Ezekiel 13:1
There is no institution in itself so good but it may be corrupted and turned to evil purposes. Prophecy was given to the Hebrew people as a token of Jehovah's interest in them and care for them. The intention was to afford national guidance and consolation, to give to religion an intellectual character, and to counteract any tendency to formalism which a misunderstanding of the sacerdotal and sacrificial system would naturally encourage. Prophecy was especially adapted to those Israelites who were far from Jerusalem, the scene of sacrifices and of festivals; and the children of the Captivity were, in an especial manner, indebted to the prophets for the counsel, the inspiration, the encouragement, which they needed in their banishment from the land of their fathers. Amongst these exiles in the East there arose self-seeking, ambitious, hypocritical, and pretentious men, who assumed the prophetic office, ministered to the prejudices of their fellow countrymen, and often led them astray by their erroneous advice. Against such men Ezekiel was commissioned to raise his protest, in language of severe denunciation and warning.

I. THE PROFESSION AND CLAIMS OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. The men here exposed were not prophets of any heathen deity, ministers of any idolatrous religion. They claimed to be servants of Jehovah, and to speak in his name to their fellow countrymen. They prefaced their statements and their advice with such language as Ezekiel here quotes: "Hear ye the word of the Lord;" "The Lord saith." Doubtless there were those who were conciliated and attracted by such claims, but who would have resented any summons addressed to them in the name of a heathen deity.

II. THE PRACTICAL CONTRADICTION OF THEIR PROFESSION AND CLAIMS. In terms figurative, yet impressive and conclusive, Ezekiel exhibits the hollowness of the pretences advanced by these lying leaders of the people. They are "like foxes in the waste places" - cunning, crafty creatures, who make their dwelling in the ruins and the wreck of a deserted city. So the prophets who profess to guide the people really prey upon them, and are most at home in the destruction and desolation which they have bellied to effect. They have not taken their place in the breach, they have not helped in the defence of the city, they have not stood in the van of the battle, when the enemy has made an assault. Here is the practical test, which reveals the worthlessness of all professions of patriotism, of all claims to leadership.

III. THE REAL INSPIRATION OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. The secret is disclosed; the explanation of the illusion is given. The false prophets prophesy out of their own hearts; they follow their own spirit; they have seen nothing; the Lord hath not sent them; theirs is a lying divination; they have spoken vanity, and seen lies. In a word, professing to derive their commission and their message from the Eternal, the All-wise, they simply utter what commends itself to their own opinion, what serves their own interest, what agrees with their own sinful prejudices. This accounts fur the unwisdom and worthlessness of their advice. They who follow them may expect to be misled.

IV. THE CONDEMNATION OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. "Woe unto the foolish prophets, saith the Lord God;" "I am against you." This condemnation is apparent from several facts.

1. Their predictions are falsified, and their counsels brought to nought.

2. They mislead the people to destruction.

3. They bring confusion upon themselves. This sentence is pronounced in language very plain and very smiting. The hypocritical pretenders to a Divine commission are excluded from the register of the house of Israel, and are denied entrance into the land of Israel. All their plotting and lies are not only unmasked; they issue in confusion and destruction to themselves. - T.

