Moreover the spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the LORD'S house, which looketh eastward: and behold at the door of the gate five and twenty men; among whom I saw Jaazaniah the son of Azur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.
Verse 1. - Moreover the Spirit lifted me up, etc. It is noticeable that the position to which Ezekiel was thus transported in his vision from his place in the inner court (Ezekiel 8:14), was identical with that which he had just seen occupied by the cherub chariot before its departure (Ezekiel 10:19). What he is about to see will throw light on the significance of their departure. The gate is probably, here as there, that of the court of the temple. Five and twenty men. The number at first reminds us of the worshippers of the sun, in Ezekiel 8:16; but that, as we saw, was probably a company of priests. On the other hand, the two who are named are styled princes of the people, which suggests a lay rather than a priestly status, and they are seen in a different locality. Conjectures as to the significance of the number vary.
(1) Two from each tribe of Israel, with the king at their head.
(2) Two from each of the twelve divisions of the army, each containing twenty-four thousand men (1 Chronicles 27:1-15).
(3) Representatives of twelve regions of the city - a kind of municipal council, with their president. Possibly, after all, the number was used more or less vaguely - a "round" number, as we say (Smend). It is probably safe, however, to think of them as representing the lay element of authority. Nothing is known further as to the persons named. Jaazaniah is distinguished by his parentage from his namesake of Ezekiel 8:11 and Jeremiah 35:3. Both were probably familiar to those for whom Ezekiel wrote, as leaders of the party that was "always devising mischief," in opposition, i.e., to Jeremiah and the true prophets. Possibly the meanings of the names Jaazaniah (equivalent to "God hearkens") the son of Azur (equivalent to "The Helper"), Pelatiah (equivalent to "God rescues") the son of Benaiah (equivalent to "God builds"), are chosen as with a grim irony. The name of Azur meets us in Jeremiah 28:1 as that of the father of the false prophet Hananiah. The death of Pelatiah was probably an historical event to which the prophet pointed as a warning to those who, either at Jerusalem or among the exiles, were speaking as he spoke.
Then said he unto me, Son of man, these are the men that devise mischief, and give wicked counsel in this city:
Which say, It is not near; let us build houses: this city is the caldron, and we be the flesh.
Verse 3. - It is not near, etc. The words take their place among the popular, half-proverbial sayings of which we have other examples in Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9; and Ezekiel 18:2. As in most proverbs of this kind, the thought is condensed to the very verge of obscurity, and the words have received very different interpretations.
(1) That suggested by the Authorized Version. "It (the judgment of which the true prophets spoke) is not near. Let us build houses, not, as Jeremiah bids (Jeremiah 39:5), in the land of exile, but here in Jerusalem, where we shall remain in safety. Are we threatened with the imagery of the 'seething pot' (Jeremiah 1:13)? Let us remember that the caldron protects the meat in it from the fire. The walls of the city will protect us from the army of the Chaldeans." The temper which clothed itself in this language was that of the self-confident boastful security of Jeremiah 28:3; and the death of Hananiah, the son of Azur, in that history presents a parallel to that of Pelatiah in this.
(2) Grammatically, however, the rendering of the Revised Version is preferable: The time is not near for building houses; probably, as before, with a reference to Jeremiah's advice. "We," they seem to say, "are not come to that plaint yet. We will trust, as in (1), in our interpretation of the caldron."
(3) On the whole, I incline, while adopting the Revised Version rendering, to interpret the words, as Smend takes them, as the defiant utterance of despair: "It is no time for building houses, here or elsewhere. We are doomed. We are destined (I borrow the nearest analogue of modern proverbial speech) 'to stew in our own juice.' Well, let us meet it as we best may." I find what suggests this view
(1) in the improbability that the thought of the caldron could ever have been received as a message of safety (comp. Ezekiel 24:3, 6); and
(2) in the despairing tone of most of the sayings that Ezekiel records (Ezekiel 18:2; Ezekiel 37:11). Probably there were, as in other like crises in the history of nations (say, e.g., in those of the Franco-German War) rapid alternations between the two moods of boastful security and defiant despair - the galgenhumor, the courage of the gallows, as Smend calls it; and the same words might be uttered now in this temper, and now in that. In either case, there was the root element of the absence of repentance and submission.
Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy, O son of man.
Verses 4, 5. - The prophet still, we must remember, in his vision, is bidden to do his work as a true prophet, and to rebuke the defiant speech which he had heard. As in Ezekiel 2:2, the Spirit of Jehovah comes upon him, and throws him into the prophetic ecstasy. It is noticeable that here, as in Ezekiel 2:3, his message is not to Judah only, but to the whole house of Israel as represented by those to whom he spoke. I know the things. This, as ever, was one of the notes of a true prophet, that he shared, as was needed for his work, in the knowledge of him from whom no secrets are hid (John 2:24, 25; Matthew 9:4; 1 Corinthians 14:25). Thoughts, as well as words, were laid bare before him, as they were to his Lord (Hebrews 4:12).
And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the LORD; Thus have ye said, O house of Israel: for I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.
Ye have multiplied your slain in this city, and ye have filled the streets thereof with the slain.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Your slain whom ye have laid in the midst of it, they are the flesh, and this city is the caldron: but I will bring you forth out of the midst of it.
Verse 7. - They are the flesh, etc. The prophet is led to retort their derisive or defiant words. Not they, but the carcases of their victims, were as the "flesh" in the "caldron." For themselves, there was another fate in reserve. Neither to be protected by the caldron nor to meet their doom in it, but to be brought out of it. Death, by famine, sword, or pestilence (Ezekiel 5:12), might be the doom of some, but for others, perhaps specially for those whom the prophet addresses, there would be captivity first, and death from the sword which they feared, afterwards.
Ye have feared the sword; and I will bring a sword upon you, saith the Lord GOD.
And I will bring you out of the midst thereof, and deliver you into the hands of strangers, and will execute judgments among you.
Verse 9. - The strangers are, of course, the Chaldean invaders, and the prediction finds its fulfilment in the massacre of the princes of Judah at Ritdah (Jeremiah 52:9, 10), which was in Hamath, the northern border of Israel (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:25). Then they should see that their defiant speech as to the "caldron" and "the flesh" would be of no avail. Thus they should know that the prophet had spoken in the name of Jehovah, and that their punishment by the heathen was the righteous retribution for their having walked in the ways of the heathen.
Ye shall fall by the sword; I will judge you in the border of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
This city shall not be your caldron, neither shall ye be the flesh in the midst thereof; but I will judge you in the border of Israel:
And ye shall know that I am the LORD: for ye have not walked in my statutes, neither executed my judgments, but have done after the manners of the heathen that are round about you.
And it came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then fell I down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?
Verse 13. - Pelatiah the son of Benaiah. We must remember that this a as part of the vision, but it may be assumed, in the nature of the case, that it represented what then or afterwards was a fact in history. Had Pelatiah died suddenly during a council meeting? Compare the death of Hananiah in Jeremiah 28:17. As it was, even in the vision, the death so startled and horrified the prophet, that he burst out again into a prayer like that of ch. 9:8. Was the "residue," the "remnant" of Israel, represented by one of the chief counsellors of the city, to be thus cut off?
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 14. - The answer to that question comes as by a new inspiration from the word of the Lord.
Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the LORD: unto us is this land given in possession.
Verse 15. - The men of thy kindred, etc. The full force of the phrase can hardly be understood without remembering that the word for "kindred" implies the function and office of a goel, the redeemer and avenger of those among his relations who had suffered wrong (Leviticus 25:25, 48; Numbers 5:8), and the point of the revelation is that Ezekiel is to find those who have this claim on him, his true "brethren," not only or chiefly in his natural relations in the priesthood, but in the companions of his exile (the LXX., following a different reading, gives, "the men of the Captivity"), and the whole house of Israel, who were in a like position, who were condemned by those who had been left in Jerusalem. As in Jeremiah's vision (Jeremiah 24:1), they were the "good figs;" those in the city, the vile and worthless. They were the remnant, the residue, for whom there was a hope of better things. They were despised as far off from the Lord. They were really nearer to his presence than those who worshipped in the temple from which Jehovah had departed. Ewald and Smend take the words as indicative: "Ye are far," etc.
Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.
Verse 16. - Yet will I be unto them as a little sanctuary; better, with the Revised Version, a little while, as marking that the state described was transient and provisional. For a time, Ezekiel and the exiles were to find the presence of Jehovah manifested as in the vision of Chebar (Ezekiel 1:4-28), or felt spiritually, and this would make the spot where they found themselves as fully a holy place as the temple had been. There also they would have a "house of God." But this was not to be their permanent lot. There was to be a restoration to "the land of Israel" (ver. 17; Ezekiel 37:21), to the visible sanctuary, to a second temple no longer desecrated by the pollutions that had defiled the first. As with all such prophecies, the words had "springing and germinant accomplishments." In Ezekiel 40-48, we have Ezekiel's ideal vision of their fulfilment. A literal but incomplete fulfilment is formed in the work of restoration achieved by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the hopes then cherished by Haggai and Zechariah. A more complete but less literal fulfilment appears in the Church of Christ as the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), and in the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26). In the fact that in the seer's vision of that heavenly city there is no temple, but the presence of "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb" Revelation 21:22), we find the crowning development of Ezekiel's thought. Intermediate expansions are found
(1) in the gradual substitution of the synagogue for the temple in the religious life of Israel;
(2) in our Lord's words to the woman of Samaria (John 4:21-24); and
(3) in his promise that where two or three are gathered together in his Name, there he would be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). The thought that it is the presence of Jehovah that makes the sanctuary, not the sanctuary that secures the presence, Ezekiel may have learnt from the fate of Shiloh (Psalm 78:60).
Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.
Verse 17. - I will give you the land of Israel. The marginal references in the Authorized Version show how entirely Ezekiel was following in the footsteps of his master Jeremiah, as he had done in those of Isaiah, in their prophecies of restoration. Here also the law of" springing and germinant accomplishments" finds its application. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:13-48:35) has his ideal of a new geographical Israel, as of a new local temple, a land from which idolatrous shrines and high places have disappeared. St. Paul (Romans 9-11.) clings to the thought of a restoration of the literal Israel, even while he strips it of Ezekiel's geographical limitations.
And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.
And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
Verse 19. - I will give them one heart. The LXX., following a different reading, gives "another heart" (as in 1 Samuel 10:9); but the Hebrew, represented by the Authorized and Revised Versions, is, without any doubt, right. As in the symbolic action of the joining of the two sticks in Ezekiel 37:15-22, so here, the hope of the prophet, like that of Isaiah and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:37-39), looked forward to the unity of the restored people. Judah should no longer vex Ephraim, nor Ephraim Judah (Isaiah 11:13). The long standing line of cleavage should disappear. Oneness of purpose and of action would characterize the new Israel of God. So, in our Lord's prayer for his Church, there is the prayer that "they may be one" - made perfect in one (John 17:21-23). Left to itself, Israel tended, as all human communities have tended, to an ever-subdividing individualism, fruitful in sects and parties and schisms. Even the highest of those aspirations has remained as yet without any adequate fulfilment. The ideal unity of the Christian Church is as far distant as that of the Church of Israel. It remains for us to welcome any approximate fulfilments as pledges and earnests of the future unity of the true Israel of God in the heavenly Jerusalem. In the prophet's thoughts that unity was to be brought about by the Divine gift of a "new Spirit," loyal, obedient, unselfish. We note how distinctly, whether consciously or unconsciously, Ezekiel reproduces the thought, almost the very words, of Jeremiah 31:31-33; Jeremiah 32:37-39; how his words are in their turn reproduced in Revelation 21:3-5. The eternal hope asserts itself again and again in spite of all partial failures and disappointments. I will take the stony heart out of their flesh. The thought is, as we have seen, identical with that of Jeremiah 31:31-33, but the form in this instance is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel, and meets us again in Ezekiel 36:26. The "stony heart" is that which is "hardened" (Ezekiel 3:7) against all impressions of repentance, to all natural or spiritual aspirations of the good. So Zechariah 7:12 speaks of those who had made their hearts "harder than an adamant stone." So we may remember, by way of illustration, that Burns says of the sin of impurity that "it hardens a' within," that "it petrifies the feeling." Ezekiel had seen enough of that stoniness in others, perhaps had, at times, felt it in himself.
That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Verse 20. - That they may walk in my statutes, etc. Out of the new spirit there was to grow the new life - a life of righteousness and obedience, as in worship, so also in the acts of man's daily life and his dealings with his neighbours. So, and not otherwise, could the actual relation of Jehovah correspond to the ideal, as it had been declared of old (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; 1 Samuel 12:22; 2 Samuel 7:23). This, for Ezekiel, was the crowning blessedness of all, as it had been that of earlier and contemporary prophets (Hosea 2:23; Jeremiah 24:7). To that thought he returns again and again, as to the anchor of his hope (Ezekiel 14:11; Ezekiel 27:14; Ezekiel 36:28; Ezekiel 37:23, 27).
But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 21. - But as for them, etc. We note the peculiar phraseology. The heart of the people walks not simply after their detestable things, but after the heart of those things. There is, as it were, a central unity in the evil to which they unite themselves, just as the heart of man turns to the heart of God when the two are in their ideal relation to each other. For those who did this, whether in Jerusalem or among the exiles, there was the prospect of a righteous retribution. The words close the message which Ezekiel heard in the courts of the temple in his visions, but which he was to deliver (ver. 25) to them of the Captivity.
Then did the cherubims lift up their wings, and the wheels beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.
Verses 22, 23. - Another stage of the departure of the Divine glory closes the vision. It had rested over the middle of the city. It now halts over the mountain on the east side of the city, i.e. on the Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15:30; Zechariah 14:4). Currey mentions, but without a reference, a Jewish tradition that the Shechinah, or glory cloud, remained there for three years, calling the people to repentance. What is here recorded may trove suggested the thought of Zechariah 14:4. We may remember that it was from this spot that Christ "beheld the city, and wept over it" (Luke 19:41); that from it He, the true Shechinah, ascended into heaven. Here, perhaps, the dominant thought was that it remained for a time to direct the work of judgment. And so the vision was over, and the prophet was borne back in vision to Chaldea, and made known to the exiles of Tel-Abib the wonderful and terrible things tidal he had seem
And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.
Afterwards the spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to them of the captivity. So the vision that I had seen went up from me.
Then I spake unto them of the captivity all the things that the LORD had shewed me.