Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.
Verse 1. - As the result, probably, of the previous utterances, certain elders of Israel, i.e. of the exiles in Tel-Abib, came to consult Ezekiel, wishing to know what counsels or what predictions he had for them. In Ezekiel 8:1 we have "the elders of Judah," and it is possible that there were two groups in the Population of the town, and that these represented Israel as distinct from Judah - a deputation, as it were, from the earlier exiles. The term appears again in Ezekiel 20:1. More probably, however, the terms are used interchangeably.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?
Verse 3. - These men, etc. The prophet, taught by the word of the Lord, reads the hearts of those who came to him. The words do not imply, rather they exclude, the open practice of idolatry. The sin of the inquirers was that they had set up idols (gillulim, Ezekiel's favourite word; see note on Ezekiel 6:4) in their hearts. The LXX. gives διανοήματα,"thoughts of their hearts," as if to express this. They were hankering after the old false worships in which they had once, taken part. The stumbling block (see Ezekiel 3:20) of their iniquity was set up there. That divided heart, the "double mind" of James 1:8, made true inquiry, as it made true prayer for guidance, impossible. Shall I be inquired of at all, etc.? The "at all" represents the emphatic iteration of the verb in the Hebrew. The Vulgate, Numquid interrogatus respondebo eis? gives a fair paraphrase.
Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;
Verse 4. - I will answer him that cometh, etc. The two last words represent the K'ri, or marginal reading of the Hebrew; the "therein" of the Revised Version, the Kh'-tib, or written text. Probably we should read, as in ver. 7, "I will answer him by myself" (Hitzig).
That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.
Verse 5. - That I may take the house of Israel, etc. The words me a threat rather than a promise. The "double-hearted" shall be taken in the snare which they have made for themselves.
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
Verse 6. - Turn yourselves, etc.; literally, turn them. But there is no sufficient ground for the margin, "Turn others," the objective suffix being the "faces" of the following clause. In Ezekiel 18:30, 32 the verb is used by itself. The prophet's call is to a direct personal repentance, not to the work of preaching that repentance to others.
For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:
Verse 7. - The stranger that sojourneth among you. It is noticeable that Ezekiel uses here and elsewhere (Ezekiel 47:22, 23) the familiar phrase of the books which most influenced his teaching (Leviticus 16-25; Numbers 9, 15; Deuteronomy passim). It is probable that some such proselytes were found among the exiles of Tel Abib. I the Lord will answer him by myself, etc. This, as has been seen, was probably the right reading in ver. 4. What it means is that, instead of a spoken answer by the mouth of the prophet, there should be an answer in the discipline of life, in the immediate utterance through the conscience, which was the voice of God. The inquirer who came with unconfessed and unrepented hankerings after the worship of other gods deserved and would receive no other answer.
And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
Verse 8. - To make him, add, with Revised Version, an astonishment; or better, I will make him amazed, as in Ezekiel 32:10. The words are an echo of Deuteronomy 28:37. The man's punishment shall be open and notorious, so as to strike terror into others.
And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.
Verse 9. - I the Lord have deceived that prophet, etc. The teaching of modern thought is to soften language like this into "I have permitted him to be deceived." The distinction was seldom, if ever, present to the mind of the Old Testament, or indeed of the New Testament, writers. It is Jehovah who sends the "lying spirit" in 1 Kings 22:20 -23. It is he who in the latter days shall send men "strong delusions" that they shall believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:11). In both cases it is implied that the delusion is a righteous punishment, is indeed the natural, because the divinely appointed, punishment of the sin. Populus vult decipi et decipiatur, but the very deception is a means for undeceiving them. At last their eyes shall be opened. The punishment of the false prophet and of those who trust him is at once retributive, and a discipline, and, if the discipline fails for them, at least a warning for others.
And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;
That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 11. - The words come as a gleam of light through the darkness. A restored nation, walking in the truth, the true people of God, - this lies beyond the mystery of the evil which is allowed, or even made, to work itself out to the bitter end.
The word of the LORD came again to me, saying,
Verses 12-14. - A new section begins, implying as before an interval of silence. What follows presents a striking parallelism to Jeremiah 15:l, 2. There also we have the "four sore judgments," the declaration that not even the presence of Moses and Samuel would avail to save the people. They were obviously selected by Jeremiah as examples of the power of intercession (Exodus 32:11, 12; 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 12:23). Ezekiel's selection of names proceeds on a different footing. He chooses exceptional instances of saintliness that had been powerless to save the generation in which they lived; perhaps, also, such as were well known, not only in the records of Israel, but among other nations. Noah had not saved the evil race before the Flood; Job had not saved his sons (Job 1:18); Daniel, though high in the king's favour, had not been able to influence Nebuchadnezzar to spare the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The mention of this last name is significant, as showing the reputation which even then Daniel had acquired. There is no shadow of evidence for the view of some commentators that an older Daniel is referred to. Had there been such a person, eminent enough to be grouped with Noah and Job, there would surely have been some mention of him in the Old Testament. In ver. 13, for the land, read "a land." For staff of bread, see Ezekiel 4:16. The phrase comes from Leviticus 26:26.
Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it:
Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.
If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts:
Verse 15. - Noisome beasts (see note on Ezekiel 5:17).
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it:
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves.
Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast:
Verse 19. - Pestilence is joined with blood, as in Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 38:22, as indicating its death-bearing character.
Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?
Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it.
Verse 22. - The words end with a gleam of hope shining through the judgments. For Ezekiel, as for Isaiah, there is the thought of a "remnant that shall return" (Isaiah 10:20-22). It has been questioned whether "the ways and the doings" which are to bring comfort to men's minds are those of the evil past or of the subsequent repentance. I incline to the view that they include both. Men should see at once the severity and the goodness of Jehovah. His punishments had not been arbitrary nor excessive. They had also been as a discipline leading men to repentance. In each of those facts there was a ground of comfort for men who asked the question, which Abraham asked of old, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). In either aspect men will recognize that God has not done without cause all that he has done. In this way the prophet seeks, as others have done since, to justify the ways of God to man. Ezekiel's word for "remnant" is, it may be noted, not the same as Isaiah's, its primary significance being "these that escape." Ezekiel does not quote the earlier prophet, though his thoughts are in harmony with him.
And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD.