The word of the LORD came to me again, saying,…
The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, etc. The following homiletic points are suggested by this paragraph.
I. THE DESTINATION OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT DETERMINED BY GOD, THOUGH THE AGENTS THEREOF WERE UNCONSCIOUS OF HIS INFLUENCE. "Son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the King of Babylon may come," etc. (vers. 18-22). The prophet is here summoned to make upon a tablet, or parchment, or other material, a sketch in which two ways branch out of one principal way - the one leading to Rabbath, and the other to Jerusalem; and at the head of one of the ways to make a hand, or finger post, pointing to a city; and at the head of the two ways the King of Babylon employing divination to ascertain whether he shall proceed first against Rabbath or Jerusalem, and being directed to go to Jerusalem and besiege it. Thus he was to represent symbolically the judgment that was approaching Jerusalem from Chaldea. Notice:
1. The use of superstitious means for obtaining direction in conduct. "The King of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination," etc. (ver. 21). "Divination" is a general term. Three different kinds thereof are here mentioned.
(1) "He shook the arrows to and fro." The method referred to was probably this: Three arrows were taken, on one of them was written "Jerusalem," on another "Rabbath," while the third was without any inscription. These arrows were placed in a helmet or in some vessel, which was shaken until one came out; if this one bore any name, to the place thus named the king must proceed; but if the arrow without an inscription first came out, they all had to be shaken again until one bearing a name came forth and indicated the course to be taken.
(2) "He consulted the teraphim." "The teraphim were wooden images consulted as idols, from which the excited worshippers fancied that they received oracular responses" (cf. Genesis 31:19, 30, 32, 34; 1 Samuel 19:13). The mode of consulting them is unknown.
(3) "He looked in the livery of animals offered in sacrifice the liver was looked upon as the most important part; and from an inspection of it, as to its size and condition, omens were drawn amongst several ancient nations. Nebuchadnezzar is represented by the prophet as feeling his need of direction as to whether he shall proceed first against Jerusalem or against Rabbath, and as using these modes of divination to obtain such direction. This need of our nature is recognized by God, and he has graciously provided for it (cf. Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 3:5, 6).
2. The use of superstitious means controlled by God for the accomplishment of his own purposes. Rabhath as well as Jerusalem had incurred the resentment of the King of Babylon. The antecedent probability was that he would first attack that place, seeing that it was somewhat nearer Chaldea than was Jerusalem. But God had determined otherwise, and accordingly the divination points Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem. "What a sublime proof," says Fairbairn, "of the overruling providence and controlling agency of Jehovah! The mightiest monarch of the world, travelling at the head of almost unnumbered legions, and himself consciously owning no other direction than that furnished by the instruments of his own blind superstition, yet having his path marked out to him beforehand by this servant of the living God! How strikingly did it show that the greatest potentates on earth, and even the spiritual wickedness in high places, have their bounds appointed to them by the hand of God, and that, however majestically they may seem to conduct themselves, still they cannot overstep the prescribed limits, and must be kept in all their operations subservient to the higher purposes of Heaven!" "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord."
"There's a divinity doth shape our ends,
Rough-hew them holy we will."
II. THE DIVINELY COMMISSIONED ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT TREATED WITH CONTEMPT BY THE FAVOURED PEOPLE. "And it shall be unto them as a vain divination in their sight, which have sworn oaths unto them: but he bring the iniquity to remembrance that they may be taken." The meaning of part of this verse is difficult to determine. Many and various are the interpretations of the "oaths" here mentioned. Two of these, each of which seems to us probably correct, we adduce.
1. That they refer to the awful declarations of the coming judgments which the prophet had made to them, which he generally introduced by the solemn formula, "As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah" (Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 14:16, 18, 20; Ezekiel 16:48; Ezekiel 17:16, 19; Ezekiel 20:3, 33). Notwithstanding the solemnity of these assertions, they looked upon the prophet's announcement of impending judgment "as a vain divination."
