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and universality of her religious mission. Her calamities,
too, were probably such as no other city experienced. The
terrible prediction of ver. 10, " Fathers shall eat sons in

' Or, with a different pointing, " Slie changed My judgments to
wickedness." ^ See ch. xxvii.



68 THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL



the midst of thee, and sons shall eat fathers," seems to
have been literally fulfilled. "The hands of the pitiful
women have sodden their own children : they were their
meat in the destruction of the daughter of My people "
(Lam. iv. lo). It is hkely enough that the annals of
Assyrian conquest cover many a tale of woe which in
point of mere physical suffering paralleled the atrocities
of the siege of Jerusalem. But no other nation had a
conscience so sensitive as Israel, or lost so much by its
political annihilation. The humanising influences of a
pure religion had made Israel susceptible of a kind of
anguish which ruder communities were spared.

The sin of Jerusalem is represented after Ezekiel's
manner as on the one hand transgression of the divine
commandments, and on the other defilement of the Temple
through false worship. These are ideas which we shall
frequently meet in the course of the book, and they need
not detain us here. The prophet proceeds (vv. 11-17) to
describe in detail the relentless punishment which the
divine vengeance is to inflict on the inhabitants and the
city. The jealousy, the wrath, the indignation of Jehovah,
which are represented as "satisfied" by the complete
destruction of the people, belong to the limitations of the
' conception of God which Ezekiel had. It was impossible
at that time to interpret such an event as the fall of
Jerusalem in a religious sense otherwise than as a vehe-
ment outburst of Jehovah's anger, expressing the reaction
of His holy nature against the sin of idolatry. There is
indeed a great distance between the attitude of Ezekiel
towards the hapless city and the yearning pity of Christ's
lament over the sinful Jerusalem of His time. Yet the first
was a step towards the second. Ezekiel realised intensely
that part of God's character which it was needful to enforce
in order to beget in his countrymen the deep horror at
the sin of idolatry which characterised the later Judaism,



iv.-vii.] THE End foretold 69

The best commentary on the latter part of this chapter is
found in those parts of the book of Lamentations which
speak of the state of the city and the survivors after its over-
throw. There we see how quickly the stern judgment pro-
duced a more chastened and beautiful type of piety than had
ever been prevalent befor?. Those pathetic utterances, in
which patriotism and religion are so finely blended, are
like the timid and tentative advances of a child's heart
towards a parent who has ceased to punish but has not
begun to caress. This and much else that is true and
ennobling in the later religion of Israel is rooted in the
terrifying sense of the divine anger against sin so power-
fully represented in the preaching of Ezekiel.

Ill

The next two chapters may be regarded as pendants to
the theme which is dealt with in this opening section of
the book of Ezekiel. In the fourth and fifth chapters the
prophet had mainly the city in his eye as the focus of the
nation's life ; in the sixth he turns his eye to the land which
had shared the sin, and must suffer the punishment, of the
capital. It is, in its first part (vv. 2- 10), an apostrophe to the
mountain land of Israel, which seems to stand out before
the exile's mind with its mountains and hills, its ravines
and valleys, in contrast to the monotonous plain of
Babylonia which stretched around him. But these moun-
tains were familiar to the prophet as the seats of the rural
idolatry in Israel. The word bamah, which means properly
"the height," had come to be used as the name of an
idolatrous sanctuary. These sanctuaries were probably
Canaanitish in origin; and although by Israel they had
been consecrated to the worship of Jehovah, yet He was
Worshipped there in ways which the prophets pronounced
hateful to Him. They had been destroyed by Josiah, but



70 THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL

must have been restored to their former use during the
revival of heathenism which followed his death. It is
a lurid picture which rises before the prophet's imagination
as he contemplates the judgment of this provincial idolatry :
the altars laid waste, the " sun-pillars " ^ broken, and the
idols surrounded by the corpses of men who had fled to
their shrines for protection and perished at their feet.
This demonstration of the helplessness of the rustic
divinities to save their sanctuaries and their worshippers
will be the means of breaking the rebellious heart and
the whorish eyes that had led Israel so far astray from
her true Lord, and will produce in exile the self-loath-
ing which Ezekiel always regards as the beginning of
penitence.