Them that prophesy out of their own hearts.
To be a false prophet seems to us, indeed, an enormity. To have the great gift and trust of prophecy, and then to misuse it; to be admitted, if we may so speak, of God's council, and then to sink that heavenly teaching in earthly and sensual thoughts, — this seems so high a measure of guilt, that we wonder not at the "woe" pronounced against it. Nay, as we read, we set our "amen" to it, little thinking that in so doing we may be, in truth, sealing our own condemnation. We see not that this very sin is that which doth most constantly beset us also; that many a ministry which seems to man's eye without reproach is indeed stained with the self-same guilt as that wherewith these prophets were defiled; that, in spite of its fair outline, the "woe" of the Almighty is gone forth against it. If we examine the testimonies against these false prophets which abound throughout the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we shall find that God does not charge them with altering His message wilfully and of set purpose to deceive. The charges are rather, that they are themselves deceived (Jeremiah 5:13; Jeremiah 10:9; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:3, 7, 9). It was not, apparently, that the false prophet knowingly altered the message he had received, but that for some cause or other there was this peril incident to his office, that he might be deceived and become a deceiver in some sense unconsciously; and then, if we look closer, we shall see that various causes are given for the fearful fall of the false prophet, and that they are all of one complexion — that they are what we call moral causes. Uncleanness of life, covetousness, softness of spirit, luxury, fondness for the pleasures of this life, these and many such like moral faults are expressly mentioned as the causes of this spirit of error and lies which filled these men and brought on them God's fearful "woe." The prophets prophesied lies, because they "followed their own spirit, and had seen nothing." And now, if from the case of false prophets we turn to that of those who were faithful, we shall be brought to the same conclusion: we shall see, that is, that the distinction between them and the prophets of lies consisted not in their exclusive possession of those supernatural illapses of knowledge, to which we are apt to look, as making all the difference between one and another, but in the use which, from their spiritual and moral condition, they were able to make of these gifts. Look at the prophet who never "prophesied good" of the wicked king, but always "evil"; and see whether it was not in that noble gift of venturing all for the truth of God, wherein in very deed he differed from the earthly-minded sycophants, who made horns of iron, and prophesied, that as with them the Syrians should be pushed unto entire destruction. Or take, as a sufficient proof, the case of the prophet Jeremiah. To him was opened, by a special revelation, the speedy coming of God's judgments upon Judah, which nothing but the absolute submission of Jerusalem to the King of Babylon could turn aside. So far he learned by revelation; but having learned thus much, mark his after history; see the constantly recurring moral temptation to tamper with this truth, to which he was subjected: the violence of the princes — the rage of the people — the feebleness of the king — their private interviews — the bribes offered to buy off his faithfulness — the miry dungeon of Malchiah; each of these was a temptation to lower down his message; to utter it less boldly, less frequently; less simply — to suppress it, to alter it. But against them all he stood firm, and why? Because a deep and abiding sense of God's greatness and truth and awfulness lay beneath all other things, as the very foundation of his mind; and this kept him ever firm and constant. In an utterly unfaithful age and nation, remaining faithful when well-nigh everyone around him failed, he preserved untainted, amidst the crowd of lying seers, the truth of God's anointed prophet. So that here we are brought to the same point: the blindness of the false prophet was the fruit of failing in his moral probation; the ghostly insight of the true prophet was kept quick and piercing, by his faithful cleaving to God amidst the ordinary temptations of life. And if this be so, surely this is exactly our condition, as far as concerns the ministry of the Word; and these woes against deceived prophets stand written on high, in their characters of fire, to warn us upon our ordinary way. For we also have our message: that which was given to the old prophets by special revelation we have plainly written for us in the page of Holy Scripture. Nor can we doubt that, if this message be delivered faithfully and wisely, it will produce an evident result in awakening sinners and building up the saints. We may see, moreover, that in our case the cause of failure is, in fact, the same as in the prophets of old. First, our own perceptions become obscured. For it is only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit that we can really enter into the deep mysteries of redemption. Impurity cannot lay hold upon purity. There are many doors of holy teaching, which open only to the key of love; and there is in love a marvellous power of understanding, a wonderful forecasting of the future; for love is a great reader of secrets. Even in earthly things, which are but a shadow of the true, we may see this. What an interpreter of hidden meanings is a loving spirit! how quick and piercing is it in reaching to the inner wishes, feeling, and intentions of another! And so doubtless it is where the love of God dwells in an earthly heart. The man is free, as it were, of the counsels of God. He reaches on to great things at unawares. In doing common duties, as they seem to him, he is sowing good seed for a distant day; he is reaching out far beyond the present, anticipating God's future doings. Nor, secondly, can our own views of God's truth become thus obscured without their impairing in an equal degree our power of conveying the message to others. First, this state of heart must destroy the reality of our teaching. We shall prophesy a lie; for we shall prophesy of truth itself as if it were a lie. There is nothing that our people feel more readily than this unreal declaration of God's message. There is no close work with the heart or the life; but all is exhausted in mere form, or else in general appeals to the feelings, or in yet more fruitless addresses to the understanding, as the case may be. What., then, is this but to prophesy a lie? And this is not all. There can be little of a true loving earnestness in such ministry. There may be an apparent zeal as to forms, or as to preaching, and its other more external parts; but there can be little true sympathy with the wants and sufferings of man's heart, because there is little knowledge of them. There can be little of that deep earnest casting forth of the inmost spirit to meet another's wants, which oftentimes makes silent sympathy in one man far more expressive than a multitude of words in another; and which, as by some heavenly influence, soothes and opens and wins the sufferer's heart. I may not detain you to trace out all the characters of that earnest seeking after God's truth to which we are bound; its faintest sketch may supply us with much ground for profitable thought. First, then, if we would attain to it, we must live in the habitual and devotional study of God's Word. The great importance of this habit is not so much that we may understand obscure passages, still less that we may be discoverers of new truths, as that our whole tone of thinking and feeling may be attuned to things Divine. But then, to this we must add an humble use of every means that God has given us for understanding His Word rightly. By the ordinances of the Church; the testimony of succeeding generations; the judgment of humble and holy men; the witness borne to various truths by all the saints, living and departed, reformers, fathers, and antiquity; by each of these in their place, we humbly hope that God may teach us better how to understand His Word. Secondly, we must watch earnestly for the leading of the Spirit of the Lord. We must believe that this gift is in the Church, and seek to use it lawfully; we must remember how the Spirit of God does teach us, not by conveying to our minds direct propositions, but by clearing off those moral clouds which would dim all our perceptions of truth; by teaching our hearts, by giving us reality, earnestness, love, and a bold humility, — those mighty masters of the secret things of God. We shall therefore cooperate with Him by watching diligently our own hearts; by guarding them against the beginnings of worldliness; by seeking after a deeper humility of spirit; knowing that pride above all things breaks and distorts the images of heavenly truth which are cast forth upon our minds; that pride in the heart of the learner makes all teaching vain; that humility can learn great lessons from any teacher. And lastly, as the bond which is to hold together all these various elements, we must, if we would be faithful prophets, seek after eminent holiness of life. This will give us an insight into God's truth in its reality; this will open to us our own hearts, and so the hearts of our brethren; this will set us in the way of those blessed breathings of the Holy Spirit which fall ever upon the still waters of holiness, and waft on most noiselessly those who always haunt them into the secrets of the Lord. This will enable us to live ever with Him even in this world of shadows.

