Ezekiel 14
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
It certainly seems strange that, at this period of their national history, the Israelites should be chargeable with the folly and sin of idolatry. The admonitions against this offence had been so numerous, and the chastisements following its commission had been so severe, that the reader of Old Testament history is surprised to find that at so late a period the temptation had not been outgrown.

I. THE MULTITUDE AND VARIETY OF THE IDOLATRIES OF ISRAEL. The chosen people were exposed to corruption from neighbouring peoples - from the Phoenicians upon the north, the Syrians and Chaldeans upon the east, and the Egyptians upon the south. Each of these idolatries had its own characteristics, and in some way sprang from, and ministered to, the evil passions of human nature. It would almost seem as if the kings, the great men of the land, and the common people generally, chose such idols as harmonized with their own tastes or suited their own convenience. At all events, the prophet speaks of idols, in the plural, of the multitude of the idols, and of every idolater's own special and peculiar divinities.

II. THE SEAT OF THESE IDOLATRIES. The people are said to have set them up "in their heart." Hills, valleys, groves, high places, and altars and temples, were indeed consecrated, or rather desecrated, by idol worship. But all this was external. There was something much worse; the idols were set up in the inner nature of the worshippers, and there were honoured and served. That is to say, the belief in the government of a righteous and holy God having been abandoned, many of the Israelites exalted the vices and crimes which the deities of the heathen embodied, sanctioned, and encouraged, and came in their hearts to love the evils against which, as a nation, they were called to witness.

III. THE ESTRANGEMENT FROM GOD WHICH IDOLATRY PRODUCED. In setting up the idols in their hearts the people had been patting "a stumbling block of iniquity" before their face. The idols came between them and their God. The house of Israel, Jehovah exclaims, "are all estranged from me through their idols." There can be no rivalry between the false gods and the true. The choice has ever to be made. To exalt an idol, a passion, a taste, a habit, an association, to a position above that occupied by the supreme Lord of all, is to dethrone him from his rightful place, to forfeit his regard, to ensure his displeasure.

IV. THE INDIGNANT RESPONSE OF GOD TO THE DISHONOUR DONE TO HIM. It was presumed that, with wicked inconsistency, some of the Israelites who had been seduced into idolatrous practices would nevertheless in some time of perplexity or affliction resort to the prophets of Jehovah to seek counsel, guidance, and comfort. In such circumstances, how would their conduct be regarded by the Lord? The word of the Lord to the prophet should be attentively considered, "Should I be inquired of at all by them?...I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols." We are not to believe that any sincere, lowly, penitent, and believing suppliant would be rejected. But those who in their hearts cherished the idolatry which was their shame, and yet for some selfish purposes had the effrontery to approach the Lord for counsel and for help, were assured that their application should meet with no favorable response. They were double-hearted and insincere; and for such there is no blessing, and indeed no tolerance.

APPLICATION. It is the same today. If with all your hearts ye truly seek him, the request shall not be offered in vain. But it is useless to draw near to God with the lips while the heart is far from him. - T.

Ezekiel's predictions had been so gloomy and adverse, that the ciders of Israel in Babylon were staggered. They could not acquiesce in their nation's ruin. Hopeful that some message more favourable might come from God, they sought (it may be on the sabbath day) the prophet's presence. We must not place these elders in the same category with those in Jerusalem who preferred the flattering speeches of the false prophets. Nevertheless, they were not right at heart. The taint of idolatry was upon these also. Good and evil may be mingled in men's hearts in different degrees.

I. OUTWARD TROUBLE OFTEN DRIVES MEN TO GOD. It is not always so. It sometimes chafes and exasperates men. In their pain they sometimes curse God and blaspheme him yet the more. Perhaps affliction, in itself, has no softening, subduing influence. But the Spirit of God frequently uses affliction as his instrument, his pruning knife, in order to make the soul fruitful. This much is certain, that many have found a season of affliction a season of salvation. Certain it is that "whom the Lord loveth he correcteth;" and not a few of the redeemed adopt David's language as their own, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept thy Word."

II. YET THE RETURN IS SOMETIMES OUTWARD, NOT COMPLETE. In human nature there is a strong bias to be satisfied with what is merely outward in religion. To utter words of prayer, we imagine, must be successful To come into God's house, no matter what may be our motives or intentions, we think, must please God. Do we not confer a favour on him? Has he not engaged to do us good? Yet how often is the heart away when the body is present? How often do We bring our idols with us into that sacred place? How often do we worship mammon, or pleasure, or fashion, under pretence of worshipping God? How often do our words far exceed our desires? Hypocrisy and idolatry are as common in sanctuaries now as in the days of ancient Israel. Frequently the heart is preoccupied with its own wishes and plans and ambitions, while we are using the words, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" We want our own ends, while we profess to yield unto God.

III. GOD REPLIES, NOT TO OUR WORDS, BUT TO OUR TEMPER OF MIND. "I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols." Men often think that they lay a trap for God, but God takes them in their own snare. We try to use God for the attainment of some worldly end, and we think sometimes that we succeed, but we are always outwitted. Men's words are often veils to hide the facts, and we may deceive others; we cannot deceive God. To give to such men blessing would be to do them harm. For such the only real blessing is self-humiliation, inward contrition. True faith in God is the only measure of success, and faith is loyal, candid, self-submissive. Four sympathetic men brought a paralytic to Jesus; but Jesus first read the yearning desire of the sufferer's heart, and said, "Man, thy sins are forgiven thee." For God is a Spirit, and deals with the human spirit. Therefore in prayer we should always imitate David, "I lift up my soul unto thee."