But the prophet's passion rises to a higher pitch, and he
hears the command " Clap thy hands, and stamp with thy
foot, and say, Aha for the abominations of the house of
Israel ! " These are gestures and exclamations, not of
indignation, but of contempt and triumphant scorn. The
same feeling and even the same gestures are ascribed to
Jehovah Himself in another passage of highly charged
emotion (ch. xxi. 17). And it is only fair to remember that
it is the anticipation of the victory of Jehovah's cause that
fills the mind of the prophet at such moments and seems
to deaden the sense of human sympathy within him. At
the same time the victory of Jehovah was the victory of
prophecy, and in so far Smend may be right in regarding
the words as throwing light on the intensity of the
antagonism in which prophecy and the popular religion
then stood. The devastation of the land is to be effected
by the same instruments as were at work in the destruction

' Hatttmanim — a word of doubtful meaning, however. The word for
idols gillulim, is all but peculiar to Ezekiel. It is variously explained
as block-gods or dung-gods— in any case an epithet of contempt. The
asherah, or sacred pole, is never referred to by Ezekiel.



iv.-vii.] THE END FORETOLD 7»

; •

of the city : first the sword of the Chaldaeans, then famine
and pestilence among those who escape, until the whole
of Israel's ancient territory lies desolate from the southern
steppes to Riblah in the north.'

Ch. vii. is one of those singled out by Ewald as
preserving most faithfully the spirit and language of
Ezekiel's earlier utterances. Both in thought and expres-
sion it exhibits a freedom and animation seldom attained in
Ezekiel's writings, and it is evident that it must have been
composed under keen emotion. It is comparatively free
from those stereotyped phrases which are elsewhere so
common, and the style falls at times into the rhythm which
is characteristic of Hebrew poetry. Ezekiel hardly perhaps
attains to perfect mastery of poetic form, and even here
we may be" sensible of a lack of power to blend a series
of impressions and images into an artistic unity. The
vehemence of his feeling hurries him from one conception
to another, without giving full expression to any, or
indicating clearly the connection that leads from one to
the other. This circumstance, and the corrupt condition
of the text together, make the chapter in some parts
unintelligible, and as a whole one of the most difficult in
the book. In its present position it forms a fitting con-
clusion to the opening section of the book. All the
elements of the judgment which have just been foretold
are gathered up in one outburst of emotion, producing
a song of triumph in which the prophet seems to stand
in the uproar of the final catastrophe and exult amid
the crash and wreck of the old order which is passing
away.

The passage is divided into five stanzas, which may
originally have been approximately equal in length,



' In ver. 14 the true sense has been lost by the corruption of the word
Riblah into Diblah.



j2 THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL



although the first is now nearly twice as long as any
of the others.'

i. Vv. 2-9. — The first verse strikes the keynote of the
whole poem ; it is the inevitableness and the finality of
the approaching dissolution. A striking phrase of Amos '
is first taken up and expanded in accordance with the
anticipations with which the previous chapters have now
familiarised us : " An end is come, the end is come on
the four skirts of the land." The poet already hears the
tumult and confusion of the battle ; the vintage songs of
the Judsean peasant are silenced, and with the din and
fury of war the day of the Lord draws near.

ii. Vv. 10-13. — The prophet's thoughts here revert to
the present, and he notes the eager interest with which
men both in Judah and Babylon are pursuing the ordinary
business of life and the vain dreams of political greatness.
"The diadem flourishes, the sceptre blossoms, arrogance
shoots up." These expressions must refer to the efforts
of the new rulers of Jerusalem to restore the fortunes of
the nation and the glories of the old kingdom which had
been so greatly tarnished by the retent captivity. Things
are going bravely, they think ; they are surprised at their
own success ; they hope that the day of small things will
grow into the day of things greater than those which are
past. The following verse is untranslatable ; probably
the original words, if we could recover them, would con-
tain some pointed and scornful antithesis to these futile
and vain-glorious anticipations. The allusion to " buyers
and sellers " (ver. 1 2) may possibly be quite general, re-
ferring only to the absorbing interest which men continue
to take in their possessions, heedless of the impending
judgment.' But the facts that the advantage is assumed