(Bishop S. Wilberforce.)

1. What is the specific charge made against false prophets? That they speak out of their own hearts, and that they follow their own spirit. How prone are all men to do this!

2. Every man now prophesies out of himself. Let us beware how we degrade a right into a perversion of liberty and a mischievous use of independence. There is a right of private judgment, there is an individuality of conscience: but no judgment is complete that does not measure itself with other judgments, and no conscience is complete that is not in touch with other consciences; for the last conscience is the result and expression of spiritual chemistry, combination, intermixture, divinely conducted. There may come a time when personal testimony must be delivered with burning emphasis, and when a man is compelled to enclose himself within a solitary altar; all these concessions do not interfere with the central and dominant truth that no prophecy is of private interpretation, and that all secret prayer needs to be brought out into the open air of the Church, that there it may bloom in its completest beauty.

3. False prophets excite false hopes: what other could they do? "They have made others to hope that they would confirm the Word." A liar is very careful to maintain some foothold upon the confidence of society. He who is all false himself can only live upon the trustfulness of others. So, then, the false prophet is the creator of false hopes; and if there be counterfeit coin makers in our neighbourhood, it would not be an unwise thing to put out our coin upon the table and look at it very carefully; and as there are false prophets who have excited false hopes, it would not be unwise to take our hopes one by one, and conduct upon each of them an unsparing analysis, saying, What is it? what is its reason? what is its purpose? what is its value? what is its origin? how is it supported by evidence? how is it ennobled by sacrifice? Any hope that will not accept the test of sacrifice is a false hope.

4. False prophets had, however, some little ground to work upon: they mistook the imaginary for the real: "Have ye not seen a vain vision?" That is the difficulty. If there was absolutely nothing, we should have a clear course; but we have lying definitions, we have occasional dreams, and peculiar impressions; and people who resent the idea of accepting a theology made by the Church adopt an astrology or a theology of their own, founded upon cobwebs, built upon mist, and pointing to nothing. Let us pray God to cleanse our vision, lest, seeing men as trees walking, or trees as men walking, we confound the reality of things; and above all, let us say to one another, Brother, help me, and I will help some weaker man, Let us have our strength common.

5. What course does the Lord pursue against such falsity? "I am against you, saith the Lord God." We know, then, exactly what strength we have to encounter. It is only omnipotence. We have sometimes wondered how it is we do not succeed. There need not be any wonder about it; for our failure arises from one of two causes: either, first, that God is against us, in the sense of judging us to be false; or God is trying us to develop our strength. Let us adopt the second conclusion where we can, for it will cheer us and help us on many a weary day.

6. What further course will the Lord take against these false prophets? He will destroy them. They build a wall; He sends hail down upon it, and brings the wall all to pieces. We need not go to the Prophet Ezekiel to know if this is true. What walls we have built! What strength we were going to have! We had already drawn out a hundred programmes, every one of which ended in pounds, shillings, and pence; and a hundred more, ending in honour, fame, influence; and another hundred, ending in herds and flocks, and abundance of family connections and great peace, and long days: and whilst we were filling our mouth with the wind the Lord touched us, and we fell down as dead men. If the Lord, then, is so set against falsehood, what will He do for us? He will speak the truth, He will send angels of truth, messengers of mercy and love. Beware lest we have all our truth on paper, in propositions, innumerable and well detailed dogmas: we must first have it in our souls, hearts, lives; we must be prepared to live for it and to die for it, and then it will grow, accumulate, multiply; and we shall begin to see, with the ever excellent because ever modest philosopher, Sir Isaac Newton, that we have only gathered a few shells on the shore, while the great ocean of truth lies all undiscovered before us. Such modesty well becomes men who were born yesterday and may be forgotten tomorrow.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

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