IV. GOD'S AIM IS LOFTIER THAN THE AIM OF THE SUPPLIANT. The aim of the suppliant is usually temporary relief - deliverance from some present evil. But God sees that present trouble is the best blessing - the rough husk that contains nourishing meat. Our object is enjoyment; God's object is soul profit. He yearns to see repentance - the first cry of the new life. "Thus saith the Lord God; Repent." God's aim is remote, but right noble. His design is that "the house of Israel may go no more astray." His purpose is that "they may be my people, and I may be their God." If we will not allow God's purpose to prevail, he will not allow our low and vain purposes to succeed. If we set ourselves in hostility against God, only ruin can result. If God sends us to Nineveh, and we sail away to Tarshish, we may expect to meet an overwhelming storm. God's will must become our will; then only shall we have rest.

V. GOD TURNS UNSUCCESSFUL SUPPLIANTS INTO BEACONS. "I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb." As battlefields, saturated with human gore, yield larger crops of grain, so out of all evil God will bring ultimate good. Cain's published sin served as a restraint upon others. Lot's wife became a standing witness for God and for righteousness. In the long run, everything contributes to the good of mankind. The wrath of man shall bring praise to God. Man's crime at Calvary has become the fount of greatest blessing. Even human sin shall serve as a dark background, the better to set forth the brilliant hues of Divine mercy. Yet how slow men are to note the various winnings which God sets up! Self-examination is a rare virtue,

VI. ANSWERED PRAYER MAY BE HEAVIEST DISASTER. The Gadarenes prayed that Jesus would depart out of their coasts, and he departed. The man who has practised deceit shall be himself deceived. Pharaoh hardened his heart against God until at length God joined in the process: "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart." He who will not accept any answer from God except that which chimes in with his own wishes shall have his wish gratified, but it will prove his ruin. To Ephraim God at last said, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone." He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is "in danger of eternal sin." And this is the heaviest punishment a man cart receive. "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." The most notable example of this principle in God's government is seen in the case of Ahab. He had set his heart upon war against Ramoth-Gilead. He would not be dissuaded. Yet he wished to have the appearance of God's approval, in order to gain allies. At length the Lord said, "Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead?" "And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and shalt prevail also." If foolish men prefer flattering delusions to the naked truth, God will at length abandon them to this fatal influence. He punishes sin with sin.

VII. THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ALLOWS OF NO EXEMPTION. Pauper and prince are amenable to the same law in the kingdom of God. "The punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him." No office, however honourable, will serve as a cloak for sin, nor alleviate the weight of punishment. Righteousness deals with man as man, and takes no note of names or titles. If a king drinks poison, it produces the selfsame effect as if a ploughboy drank it. It will avail us nothing to say to the white-robed Judge, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?" Office may increase our responsibility; it does not add to our purity; it gives no passport to heaven. Not genius, nor power, commends men to God; only moral goodness. "In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven." - D.

Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me, etc. In the former chapter false prophets and prophetesses were severely rebuked by the Lord God through his true prophet. In this one certain elders who came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, while their hearts were given up to idols, are reproved, exhorted, and warned. The paragraph before us presents the following connected topics for consideration, which we will notice in the order in which they are presented by the prophet.

I. MEN HYPOCRITICALLY INQUIRING OF THE LORD GOD. "Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying," etc. (vers. 1-3). These elders who came to inquire of God through his prophet were probably of the number of his fellow exiles. They came to consult the prophet of Jehovah, yet they were idolaters at heart. They had "set up their idols in their heart," etc. (ver. 3). Their idolatry involved practical atheism. Genuine belief in the existence of the Lord Jehovah would have effectually precluded idolatry. Men of such character could not sincerely inquire of God. There can be no real approach unto him without faith in the reality of his being. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is," etc. (Hebrews 11:7). Their seeking information or counsel of the Lord was not true; they were not whole-hearted in so doing, but hypocritical. They are, says Hengstenherg, the "representatives of those who only outwardly fear God, but inwardly serve the spirit of the world and the age." How many meet in God's house, unite in his worship, and listen to the ministry of his holy Word, as though they were genuine inquirers of his will, who yet have idols in their hearts! Seeming to sincerely "inquire in his temple," yet they are devoted to the pursuit of rank or riches, power or pleasure, etc.

II. HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD ANSWERED ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN HEART. "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," etc. (vers 4, 5). Different interpretations are given of these two verses. Thus Hengstenberg: "The question in ver. 4" (he places a note of interrogation at the end of that verse; so also does Schroder) "is in the sense of a negative, 'I will not answer;' and this negative has its ground in ver. 5. God leaves sinners without answer or help, that they may come to a knowledge of their sin. 'To take in the heart' (ver. 5) is to touch the conscience." Another interpretation is that he would give them an answer as delusive as the idols which they had taken into their hearts. The case presents itself to us thus: The spiritual state of these elders prevented them from truly hearing the word of the Lord. They were not sincere in their inquiries of him. They would not receive the truth which his servants Jeremiah and Ezekiel proclaimed. Nay, more, in their then moral condition they could not receive the truth of God. With their hearts devoted to idols, how could they apprehend and held fast the pure words of the Lord? So he would send them a message answerable to their own character. These "idolatrous oracle seekers have to expect what corresponds to their state." Hence their own hearts were their seducers. God deals with men according to their character. "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful," etc. (Psalm 18:25, 26). "The sin and shame, the pain and ruin, of sinners are all from themselves, and their own hearts are the snares in which they are taken; they seduce them, they betray them; their own consciences witness against them, condemn them, and are a terror to them. If God take them, if he discover them, if he convict them, if he bind them over to his judgment, it is all by 'their own heart.' 'O Israeli thou hast destroyed thyself.' The house of Israel is ruined by its own hands, 'because they are all estranged from me through their idols'" (Matthew Henry).

III. HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD EXHORTED TO COMPLY WITH THE CONDITIONS OF ACCEPTABLE APPROACH UNTO HIM. "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." Here is a true message from God for them if they will accept it. Repentance towards God was their present and imperative duty. From the Lord the house of Israel had grievously departed, and their true repentance would be a returning to him, and renunciation of their abominable idolatries. Repentance is not mere regret, or self-reproach, or sorrow, or tears. It is that grief for sin which leads to reformation of life. "Repentance," says Shakespeare, "is heart's sorrow, and a clear life ensuing." Now, this was necessary as a condition of approaching God acceptably. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). Men should "pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Timothy 2:8). "Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith," etc. (Hebrews 10:22). When men inquire of God in this spirit, he will grant unto them gracious answers.

IV. HYPOCRITICAL INQUIRERS OF GOD WARNED OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN. "For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me," etc. (vers. 7-11). Here they are solemnly warned that, if they would not turn from sin unto God:

1. They should encounter the Divine displeasure. "I will set my face against that man," etc. (ver. 8). God cannot look upon sin with indifference. He hates it. And if sinners persist in it, he will set his face against them, and visit them because of their transgressions He did this in the case of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Siege and famine, pestilence, slaughter, and captivity were the consequences of their aggravated and long continued. sins and crimes.

2. They should become the victims of their chosen delusions. "If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet," etc. (vers. 9, 10). They had chosen idols for their gods; they believed the false prophets rather than the true ones; and if they persisted in their choice they must take the consequences thereof. This was God's answer to their inquiries. He had shown them that by true repentance they would put themselves into right relations with him. But if they would not repent, he would no more speak to them by his prophets, but by his judgments in the just consequences of their sins. Their chosen prophets would he deceived, and would deceive those who inquired of them, and both the prophets and the inquirers should "bear the punishment of their iniquity." But in what sense can the Lord be said to deceive the false prophet, and then to punish him? It is certain that he cannot sin, and that he is not the nuttier of sin. "The deception proceeds originally from indwelling sin (James 1:14), otherwise it could not be the object of punishment." But it was both permitted and regulated by God. He controls both sin and the consequences thereof for the accomplishment of his own glorious purposes (cf. Psalm 76:10). When Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, he did so of his own accord, with no thought of doing the will of the Lord Jehovah, yet unconsciously he was doing that will; and frequently the Lord says that he would do those things which the army of the Chaldean monarch did (cf. Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 5:8-17). God employed the Chaldeans, and regulated and controlled their movements, for the working out of his own plans; yet they were free in those movements, and had no idea that in them they were the agents of the Lord God of Israel. So these false prophets were used by him in the way of judgment, and were controlled by him; but they acted voluntarily in the course which they pursued, and they who consulted them did so of their own will; and both of them should become the victims of their cherished delusions, and "bear the punishment of their iniquity."

3. They should become the means, under God, of leading his people to fidelity unto him. "That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me," etc. (ver. 11). This was the Divine design in the punishment of the sinful people. "'God punishes sins by means of sins,' but the end is the re-establishment of righteousness. His people, purified by trials, will cleave to him whom they have forsaken, and become a converted, sanctified people, joined unto their God by a covenant which they will not break" ('Speaker's Commentary'). The judgments of God aim at the promotion of the well being of man.


1. Here is solemn warning against insincere approach unto God.

2. Here is encouragement to approach God sincerely and humbly. (Vers. 6, 11.) - W.J.

This was the admonition of every herald of God, whether under the old covenant or the new. It was the burden of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and it was also the burden of John the forerunner and of Jesus the Messiah. From this it may be inferred that human nature and life, on the one hand, and the character and government of God on the other hand, are such that repentance is an indispensable condition of the establishment of right relations between God and man.

I. THE NEED OF REPENTANCE. If we are upon Divine authority summoned to change, this must be because there is something wrong and reprehensible and dangerous in man's heart and condition; if called upon to turn, we must be going the wrong way. The admonition of the text follows upon a picture of Israel's idolatry and rebellion against a righteous God. The form of the sin may vary, but the principle of sin is ever the same. Whether in ancient or in modern times, in barbarous or in civilized states of society, men are universally prone to sin and guilty of sin. Where there is no sin, repentance is needless. It is in the departure of the heart's affection and the life's loyalty from the righteous God that man's error lies. Israel's idolatry symbolizes human iniquity.

