The word of the LORD also came unto me, saying,
Verse 1. - The word of the Lord, etc. This formula, so familiar in Isaiah and Jeremiah, appears for the first time in Ezekiel, but occurs repeatedly afterwards, especially in this chapter (vers. 8, 17, 21, 26. and again Ezekiel 13:1; Ezekiel 14:2, et al.). The teaching by "the visions of God" ceases, and that of direct message or symbolic acts is resumed. In each case the point aimed at was the same. The people who heard the one or saw the other were to be taught how utterly groundless was the hope that Jerusalem could hold out against its enemies. The interval between the two was probably a short one, and the new teaching, we may conjecture, had its starting point in the prophecies of a speedy deliverance which were current both at Jerusalem and among the exiles at Babylon.
Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.
Verse 2. - Which have eyes to see, etc. We note the words in their relation both to like utterances in the past (Isaiah 6:9; Isaiah 42:20), and by Ezekiel's contemporary (Jeremiah 5:21), and in the future by our Lord (Matthew 13:13), by St. John (John 12:40), and lastly by St. Paul (Acts 28:27). The thought and phrase were naturally as ever-recurring as the fact.
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.
Verses 3-7. - Prepare thee stuff for removing, etc.; better, equipment for a journey, with the implied thought that it is the journey of one going into exile. "Bag and baggage," all the household goods which an exile could take with him (Exodus 12:11, 34 may supply an illustration), were to be brought out in broad daylight and piled up opposite his door. Then in the twilight (Revised Version, in the dark, and so in vers. 7, 12) he was to go forth, not by the door of his house, but by breaking through the wall (with such walls as those of Ezekiel 13:11 the process would not be difficult), as a man might do who was escaping secretly from a city through the gates of which he dared not pass (ver. 5), and was to start with his travelling chattels upon his shoulder. Lastly (ver. 6), as the strangest feature of all, he was to go forth with his face covered, as one who wished to avoid recognition, as one also who could not see one step of the way before him. This, it is intimated, would startle even the most careless, and in this way he would become, as he had been before in like symbolic acts (Ezekiel 4, 5.), as Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:2) had been before him, a sign unto the house of Israel.
Then shalt thou bring forth thy stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removing: and thou shalt go forth at even in their sight, as they that go forth into captivity.
Dig thou through the wall in their sight, and carry out thereby.
In their sight shalt thou bear it upon thy shoulders, and carry it forth in the twilight: thou shalt cover thy face, that thou see not the ground: for I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel.
And I did so as I was commanded: I brought forth my stuff by day, as stuff for captivity, and in the even I digged through the wall with mine hand; I brought it forth in the twilight, and I bare it upon my shoulder in their sight.
And in the morning came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,
Verses 8, 9. - The commands were obeyed, and the prophet waited fur the next inspiration, the next word of the Lord. It would seem as if he had himself done what he was told to do without knowing what it meant. It was not till night had passed to morning that he was able to answer the question which the exiles asked him, What doest thou! At last the answer came.
Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said unto thee, What doest thou?
Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel that are among them.
Verses 10, 11. - This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem; literally, the prince is this burden in Jerusalem. The word "burden," in the sense of "prophecy," so common in Isaiah and Jeremiah and other prophets, as Hosea (Hosea 8:10) and Nahum (Nahum 1:1), is used by Ezekiel here only. Possibly he on the whole avoided it, as having fallen into discredit through its constant use by the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:83-38), and preferred the formula of "the word of Jehovah." As interpreted by Jeremiah 39:4 and 2 Kings 25:4, the "prince" is Zedekiah. Possibly Ezekiel avoided the title "king," as seeing in him one who was a ruler de facto, but not a king de jure. The facts related in Jeremiah 39:4 exactly correspond with the symbolic act. Zedekiah and his men of war escape from the city by night, "by the way of the king's garden, by the gate between the two walls," probably enough with faces covered, as David's was in his flight (2 Samuel 15:30), to avoid detection, or as a sign of mourning, and through some freshly made exit from the palace. The further significance of the covered face is found in the fact that Zedekiah was blinded at Riblah by Nebuchadnezzar's orders, and from that time could not see the ground on which he trod. Those who see in every Old Testament prediction nothing but a prophecy ex eventu infer from this that this section of Ezekiel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. I do not take that view, and place it in close connection with the preceding chapters. We note in ver. 11 the peculiar phrase," I am your sign." Ezekiel, in what he does in the presence of the exiles, is figuring that which, before long, will come to pass in Jerusalem. They were to go forth into captivity as he had gone. For they shall remove, the Revised. Version gives, they shall go into exile.
Say, I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them: they shall remove and go into captivity.
And the prince that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the twilight, and shall go forth: they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby: he shall cover his face, that he see not the ground with his eyes.
Verse 12. - For that he see not, read, with the Revised Version, because be shall not see.
My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare: and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there.
