Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,…
Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy lace towards the south, etc. Another chapter should certainly have been commenced at the forty-fifth verse of the twentieth chapter, as indeed it is in the Hebrew, LXX., and Vulgate. The first seven verses of the twenty-first chapter in the Authorized Version are an explanation of the parable of the preceding five verses.
I. THE AUTHOR OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. Divinely declared, "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee" (ver. 47); "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked" (Ezekiel 21:3). The Divine authorship of the judgments coming upon Jerusalem has been asserted already by the prophet many times in ch. 5., 6., 7., etc., in which places we have noticed the fact. The Chaldeans were the unconscious instruments in the hand of God tot accomplishing this judgment. He was himself the Author of it.
2. Generally recognized. "And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched" (ver. 48); "That all flesh may know that I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return any more" (Ezekiel 21:5). The irresistibleness of the judgment would lead men to conclude that the Author of it was the Almighty. "If we see that all human plans and devices, even the most promising, come to nothing, we are led to the confession that we have to do with personal omnipotence and righteousness, against which the battle is unavailing." There are some disasters and distresses in which the thoughtful observer is almost compelled to recognize the presence and the power of the Supreme.
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "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 .... Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I am against thee," etc. Ezekiel was now in Chaldea, of which the prophets generally spoke as the north country; not because it was strictly north of Palestine, but because its armies entered Palestine from the north by way of Syria, and in returning they travelled by the same northern way. Hence the south denotes Jerusalem and the land of Israel. And the people are spoken of as "the forest of the south." It has been suggested that the figure of a forest is employed in order to denote the density of the population. Others have suggested that it is used to indicate the fact that the people had degenerated from a noble vine or a fruitful field to an unproductive forest. But this at least is certain, that the judgment was about to be inflicted upon the Holy Land, the royal and sacred city, and the people chosen of God. Their former favours will not screen them from the righteous retribution of their sins. Their privileges will rather aggravate their punishment. They had presumed upon those privileges; they had abused God's great goodness to them; and because they had done these things his judgment upon them will be all the more terrible. Here is solemn admonition to those who occupy eminent positions or possess exceptional privileges (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).
III. THE NATURE OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. It is destructive in its character. "Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree .... Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked." Fire and sword are employed to denote all the miseries and terrors which came upon the people in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Famine and pestilence, slaughter and captivity, then fell fiercely upon the people (cf. ch. 5., 6., 7).
2. It is general in its infliction. The fire "shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree, . . and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north." In national judgments the righteous suffer with the wicked, and the innocent with the guilty, so far as the outward calamities are concerned. But though the outward event be the same to all, its inward character is not. The righteous shall not be as the wicked. "God's graces and comforts make a great difference when his providence seems to make none." So that this general character of the judgment "is not in contradiction with Ezekiel 9:4, according to which the righteous amid the impending catastrophe are the object of the protecting and sustaining activity of God. For if two suffer the same, yet it is not the same. To those who love God must all things be for the best (Romans 8:28)" (Hengstenberg).
3. It is irresistible in its might. "The flaming flame shall not be quenched... I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return any more." The Jews in Jerusalem imagined that, with the aid of Egypt, they could safely bid defiance to the Chaldean forces; but those forces utterly overwhelmed them. When God is against either a man or a nation, they are unable to stand before their enemies. "Hast thou an arm like God? and canst thou thunder with a voice like him?" "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and prospered? "Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way," etc. (Psalm 2:12).
IV. THE DISINCLINATION OF MEN TO CREDIT THE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Thou said, I, Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?" Notice:
1. The mean attempt to cast upon the prophet the blame which was due to themselves. They said of the prophet, "Is he not a speaker of parables?" They did not want to understand his announcements to them. They could have understood them without difficulty had they been disposed to do so. The truths which he proclaimed were displeasing to them, and they would not recognize them. Then they disingenuously complained of the form in which he expressed his message. "Is he not a speaker of parables?" Their conduct in this respect finds its analogue in some hearers of the Christian ministry in our day. If the preacher's style is figurative, he is too obscure - "a speaker of parables;" if it be plain and unadorned, he is too simple and homely; if it be logical, he is too dry; if it be fervid, he is too enthusiastic. They blame the preacher when the fault is in themselves - they are out of sympathy with his message.
2. The adequate resource of a faithful servant of God when subject to discouragement. He can do as Ezekiel did, state his difficulties and trials to his Divine Master, and obtain from him consolation and inspiration. There are experiences in the lives of Christian ministers when nothing remains fur them but to seek the aid of him from whom they received their commission. They shall never seek his aid in vain, or find it insufficient.
V. THE GRACE OF GOD IN GIVING REPEATED AND IMPRESSIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. When the prophet complained to the Lord that the people spake of him as "a speaker of parables," he was not commanded to abandon them to their doom, but to deliver his message again and in another form. The merciful God was patient with the perverse people.
1. Here are repeated announcements of this judgment. Two are given in our text. Several have been already given by the prophet. And subsequently he delivered not a few. And in addition to these, Jeremiah was proclaiming in Jerusalem the approaching doom. God does not leave the wicked without many warnings of the consequences of their conduct.
2. Here are impressive announcements of this judgment.
(1) The spoken parable (vers. 47, 48). This was fitted to awaken attention, stimulate inquiry, and thus produce a deeper and more lasting impression of the truth conveyed.
(2) The acted sign. "Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins," etc. (Ezekiel 21:6, 7). This also was with the view of interesting the people, and leading them to ask," Wherefore Highest thou?" As Hengstenberg observes, "The endeavour is everywhere visible, to obtain by the clearness of the description a representation of the reality not yet existing, but already germinating, and in this way to withdraw the people from their delusions, and make penitence take the place of politics."
VI. THE DISMAY OF THE PEOPLE ON THE ACTUAL ARRIVAL OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord God." "They shall be compelled to experience in themselves what they perceive in the prophet. In all, courage gives place to terror, activity to prostration, counsel to perplexity. No one holds out any longer (cf. Ezekiel 7:17)" (Schroder). The wicked who have been most self-confident and boastfully secure in time of peace and prosperity, will be most prostrate and terror stricken when confronted by stern calamity and distress. "The sound of a driven leaf shall chase them." Having forsaken God, and being deprived of the strength and courage of a calm and clear conscience, "terrors overtake them like waters," and utterly overwhelm them. if sinners persistently reject the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, the time will come when in abject dismay they will vainly seek to hide themselves "from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:15-17). Therefore "seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, 7). - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,