Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SIN OF THE CITY. As described in this passage, the errors of Jerusalem may be classified under three headings.
1. Lies. By which we must understand the corruption, the deceits and frauds, the political insincerity, which had eaten away the very heart of the citizens.
2. Lewdness. Or the prevalence of sensual sins and of carnal luxury, opposed to that purity and simplicity of domestic life in which the moral health of a nation ever consists.
3. Blood-guiltiness. Or violence and murder, which at this time were rife in Jerusalem, each man seeking his own interests, even at the expense of the life of his neighbors. These three classes of iniquity are chosen by the prophet as peculiarly heinous and obtrusive, not as exhausting, but simply as exemplifying, the city's sinfulness.
II. THE JUDGMENT OF THE CITY. As the flesh and bones are placed in the cauldron, and boiled and seethed by the fire being applied beneath, so the inhabitants of Jerusalem are enclosed within the walls, the besieging army surrounds them, and the citizens are abandoned to all the privations and fears and sufferings, and finally to the destruction, incident to so miserable a condition. The instrument of chastisement is appointed to be the nation into whose idolatries Judah had been seduced, the nation whose protection might for a time have availed to avert further evils, had not the catastrophe been hastened by the treachery and rebellion of prince and people. The Divine Judge never lacks instruments for the carrying out of his own purposes. "Heap on wood; kindle the fire!"
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY. Previous punishment has been of the nature of chastisement, of correction; this is of the nature of consuming. All the calamities which have come upon Jerusalem have failed to produce true repentance and radical reformation; it remains now to execute the threats and to complete the ruin foretold. The language coming from the Almighty Ruler, who had taken Jerusalem under his especial patronage and care, is frightful indeed. "I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord God." It is evident that the purpose of God is this - that the era of rebellion shall come to an end, that there must be a break in the continuity of the national life, that a future revival must be a new beginning unaffected for evil by the habits and traditions of the past. To this end the people and all their ways and practices, all their rebellions and idolatries, all their oppressions and immoralities, must first be cast into the cauldron of judgment, and many must be consumed and destroyed. - T.
I. THE NECESSITY FOR THE SCOURGE. The necessity arose from the excessive criminality of the Jewish people.
1. They are described as a "house of rebellion." The authority of Jehovah was trampled in the dust.
2. Jerusalem was a city of blood. Justice was so grossly administered that the guilty escaped; the innocent were judicially murdered.
3. Sin assumed the most flagrant forms. "In thy filthiness is lewdness." All restraint to vice was cast off. All moral vigor was eaten out with self-indulgence.
4. There had been wanton abuse of God's corrective methods. "I purged thee, and thou wast not purged." Costly remedies had been wasted and scorned. The hand of the great Physician had been withstood. This is the culmination of guilt. The condition of such is hopeless.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF THE SCOURGE. "I the Lord have spoken: it shall come, and I will do it." The event was based upon the word of God, and God's word is the forthputting of his will. He puts himself into his speech. Fulfillment of his word is not only invariable as law; fulfillment is a necessity. But further, the scourge had already come. By prophetic inspiration Ezekiel knew that on that identical day on which he spoke to the people in Chaldea, Nebuchadnezzar lay siege to Jerusalem. The verification of this fact would impart a weight of authority to Ezekiel's mission as a prophet of Jehovah. It was now too late to evade, by repentance, the scourge. Still, the moral lesson would be healthful. It is never unseasonable to be assured of the righteous faithfulness of God.
III. THE SEVERITY OF THE SCOURGE. The truth intended to be conveyed by this singular and striking figure is that of entire and indiscriminate destruction. Chastise-meats less drastic in their nature had been tried in vain; and, as the evil seemed to be ingrained in the very nature of the body politic, no other measure was availing than overwhelming disaster. This is represented by keeping the cauldron on the fire till its contents were evaporated. To men this punishment appears severe, but to those intelligences who stand near God's throne the punishment does not appear such an evil as does the sin. No punishment is equal to the hatred of man's heart toward God. Calamity that is external to the man is not such a curse as the sin in the soul. This inward canker is the heaviest of all catastrophes.
