The word of the LORD came to me again, saying,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ezekiel 17 gives occasion for a declaration of the principle upon which God's providential dispensations proceed, namely, that every individual shall be equitably dealt with - a principle that precludes the children from either presuming on the father's merits or despairing on account of the father's guilt. This chapter is an enlargement of Jeremiah 31:29, and sets forth fully the doctrine of individual responsibility.
Eze 18:1-32. The Parable of the Sour Grapes Reproved.
Vindication of God's moral government as to His retributive righteousness from the Jewish imputation of injustice, as if they were suffering, not for their own sin, but for that of their fathers. As in the seventeenth chapter he foretold Messiah's happy reign in Jerusalem, so now he warns them that its blessings can be theirs only upon their individually turning to righteousness.God disalloweth the parable of sour grapes, Ezekiel 18:1-4. He showeth his dealing with a just man, Ezekiel 18:5-9, with the wicked son of a just father, Ezekiel 18:10-13, and with the just son of a wicked father, Ezekiel 18:14-18. He declareth that the treatment of both son and father shall be according to their respective deserts, Ezekiel 18:19,20; and that the wicked, if he repent, shall live, Ezekiel 18:21-23; but he that revolteth from his righteousness shall die, Ezekiel 18:21. He defendeth the equity of his dealings, Ezekiel 18:25-30, and exhorteth to repentance, Ezekiel 18:31,32.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verses 1, 2. - What mean ye, that ye use this proverb, etc.? Another and entirely different section opens, and we see at once from what it started. Ezekiel had heard from the lips of his countrymen, and had seen its working in their hearts, the proverb (already familiar to him, it may be, through Jeremiah 31:29) with which they blunted their sense of personal responsibility. They had to bear the punishment of sins which they had not committed. The sins of the fathers were visited, as in Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Leviticus 26:39, 40; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9, upon the third and fourth generations. Manasseh and his people had sinned, and Josiah and his descendants and their contemporaries had to suffer for it. The thought was familiar enough, and the general law of the passages above referred to was afterwards applied, as with authority, to what was then passing (2 Kings 23:26; 2 Kings 24:3). Even Jeremiah recognized it in Lamentations 5:7 and Jeremiah 15:4, and was content to look, for a reversal of the proverb, to the distant Messianic time of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:29-31). The plea with which Ezekiel had to deal was therefore one which seemed to rest on the basis of a Divine authority. And that authority was confirmed by the induction of a wide experience. Every preacher of righteousness in every age has to warn the evil doer that he is working evil for generations yet unborn, to whom he transmits his own tendencies, the evil of his own influence and example. It is well that he can balance that thought with the belief that good also may work in the future with a yet wider range and mightier power (Exodus 20:5). Authority and experience alike might seem to favour the plea that the fathers had eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth were set on edge. Ezekiel was led, however, to feel that there was a latent falsehood in the plea. In the depth of his consciousness there was the witness that every man was personally responsible for the things that he did, that the eternal righteousness of God would not ultimately punish the innocent for the guilty, he had to work out, according to the light given him, his vindication of the ways of God to man, to sketch at least the outlines of a theodicy. Did he, in doing this, come forward as a prophet, correcting and setting aside the teaching of the Law? At first, and on a surface view, he might seem to do so. But it was with him as it was afterwards with St. Paul He "established the Law" in the very teaching which seemed to contradict it. He does not deny (it would have been idle to do so) that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, i.e. affect those children for evil. What he does is to define the limits of that law. And he may have found his starting point in that very book which, for him and his generation, was the great embodiment of the Law as a whole. If men were forbidden, as in Deuteronomy 24:16, to put the children to death for the sins of the fathers; if that was to be the rule of human justice, - the justice of God could not be less equitable than the rule which he prescribed for his creatures. It is not without interest to note the parallelism between Ezekiel and the Greek poet who was likest to him, as in his genius, so also in the courage with which he faced the problems of the universe. AEschylus also recognizes ('Agam.,' 727-756) that there is a righteous order in the seeming anomalies of history. Men might say, in their proverbs, that prosperity as such provoked the wrath of the gods, and brought on the downfall of a "woe insatiable;" and then he adds -
"But I, apart from all,
Hold this my creed alone." And that creed is that punishment comes only when the children reproduce the impious recklessness of their fathers. "Justice shines brightly in the dwellings of those who love the right, and rule their life by law." Into the deeper problem raised by the modern thought of inherited tendencies developed by the environment, which itself originates in the past, it was not given to Ezekiel or AEschylus to enter.
Ezekiel 17:11. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Ezekiel 17:12. Say to the refractory race: Do ye not know what this is? Say, Behold, the king of Babel came to Jerusalem and took its king and its princes, and brought them to himself to Babel. Ezekiel 17:13. And he took of the royal seed, and made a covenant with him, and caused him to enter into an oath; and he took the strong ones of the land: Ezekiel 17:14. That it might be a lowly kingdom, not to lift itself up, that he might keep his covenant, that it might stand. Ezekiel 17:15. But he rebelled against him by sending his messengers to Egypt, that it might give him horses and much people. Will he prosper? will he that hath done this escape? He has broken the covenant, and should he escape? Ezekiel 17:16. As I live, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah, surely in the place of the king, who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke with him, in Babel he will die. Ezekiel 17:17. And not with great army and much people will Pharaoh act with him in the war, when they cast up a rampart and build siege-towers, to cut off many souls. Ezekiel 17:18. He has despised an oath to break the covenant, and, behold, he has given his hand and done all this; he will not escape. Ezekiel 17:19. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, As I live, surely my oath which he has despised, and my covenant which he has broken, I will give upon his head. Ezekiel 17:20. I will spread out my net over him, so that he will be taken in my snare, and will bring him to Babel, and contend with him there on account of his treachery which he has been guilty of towards me. Ezekiel 17:21. And all his fugitives in all his regiments, by the sword will they fall, and those who remain will be scattered to all winds; and ye shall see that I Jehovah have spoken it.
