The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The word of the LORD also came unto me, saying,Ezekiel's Vision
Ezekiel will speak nothing in his own name. He does not guarantee one word of what he speaks by his own authority. The wondrous imagery is not the birth of his fancy, it is something which his soul's eyes have seen. Ezekiel makes no sermons, he simply tells what he has heard. It was his business to deliver messages, not to make them. When he is incoherent, he makes no apology; when we cannot follow him, he cannot help it; when he is apparently mad, he does not know it: he will only tell what he has seen and heard. He will not write a sentence, he will not study literary form, he knows nothing about taste, polish, style; he roars, he whispers, he screams like a man in fright, he prays like a man who is sure he can have what he asks for. He is a thousand prophets in one; hence his peculiarities—his imagination so gorgeous, his command so authoritative, his threatening so appalling, his signs and tokens so bewildering. He knows nothing of what he is talking about. No house will hold him: he would tear its clay walls down by that burning fury which is characteristic of his prophetic genius; he would melt the furnace and flow abroad in a freedom chartered by Heaven. He must stand upon a mountain—no other pulpit will do; he must ride upon the wings of the wind, and with the thunder talk as friend to friend. You must get into his key before you can understand his speech; you must be as mad as he is before you can take any pleasure in him.
Inspired men should have inspired students. Perhaps here and there we may be able to join him in his tragical progress.
"The word of the Lord also came unto me, saying, Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 12:1-2).
He was a prophet though the house was rebellious. Can the Lord find no better place for his prophets? Can he not make them a second garden? He made one: can he not make two? Can he not cause his prophet to stand in some high tower where he will be untainted by the pollution of place and time, and whence he can thunder out the divine word? Has the prophet to mingle with the people, to live with them, to touch their corruptness, to feel the contagion of their evil manners? Might he not have a pedestal to himself? No. The Son of man when he comes will go on eating and drinking, a social reformer, a brother, a fellow-guest at tables; he will take the cup after we have partaken of it, and we may cut him what morsel of bread he may eat, or he will hand them to us; he will be one of his fellow-creatures. And yet Ezekiel was a prophet. So is the Son of man. Nothing could mingle Ezekiel with the rebellious house, so as to be unable to distinguish between the one and the other. Proximity is not identification. We may sit close to a murderer, and be quite distinct from him as to all our proclivities, and desires, and aspirations. We need not be corrupt because we live in a corrupt age; we need not go down because the neighbourhood is bad. It is poor pleading, it is an irreligious and inexcusable defence, which says it could not resist atmospheric pressure, the subtle influence of social custom and habitude. It is the business of a prophet to stand right apart from his fellow-men, and yet to be so near as to be able to teach them, exhort them, rebuke them, and comfort them when they turn their face but a point towards the throne, the Cross, and the promised heaven. Ezekiel's experience was tumultuous, rough, difficult, hard to undergo and impossible to understand.
"A rebellious house."—What was the charge made against this rebellious house? The words "rebellious house" are general: does the accusation descend to particulars? It does,—"Which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not." Rebelliousness means loss of faculty. You cannot commit sin and be as clear-minded as you were before you committed it The obscurity of mind may not be immediately evident, but let a man allow one bad thought to pass through his brain, and the brain has lost quality, a tremendous injury has been inflicted on that sensitive organ; by-and-by, after a succession of such passages, there will be no brain to injure. Sin tears down whatever it touches. Your habit is bringing you to imbecility, if it is a bad habit. You must name it; preachers may not speak distinctly and definitely, but they create a standard by which men may judge themselves, and by which preachers may also judge their own aspirations and purposes. You are losing your eyesight by your sin; you are becoming deaf because you are becoming worse in thought and desire and purpose; you are not the business man you were a quarter of a century ago when you were a disciplinarian, a Spartan, a self-critic, when you held yourself in a leash, and would not allow yourself to go an inch faster than your judgment approved: since then you have loosened the reins, you have allowed the steeds to go at their own will, and the consequence is that you miss one half of what is spoken to you, and you fail to see God's morning and God's sunset; they are but commonplaces to you, mayhap but broad vulgarities. Men should be good if they wish to keep their genius. Morality is the defence of mental power and general faculty. The bad man goes down. His descent may not be palpable today or tomorrow, but the process is not the less certain and tremendous because it is sometimes imperceptible.
What does the prophet do? This chapter indicates that Ezekiel was called upon to show himself in two distinct aspects. Ezekiel is charged to represent two signs:—
"Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for removing, and remove by day in their sight; and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place in their sight: it may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 12:3).