IV. THE THOROUGHNESS OF THE SCOURGE. "I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent, saith the Lord' (Ver. 14). Every piece of flesh was to be brought out for the foe; no exemption was to be allowed. Even the scum was to be consumed. The very rust upon the cauldron was to be burnt off. In other words, the city itself was to be destroyed as well as the inhabitants - the institutions, political and religious, as well as nobles and priests. God's cleansing will be thorough. In God's esteem there are no small sins. Only give them time, and small sins become great. Therefore, no sin must be spared. God is represented, in one place, as "searching Jerusalem with candles" in order to discover her secret sins. Over the gateway of the new Jerusalem it shall be written, "Nothing that is defiled, or that worketh abomination, can enter herein!" And unless sin be separated from us, we and our sins must be destroyed together. Light and darkness cannot dwell in the same room at the same moment; nor can sin and holiness. The God of righteousness will exterminate sin root and branch.
V. THE HIDDEN HAND THAT WIELDS THE SCOURGE. Ordinary observers of the invasion of Judaea, and of the overthrow of Jerusalem, saw only the activity of man. To them it would seem only a human quarrel. Human ambition on the one side, and violation of treaties upon the other, appeared as the immediate causes of the war. To military captains, I dare say the probability of success was on the side of the besieged. The wails were strong and high; the natural ramparts were almost inaccessible; the gates had withstood many a foe. Yet there was a factor in that martial business that was not apparent. The mightiest agent was out of sight. All the forces of righteousness were on the side of Nebuchadnezzar. He had been commissioned to this undertaking by the invincible God. At what point, or in what way, the directing and controlling will of Jehovah acted upon the mind of the Babylonian king, we cannot say. But that God did move him to this undertaking, and did give him success, is a plain fact. Even men of the world are the sword in the hand of God. - D.
I. THE TIME FOR THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS MAY SEEM TO MEN TO BE LONG DELAYED, BUT ITS ARRIVAL IS CERTAIN. (Vers. 1, 2.) This judgment against Jerusalem had been spoken of by the prophets for a long time. The people of that city had refused to believe in its approach; but now it has actually commenced. "The King of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day." But notice:
1. The minuteness of the Divine knowledge of the beginning of the judgment. "In the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month," etc. (Vers. 1, 2; and cf. 2 Kings 25:1). The very day, yea, the hour and the moment, when Nebuchadnezzar began the siege were known unto God. Nothing is hidden from him (cf. 2 Kings 19:27; Psalm 139:1-4; Matthew 9:4; John 2:24, 25; Hebrews 4:13).
2. The communication of this knowledge to Ezekiel. Here on a particular day, which is clearly specified and set down in writing, the prophet announced to his fellow-exiles that Nebuchadnezzar had begun to besiege Jerusalem. "The place on the Chebar where the prophet lived," says J. D. Michaelis, "was distant from Jerusalem more than a hundred German miles; it was therefore impossible for Ezekiel to know by human means that the siege of Jerusalem had commenced on that day; and when it was afterwards ascertained that the prediction had exactly corresponded with fact, it would be regarded as an invincible proof of his Divine mission."
3. The mixture record of the fact. "Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this selfsame day." When this prophecy was found to be exactly true, the record of it would rebuke the people for their unbelief of the prophet, and witness to the Divine inspiration and authority with which he spake. But to revert to our main point, the apparent delay of a Divine judgment does not affect its certainty. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." God's visitation because of persistent sin is certain, and it will take place at the precise time appointed by God. With what remarkable iteration and emphasis is this awful certainty expressed in the fourteenth verse! "I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent" (cf. Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). God's threatenings of punishment will as surely be fulfilled as his promises of blessing.
II. IN THE EXECUTION OF HIS JUDGMENTS GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. "Set on the cauldron, set it on, and also pour water into it; gather' the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder'; fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock." Thus the prophet teaches that the great ones of Judah and Jerusalem - the king, the princes, the nobles - would suffer in this judgment. There is another expression which points to the same conclusion: "No lot is fallen upon it" (Ver. 6). In former visitations some had been taken captive and others left. So it was when Jehoiakim and when Jehoiachin were taken away (2 Kings 24.; 2 Chronicles 36:1-10). But in this case the judgment was to fall upon all without distinction. "There is no respect of persons with God." He is a Respecter of character, but not of persons. No outward rank or riches, no distinctions of place or power, nor anything in man's secular circumstances or condition, can exempt him from the stroke of God's anger in the day when he visits a people for their sins.