Verse 13. - My net also will I spread, etc. Compare the same image in Lamentations 1:13. The prediction of ver. 12 is reiterated with emphasis. Zedekiah shall be in Babylon, yet shall not see. Josephus ('Ant.,' 10. 7:2; 8:2) relates that Ezekiel sent this prophecy to Jerusalem, and that Zedekiah, finding an apparent discrepancy in the words that he should not see Babylon, and those of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:4; Jeremiah 34:3), hardened himself in his unbelief. There is no reason, however, for supposing that Josephus had access to any other records than the books of the two prophets, and his narrative looks rather like an imagined history of what might have been.
And I will scatter toward every wind all that are about him to help him, and all his bands; and I will draw out the sword after them.
Verses 14, 15. - And I will scatter. The capture of the king would naturally be followed by the dispersion of his adherents, some of whom would fall by the sword, while a few (Hebrew, men of number, i.e. easily counted) would escape to some neighbouring country, where they might hope to find a refuge. There they would have to tell their tale of shame, and to let the heathen know that Jehovah was thus punishing their abominations (comp. Ezekiel 14:22, 23). The prophecy ends with the familiar formula, They shall knew that I am the Lord.
And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall scatter them among the nations, and disperse them in the countries.
But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen whither they come; and they shall know that I am the LORD.
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Verse 17. - The opening words, The worn of the Lord came to me, imply an interval of passivity and silence. One conscious burst of inspiration came to an end, and was followed, after a time, by another.
Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness;
Verse 18. - Eat thy bread with quaking, etc. No special stress is to be laid on the fact that only bread and water are named. The prophet is not dwelling now on the scarcity of food in the besieged city, as he had done in Ezekiel 4:9-17, but on the fear and terror which should haunt the lives of the besieged. Here again we can scarcely doubt that, as in ver. 11, Ezekiel was a sign to those among whom he lived. Outwardly and visibly he was seen after his strange flitting, cowering in a corner, as one hunted down and dreading pursuit, with every look and gesture of extremest terror. This was to be the portion of those who escaped and whose life was "given them for a prey." The strange act was to be explained to "the people of the land," i.e. the exiles among whom Ezekiel lived. The short prediction ends with the usual formula. There is another interval, and then another inspiration.
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.
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?
Verse 22. - What is that proverb, etc.? The words indicate how the previous messages had been received. Like the men of Jerusalem, the exiles could not believe that the judgment was so near. They said, in words that had become proverbial:
(1) The days are prolonged. "Month after month passes" (it is obvious that they had so passed since Ezekiel began his work), "and yet the end comes not." Such throughout the world's history has been the cry of those of little, or of no, faith (Amos 6:3; Isaiah 5:19; Jeremiah 17:15; Matthew 24:48; 2 Peter 3:4).
(2) Every vision faileth. "The prophet is a dreamer of dreams. We have heard of many such visions, yet still all things continue as they were."
Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.
Verse 23. - The prophet meets the current proverb with a counter proverb of his own: "The days are not far off, but have come near." Compare the language of the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), of our Lord (Matthew 4:17), of St. Paul (Romans 13:11). For the true prophet there is always a near fulfilment, though there may be also an ultimate and more complete reality of which that is the pledge and earnest. The "vision" shall not fail; every word (so in the Hebrew) shall become a reality.
For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel.
Verse 24. - Flattering divination. The word is the same as the "smooth things" of Isaiah 30:10, the "flattering lips" of Psalm 12:2, 3. LXX., μαντευόμενος τὰ πρὸς χάριν; Vulgate, ambigua. The "divinations" (the Hebrew word is found only here and in Ezekiel 13:7, though cognate words are found elsewhere) are so described, not without a touch of scorn in the use of a word which is not applied to the utterance of the true prophets, because they promised a speedy deliverance, even within "two full years" (Jeremiah 28:3).
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.
Verse 25. - The thought of ver. 93 is reiterated with emphasis. The rebellious house, whether at Tel-Abib or in Jerusalem (probably the word is used with special reference to the former), should see the word of Jehovah fulfilled in their own days. One notes how the prophet dwells on the word prolonged, as though that had specially stirred his indignation. So again -
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Verses 26, 27. - The words imply another interval of silence, meditation, and then a fresh utterance to the same effect as before. In this case (ver. 27) we trace a slight modification in the language of the gainsayers. They recognize Ezekiel both as a seer and a prophet. They do not say that his vision "faileth." They content themselves with throwing the fulfilment into the distant future. Their thought is that of the proverb which has been ascribed to more than one king or statesman, Apres moi le deluge. To these his answer is nearly in the same terms as before. Still harping on the offensive word, he tells them that nothing that he has spoken shall be "prolonged." The destruction of the temple and the holy city, the departure of the Divine Presence from the sanctuary, these were already within measurable distance
Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off.
Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord GOD.
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