' The reason may be that two different recensions of the text have
been combined and mixed up. So Hitzig and Cornill.
* Amos viii. z. » Cf. Luke xvii. 26-30.



iv.-vii.] THE END FORETOLD 73

«

to be on the side of the buyer and that the seller expects
to return to his heritage make it probable that the prophet
is thinking of the forced sales by the expatriated nobles of
their estates in Palestine, and to their deeply cherished
resolve to right themselves when the time of their exile is
over. All such ambitions, says the prophet, are vain —
" the seller shall not return to what he sold, and a man
shall not by wrong preserve his living." In any ease
Ezekiel evinces here, as elsewhere, a certain sympathy
with the exiled aristocracy, in opposition to the preten-
sions of the new men who had succeeded to their
honours.

iii. Vv. 14-18. — The next scene that rises before the
prophet's vision is the collapse of Judah's military pre-
parations in the hour of danger. Their army exists but
on paper. There is much blowing of trumpets and much
organising, but no men to go forth to battle. A blight
rests on all their efforts ; their hands are paralysed and
their hearts unnerved by the sense that " wrath rests
on all their pomp." Sword, famine, and pestilence, the
ministers of Jehovah's vengeance, shall devour the inhabi-
tants of the city and the country, until but a few survivors
on the tops of the mountains remain to mourn over the
universal desolation.

iv. Vv. 19-22. — ^At present the inhabitants of Jerusalem
are proud of the ill-gotten and ill-used wealth stored up
within her, and doubtless the exiles cast covetous eyes
on the luxury which may still have prevailed amongst the
upper classes in the capital. But of what avail will all
this treasure be in the evil day now so near at hand ?
It will but add mockery to their sufferings to be sur-
rounded by gold and silver which can do nothing to allay
the pangs of hunger. It will be cast in the streets as
refuse, for it cannot save them in the day of Jehovah's
anger. Nay, more, it will become the prize of the most



74 THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL



ruthless of the heathen (the Chaldaeans) ; and when in
the eagerness of their lust for gold they ransack the Temple
treasury and so desecrate the Holy Place, Jehovah will
avert His face and suffer them to work their will. The
curse of Jehovah rests on the silver and gold of Jerusalem,
which has been used for the making of idolatrous images,
and now is made to them an unclean thing.

V. Vv. 23-27. — The closing strophe contains a power-
ful description of the dismay and despair that will seize
all classes in the state as the day of wrath draws near.
Calamity after calamity comes, rumour follows hard on
rumour, and the heads of the nation are distracted and
cease to exercise the functions of leadership. The recog-
nised guides of the people — the prophets, the priests, and
the wise men — have no word of counsel or direction to offer;
the prophet's vision, the priest's traditional lore, and the
wise man's sagacity are alike at fault. So the king and
the grandees are filled with stupefaction ; and the common
people, deprived of their natural leaders, sit down in help-
less dejection. Thus shall Jerusalem be recompensed
according to her doings. " The land is full of bloodshed,
and the city of violence"; and in the correspondence
between desert and retribution men shall be made to
acknowledge the operation of the divine righteousness.
" They shall know that I am Jehovah."

IV

It may be useful at this point to note certain theological
principles which already begin to appear in this earliest
of Ezekiel's prophecies. Reflection on the nature and
purpose of the divine dealings we have seen to be a
characteristic of his work ; and even those passages which
we have considered, although chiefly devoted to an en-
forcement of the fact of judgment, present some features



iv.-vii.] THE END FORETOLD ^75

of the conception of Israel's history which had been
formed in his mind.

1. We observe in the first place that the prophet lays
great stress on the world-wide significance of the events
which are to befall Israel. This thought is not as yet
developed, but it is clearly present. The relation between
Jehovah and Israel is so peculiar that He is known to the
nations in the first instance only as Israel's God, and
thus His being and character have to be learned from
His dealings with His own people. And since Jehovah
is the only true God and must be worshipped as such
everywhere, the history of Israel has an interest for the
world such as that of no other nation has. She was
placed in the centre of the nations in order that the
knowledge of God might radiate from her through all
the world ; and now that she has proved unfaithful to
her mission, Jehovah must manifest His power and His
character by an unexampled work of judgment. Even
the destruction of Israel is a demonstration to the universal
conscience of mankind of what true divinity is.