III. WHEN WICKEDNESS HAS BECOME FLAGRANT, THE DIVINE JUDGMENT WILL BE NOT LESS CONSPICUOUS. "For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the bare rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust; that it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance, I have set her blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered." Blood upon the bare rock is here mentioned in contradistinction to blood shed upon the earth, which is absorbed by it, or which is covered and concealed with dust. There is, perhaps, as Hengstenberg suggests, a reference to the judicial murders which were perpetrated in Jerusalem, of which that of the Prophet Urijah is an example (Jeremiah 26:10-23). But there certainly is set forth the notorious wickedness of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They were "distinguished by the openness and audacity with which they sinned." The conspicuousness of their wickedness would manifest the righteousness of the judgment of God; and it would lead to an equal conspicuousness in the infliction of that judgment. She had poured out blood "upon the bare rock, and God would "set her blood upon the bare rock." In the administration of the Divine government there is a close relation and proportion between sin and its punishment. "It is fit," says Matthew Henry, "that those who sin before all should be rebuked before all, and that the reputation of those should not be consulted by the concealment of their punishment who were so impudent as not to desire the concealment of their sin."
IV. WHEN WICKEDNESS HAS BECOME UTTERLY INVETERATE, THE TIME FOR THE EXECUTION OF JUDGMENT HAS COME. Several things in the text indicate the inveteracy of the wickedness of the people. The scum or rust of the cauldron was not cleansed (Vers. 6, 12); so the cauldron shall be put empty upon the fire, that the rust may be burnt away (Ver. 11). J.D. Michaelis explains this verse: "When verdigris has eaten very deeply into it, copper is made red-hot in the fire, and cooled in water, when the rust falls off in scales. It can be partially dissolved by the application of vinegar. Only one must not think of a melting away of the rust by the fire, since in that case the copper would necessarily be melted along with it. Also through the mere heating the greater part can be loosened, so that it can be rubbed off." But here it seems that both the cauldron and the rust are to be consumed; both Jerusalem and its guilty inhabitants are to be destroyed. Nothing will avail to cleanse them but the fierce fires of stern retribution. Another evidence of the exceeding wickedness of the people is the application to them of the word translated "lewdness." זִמָּה means "deliberate wickedness," wickedness meditated and planned. For such willful and studied evil-doing there remained but judgment. "All measures of a less extreme kind," says Fairbairn, "had been tried in vain; those were non-exhausted; and as the iniquity appeared to be entwined with the whole fabric and constitution of things, nothing remained but to subject all to the crucible of a severe and overwhelming catastrophe. This is represented by keeping the cauldron on the fire till its contents were stewed away, and the very bones burnt. And as if even this were not enough, as if something more were necessary to avenge and purge out such scandalous wickedness, the cauldron itself must be kept hot and burning till the pollution should be thoroughly consumed out of it. The wicked city must be laid in ruins (cf. Isaiah 4:4).... In plain terms, the Lord was no longer going to deal with them by half-measures; their condition called for the greatest degree of severity compatible with their preservation as a distinct and separate people, and so the indignation of the Lord was to rest on them till a separation was effected between them and sin."
V. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE RETRIBUTORY IN THEIR CHARACTER. "According to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord God." (We have already noticed this aspect of the Divine judgments in our treatment of Ezekiel 7:3, 4; Ezekiel 9:10; Ezekiel 16:43.) - W.J.
I. DIVINE DISCIPLINE. There is presumed the need for such discipline. It is because the metal is mixed with dross that it is cast into the furnace. It is because the patient is sick that medicine is administered. It is because the wheat and the chaff are intermingled that the winnowing-fan is employed. And it is because the heart and life of the individual or the nation are contaminated with evil that the chastening hand of God intervenes to purge away the mischief - the dross, the chaff. The means employed is usually affliction in some one or more of the many forms it assumes. One heart is reached in one way, another by a way altogether different; one nation is humbled by pestilence or famine, another by defeat in war and privation of territory.