II. THE NATURE or REPENTANCE. As more fully explained in New Testament Scripture, this is a change of heart, of disposition, leading to a change of character and of life. Mere sorrow for sin is not repentance, inasmuch as emotion of every kind is to some extent matter of temperament, and sorrow does not always lead to reformation. True repentance goes much deeper, and prepares the way forevery spiritual blessing. He who repents looks at things otherwise than before, tutus his thoughts into another channel, his steps into another path.


1. It is a gracious call. The justly offended sovereign may leave the rebel to the consequences of his acts. It is not thus that God deals with us. It is not his wish that any should perish. He sends his messengers to the offending race, with a summons to submission, with proffers of mercy.

2. It is an authoritative call. He commandeth men everywhere to repent. It is true that our Creator and Judge does not interfere with our liberty. Yet he publishes his will as binding upon every moral agent. He has a right to our repentance. It is our place to obey his summons, to offer the repentance which he demands and requires at our hands.

IV. THE DIFFICULTY OF REPENTANCE. This lies in the very character itself of the change. If verbal submission or outward conformity only were required, this would be comparatively easy. But God, who searcheth the heart, will not be satisfied save with the heart's subjection and conversion. Old habits of unspirituality, worldliness, and selfishness are not readily abandoned. Especially in advanced life a radical and inward change is effected, for the most part, only with effort and difficulty. It needs a supernatural motive and a supernatural power to cause old things to pass away and all things to become new, to exchange darkness for light, and the service of Satan for God. Such a supernatural motive we have in the gospel; such a supernatural power and agency in the Holy Spirit.


1. These are exactly opposed in character to the fruits of self-indulgence. Other seed in other soil yields other harvest.

2. Reconciliation with God replaces enmity towards God. The conditions of salvation, as laid down in the New Testament, are "repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."

3. Repentance works a change in a man's own character; the principles and motives and ends of life are all new.

4. Through the power of repentance a man's relations to his fellow men are changed - justice takes the place of wrong, and love that of hatred and uncharitabieness. - T.

One of the features of Israelitish life at this epoch of the Captivity was the evident number and power of false prophets. General excitement and change are, of course, favourable to imposture. Men sought everywhere for guidance, comfort, hope; but, instead of having recourse to the authorized prophets of the Lord, they went to the pretentious and deceptive religious guides who seem to have traded upon the misfortunes of their country. These men were in the habit of saying what was expected and desired, of uttering smooth things, of buoying up the people with the hope that threatening calamities might be averted. Thus the effect of these men's counsels was to prevent the people from true repentance and to hasten the country's ruin. Ezekiel was directed to denounce these misleaders of the nation, and to declare that they should participate in the approaching calamities. "The punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him."

I. PROPHET AND PEOPLE WERE PARTAKERS IN SIN. The sin in essence was departure from God. Those who should have repaired to the Source of all wisdom and authority turned aside, and "sought unto" ignorant, self-seeking impostors. In this they sinned; and the sin was shared by those to whom they had recourse. These pretended prophets knowingly misled the people; for they saw no vision and heard no voice, and their utterances were dictated, not by the law of Divine righteousness, but by the aims of human policy. People and prophets sinned together, and sinned alike.

II. PROPHET AND PEOPLE WERE PARTAKERS IN CONSEQUENT ERROR. The counsel which was thus given and accepted, and consequently acted upon, led the people astray. The only hope for Jerusalem and for the Jews was a general humiliation, confession, and repentance, a turning unto the Lord. From such a course they were deterred by the deception which they practised upon one another, and the delusion which they mutually encouraged. Hence the error into which they were misled, the error of continued idolatry, unbelief, and rebellion.

III. PROPHET AND PEOPLE WERE PARTAKERS IN COMMON PUNISHMENT. It would have been unjust to punish only those who were led astray, for their false guides and evil counsellors were to blame for misleading them. It would have been unjust to punish only the false prophets; for these men were induced and encouraged to practise their deceiving arts by the readiness of their dupes to receive and to act upon their advice. Hence a common guilt entailed a common penalty. There was little distinction in crime; there was little distinction in punishment. Retribution is a fact in the government of the Supreme, who can never look upon iniquity. "Though Land join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." - T.

No thoughtful person can believe that the supreme Lord of all inflicts punishments upon men because he delights in the sufferings of his creatures, or is indifferent to those sufferings. This passage of Scripture, like other passages, teaches us that, when God punishes, it is with a view to the good of those who are punished, or of others, or of both.

I. THE IMMEDIATE AND REMEDIAL PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT. It is a question how far punishment should aim at the correction of the individual offender, how far at the production of a wholesome impression upon society. Whether the false prophets and those who resorted to them were spared to profit by the chastisement which befell them, we have not the means of judging. But in any case the punitive afflictions were intended for the general good of the house of Israel.

1. Radical error is corrected. "That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me."

2. The habits of transgressors are reformed. "Neither defile themselves any more with all their transgressions."

II. THE ULTIMATE AND POSITIVE PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT. The remedy for disease must first be applied, then health will follow. So it is in spiritual things. Forgiveness is a means to sanctification. Salvation is both from sin and unto obedience and holiness. Accordingly, the prophet represents the re-establishment, the fresh ratification, of the covenant between God and Israel as the final purpose of all the chastening inflicted. The two sides of this covenant are presented as in their harmony and completeness justifying the discipline appointed by Divine wisdom and beneficence.