2. But the judgment has of course a purpose and a
meaning for Israel herself, and both purposes are
summed up in the recurring formula " Ye [they] shall
know that I am Jehovah," or "that I, Jehovah, have
spoken." These two phrases express precisely the same
idea, although from slightly different starting-points. It
is assumed that Jehovah's personality is to be identified
by His word spoken through the prophets. He is known
to men through the revelation of Himself in the prophets'
utterances. " Ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken "
means therefore. Ye shall know that it is I, the God of
Israel and the Ruler of the universe, who speak these
things. In other words, the harmony between prophecy
and providence guarantees the source of the prophet's
message. The shorter phrase " Ye shall know that I am



76 THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL



Jehovah " may mean Ye shall kno.^ that I who now speak
am truly Jehovah, the God of Israel. The prejudices
of the people would have led them to deny that the
power which dictated Ezekiel's prophecy could be their
God; but this denial, together with the false idea of
Jehovah on which it rests, shall be destroyed for ever
when the prophet's words come true.

There is of course no doubt that Ezekiel conceived
Jehovah as endowed with the plenitude of deity, or that
in his view the name expressed all that we mean Tjy the
word God. Nevertheless, historically the name Jehovah
is a proper name, denoting the God who is the God
of Israel. Renan has ventured on the assertion that a
deity with a proper name is necessarily a false god. The
statement perhaps measures the difference between the
God of revealed religion and the god who is an abstraction,
an expression of the order of the universe, who exists
only in the mind of the man who names him. The God
of revelation is a living person, with a character and will
of His own, capable of being known by man. It is the
distinction of revelation that it dares to regard God as
an individual with an inner life and nature of His own,
independent of the conception men may form of Him.
Applied to such a Being, a personal name may be as true
and significant as the name which expresses the character
and individuality of a man. Only thus can we understand
the historical process by which the God who was first
manifested as the deity of a particular nation preserves
His personal identity with the God who in Christ is at last
revealed as the God of the spirits of all flesh. The know-
ledge of Jehovah of which Ezekiel speaks is therefore at
once a knowledge of the character of the God whom Israel
professed to serve, and a knowledge of that which con-
stitutes true and essential divinity.'

' Ezekiel's use of the divine names would hardly be satisfactory to



iv.-vii.] THE END FORETOLD 77

^ ig

3. The prophet, in ch. vi. 8-10, proceeds one step further
in delineating the effect of the judgment on the minds of
the survivors. The fascination of idolatry for the Israel-
ites is conceived as produced by that radical perversion of
the religious sense which the prophets call " whoredom " —
a sensuous delight in the blessings of nature, and an
indifference to the moral element which can alone preserve
either religion or human love from corruption. The spell
shall at last be broken in the new knowledge of Jehovah
which is produced by calamity ; and the heart of the people,
purified from its delusions, shall turn to Him who has
smitten them, as the only true God. " When your fugitives
from the sword are among the nations, when they are
scattered through the lands, then shall your fugitives
remember Me amongst the nations whither they have been
carried captive, when I break their heart that goes
awhoring from Me, and their whorish eyes which went
after their idols." When the idolatrous propensity is thus
eradicated, the conscience of Israel will turn inwards on
itself, and in the light of its new knowledge of God will
for the first time read its own history aright. The
beginnings of a new spiritual life will be made in the
bitter self-condemnation which is one side of the national
repentance. " They shall loathe themselves for all the evil
that they have committed in all their abominations."

Renan. Outside of the prophecies addressed to heathen nations the
generic name D^n^N is never used absolutely, except in the phrases
"visions of God " (three times) and "spirit of God" (once, in ch. xi. 24,
v\?here the text may be doubtful). Elsewhere it is used only of God in
His relation to men, as, e.g., in the expression " be to you for a God."
IC 7S occurs once (ch. x. 5) and ?N alone three times in ch. xxviii.
(addressed to the prince of Tyre). The prophet's word, when he wishes
to express absolute divinity, is just the " proper " name nin\ in accord-
ance no doubt with the interpretation given in Exod. iii. 13, 14.



