And the Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from me after their idols…
According to rank and position in the Church is responsibility. Example is contagious. Treachery by a military officer is a graver sin than treachery by a soldier in the ranks. Pollution at the fourth is a greater evil than pollution in a branch-stream. Disease in the heart is a more serious matter than disease in the skin or at the extremities. If the priests of God sanction idolatry, the whole nation will follow suit, and the cause of God is betrayed. The sin of Judas lay in this - that he had been a trusted friend and companion of Jesus. God's ministers hold responsible posts.
I. MEN ARE OFTEN SUBJECTED TO A CRUCIAL TEST. The present race is mainly tempted to infidelity, but the earlier generations of men were tempted to idolatry. As infidelity is now the ally of vice, so was and is idolatry. Both chime in with the lower passions of human nature. In the period preceding Ezekiel's birth Israel had gone astray after idols. On every side false deities were being set up. Idolatry was in the atmosphere. A great opportunity opened to the Levites. As ministers of Jehovah, set apart for the service of religion, they should have stood in the gap and raised barriers against the inflowing tide of idolatry, the honor of God was in their keeping. The well-being of the nation rested with them. They were the trustees of God's truth for the world. It was a testing-time. Men's favor or God's - which would they choose? Popularity for the moment or enduring fidelity - which? Alas! they made a suicidal choice! They chose the path of selfish ease. Like a physician summoned to a critical case, they too might have abated the raging fever and saved the patient's life. But they had no religious earnestness. They were mere functionaries of a system; and so long as duty was light and a livelihood secure, religion might take care of itself. Honored with a tremendous trust, they proved themselves unworthy - faithless. Regard for God was lacking. Moral prowess was lacking. They drifted with the stream. Their sin was the sowing of evil tares, which developed into a harvest of misery and disaster.
II. IN SUCH CASES TWO LINES OF CONDUCT ARE POSSIBLE. In the stress of temptation men can either resist or yield. In no case is it a necessity to succumb. Moral principle in man has withstood the incoming deluge of temptation, and it always can. Unseen resources are on the side of him who steadfastly adheres to right. God is at his side. So far as public action went, Elijah stood alone in the days of Jezebel's idolatry. In Babylon Daniel stood erect as the sole witness for Jehovah, and notable triumph was his. Martin Luther was for years the only champion of Bible truth on the continent of Europe - one man against the world; yet he prevailed. So, in the instance narrated here, one family remained faithful. The sons of Zadok were worthy sons of a worthy sire. A good name is a good heritage, and no better name can a man wear than Zadok, i.e. "Righteousness." If a man trusts to his good name, he is a fool; but if he lives up to a good name - makes that his model - he is wiser than Solomon. A rotten ship will not survive the storm, though she is named Impregnable. These sons of Zadok were like Abdiel, "faithful among the faithless found." "They kept the charge of the sanctuary" when Israel went astray. They had moral backbone - some iron principle in their blood. It is the basest cowardice merely to go with the majority. Numbers are not the arbiter of truth or of right. Men who deserve the name inquire for themselves, judge for themselves, seek guidance from the Unerring Source, and act according to the result. There was no external necessity to follow the crowd of idolaters. The sons of Zadok resisted. So in every case a man's conduct is the outcome of his own choice.
III. AS THERE ARE TWO LINES OF CONDUCT, THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF AWARD. It is only the blindness of men that supposes that God's justice ever slumbers or ever mistakes. God can patiently wait his time, and can generously forbear. Yet with perfect calmness he metes out justice to every man. Touching these Levites he declares, "they shall even bear their iniquity." If any sensitiveness of soul was left in them, they must have been sorely pained, during the seventy years of captivity, with the self-conviction that their unfaithfulness had been a main cause of Israel's disaster. Nor was this all. A perpetual stigma was upon their name. An everlasting degradation was imposed on them and on their posterity. Their children and their children's children through many generations were involved in the disgrace and in the deprivation of office. So far as it had been an honor to be a Levite, now it shall be reversed - it shall be a dishonor. "They shall not come near unto me, to do the office of a priest unto me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, in the most holy place." They had put God far away from them; it was simple retribution that God should forbid them to come near to him. Sin always bears its Own natural fruit. Still, judgment was tempered with mercy. They shall not be entirely superseded. They shall not be banished from the new temple. Inferior office they may yet fill; subordinate service they may yet perform. And in their degraded rank they shall learn that God's service is real honor; that nearness to God is man's heaven. "They shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having charge at the gates of the house, and ministering to the house; they shall slay, the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people." But, on the other hand, special honor is conferred on the loyal sons of Zadok. "They shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me... They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table," etc. Here is unmistakable promotion. "They had kept the charge of the sanctuary;" now "they shall keep my charge." In other words, "They shall be my treasures: I will entrust my honor and all my precious things unto them." Their fidelity is established; yea, is strengthened and enlarged by this strain of temptation. Their characters have come forth from the furnace like burnished gold. They shall be trusted in the heavenly kingdom because they are trustworthy. The omniscient eye of God does not overlook the least meritorious deed. High reward is in course of preparation for the righteous. Men often deceive themselves with specious hopes of escape. They often deceive others with plausible semblances, they can never deceive God! - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from me after their idols; they shall even bear their iniquity.