1. "That they may be my people." That is, not only in name, but in reality; not only de jure, but de facto.

2. "That I maybe their God." That is, theirs to acknowledge with sincere reverence, to love with devotion and fervour, and to serve with diligence and fidelity. - T.

The hopeful among the Jews probably remembered that in times of former correction God had yielded, in some measure, to the intercessions of the saints. If they had not gained all that they asked, they had gained some advantage. Why might that not occur again? Might not God concede some of his demand? This was impossible, for the first necessity was that righteous government be maintained. No good can ever come to men by tampering with righteousness.

I. SIN AGAINST GOD IS AN IMMEASURABLE EVIL. It is a common thing for men to affect surprise at the severity of God's chastisement. Yet this is only an outcome of their ignorance. They have no conception of the tremendous evil of sin. Its magnitude defies all human measurement. We cannot follow it into all its ramifications of mischief. We see the beginning of the vicious stream; the ending is beyond our sight. It is an injury to the moral universe, and we cannot estimate it. Had Eve foreseen all the painful results of taking the forbidden fruit, surely she would have resisted the tempter.

II. FLAGRANT SIN DEMANDS EVERY SORT OF PENALTY. It is not always possible for men to discriminate between great sins and small; yet even men can discover when sin becomes rapidly contagious, and when it is largely influential for evil When a man, by a plausible embellishment of vice, entraps ten thousand others into the snare, and makes his vice fashionable, popular, universal, - his sin is heinous. As for a disease that has become epidemic the severest remedies are employed, so when a sin becomes national, terrible chastisement is demanded. To vindicate his righteous law, God sometimes employs the scourge of pestilence; sometimes famine; sometimes war; sometimes a plague of locusts. But when iniquity breaks out with virulence, or becomes aggravated and stubborn, he will combine all his methods of chastisement, in order to cleanse the land. Always his punishments are well apportioned, never excessive. The balance is in the hand of Infinite Wisdom.

III. MEN ARE INFLUENTIAL FOR GOOD ACCORDING TO THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The messenger of Jehovah singles out for mention three men who were eminent for piety and faith. His language implies that if any men could prevail with God to abate his penalties, these were the men. It was useless for him to make mention of men of inferior piety. Any righteous man would not suffice. To have any hope of success, he must be a man of transcendent purity. This conviction was universal in the minds of the people. It was founded on reason, on experience, on the records of past history. Had not Moses gained a respite for the nation by his righteous intercession? Had not Samuel averted the stroke of Divine anger from Israel? Had not Noah's righteousness secured the safety of seven persons beside himself? Why should it not be so again? Daniel was living among them - a man eminent for loyalty to Jehovah. Were not Jeremiah and Ezekiel interceding for the people? If anything could save the nation from utter destruction, surely it was the righteous zeal of these godly men!

IV. YET HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS IS INCOMPETENT TO ABATE A SINGLE PENALTY FROM OTHERS. A man's personal righteousness will always serve as a screen for himself, never as a shield for others. Far be it from God to destroy the righteous with the wicked! This would he to obliterate eternal distinctions. This would be for God to act against himself The righteous are safe when dangers are thickest. They have an invulnerable panoply. And the prayers of the righteous have often gained temporary advantages for the unrighteous. Such intercession has obtained a brief respite for repentance - has obtained a postponement of the catastrophe. Yet as a righteous man, however zealous, has no power to transform the moral nature of another man, he cannot deliver him when God appeareth for judgment. Eternal justice is the main pillar of the universe, and, if justice fails, the universe wilt be shivered.

V. MUCH LESS CAN HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS AVERT FROM MEN ALL DIVINE PENALTIES. This is an argument ad hominem. If the righteousness of the best men that ever lived cannot quench one fiery dart of God's vengeance, much less can it quench all the darts in God's quiver. There was a propriety in every particular form of chastisement which God employed; it would therefore be unbecoming every attribute of his nature to suspend that chastisement, while the causal sin yet remained. Men little surmise the terrible necessity there is for retribution, because they do not perceive the magnitude of sin. It is a fearful thing to provoke the anger of the living God.

VI. GOD WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE HIS WISDOM AND RIGHTEOUSNESS CLEAR TO MEN. It is possible that the elders of Israel did not immediately acquiesce in the first necessity for this severe course. They did not know the full extent of Israel's sin. Ignorance is often the root of discord. But God would spare a few - most probably the best - of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These should in due time be conveyed to Tel-Abib, and join the older members of the Captivity. But so base and intolerable will the characters of this remnant appear, that the elders themselves will confess that God's judgments were not a whit too severe - that a less chastisement would be inadequate. This act of God exhibits the graciousness of his character. He deigns to explain and to justify his ways unto his trustful children. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." He takes them into his fullest confidence. - D.