II. THE MOTIVE AND PURPOSE OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE. To the careless observer it may seem as if such experiences as those described were evidences of malevolence in the Governor of the world. But in fact it is otherwise. "Whom he loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every child whom he receiveth." The son does not always understand his father's treatment of him, and does not always accept that treatment with submission and gratitude; neither does he always profit by it as he might do. Yet the treatment may be wise and well adapted for purposes alike of probation and of education; and the time may come when, looking back with enlarged experience and maturer judgment, he may approve his father's action. So is it with God's dealing with his great family. The Father of the spirits of all flesh has at heart the welfare of his offspring, his household. He knows that uninterrupted prosperity would not be beneficial, that many lessons could never be acquired amid circumstances of ease and enjoyment, that character could not by such experience be formed to ripeness and moral strength. It is through trials and afflictions that true men are fashioned. And the same is the case with nations. Israel had to wander and to fight in the wilderness. England has only reached her present position by means of many generations of conflict and many epochs of adversity. God has "purged" his people, not because he is indifferent to their sufferings, but because he is solicitous for their welfare, which only through sufferings can be achieved.
III. THE APPARENT FAILURE OF DIVINE DISCIPLINE. There is a pathetic tone in the assertion, "I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged." The explanation of this failure is to be found in the mysterious fact of human liberty. An eminent philosopher has said that he would be content to be wound up like a clock every morning, if that would ensure his going right throughout the day. Determinism is mechanism; it reduces man to the level of a machine. But this is not the true, the Divine idea of man. God evidently designs to do something better with man than to constrain him. He even gives to man the prerogative of resisting the high motives which he in wisdom and mercy brings to bear upon him. And when he perceives that the purposes of discipline are not fulfilled, he laments, "I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged." Yet it is not for us to say that even in such cases there has been real failure. Ends may be answered of which we cannot judge; good may be done which we cannot see; preparation may be making for advanced stages which we are now incapable of comprehending. Doubtless in many cases the "purging" which is ineffectual here and now will be brought about hereafter, and perhaps above. It is open to us to believe, with the poet-
"That nothing walks with aimless feet,
I. SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED. The Lord took away from the prophet the desire of his eyes "with a stroke." How touching is the prophet's record! - "At even my wife died." It is the simplicity of truth, the simplicity of submission, which speaks in this language. The terms Ezekiel employs show how great was his love and attachment to his wife; all the more was this sudden bereavement a shock of distress and anguish to him. Similarly swift was the stroke of retribution and ruin which came upon the Jewish metropolis. Notwithstanding repeated warnings and threatenings, the Israelites would not believe that their beloved Jerusalem, "the joy of the whole earth," could fall before the mighty conqueror from the east. But their confidence was misplaced, and their pride was destined to humiliation. The death stroke came, and it came with the sharpness and suddenness which corresponded with the prophet's bereavement.
II. SEVERE. No affliction which could befall Ezekiel could be so distressing and so crushing as the loss of his beloved wife. In this it was emblematical of the blow which was about to descend upon Jerusalem. "Behold," said the Lord, "I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth." Patriotism, historical associations, religious pride, and other elements of feeling conspired to render their metropolis dear to the sons of Abraham; and its destruction and the dispersion of its citizens could not be contemplated by them without the liveliest emotions of anguish and anxiety. No heavier blow could fall up. on them than this. Distress, as of the bereaved and desolate, must needs take possession of every true Hebrew heart, when predictions of Divine wrath were fulfilled, when the heathen entered and possessed the sanctuary of Jehovah.
III. INEVITABLE AND IRREPARABLE. Life is in the hands of the Lord and Giver of life. When he recalls his gift, his creatures can do nothing but submit. So Ezekiel himself acknowledged and felt; it was God who deprived him of the desire of his eyes. The dead return not to their place, which knows them no more. This fact gives keenness to the sorrow, whilst it aids submission. Ezekiel's fellow-countrymen were to learn that it was the Divine purpose to inflict upon Jerusalem the last indignity. No human power could avert, and no human power could repair, this evil, any more than such power could save or restore the life which the Creator resumed. A new career might indeed open up before the people of Israel, but the old career was closed peremptorily and irrecoverably.