He was to be performing a very singular act, and to be so constantly doing it that people would say, What is he doing now? He is moving things: what is the madman after today? Watch him:—he brings forth his stuff in their sight; he goes forth at even in their sight; he digs through the wall in their sight; in their sight he bears the burden upon his shoulders and carries it forth in the twilight (i.e., in the dark); he covers his face that he may not see the ground. The Lord makes this use of the man that by an act singular, absurd, irrational, unaccountable, he may attract attention, so that the people may say, What is it? It is thus the preachers would do if they dare. The preacher has lost his power of sign-making, and he has taken now to sentence-making. The preacher should always be doing something that attracts the religious attention of mankind. He should be praying so unexpectedly and vehemently as to cause people to say, What is this? But he dare not. Quietness has been patented, and indifference has been gazetted respectable. They are right who beat drums, sound trumpets, fly flags, tramp the streets like soldiers taking a fortress, so that people shall say, looking out of high windows and round the street corners, What is this? what are these men doing now? "It may be,' saith the Lord,—"it may be they will consider." But they can only be brought to consideration by sign and token, by madness on the part of the Church. Trust the Church for going mad today! The Church now locks up its premises six days out of seven, and blesses the man who occupies it as little as possible on the seventh day. Rebelliousness overfloods the fading energy and zeal of the Church.
All prophets are to be signs. When a minister becomes indistinguishable from another man he ceases to be a minister. He is nothing except in his distinctiveness. His whole power is in his individuality. If he does anything like another man he has by so much obliterated his whole function. The Lord has always been setting signs in the ages, so much so that at one time they were in danger of losing their significance and their power:—"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" Do you not see amid all the tumult the outline of a Face, the shaping of a Hand, the direction of a Will? Or is the day nothing to you but a succession of unrelated events? If your souls' eyes were opened you would see every night another colour in the web, and you would say to one another, See how the divine purpose proceeds: how singular the figure, how marked, how emphatic, how divine! The Lord's hand rests not day nor night. "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." You have had your signs: read them well. Noah was a sign when he was building his ark, but the sign became so common that the people signalled to one another as they passed the poor old carpenter, and said some half-genial pleasant word about his infatuation. Jonah was a sign to his generation. The people heeded not the sign; the religious people called it a miracle, and the irreligious people called it a lie. The great complaint against the Church is that it makes no signs. He who makes a sign will expose himself to momentarily ruinous criticism; therefore it is that men dare not make a sign. If they could overget the first sensation, and welcome the first difficulty, after that they would occupy the position of conqueror, not of conquered. If you could only plunge into the water you would be warm in a moment. But that first moment looks like eternity when it is still to be taken in hand. Plunge in, leap into the sea of providence, accept your destiny; the little moment will be forgotten in the glad hereafter.
See to what straits they may come who oppose God:—
"And the prince that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the twilight, and shall go forth" (Ezekiel 12:12).
Princes always lay burdens upon other people. A prince is an incubus. The time comes when princes have to carry burdens; that is the burden of the Lord, that is the prophecy of eternal righteousness. The prince that is among them, who has been heaping burdens upon other people's shoulders, shall one day stoop to take up his own load, and his eyes—those "inlets of lust"—shall be dug out, and Zedekiah shall accept the fate of a blind slave. Verily there is a God that ruleth in the world. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." You cannot die before harvest-time. Though you physically die, the harvest is still to be reaped. Imagine not that having had a season of seed-sowing you can run away from the harvest, for the harvest will run after you, and you will have to reap it, here or at the antipodes, or in the invisible state. That black harvest must be cut down and garnered, and you must keep the key of the granary. Sometimes it seems as if it were not so. There have arisen in the Church from age to age men who have been troubled by the prosperity of the wicked, saying, They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men; therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment; their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish; they live in palaces, they play on harps and viols, and whatsoever they call for, the answer is immediately at hand; the righteous are driven out, and virtue is thrown down in the streets, and the devil is the prince of this world. There is too much immediate reason for saying so, but ultimate reason there is none. Any part of life that we can see is nothing in its relation to the whole mystery and purpose of divine duration. Our life of seventy years all told is a breath, a gasp, a sigh,—sustaining no relation to the duration that is to be. Who is this man who sits as Chief Justice on the king's bench, and then sits as Lord High Chancellor of England? Who is this Denbigh boy, who has, by unquestionable ability, and by the absence of conscience, worked his way to great eminence? Hear him: how he storms on the bench; how his gaunt eyes express anger, hatred, malice! Hear how he sentences Sidney, and sends Baxter to prison, and turns the gaol key on John Bunyan! He will dine to-night with some of his own company, and in their wine how they will sneer at the puritan fanatics! Surely the Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the righteous are given over to be burned and scourged by wicked hands. Let us travel eastward in London awhile. Who is this man in front of us? He is an attorney. Where was he a little while ago? Before the judge. How was he treated by the judge? Contemptuously, as every honest man was treated. Who is that in the window of a Wapping public-house? A seaman?—no, but a man with a seaman's clothes on. To whom can those eyes belong? Only to one man. Where are the eyebrows? Shaved off. Who is that? It is the infernal Jeffreys. The populace is maddened; the populace will seize him, and drag him out, and bring him to the Council, and frighten the Lord Mayor of London, and Jeffreys shall beg to be taken to prison, and be thankful for the shelter of a gaol. Let him go to the Tower, and live awhile, and then die within those capacious and to him inhospitable walls. The Lord will look after all issues. Believe not that bad men can have all their own way, and displace the throne and occupy it themselves. It would seem as if providence allowed men to go a long way without punishment, and then made mean men, as well as prophets, signs to their generation and to after ages.
