And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me.
I. There is no evidence that the elders showed penitence in coming to inquire of the Lord. Ezekiel did not send the hungry empty away; he alone as God's ambassador refused to answer those who would not leave their sins behind them when they entered into the temple of God. But there is another thing also to be said concerning the visit of these elders: they made a mere convenience of the oracle of God; whereas they had a prophet always amongst them, and might if they pleased have inquired of God often or continually, they did nothing of the kind; but when they found themselves in distress and knew not which way to turn, then they presented themselves before God's prophet.
II. True religion is emphatically a walking with God, not a mere occasional coming to Him. We say that religion is a life, and we rightly describe it so—it is not a series of spasmodic efforts, not an inquiry of God now and then, not a coming to His prophet in the sixth year and the sixth month, and again in the seventh year and the fifth month, but an inquiry in all years and all months and all days, a habit of opening our hearts and consciences to Him, and of guiding our conduct by the answers which we are able to obtain.
III. The example of the elders of Israel shows us most plainly the need of leaving our sins behind us when we come to inquire of God. Self-examination and self-condemnation, perhaps, and earnest efforts to forsake the evil and do the good, must ever be the preparations for successful inquiry of God.
IV. Another lesson which this history brings before us is that prayer, or indeed coming to God in any way, must not be made a mere matter of convenience, but must be regarded as a matter of constant spiritual necessity.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 106.
Ezekiel 20:25The prophet Ezekiel in the text announces a very solemn judgment of God upon those who refuse truth. The chiefs of the nation are before the prophet, requiring to know how God might be propitiated, so as to bring them again to their country and their homes. Possessed by the Awful Indweller, Ezekiel recapitulates the history of the Jews from the beginning, and amongst God's mingled visitations of wrath and mercy, is described that of the text. There is an obvious difficulty in this passage. That the Almighty should under any circumstances give false precepts to His people, is at the outset hard to understand.
I. The fact we glean from the prophet's words is this, that God having first promulgated to the Israelites laws of life, upon their indifference to these, gave them laws of death; and the general principle here involved is, that the punishment of transgressing or refusing holy laws, is to have unholy laws assigned us. If we reject truth we shall be called to take falsehood for our guide.
II. We may trace one grand principle pervading and colouring all the visitations of Divine vengeance; the principle is this, that the punishment should in its quality bear a resemblance to the sin. When Adam and Eve presumed to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil, they were debarred access to the tree of life. The punishment of sin is to preach against sin. And it is obvious how much more striking this preaching becomes, when the penalty inflicted is of a sort to call to remembrance the precise iniquity of which it is the penalty. When, therefore, the sin is the refusing to hear, what should the punishment be but the withdrawal of the power to hear? The closing our eyes to the light of true religion must naturally issue in their being darkened to it for ever.
Bishop Woodford, Occasional Sermons, vol. i., p. 227.
References: Ezekiel 20:32.—H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, vol. ii., p. 275. Ezekiel 20:34-38.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1840. Ezekiel 20:35.—J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 405. Ezekiel 20:41.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 688; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 88. Ezekiel 20:43.—J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, part ii., p. 207.
Ezekiel 20:49Nothing is more disheartening, if we must believe it to be true, than the language in which some persons talk of the difficulties of the Scriptures, and the absolute certainty that different men will ever continue to understand them differently. It seems desirable that every student of Scripture should know as well as may be, what the exact state of this question is; for if the subject of his studies is really so hopelessly uncertain, it is scarcely possible that his zeal in studying it should not be abated.
I. We read many books written in dead languages, most of them more ancient than any part of the New Testament, some of them older than several books of the old. We know well enough that these ancient books are not without their difficulties; that time and thought and knowledge, are required to master them; but still we do not doubt that with the exception of particular passages here and there, the true meaning of these books may be discovered with undoubted certainty. When we come to passages which cannot be interpreted or understood, we leave them at once as a blank, but we enjoy no less, and understand with no less certainty, the greatest portions of the book which contain them. And this experience with regard to the works of heathen antiquity, makes it a startling proposition at the outset, when we are told that, with the works of Christian antiquity the case is otherwise.
II. The differences between Christian and Christian by no means arise generally from the difficulty of understanding the Scripture aright, but from disagreement as to some other point, quite independent of the interpretation of the Scriptures, or it may be considerations of another kind, as to the inherent reasonableness of a doctrine. One of the greatest men of our time has declared that in the early part of his life he did not believe in the Divinity of our Lord; but he has stated expressly that he never for a moment persuaded himself that St. Paul or St. John did not believe it; their language he thought was clear enough upon the point, but the notion appeared to him so unreasonable in itself, that he disbelieved it in spite of their authority. The same pains which enable us to understand heathen writings, whose meaning is of infinitely less value to us, will enable us, with God's blessing, to understand the Scriptures also. Supposing us to seek honestly to know God's will, and to pray devoutly for His help to guide us to it, then our study is not vain nor uncertain: the mind of Scripture may be discovered: we may distinguish plainly between what is clear and what is not clear; what is not clear will be found far less in amount, and infinitely less in importance, than what is clear.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 281.