IV. CRUSHING EVEN TO SILENCE. Ezekiel was bidden, when his bereavement came upon him, to refrain from weeping and mourning, and from all the outward signs of grief. Distressing and difficult as the command certainly was, it was obeyed. And the prophet's obedience to it was significant. When the day of Judah's trouble came, it came in such a manner and with such circumstances accompanying it that the survivors and spectators of the national calamity were rendered speechless through grief. Their experience reminds us of the memorable language of the psalmist, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it." There is a time to be silent. When the hand of God is heavy upon those who have resisted his laws and rebelled against his authority, they have nothing wherewith to answer their righteous Lord whom they have offended. It is for them to refrain from complaint, which in such a case would be merely blasphemy; it is for them to bow beneath the rod; it is for them, in silence and in speechless bitterness of heart, to repent of all their sins. It is the Lord: "Behold, here am I; let him do to me as seemeth good unto him." - T.
I. GRIEF FOR THE LOSS OF A WIFE IS NATURAL. A wife occupies a more central place in a man's heart than any other among humankind. God himself has ordained that this mutual affection shall transcend all other. It is a relationship born of mutual choice. In proportion to this depth and intensity of affection is the sense of loss when death occurs. To suffer anguish of heart at such a time accords with the laws and instincts of nature. It is a loss not to be measured by words, and in proportion to the sense of loss is the abundance of the grief.
II. MAN'S CAPACITY FOR FEELING GRIEF IS LIMITED. Every capacity of the soul of man has, on earth, limitation. Whether this will continue when released from the trammels of the flesh is not known. In all likelihood, capacity of mind and feeling will be enlarged, but will still be limited. If grief be indulged for minor losses, the soul will have no power of grief remaining for heavier demands. Therefore effort of will should be employed to restrain, and not to excite, our grief. Those who weep over imaginary sorrows portrayed in novels often become callous in the presence of real distress. The fountain of grief is exhausted.
III. REAL GRIEF SHOULD BE RESERVED FOR OUR HEAVIEST CALAMITIES. Because, if we allow the severest disasters to occur without an adequate sense of sorrow, we do our moral nature an injury; we do injury to others. We convey to men a wrong impression. We emphasize the less important matters. The result is that our nature gets out of harmony with God's nature - a disaster the heaviest of all. Then God's lessons are lost upon us. We become incapable of receiving good. We are "past feeling." To lose feeling is to lose enjoyment - is to endure diminished life.
IV. SIN SO OUTWEIGHS ALL OTHER CALAMITIES THAT OUR CHIEF SORROW SHOULD RE RESERVED FOR SIN. God forbade Ezekiel to weep for the loss of his wife. He forbade the Hebrews to exhibit signs of mourning for the fall and ruin of their temple. "But," he added - " but ye shall pine away for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another." All other disaster is external to a man. This disaster, sin, is internal and injures the very texture and fabric of his soul. This is without question "sorrow's crown of sorrow." A man belonging to the criminal class obtained an interview with a Christian gentleman. Replying to questions, the man told his sad history - his gradual lapse into crime, his ultimate detection, Said he, "I have been twice in gaol; I have endured all kinds of misery; but I confess that my worst punishment is in being what I am now." This is the cardinal truth set forth by Ezekiel - that sin is the sum of all disasters, the quintessence of hell. Hatred of God is man's curse.
V. A GOOD MAN IS A SIGN TO THE UNGODLY, OF UNSEEN REALITIES. "Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign." A sign is an index of unseen things. Smoke is the sign of fire. A sword is the sign of hostility. An English ensign is an index of the queen's authority. A good man's life is a" sign" or proof that there is a God, and that God is the Friend of man. The purity and piety of a good man is an index of the transforming grace of God. The peace in a good man's heart is an index of the peace of God - the peace of heaven. The obedience of a good man is an index of God's gracious authority. The resignation of a good man under trouble is a sign of the superiority of heavenly good to earthly. Every good man is a sign and witness for God. - D.
