And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month…
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, etc. We here enter upon a new division of this book, which extends to the close of ch. 23. The prophecies of this section were occasioned by a visit of the elders of Israel to the prophet, to inquire of the Lord through him. The paragraph now before us, which may be compared with Ezekiel 14:1-5, suggests -
I. THAT IT IS RIGHT AND LAUDABLE TO INQUIRE OF THE LORD. These elders of Israel who came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before the prophet, were of the exiles. Like Ezekiel, they had been carried away from their own land to Babylon. Neither the occasion which gave rise to their inquiry, nor the inquiry itself, is stated. Hengstenberg conjectures that "the embassy had probably a special occasion in the circumstances of the time, in a favourable turn which the affairs of the coalition had taken. They wish to obtain confirmation of their joyful hopes from the mouth of the prophet." Or they wanted to ascertain from him if there was a prospect of the deliverance of Zedekiah from the Chaldean power (cf. Jeremiah 21:1, 2). It seems clear from the answer which they received that their inquiry was political, not moral; that it related to the state of their country in relation to other nations, not to their personal relations to God. But our present point is that it is right and commendable to inquire of the Lord. We may inquire of him by searching the Scriptures in an earnest and devout spirit, by prayer for the illumination and direction of the Holy Spirit, and by engaging in public worship and attending the ministration of his Word. Thus David desired "to inquire in his temple." This is often profitable to those who wait upon him in a true spirit. Asaph found it so (Psalm 73:16, 17). And so did Hezekiah King of Judah (2 Kings 19:14-37). And so have millions besides.
II. THAT MEN SOMETIMES INQUIRE OF THE LORD IN A WRONG SPIRIT. These elders did so (cf. ch. 14:1-3). Their outward act was right; their inward motive was wrong. Moreover, while it was right to inquire of the Lord, that which they wanted to know was not commendable. They wanted the satisfaction of their political curiosity, not direction in the way of duty. So far were they from desiring to conform to the wilt of God, that they were in their heart proposing to themselves an opposite course of conduct (cf. ver. 32). "They did here," says Greenhill, "like many that are bent upon marriage, who will go to two or three to inquire and have counsel, but are resolved to go on whatever is said unto them; so whatever counsel they should have had given them from the Lord, they meant to go on in their wicked ways; and this was profound hypocrisy, whose wont it is to veil the foulest things with the fairest pretences." And in these days men may inquire of the Lord perversely. They may consult him by means of his Word in a wrong spirit. They may examine that Word with strong prejudices; or not to learn his mind and will, but to obtain sanctions and supports for their own opinions; or from curiosity rather than piety. Men may attend church, not "to inquire in his temple," but from very different and very inferior motives. They may even seek him in prayer in a wrong spirit - in an unbelieving, unsubmissive, selfish, worldly spirit. If we would draw near to him acceptably and profitably, we "must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that seek after him;" we must be humble and reverent; we must bow loyally to his supreme authority, and we must sincerely desire to do his will. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching," etc. (John 7:17). By earnestly desiring and endeavoring to do the will of God, as far as it is known unto you, you are qualifying yourself to receive further revelations from him.
III. THAT THE LORD OBSERVES THE SPIRIT IN WHICH MEN INQUIRE OF HIM. He knew the real feelings and motives of these elders of Israel, and spake to them accordingly through his servant Ezekiel. And he was fully cognizant of the idols in the hearts of the elders who waited upon the prophet on a former occasion (Ezekiel 14:3). The most plausible words and the most specious forms cannot impose upon him. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart;" "The Lord searcheth all hearts;" "I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart;" "The righteous God trieth the hearts and reins;" "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off," etc. (Psalm 139:1-5). "He knows," says Greenhill, "upon what grounds, with what purpose, intentions, resolutions, men come to hear his Word, to ask counsel of his servants. Look to yourselves, spirits, and all your ways; God seeth and knoweth all, and if you be not sincere, without guile and hypocrisy, he will find you out and detect you" (cf. John 4:23, 24).
IV. THAT THE LORD WILL NOT ANSWER THE INQUIRIES OF THOSE WHO APPROACH HIM IN A WRONG SPIRIT. "Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye come to inquire of him? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you." Bishop Lowth states the truth clearly and forcibly: "You shall not receive such an answer as you expect, but such as your hypocrisy deserves." The Lord would not reply to their questionings. They were not in a condition to receive enlightening or edifying communications from God. Deeply insincere as they were, they could not receive revelations of Divine truth. The only message suited to them was a rebuke or warning because of their sin, or a summons to repentance. This principle is universally and abidingly true. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;" "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you," etc. (Isaiah 1:15); "Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not answer them," etc. (Micah 3:4); "We know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth."
V. THOUGH THE LORD WILL NOT ANSWER THE INQUIRIES OF THOSE WHO APPROACH HIM IN A WRONG SPIRIT, YET HE WILL ADDRESS TO THEM WORDS SUITED TO THEIR MORAL CONDITION. He did so on a former occasion (ch. 14.). He does so here.
1. Here is their personal condemnation. "Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them?" The prophet is thus summoned to "pronounce sentence upon them. The repetition of the phrase is expressive of a strong desire that the act should be begun, and thus gives the force of an imperative." God would not reply to them for the gratification of their curiosity, but he speaks to them for the salvation of their souls. This condemnation might awaken them to reflection and repentance.
2. Here is the exhibition of their national sins. "Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers." By the declaration of these the Lord would vindicate the righteousness of his dealings with them as a people. He would also show them "that the evil is deep-seated, and a radical cure is to be desired, which can only be effected by a judgment of inflexible rigour" (Hengstenberg).
CONCLUSION. Our subject forcibly impresses the necessity of true heartedness as a condition of approaching God, so as to meet with his acceptance and to obtain his blessing. - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.