Then the prophet was to be a second sign:—
"Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness; and say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord God of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel; They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land may be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the Lord "(Ezekiel 12:17-20).
Thus the prophet was to eat bread as if he were shaken by the palsy, and as if the very eating of the bread added to his pain and distress. He was to take up his water and drink it as if it were bitter, yea, as if it were poison, and the people, seeing this palsied man, quaking, white with fear, and alarmed by familiar things, were to say, What is he doing now? what is this madman now about? Thus by outward signs, by physical pictures, by visible demonstrations, the prophet was to call attention to great truths. This would be called sensationalism now: but the Church is ruined for want of it. What sign do we make that the people take heed of? The prophet in every age is to represent his own prophecy. What is the prophecy of the good man today? A prophecy of the future. What is the future which he is to represent? He is to show that he has a consciousness of futurity, so that every act he does should be a mysterious action, incomplete in itself, stretched out, tentacle-like, to something beyond. He is to declare plainly that he seeks a country out of sight. Men will say to him, Why do you not sit down and be thankful? Why do you not eat your daily bread, and not distress yourself about tomorrow? Why not eat and drink, and rise up and play? Why not take a short view of life, and make all things as easy as possible? So will they address him in irritating and frivolous questions. But the man who has got a right view of life sees that the earth is only a stepping-stone, that time is only a little link in an endless chain; the man who has right ideas of life, character, duty, power, destiny, says, There is something I have not yet seen, and that other greater invisible something influences me like an aspiration; I endure as seeing the invisible; here I have no continuing city, but I seek one to come: I am a pilgrim, I can tarry but a night; for a night's lodgment I am grateful to you, but wake me when the first hint of morning whitens the East, for I must be up and off: I am heaven-bound. We are afraid to declare our religion. The late Canon Liddon once told of a dinner that was held in London fifty years ago in one of the finest houses of the prosperous metropolis. The gentlemen of the party had been speaking in terms dishonouring of our Lord: one of the guests was quiet; in a pause of the conversation he asked that the bell might be rung, then he requested that his carriage might be called, and then with the finished polish and courtesy of a gentleman he explained the reason of his departure, saying to his host, "For I am still a Christian." That gentleman was Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister of England. No argument could have been so effective, no eloquence could have gained the point as that one instance of personal faithfulness gained it. We should show to our age that we have some religious conscience, some religious loyalty. To be indifferent is to crucify the Son of God; to let judgment go by default is to betray him and to pierce him with five more wounds, and crush more deeply into his throbbing temples the sharp and cruel thorn. Son of man, prophesy, prophesy! To this high duty, to this splendid responsibility are we called.
What was the effect of this sign-making and prophesying? The effect was mockery:—
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?" (Ezekiel 12:21-22).
Jeremiah has been talking about this upbreaking of the kingdom, and Ezekiel is talking about it; and when the prophecies were delivered to Zedekiah he said they did not sufficiently coincide to confirm one another: for he looked for those literal coincidences which bewilder so many people and which can only satisfy pedantry; he did not see that coincidence is in the purpose, in the substance of the message. So there came up a proverb in Israel, "The days are prolonged," then came a laugh suggestive; "and every vision faileth," then the laugh was prolonged. We have fallen into the mockery of proverb-making. In English we say, "Words are but wind." How foolishly we have lived to believe that: whereas words are the only real life. In the beginning the Word was with God, and the Word was God; and the word is the man, the soul if he be other than a profane person. We ourselves say in English, "In space comes grace": God does not mean to kill us, or he would not have given us such space for what is called repentance and amendment. We ourselves say, "Every man for himself, and God for us all": a singular mixture of mammon and spirituality, of selfishness and pseudo-religion. Let us not be victimised by our own wit. See to it that we do not slip into hell through the trapdoor of an epigram. There is only one word about this business that is true, namely, "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation."
The Lord says his patience will give way, his longsuffering will come to an end:—
"There shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am the Lord: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord God" (Ezekiel 12:24-25).
Better believe this. All the ages have testified to it; all philosophies point in this direction. "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." Do not enter a fool's paradise; do not enter upon vain imaginations, saying, As it was yesterday, so it will be tomorrow,—for there is a moment which changes all things. Study the action of time, and you will see how many critical moments there are. It is only a moment that separates the night from the day, the day from the not-day, the positive from the negative—an almost incalculable line, so minute, so infinitesimal. God can work wonders in a moment. He may take eternity for some works, but in many a moment he strikes men blind, and turns men into perdition. There is but a step between thee and death. Thy breath is in thy nostrils: a puncture in the right place, and life is gone. One touch, and the balance is lost, and he who was strong an hour since will be buried next week. Seizing these realities, grasping them with the whole mind and heart, the Church ought not to be other than in dead earnest