Exodus 2:21, 22). So also was his brother Aaron, the high priest. Samuel the seer and judge was married (1 Samuel 8:1, 2); and St. Peter (Matthew 8:14). St. Paul claimed for himself the "right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas" (1 Corinthians 9:5). And he writes of the prohibition of marriage as a "doctrine of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Regarding the death of the wife of the prophet as a real actual occurrence, we propose to consider it at present apart from its typical significance. We notice -
I. THE REMOVAL OF A BELOVED RELATIVE BY DEATH. "Son of man, behold, I take away... the desire of thine eyes." This undoubtedly refers to the wife of Ezekiel; and this mode of speaking of her indicates the high esteem and tender affection in which she was held by her husband. "A good wife," says Jeremy Taylor, "is Heaven's last best gift to man - his angel and minister of graces innumerable - his gem of many virtues - his casket of jewels. Her voice is sweet music; her smile, his brightest day; her kiss, the guardian of his innocence; her arms, the pale of his safety, the balm of his health, the balsam of his life; her industry, his surest wealth; her economy, his safest steward; her lips, his faithful counselors; her bosom, the softest pillow of his cares; and her prayers, the ablest advocates of Heaven's blessing on his head." The sacred Scriptures, especially in the New Testament, represent the love which the husband should bear towards his wife as being of the closest, tenderest, holiest kind (Ephesians 5:25-33). When a man has a good wife, who is to him the desire of his eyes, and she is taken from him by death, great is his loss and sore his sorrow. "The death of a man's wife," says Lamartine, "is like cutting down an ancient oak that has long shaded the family mansion. Henceforth the glare of the world, with its cares and vicissitudes, fails upon the old widower's heart, and there is nothing to break their force or shield him from the full weight of misfortune. It is as if his right hand were withered; as if one wing of his angel was broken, and every movement that he made brought him to the ground. His eyes are dimmed and glassy, and when the film of death falls over him, he misses those accustomed tones which have smoothed his passage to the grave." How frequently are beloved relatives removed by death! At one time it is the true wife and tender mother. At another, it is the faithful husband and the wise and loving father. Again, it is the beloved and beautiful child.
II. THE REMOVAL OF A BELOVED RELATIVE BY DEATH SUDDENLY, "I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke." The wife of Ezekiel did not suffer long from any illness, she had no antecedent affliction which tended to prepare him for her removal, but was snatched away as it were in a moment. It is not infrequently the case that our beloved are taken from us without any warning or without any anticipation of their removal. By virulent disease, by public calamity, by private accident, men are taken away with a stroke. This renders the suffering of the survivors more severe. If the life had slowly faded away, they would in a moment have been prepared for its departure. When there is a protracted affliction, the hearts of those who are soon to be bereaved nerve themselves for the last separating stroke when it shall come. The idea of the parting to some extent familiarizes itself to the mind. But in cases of sudden death there is no such preparation for the trial. And the stroke sometimes stuns the bereaved by its unlooked-for force, sometimes overwhelms their hearts with sorrow, and sometimes drives them into half-madness.
III. THE REMOVAL OF A BELOVED RELATIVE BY DEATH SUDDENLY BY GOD. "The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke." The agent in the removal of the prophet's wife is here said to be neither disease, nor accident, nor chance, nor fate, but the Lord himself. This is the general teaching of the Bible as to man's decease (cf. Job 1:21; Job 14:5, 20; Psalm 31:15; Psalm 68:20; Psalm 90:3, 5; Psalm 104:29; Revelation 1:18). In the fact which we are considering there is:
1. Deep mystery. Why does God take away our beloved ones with a stroke? Why does he not grant us at least some intimation and preparation for the coming trial? We cannot tell. But he says unto us, "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt understand hereafter."
2. Divine instruction. The fact should teach us important lessons; e.g.:
(2) To live in a state of preparedness for death. He who lives a truly Christian life will not be found unprepared whenever death shall come to him (cf. Philippians 1:21).
(3) To acknowledge God as the Sovereign of our life. This is manifestly our duty and our interest.
3. Rich comfort. God is all-wise, perfectly righteous, infinitely kind, and graciously interested in us. Therefore his arrangements concerning us, and his actions in relation to us, must be for our good. It is consoling and even inspiring to know that our times are in his hand.