CHAPTER VI
YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT UNTO YOU DESOLATE

Chapters viii.-xi

ONE of the most instructive phases of rehgious belief
among the Israehtes of the seventh century was the
superstitious regard in which the Temple at Jerusalem
was held. Its prestige as the metropolitan sanctuary had
no doubt steadily increased from the time when it was
built. But it was in the crisis of the Assyrian invasion
that the popular sentiment in favour of its peculiar sanctity
was transmuted into a fanatical faith in its inherent
inviolability. It is well known that during the whole
course of this invasion the prophet Isaiah had consistently
taught that the enemy should never set foot within the
precincts of the Holy City — that, on the contrary, the
attempt to seize it would prove to be the signal for his
annihilation. The striking fulfilment of this prediction
in the sudden destruction of Sennacherib's army had an
immense effect on the religion of the time. It restored
the faith in Jehovah's omnipotence which was already
giving way, and it granted a new lease of life to the very
errors which it ought to have extinguished. For here, as
in so many other cases, what was a spiritual faith in one
generation became a superstition in the next. Indifferent
to the divine truths which gave meaning to Isaiah's pro-
phecy, the people changed his sublime faith in the living
God working in history into a crass confidence in the
material symbol which had been the means of expressing

78



viii.-xi.] YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT UNTO YOU DESOLATE 79

i

it to their minds. Henceforth it became a fundamental
tenet of the current creed that the Temple and the city
which guarded it could never fall into the hands of an
enemy; and any teaching which assailed that belief
was felt to undermine confidence in the national deity.
In the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel this superstition
existed in unabated vigour, and formed one of the
greatest hindrances to the acceptance of their teaching.
"The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the
Temple of the Lord are these ! " was the cry of the
benighted worshippers as they thronged to its courts to
seek the favour of Jehovah (Jer. vii. 4). The same state
of feeling must have prevailed among Ezekiel's fellow-
exiles. To the prophet himself, attached as he was to
the worship of the Temple, it may have been a thought
almost too hard to bear that Jehovah should abandon the
only place of His legitimate worship. Amongst the rest
of the captives the faith in its infallibility was one of the
illusions which must be overthrown before their minds
could perceive the true drift of his teaching. In his first
prophecy the fact had just been touched on, but merely as
an incident in the fall of Jerusalem. About a year later,
however, he received a new revelation, in which he learned
that the destruction of the Temple was no mere incidental
consequence of the capture of the city, but a main object
of the calamity. The time was come when judgment
must begin at the house of God.

The weird vision in which this truth was conveyed to
the prophet is said to have occurred during a visit of the
elders to Ezekiel in his own house. In their presence he
fell into a trance, in which the events now to be considered
passed before him ; and after the trance was removed he
recounted the substance of the vision to the exiles. This
statement has been somewhat needlessly called in ques-
tion, on the ground that after so protracted an ecstasy the



go THE BOOR OF EZEKIEL

prophet would not be likely to find his visitors still in
their places. But this matter-of-fact criticism overreaches
itself. We have no means of determining how long it
would take for this series of events to be realised. If we
may trust anything to the analogy of dreams — and of all
conditions to which ordinary men are subject the dream
is surely the closest analogy to the prophetic ecstasy — the
whole may have passed in an incredibly short space of
time. If the statement were untrue, it is difficult to see
what Ezekiel would have gained by making it. If the
whole vision were a fiction, this must of course be fictitious
too; but even so it seems a very superfluous piece of
invention.

We prefer, therefore, to regard the vision as real, and
the assigned situation as historical ; and the fact that it
is recorded suggests that there must be some connection
between the object of the visit and the burden of the
revelation which was then communicated. It is not diffi-
cult to imagine points of contact between them. Ewald
has conjectured that the occasion of the visit may have
been some recent tidings from Jerusalem which had
opened the eyes of the " elders " to the real relation that
existed between them and their brethren at home. If
they had ever cherished any illusions on the point, they
had certainly been disabused of them before Ezekiel had
this vision. They were aware, whether the information



Online LibraryW. Robertson (William Robertson) NicollThe Expositor's Bible → online text (page 6 of 61)