus giving up the sinner to the consequences of his own sin.
Will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.—This is not the word which is so often used in the penalties of the law, “will cut him off from my people.” The latter refers only to excommunication, to exclusion from the privileges of the chosen people; but this means that the untrue prophet shall literally be destroyed, like Balaam (Numbers 31:8), among the enemies of God with whom he had cast in his lot.
That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.(11) May go no more astray.—Here is given the object of all the previous severity of judgment—that Israel may be brought to a true repentance and be reunited in communion with God.
The prophet is now directed, in a distinct communication, to meet the thought which was evidently in the minds of the people, that Jerusalem would yet be spared for the sake of the righteous dwelling therein, as had been promised to Abraham even in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-32). The course of thought is this: If any land should sin as grievously as Israel had done, and God should send a judgment, it would not be spared, though Noah, Daniel and Job were in it. This is repeated in connection with each one of four successively mentioned judgments; and then the climax is reached, that much less can Jerusalem be spared when all these judgments are combined together. In the end, the justice of the Divine dealings shall be acknowledged.
A few years earlier, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14, 15) had uttered a very similar prophecy in connection with the denunciation of false prophets (Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 14:15) in which not only he himself is forbidden to intercede for the people Jeremiah 14:11), but it is said (Jeremiah 15:1) that the presence of Moses and Samuel would be unavailing.
Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it:(13) When the land sinneth.—The definite article is not in the Hebrew, and should be omitted, as the proposition is a general one. Also the future tenses throughout the verse should be rendered as present, in accordance with this character of a general statement: “When a land sinneth . . . and I stretch out . . . and break the staff . . . and send famine . . . and cut off.” The particular judgment of famine was threatened in the warnings of the law (Leviticus 26:26; Deuteronomy 28:38-40), and also, in immediate connection with it, all the other woes here mentioned.
Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.(14) Noah, Daniel, and Job.—These three are selected, doubtless, not only as examples of eminent holiness themselves, but as men who had been allowed to be the means of saving others. For Noah’s sake his whole family had been spared (Genesis 6:18); Daniel was the means of saving his companions (Daniel 2:17-18); and Job’s friends had been spared in consequence of his intercession (Job 42:7-8). Moses and Samuel might seem still more remarkable instances of the value of intercessory prayer; but these had already been cited by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:1). The mention of Daniel, a contemporary of Ezekiel, with the ancient patriarchs, Noah and Job, need occasion no surprise. The distance in time between Noah and Job was greater than between Job and Daniel, and it has been well said that there was need of the mention of a contemporary to bring out the thought—were there in Jerusalem the most holy men of either past or present times it would avail nothing. It is also to be remembered that Daniel was separated from Ezekiel by circumstances which created a distance between them corresponding to that which separated him in time from the patriarchs. Ezekiel was a captive among the captives; Daniel had now been for about twelve years in important office at the royal court, and possessed of the very highest rank. There is, therefore, no occasion for the strange supposition that the reference is to some older Daniel, of such eminence as to be spoken of in the way he is here and in Ezekiel 28:3, and yet whose name has otherwise completely faded out from history. But besides all this, there was an especial propriety, and even necessity for the purpose in hand, that Daniel should be mentioned. He was not only in high office, but was the trusted counsellor of Nebuchadnezzar by whom Jerusalem was to be destroyed. He was also a very holy man, and a most patriotic Israelite. The Jews, therefore, might well have thought that his influence would avail to avert the threatened calamity, and by placing his name in the list. their last hope was to be dashed as it could be by nothing else.
If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts:(15-20) In these verses the same declaration is repeated, for the sake of emphasis, with each one of three other instruments of punishment, with only such variations of phraseology as are required for rhetorical reasons. The phrase “their own souls” is here also simply equivalent to “themselves.” The judgments mentioned are all taken from the warnings in Leviticus 26, the famine from Leviticus 26:26, the wild beasts from Leviticus 26:22, the sword and also the pestilence from Leviticus 26:25.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?(21) My four sore judgments.—The teaching of the preceding eight verses is here gathered up into its climax. In the case of any one of the four punishments mentioned in succession, the presence of the holiest of men should be of no avail to avert it; how much more then, when all these are combined in the judgment upon Jerusalem, will it be impossible to stay its doom.
Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it.(22) Ye shall be comforted concerning the evil.—In this and the following verse it is promised that a remnant shall be brought from Jerusalem; and it is clearly implied that they shall come to Babylonia. There the present exiles shall see them, and thus be comforted. But in what sense comforted? The connection absolutely decides this: “when ye see their ways and their doings, ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it.” That is, when you see the wickedness, of this remnant, you will cease to mourn over the judgment, for you cannot but perceive that it was a righteous act of God. The expression “sons and daughters” is used in Ezekiel 14:22 with reference to the same phrase in Ezekiel 14:16; Ezekiel 14:18; Ezekiel 14:20; and the form “they shall comfort you” in Ezekiel 14:23 is explained by what is said in Ezekiel 14:22, not as meaning “they shall administer comfort,” but “they shall be a cause of comfort” by showing you their exceeding wickedness.