I. There are two objections that men of the world make to the preacher; they object to two kinds of religious speech; the speech of religious doctrine, and the speech of religious experience. The Christian creed contains mysterious words, and these are parables both to those who believe and those who do not. Christian experience expresses itself also in mysterious words that are only understood by Christians. It speaks of conversion, faith, assurance, perseverance, justification, sanctification; and men who have not experienced these states of mind call these words unmeaning; they class them together under the head of cant. What the age specially dislikes in the teaching of the Church are these two things: dogma and cant, mystery and unreality. As regards the objection to mystery in religion, perhaps the simplest way of considering this would be to ask whether it is possible to comply with it; whether it is possible to teach any kind of religion which shall be entirely free from mystery. When you bring together these two great mysteries—God and man, the Creator and the creature; the Creator with His Almighty will, and the creature with his mysterious and awful power of rebelling against that will; the Almighty love that wills our happiness and yet that seems ever to will it in vain, and the desperate recklessness of the creature that seems ever bent upon his own destruction; the living and the loving God who heareth prayer, and the changeless, terrible law to which all prayer seems spoken in vain: we find ourselves all surrounded with mysteries; they rise up like mists out of the earth, and gather round the meeting-place where men would draw nigh to God. The mysteries of Christianity are mysteries of all time and all humanity. Those cant phrases that men so dislike, we cannot give them up for just the same reason; they express, not notions, but facts. If a fact be a peculiar one, then the name of it must be peculiar too. Every science, every profession, every art has its own cant—has its own technical expressions which are only understood by those who know the science or practise the art. Religion is a science; it is the knowledge of God. Religion is an art; it is the art of holy living, and of happy dying; it must therefore have its cant words.
II. But though we may not give up our dogmas, there is a request that all men have a right to make of us, and that we should do well to ponder when they make it. You hearers have a right to say to us teachers, "Take care what parables you give us. Take care how you add your words to God's, and then call both of them His word. Give us God's message. Give us all God's message. Give us nothing but God's message." You have the right to bid us take good heed that those peculiar religious expressions which we use shall be real and living on our lips; that they shall not be merely words.
Bishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 139.
I. Those to whom Ezekiel ministered were not the only beings who have returned this reply to the Divine message—this mocking taunt of unbelief, which to my mind is one of the saddest features of any age in which it may find an expression. In the very first temptation, the father of lies struck out the monster scheme that he and his since then in thousands of instances have adopted to the detriment and destruction of those who have yielded to his influence, and have responded to his power. We find it so today. Men scorn the Gospel, presuming to tell us that it is a cunningly devised fable, laughing its threatenings to scorn, and trampling its Divine provisions under foot; or they profess to believe it, and pay no practical regard to it at the same time,—they allow it to have no influence upon their minds—to exert no power upon their spirits.
II. The words of Divine truth are no parables in this sense of the text. It is true that the Gospel is full of parables—parables that are inspired by the Divine purpose and enriched by the Divine love, but not in the sense in which the reproach was implied and the words were uttered in the case of the text. The truths of the Bible are not parables, but eternal realities, Divine revelations for us all.
III. There are truths in which every soul has an interest—that involve the destruction or salvation of every spirit to whom they are addressed. They are truths whose lightest whisper is weighted by Divine meaning and commended by Divine truthfulness; and heaven and earth may pass away, but not a jot or tittle of these till all shall be fulfilled. As you see the wicked pass from the left hand of the Judge into everlasting death you feel that it is no parable. As you hear the crowd of those who call on the rocks and mountains to fall on them, and, though they crush them, to hide them from the presence of Him who sits upon the throne, you feel that it is no parable. And as you see at last the separation of the righteous and the wicked, and those ascending with their Saviour and these departing to reap the dreadful harvest of their own folly, you feel that there is stern truth—no parable there; but that which demands your careful attention and is worthy of your most devout regard.
J. P. Chown, Penny Pulpit, No. 580.
References: Ezekiel 20:49.—H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 377; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 158; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 210; D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3155; Bishop Magee, Old Testament Outlines, p. 252. Ezekiel 21:27.—J. Foster, Lectures, 2nd series, p. 78. Ezekiel 21:31.—Fountain, May 5th, 1881. Ezekiel 24:15-18.—A. Mackennal, Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 45. Ezekiel 24:16.—Clergyman's Magazine,vol. xi., p. 145. Ezekiel 24:19.—S. Cox, Expositions, 1st series, p. 442. Ezekiel 27:3.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 64. Ezekiel 28:14.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 361. Ezek 29—P. Thomson, Expositor, 1st series, vol. x., p. 397. Ezekiel 32:31, Ezekiel 32:32.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 327. Ezekiel 33:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 165. Ezekiel 33:6.—S. Cox, Expositions, 3rd series, p. 16.
Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,
Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to inquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.
Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? cause them to know the abominations of their fathers:
And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God;
In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:
Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.
But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.
Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.
And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.
Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.
But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out.
Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands;
Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.
Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness.
But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:
I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;
And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.
Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.
Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth.
I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries;
Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols.
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;
And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.
Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.
For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they made their sweet savour, and poured out there their drink offerings.
Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day.
Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?
For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.
And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone.
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you:
And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.
And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD.
And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols.
For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.
I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.
And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers.
And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.
And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field;
And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein.
And all flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.
Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?