IV. THE REMOVAL BY GOD OF A BELOVED RELATIVE, WHO WAS NOT TO BE MOURNED BY THE BEREAVED SURVIVOR. "Yet neither shalt thou mourn or weep, neither shall thy tears run down." God does not prohibit to his servant the feeling of sorrow, but only its outward expression. All the visible signs of mourning in use amongst his countrymen he must abstain from (Ver. 17). He may not weep, and even the relief of silent tears is forbidden him. It has been well said by Albert Smith that tears are "the safety-valves of the heart, when too much pressure is laid on." And Leigh Hunt writes, "Tears enable sorrow to vent itself patiently. Tears hinder sorrow from becoming despair and madness." But in this painful bereavement Ezekiel must neither weep nor shed tears, in order that he may be a more impressive sign unto his fellow-exiles. Exceedingly severe were his trials. But for us in our sorrow there is no such prohibition. Christianity does not forbid tears. "Jesus wept." In the days of his flesh he "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death." And the solace of tears is allowed unto us. We may relieve the over-laden heart by sighs, and cool the burning brain by our flowing tears. And in the sorrows of bereavement we have richer, diviner consolations than these. We know that to those who are in Christ death is unspeakable gain; that the separations which it causes are more in appearance than in reality; and that in the great hereafter there will be blessed reunions with those who have passed beyond the veil. - W.J.
I. A PEOPLE DEPRIVED OF THEIR MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS.
1. The possessions of which they were to be deprived.
(1) The temple itself. "Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth" The last clause is literally, "the pity of your soul;" that which "your soul would spare - pledging life itself for it." See also in what exalted terms the temple is spoken of in Ver. 25: "I take from them their strength," or stronghold, "the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their heart." The wife of Ezekiel, who was the desire of his eyes, symbolized the temple. In some respects the Jews made too much of their temple. They gloried in its outward beauty and splendor, even while they dishonored God by their idolatries; they trusted in it as their stronghold, instead of making him their Refuge and Strength; they set their heart upon it, when they should have loved him with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. And they were now about to lose that temple. Heathen intruders would first desecrate it and then destroy it (cf. Psalm 79:1; Psalm 74:3-8).
(2) The temple as a symbol. "The temple," says Schroder, "symbolizes all the possessions and power of Israel. To its existence in their midst they appealed against their brethren (Ezekiel 11:15); and to this they trusted amid all their wickedness and apostasy (Ezekiel 8:6; Jeremiah 8:4)." And Hengstenberg remarks that in the profanation of the sanctuary "is included the dissolving of the whole covenant relation, the removal of everything sublime and glorious, that had flown from that covenant relation, of all that was valuable and dear to the people. The general conception is demanded by the fundamental passage, Leviticus 26:19, where by the pride of power is meant all the glory of Israel. Then also by Ver. 25, where in place of the sanctuary here all that is glorious appears."
(3) Their sons and daughters. "Your sons and your daughters whom ye have left behind shall fall by the sword." Hitzig suggests that, "on the occasion of the expatriation, many parents may have been obliged to leave their children with relatives, from their being of too tender age to accompany them; and these would be slain by the sword. But it seems to us better to interpret, with Hengstenberg, "The sons and the daughters are not those of individuals, but of the people as a whole. The house of Israel, not the exiles in particular, are addressed. In point of fact, it is as much as to say, ' your countrymen.'" They were soon to be stripped of their temple and its ordinances, their independence and liberty, their homes and country, and many of their fellow-countrymen would perish by famine, pestilence, and sword.
2. The Person by whom they were to be thus deprived. "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will profane my sanctuary," etc. (Ver. 21); "I take from them their strength," etc. (Ver. 25). In this destruction and slaughter the Chaldeans were as instruments and weapons in the hand of God, who was himself the great Agent.
3. The reason why they were to be thus deprived. All this loss and misery was coming upon them because of their sins. They had forsaken God, and he was about to leave them without his defense. They had profaned his temple by their idolatries, and he was about to allow the idolatrous Chaldeans to enter into it and destroy it. Their calamities were caused by their crimes. Their sufferings were the righteous retribution of their sins.
II. A PEOPLE THAT SHOULD NOT MOURN THE LOSS OF EVEN THEIR MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS. "And ye shall do as I have done: ye shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. And your tires shall be upon your heads," etc. The outward demonstrations of mourning are thus forbidden to the Jews in their distress. The covering of the face from the upper lip downwards was a sign of mourning (cf. Leviticus 13:45; Micah 3:7). In great grief the mourners partook of food which their neigh-hours prepared and sent to them (cf. Jeremiah 16:7, Revised Version). This is here called "the bread of men." In many cases of mourning the headdress was taken off, and dust or ashes sprinkled upon the head (cf. Leviticus 10:6; Job 2:12; Isaiah 61:3; Lamentations 2:10). But David and his companions in a season of deep distress went weeping with their heads covered (2 Samuel 15:30). It was also customary for mourners to go barefoot, as David did on the occasion just referred to. All these visible symbols of grief were to be absent from the house of Israel during the great distresses that were coming upon them. Yet our text speaks of their great sorrow. "Ye shall pine away in your iniquities, and moan one toward another." We suggest, by way of explanation:
1. Their calamities would so overwhelm them as to leave them no power to think of the ceremonial of mourning. Their losses and miseries would stun them with amazement and anguish of soul. "As in the prophet's case," says Schroder, "the misfortune of his wife's death disappears in the deep shadows of the overthrow of Jerusalem and Judah, so all the personal feelings of the exiles" (and we must not limit this to them to the exclusion of their fellow-countrymen) "shall be absorbed in this destruction of the last remnant of the kingdom and city. One and another shall be benumbed with pain, so that no comfort shall come from any quarter; on the contrary, a desolating feeling of guilt shall be general - such shall be their knowledge of the Lord."
2. Their consciousness of the sin which caused their calamities should check the outward exhibitions of sorrow because of them. This is well set forth by Fairbairn: "In the typical part of the delineation, it was not because the prophet was insensible to the loss he sustained by the death of his wife that he was to abstain from the habiliments and usages of mourning; but because there was another source of grief behind, of which this was but the sign and presage, and in itself so much greater and more appalling, that his spirit, instead of venting itself in expressions of sorrow at the immediate and ostensible calamity, was rather to brood in silent agony and concern over the more distressing evil it foreshadowed. And in like manner with the people, when all their fond hopes and visions were finally exploded, when the destruction of their beautiful temple, and the slaughter of their sons and daughters, came home to them as dreadful realities, they could only refrain from bewailing the loss of what had so deep a hold on their desires and affections, by having come to discern in this the sign of what was still greatly more dreadful and appalling. And what might that be but the bloodstained guilt of their iniquities, which had brought on the catastrophe?... The overwhelming sense should then break in upon them of the iniquities to which they had clung with such fatal perverseness, absorbing their spirits, and turning their moanings into a new and higher direction. The agonies of bereavement would be in a manner lost under the self-inflicted pains of contrition and remorse (cf. Ezekiel 7:16). Yet the description must be understood with certain qualifications, and indeed is to be viewed as the somewhat ideal delineation of a state of things that should be found, rather than the exact and literal description of what was actually to take place... The people should, on the occurrence of such a fearful catastrophe, have sunk under an overpowering sense of their guilt and folly, and, like the prophet, turned the tide of their grief and mourning rather against the gigantic evil that lay behind, seen only in the chambers of imagery, than what outwardly appeared; they should have bewailed the enormous sins that had provoked the righteous displeasure of God, rather than the present troubles in which that displeasure had taken effect. And such, undoubtedly, was the case with the better and more enlightened portion of the people; but many still cleaved to their idols, and would not receive the instruction given-them, either by the prophet's parabolical example or by the reality of God's afflicting dispensations."
CONCLUSION. Mark well the dread consequences of persistence in sin. - W.J.
to be, a sign to the people. In his own person, in his own remarkable experience, he typified great truths.
I. IN THE AFFLICTION WHICH BEFELL HIM.
II. IN THE ANGUISH WHICH HE EXPERIENCED.
III. IN HIS SILENT SUBMISSION TO DIVINE APPOINTMENTS.
IV. IN HIS UNCOMPLAINING OBEDIENCE TO DIVINE BEHESTS.
V. IN HIS DESIRE AND RESOLUTION, BY ALL HIS EXPERIENCE AND ACTION, TO GLORIFY GOD.
APPLICATION. There are occasions when a good man can do little in the way of directly benefiting or influencing the ungodly by whom he may be surrounded. But even in such circumstances he may be a witness to God, and he may render service to his fellow-men, by his own life, and especially by his demeanor in times of affliction and trial. - T.