Ezekiel was especially commissioned to set forth and to impress upon the people the individual, the personal, aspect of religion. In many places, as here, he lays stress upon the accountability of each several man to God. One cannot deliver another from deserved punishment. Each must answer for himself, must reap the reward of his deeds, whether good or evil. A man's piety cannot save his ungodly neighbour when the time of reckoning and judgment arrives. No matter bow good our friends may be, their goodness does not excuse our irreligion. If the city has sinned, the city must suffer. Even if the wisest and the best of men are in it and plead for it, the city cannot be justified or spared for their sake. Men so conspicuous for virtue and piety as Noah, Daniel, and Job have not power to save the land from famine, from the sword, from noisome beasts, from the pestilence, when these are sent as chastisements from the Lord of all.

I. THE VIRTUES FOR WHICH THESE THREE MEN WERE CELEBRATED. Why these, rather than other illustrious instances of human goodness, were selected is a question which cannot be answered with certainty. But the context disposes the student of This passage of prophecy to consider these men as instances of remarkable piety in the midst of surrounding ungodliness. Thus Noah stands in contrast with the self-indulgent and irreligious population of the world immediately before the Flood; as a preacher of righteousness, he protested against the sins and the secularism and unbelief of his time. Daniel also was "faithful among the faithless;" he and a selected few were called upon to witness against the idolatry of their heathen rulers and masters, and against much unfaithfulness on the part of their companions in captivity. Job was a true servant of Jehovah, who was encompassed by idolatries to which he did not yield, and who alone of his own kindred was faithful to his God in all his ways. These three men all saw disasters come upon those with whom they were associated. If they could not deliver their neighbours in the day of judgment, if their virtues and piety availed only for themselves, was it credible that their presence in Jerusalem would save the city and the land from destruction? It is observable that the "righteousness" of these three men is admitted, and with commendation, by the Lord God himself. There may be danger in praising and flattering the good because of their goodness. But there are occasions when it is just and right to acknowledge the moral excellence, the human merit, of men, always with a clear understanding that all goodness is from God, that in his view all human character is imperfect, and that nothing can be claimed from him as a just reward even by the purest and the most useful among mankind.

II. THE FAVOUR WITH WHICH THESE THREE MEN WERE REGARDED. It was an honour to be selected by a good man and a prophet like Ezekiel for special approval and commendation. But it was a higher honour to be mentioned thus by the direction of the Lord God himself. It is not erroneous to attribute to the Eternal a personal interest in the sons of time, a regard of that nature with which one who judges with justice and appreciation esteems the excellent among his fellow beings. On the contrary, Scripture justifies us in taking such a view of our Father God, who is never represented as indifferent and heartless, but rather as looking with satisfaction and favour upon those who delight in his Law and do his will. There have been occasions upon which the intercessory prayers offered by such have been received with favour, and have been graciously answered, to the relic and comfort of those for whom they have been presented.

III. THE POWERLESSNESS OF EVEN SUCH RIGHTEOUS AND BELOVED SERVANTS OF GOD TO DELIVER THE REBELLIOUS FROM PUNISHMENT. It is evidently intended to convey the impression that God was willing to do great things at the intercession of men so gnarl and so favoured as those named; but that he would not for their sake contradict his own declarations, reverse his own laws, and abandon his own moral government. Hence the lesson may be learnt that "every man shall bear his own burden," that in the day of account no man shall deliver his brother. No hope can be vainer than that of those who rely for their salvation upon the merits and influence of their family, their friends, their Church, however dear to God. It is plain that, as religion is a personal matter, as its claims come home to the individual, every hearer of God's Word is bound to use for himself those means by which he may, by God's grace, be delivered from the chain of sin and the doom of death. - T.

Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, etc. Three very distinguished men are here mentioned, two of whom had long passed away from this world and all its scenes, the other was yet amongst men upon earth. Yet Noah and Job are spoken of as still in being. Absent from this world, they were yet living and present in the great universe of God. These undesigned testimonies to man's immortality, to be met with frequently in the Scriptures, afford the basin for a strong argument in support of that fact.

"The dead are like the stars by day,
Withdrawn from mortal eye;
But not extinct, they hold their way
In glory through the sky.

Spirits from bondage thus set free
Vanish amidst immensity,
Where human thought, like human sight,
Fails to pursue their trackless flight." Daniel at this time, like Ezekiel, was an exile in Babylon, and was eminent both for his piety and his position. Noah, Daniel, and Job were all good men and great men; they are enrolled amongst the most illustrious of our race. The prophet in this paragraph predicts "four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence," by reason of their idolatry and other sins. And in the text he declares that, when the hour of judgment arrives, even the presence of such men as Noah, Daniel, and Job in the doomed city would not avail to save any but their own souls.

I. THE PRIVILEGES OF GOOD MEN. Our text announces the safety of good men even in the extremest dangers and the most irresistible judgments. "They shall... deliver their own souls by their righteousness." History affords remarkable examples of the deliverance of the good in times of sore peril (cf. Genesis 7:23; Genesis 18:32; Genesis 19:15-25). But it is not often that the godly are exempted from the calamities and judgments which befall the wicked. Thus Daniel, Ezekiel, and other holy men were carried into Chaldea with those to whom the exile was the punishment of idolatry, and were now suffering that exile with them. But invariably "they deliver their own souls by their righteousness." "If their bodies be not delivered, yet their souls are." Amid the overthrow of cities, the ruin of countries, or even the wreck of the world, their spiritual interests are secure. Moreover, though they are not exempt from general calamities, yet to them the calamities wear a different aspect from that which they present to the wicked. They are sustained under them, and enabled to hear them with heroic patience. The suffering which comes to the wicked as the judgment of a stern Ruler comes to the righteous as the chastisement of a loving Father. And, by his grace, out of the scars of suffering, God will evolve the beauties of holiness. The darkness and anguish which embitter and harden the heart of the wicked will increase the trust and tenderness and refine the graces of the righteous.