In Ezekiel 17:12-17 the parable in Ezekiel 17:2-10 is interpreted; and in Ezekiel 17:19-21 the threat contained in the parable is confirmed and still further expanded. We have an account of the carrying away of the king, i.e., Jehoiachin, and his princes to Babel in 2 Kings 24:11., Jeremiah 24:1, and Jeremiah 29:2. The king's seed (זרע המּלוּכה, Ezekiel 17:13, as in Jeremiah 41:1 equals זרע המּלך, 1 Kings 11:14) is Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah, whom Nebuchadnezzar made king under the name of Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17), and from whom he took an oath of fealty (2 Chronicles 36:13). The strong of the land (אילי equals אוּלי, 2 Kings 24:15), whom Nebuchadnezzar took (לקח), i.e., took away to Babel, are not the heads of tribes and families (2 Kings 24:15); but the expression is used in a wide sense for the several classes of men of wealth, who are grouped together in 2 Kings 24:14 under the one term כּל־גּבּורי ח (אנשׁי חיל, 2 Kings 24:16), including masons, smiths, and carpenters (2 Kings 24:14 and 2 Kings 24:16), whereas the heads of tribes and families are classed with the court officials (סריסים, 2 Kings 24:15) under the title שׂריה (princes) in Ezekiel 17:12. The design of these measures was to make a lowly kingdom, which could not raise itself, i.e., could not revolt, and to deprive the vassal king of the means of breaking of the covenant. the suffix attached to לעמדהּ is probably to be taken as referring to ממלכה rather than בּריתי, although both are admissible, and would yield precisely the same sense, inasmuch as the stability of the kingdom was dependent upon the stability of the covenant. But Zedekiah rebelled (2 Kings 24:20). The Egyptian king who was to give Zedekiah horses and much people, in other words, to come to his assistance with a powerful army of cavalry and fighting men, was Hophrah, the Apries of the Greeks, according to Jeremiah 44:30 (see the comm. on 2 Kings 24:19-20). היצלח points back to תּצלח in Ezekiel 17:9; but here it is applied to the rebellious king, and is explained in the clause 'הימּלט וגו. The answer is given in Ezekiel 17:16 as a word of God confirmed by a solemn oath: he shall die in Babel, the capital of the king, who placed him on the throne, and Pharaoh will not render him any effectual help (Ezekiel 17:17). עשׂה אותו, as in Ezekiel 15:1-8 :59, to act with him, that is to say, assist him, come to his help. אותו refers to Zedekiah, not to Pharaoh, as Ewald assumes in an inexplicable manner. For 'שׁפך סללה , compare Ezekiel 4:2; and for the fact itself, Jeremiah 34:21-22, and Jeremiah 37:5, according to which, although an Egyptian army came to the rescue of Jerusalem at the time when it was besieged by the Chaldeans, it was repulsed by the Chaldeans who marched to meet it, without having rendered any permanent assistance to the besieged.
In Ezekiel 17:18, the main thought that breach of faith can bring no deliverance is repeated for the sake of appending the further expansion contained in Ezekiel 17:19-21. נתן ידו, he gave his hand, i.e., as a pledge of fidelity. The oath which Zedekiah swore to the king of Babel is designated in Ezekiel 17:19 as Jehovah's oath (אלתי), and the covenant made with him as Jehovah's covenant, because the oath had been sworn by Jehovah, and the covenant of fidelity towards Nebuchadnezzar had thereby been made implicite with Jehovah Himself; so that the breaking of the oath and covenant became a breach of faith towards Jehovah. Consequently the very same expressions are used in Ezekiel 17:16, Ezekiel 17:18, and Ezekiel 17:19, to designate this breach of oath, which are applied in Ezekiel 16:59 to the treacherous apostasy of Jerusalem (Israel) from Jehovah, the covenant God. And the same expressions are used to describe the punishment as in Ezekiel 12:13-14. נשׁפּט אתּו is construed with the accusative of the thing respecting which he was to be judged, as in 1 Samuel 12:7. Jehovah regards the treacherous revolt from Nebuchadnezzar as treachery against Himself (מעל); not only because Zedekiah had sworn the oath of fidelity by Jehovah, but also from the fact that Jehovah had delivered up His people and kingdom into the power of Nebuchadnezzar, so that revolt from him really became rebellion against God. את before כּל־מברחו is nota accus., and is used in the sense of quod adtinet ad, as, for example, in 2 Kings 6:5. מברחו, his fugitives, is rendered both by the Chaldee and Syriac "his brave men," or "heroes," and is therefore identified with מבחרו (his chosen ones), which is the reading in some manuscripts. But neither these renderings nor the parallel passage in Ezekiel 12:14, where סביבותיו apparently corresponds to it, will warrant our adopting this explanation, or making any alteration in the text. The Greek versions have πάσας φυγαδείας αὐτοῦ; Theodoret: ἐν πάσαις ταῖς φυγαδείαις αὐτοῦ; the Vulgate: omnes profugi ejus; and therefore they all had the reading מברחו, which also yields a very suitable meaning. The mention of some who remain, and who are to be scattered toward all the winds, is not at variance with the statement that all the fugitives in the wings of the army are to fall by the sword. The latter threat simply declares that no one will escape death by flight. But there is no necessity to take those who remain as being simply fighting men; and the word "all" must not be taken too literally.
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