2. That they refer to the oaths of fealty which the Jews had sworn to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 17:18, 19; 2 Chronicles 36:13), and which they had so shamefully broken. Because they were his sworn vassals, they thought that he would not attack them. But he would call their iniquity to remembrance, and bring home to them their perjury by the stern punishment thereof. Whatever interpretation of the clause in question be adopted, it is clear that the Jews made light of the announcement of judgment by the prophet. While the Chaldeans accepted the directions of their divinations, and acted upon them, the favoured Jews treated the word of Divine inspiration "as a vain divination." And these same Jews eagerly accepted as true the messages of false prophets which assured them of peace and safety. They had so trifled with the truth of God that they had almost destroyed their moral capacity for recognizing it when it was proclaimed unto them.
III. THE INFLICTION OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT VINDICATED BY THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SINS OF THOSE UPON WHOM IT WAS COMING. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered," etc. (vers. 24-26).
1. Persistence in sin leads to the discovery of their sins. "Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear." Their unbelief of the word of the Lord by Ezekiel, and their treachery towards Nebuchadnezzar, which led to their dread punishment, brought to light their other sins, showing the wickedness of their entire conduct. When thieves are "taken in some wicked acts," says Greenhill, "their former villanies come to light. As one sin begets another, so one sin discovers another."
2. Persistence in sin leads to the punishment of their sins. "Because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand. And thou, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel," etc. (vers. 25, 26). The people were to "be taken with the hand." God would deliver them into the hand of the Chaldeans, who would inflict upon them the dreadful judgments already predicted by the prophet - sword, famine, pestilence, captivity. The glory of the priesthood would be taken away; for the Lord God would "remove the diadem," or "mitre." The king would be carried into a miserable captivity, after enduring the most terrible sufferings (2 Kings 25:4-7), and the kingdom would be destroyed; for God would "take off the crown." Their most valued institutions would be overthrown. The then existing state of things would be destroyed. "This shall be no more the same: exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high." All would be brought to one melancholy condition of misery. National ruin was to be the penalty of national sin. Persistence in sin must ever lead to its just punishment.
3. The manifestation of sin vindicates the punishment thereof. It brings to light the justice of such punishment. That the Jews brought upon themselves the terrible sufferings which they endured at the hand of the Chaldeans was made unmistakably clear. And it was also shown that the terrible fate of the king was but the harvest of which he himself had sown the seed. In due season God himself will justify all his dealings with men.
IV. REVOLUTIONS IN HUMAN HISTORY LEADING TO THE ADVENT OF THE RIGHTFUL SOVEREIGN OF MAN. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Three points are suggested by this verse.
1. The completeness of the national downfall. The repetition of the "overturn" indicates the thoroughness of the destruction. No attempt to restore the kingdom to prosperity and power would fully succeed.
2. The duration of the national downfall. "This also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is." The regal authority and the priestly dignity were not restored to the Jews. "As to the kingdom, Zerubbabel, the leader of the people after the exile, although of David's line, was no king on David's throne. But Herod, who becomes king over Israel, is of Edomite origin" (Schroder). There was a partial restoration of the functions of the priesthood after the return from Babylon, but it never recovered its former dignity and glory. For, as Fairbairn observes, "there was no longer the distinctive prerogative of the Urim and Thummim, nor the ark of the covenant, nor the glory overshadowing the mercy seat; all was in a depressed and mutilated condition, and even that subject to many interferences from the encroachments of foreign powers. So much only was given, both in respect to the priesthood and the kingdom, as to show that the Lord had not forsaken his people, and to serve as pledge of the coming glory."
3. The advent of the rightful Sovereign. "Until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Undoubtedly these words point to the Messiah. They probably contain a reference to Psalm 72:1, "Give the King thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the King's Son." He is the great High Priest. He is the divinely anointed King. Previous to his coming into our world all revolutions in human history were overruled by God to lead on to that event. And all subsequent revolutions, and all revolutions in the present, are being overruled by him for the establishment of his gracious rule over the hearts and lives of men throughout the whole world. "Of his kingdom there shall be no end." Thus in the declaration of dread judgments mercy was not forgotten by God. "Even now, when he is in a full career of overturning, he tells them of the coming of Christ, who should be their King, wear the crown, and raise up the kingdom again. This was a great mercy in the depth of misery; if they lost an earthly kingdom, they should have a spiritual one; if they lost a profane and temporal king, they should have a King of righteousness, an eternal King" (Greenhill). Even in wrath he remembers and exercises mercy. - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,