II. THE POWER OF GOOD MEN. Our text implies that Noah, Daniel, and Job had power to do much for their fellow men; that they could do much in averting destruction and saving man. The warning that these three saints would not be able to screen them from this judgment implies the belief on the part of the people of Jerusalem that the good men amongst them, by their lives and prayers, would turn aside the threatening storm. If any can turn away the judgments of Heaven from a nation of evil doers, good men can do it. God may spare the wicked because of the righteous. The power of good men to avert Divine wrath from a people has at least two branches.

1. The power of moral influence with men. They are "the salt of the earth." Were it not for their influence society would become hopelessly corrupt, and the storm of God's judgment would sweep the guilty race from the earth.

2. The power of intercession with God. We have illustrious examples of this (cf. Genesis 18:23-32; Exodus 32:11-14, 30-34; Numbers 11:1-3; Numbers 14:13-20; Numbers 16:44-50). Who can estimate the power of the intercession of good men?

III. THE LIMITATION OF THE POWER OF GOOD MEN. "Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter." "When the sin of a people has come to its height, and the decree has gone forth for their ruin, the piety and prayers of the best men shall not prevail to finish the controversy. This is here asserted again and again, that, though these three men were in Jerusalem at this time, yet they should deliver neither son nor daughter, not so much as the little ones should be spared for their sakes." This shows how dark and terrible the guilt of the inhabitants of Jerusalem must have been (cf. Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14). When the forbearance of God is exhausted, any number of the holiest of men cannot ward off the stroke of doom. Character may become so utterly depraved that reformation is impossible, and then nothing but judgment remains. Moral disease may become so deeply rooted and strong that no influence can overcome it, no power eradicate it, and then destruction is inevitable. When the Divine means of reformation have all been tiled, and all have failed, what remains but utter ruin? "Abused patience will turn at last into inexorable wrath."


1. Our subject speaks earnestly to parents concerning the salvation of their children. If you would save your children you must begin to work early and wisely. While the chains of evil habits are unforged, and the heart is susceptible of sacred impressions, and the conscience sensitive, and the sympathies tender, we must seek the salvation of our children if we would secure it. Oh, the time may come when the holiest of men "shall deliver neither son nor daughter" from the storms of God's judgment!

2. Our text reminds us all that salvation is a personal concern. Our kinsfolk and friends may be pious in life and powerful in prayer; but their piety will not avail for them and for us. No man possesses superfluous grace. Continuance in sin may lead, nay, must lead, to a moral condition in which the prayers of the most loving and sainted parents may avail nothing for their own son or daughter. You must believe on Jesus Christ for yourself, repent of your sins yourself. You must "work out your own salvation." There is no working by proxy here. "Each man shall bear his own burden." "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God." Therefore "strive to enter in by the narrow door," etc. "Give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure." - W.J.

There is that in human nature to which religion appeals, and by which religion asks to be judged. Religion does indeed speak with authority, but the authority is that of wisdom and righteousness. Man's judgment and conscience approve the order of Divine providence, and the tenor of Divine revelation. More particularly, upon the suggestion of this passage, it should be remarked that -

I. THE DEALINGS OF GOD INCLUDE BOTH JUDGMENT AND SPARING MERCY. The prophet speaks both of "the sore judgments upon Jerusalem," and also of "the remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters." God is ever a God of justice and a God of mercy.

II. GOD'S DEALINGS OFTEN PERPLEX OBSERVERS. "His ways are in the great waters." "Who can by searching find out God?" The firmest believer in Divine providence has frequent occasion to confess his utter inability to explain the events which happen around him. Why are some men prosperous, whilst others pass through affliction and calamity? Why do some escape in seasons of disaster, whilst others are overwhelmed? Why are God's ways often to all appearance inconsistent with a regard to the equitable treatment of the wicked and the good? Such questions ever recur. They may, indeed, in the case of some observers, never be put; but when put they cannot be answered.

III. YET TO REFLECTING MINDS GOD'S DEALINGS DO, ON THE WHOLE, APPEAR CONSISTENT WITH REASON AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. Individual facts may be difficult to reconcile with our religious beliefs, but general principles and laws, when we rise to them, are recognized as just and good. And the higher the view we take of human nature and human life, the more do anomalies disappear. If we clearly perceive that man is made for goodness, and not for enjoyment, that the earthly life is a discipline and a preparation, that the great end of all is that man may share the Divine nature and the Divine life, - such convictions will help us to see and feel the wisdom and the goodness that distinguish God's government of men. There is in God's ways no error and no caprice.

IV. GOD'S DEALINGS WITH NATIONS, AS WITH INDIVIDUALS, ARE INTENDED TO PROMOTE MORAL IMPROVEMENT. The expression used is very remarkable. The Lord assures those who observe his treatment of Israel that upon reflection they shall be "comforted" concerning the evil brought upon Jerusalem. The wisdom, and even the true benevolence, of the Divine ways shall in due time be made apparent. The cause for which what has been done has been ordered by providence shall be recognized and shall be approved as justifying the great Ruler and his government. Thus shall his Name be glorified. - T.

Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, etc. Our text, as Fairbairn points out, "is addressed to the people already in exile, who are regarded as viewing the destruction about to be executed on Jerusalem with astonishment and some degree of dissatisfaction. The prophet tells such there would certainly be a remnant - not, however, in the proper sense, as if they were themselves deserving persons, or spared for blessing for the sake of the pious among them - but a remnant still so wedded to sin, and so manifestly deserving of severe chastisement, that every one would recognize the justice of God's dealings toward them. 'Ye shall see,' to use the language of Calvin, 'the men to be so wicked, that ye shall be forced to confess the city was deserving of destruction, and the men themselves worthy of death. And instead of murmuring and fretting against God, ye shall be satisfied it could not have been otherwise ordered, their wickedness was of so desperate a nature; so that with soothed and tranquil minds, ye shall henceforth proclaim my righteousness, and cease any more to utter the complaints which now disturb your minds!'" Let us consider -

I. THE CONCERN OF THE GOOD FOR THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS. Ezekiel foresaw that his fellow exiles would be amazed at the sternness of the judgments of God upon Jerusalem. Those judgments would be of great severity. And amongst the exiles there were some pious persons who would be troubled with doubts as to whether the Lord had sufficient cause for what he had done there. They would be distressed with the suspicion that perhaps the visitation of God had been disproportionate in its severity - that the sins of the people had not merited such punishment. And they would be distressed with misgivings as to the righteousness of God in the matter. "So long as we do not understand that God on just grounds acts sternly, so long are our souls distressed and tormented." Somewhat thus Abraham felt respecting the doom pronounced on Sodom and Gomorrah. "That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" We have here, as Robertson, in fragmentary but striking and suggestive notes, remarks, "a suspicion of the Divine justice: the most horrible with which the mind of man can be tempted. Dreadful to doubt one's own salvation, and feel suspended over the gulf! But a more terrible gulf when we doubt whether all is right here. 'Oh, to sue the misery of this bleeding world!' Consider for a moment the misconception of these words, 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' They have been used to prove the sovereignty of God. God is Judge, therefore what he does is right. He has a right, and therefore it is right. But Abraham does not say that. So far from acquiescing in the predestinarian feeling - it is to be, and therefore it is right; God is a sovereign, and may do what he pleases - he is precisely doubting this, whether, though God be Judge, his deeds are right, taking the moral sense of Abraham as a text, and considering it horrible if God's acts do not agree with it. It is a perilous way of speaking, 'God has a right to decree what he will; my salvation, your damnation.' It is not so the Bible speaks. It appeals to the sense of justice, 'Are not my ways equal?' etc. God never says, 'I create a thing right, therefore I do it.' God's will does not make a thing right. It is God's character which determines his will. For else, if the devil had created this world, wrong would be right, because his will, and we should have the terrible doctrine - might makes right" ('Life and Letters,' Appendix 3.) This is as applicable to the doubts and fears of the exiles as to the righteousness of God in his judgments upon Jerusalem, as to the doubts of Abraham as to the doom of the cities of the plain. This concern of godly men for the righteousness of God's dealings implies:

1. An inward sense of righteousness. It is a testimony to the existence and exercise and majesty of the moral sense in man. It is an outcome of the working of conscience.

2. Deep solicitude for the honour of God. Any doubt of his holiness, or of the rectitude of his doings, causes sore pain to his people, and it does so because the glory of his character is unspeakably dear to them.

II. THE CONVICTION OF THE GOOD OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS. The Lord, by the prophet, assures the troubled exiles that they should know treat he had not done without cause all that he had done in Jerusalem.

1. This conviction would be wrought by the manifestation of the wickedness of the people. "Therein shall be left a remnant that shall be carried forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings," etc. The remnant that should be carried into captivity would make it clear, from their degradation and sin, that the judgments inflicted upon Jerusalem were deserved by the guilty inhabitants thereof. The exhibition of their wickedness would manifest the justice of God in their punishment. The pious exiles in Chaldea would perceive "that such corruption had deserved such destruction." "God's righteousness is clearly manifest in those that perish, as well as by means of those that escape."

2. This conviction would bring peace to the good. "Ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem," etc. "The comfort lies in the justification of the ways of God." Their painful doubts as to his righteousness would be destroyed. Their faith in him would be established. And faith brings peace and rest to the soul.

3. The production of this conviction was ordered by God. He did not chide or condemn them for their painful doubts; but promised them evidence for the invigoration and confirmation of their faith. And he so controlled events as to bring about this result. It appears from this that he is concerned

(1) for the vindication of his own righteousness, and

(2) for the peace of his people.

Wherefore in his own time he will remove every cloud that veils the rectitude of his works and ways, and make it apparent to the whole intelligent universe that all his purposes and operations are just and true.


1. Let us cherish a strong assurance of the righteousness of God in all his designs and deeds.

2. If in anything his righteousness seems hidden from us, let us wait patiently for his own vindication thereof. - W.J.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

Bible Hub
Ezekiel 13
Top of Page
Top of Page