AS THE GLORY OF THE LORD DEPARTS JERUSALEM, EZEKIEL’S VISION CONCLUDES WITH WORDS OF JUDGMENT AND OF MERCY
God constantly proclaims a message of both Judgment and Mercy – as he does here in the conclusion of Ezekiel’s vision. At the crux always lies the pathway of Repentance. The holiness and justice of God demand accountability for sin. The abominations and iniquities of God’s elect nation have already been documented. The smug arrogance of those who have not yet experienced the severity of God’s judgment clouds their perspective and emboldens them to actually mock what God is doing. Yet God’s covenant commitment and kingdom plans cannot be thwarted. He will convert men’s hearts, regenerate them and eventually fulfill His New Covenant promises of restoration and blessing for His chosen people. But for now, the glory of the Lord must depart from the city of Jerusalem. This is a monumentally sad event for the nation.
Leslie Allen: The narrative about the departing glory is interrupted by an independent visionary experience in vv 1–13, which in turn is supplemented with a positive message in vv 14–21.
Douglas Stuart: In chapter 11, Ezekiel is commanded to preach two messages: one of doom, the other of deliverance. To the leaders of Jerusalem, some of whom are mentioned by name in verses 1–13 , he is required to prophesy that some will be killed and others exiled as a result of their willful disobedience of God’s commandments. To the Diaspora, on the other hand, those who are already in exile and longing for the Lord’s favor, he can announce a message of hope for return to the land of Canaan and enjoyment once again of God’s mercy and protection (vv. 14–25).
This message was exactly the opposite of what Jerusalem’s leaders considered appropriate. They saw the exiles as unfortunate victims of their own bad luck and poor judgment for having somehow gotten exiled instead of having been spared as the present leaders had been. Of course, the present leaders could hardly be expected to exercise the best judgment; they were mostly inferior leaders who had been left behind by the Babylonians in 598 b.c. when the best of the leadership was taken captive and deported. But in their self –importance they seem to have considered themselves somehow the favored few, who, feeling secure in their wisdom and in the upgrading of the city’s fortifications that had undoubtedly taken place in the latter years of Zedekiah’s reign, believed that Jerusalem could hold out against any foe.
I. (:1-13) PRONOUNCING JUDGMENT UPON THE ARROGANT JEWISH LEADERS REMAINING IN JERUSALEM
A. (:1-4) Targeting the Wicked Leaders Remaining in Jerusalem
1. (:1) Identifying the Leaders Remaining in Jerusalem
a. Positioned to View the Leaders
“Moreover, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the LORD’s house which faced eastward.”
b. Prominent Leaders Singled Out
“And behold, there were twenty-five men at the entrance of the gate, and among them I saw Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people.”
2. (:2-3) Indicting Them for Their Evil and Arrogant Counsel
a. (:2) Source of Evil Advice
“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, these are the men who devise iniquity and give evil advice in this city,’”
b. (:3) Shamelessness of Arrogant Smugness
“who say, ‘Is not the time near to build houses?
This city is the pot and we are the flesh.’”
Daniel Block: Despite these ambiguities, within the context of this prophecy the most likely sense intended by the quotation seems to be, “There is no need at the present time to worry about building houses.” The statement reflects a complacency and smugness characteristic of those who think they have everything under control. . .
This pot is Jerusalem, offering security to those inside, particularly the nouveaux noblesses represented by ʾănaḥnû, “we.” Accordingly, at this point the contrast is not between the status of the upper crust and the average citizens (whom they exploit), but between this new class of leaders and those who had been carried off into exile. The new rulers are the prime cuts of meat, supposedly invulnerable within the city walls, as opposed to those who have been discarded as waste (cf. v. 15) and obviously no longer enjoy the protection of God.
Derek Thomas: They believed that they were ‘the favoured few’. Confident that the city was invincible, they boasted openly about their building programme: ‘Will it not soon be time to build houses?’, adding an odd-sounding expression: ‘This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat’ (11:3).
This appears to mean that, just as meat belongs in a cooking pot, so they belonged in Jerusalem. It is an arrogant claim, as God later remarks: they will be hurled out of the pot (11:11). The arrogance and self-confidence of this remark are further exemplified in the fact that the people of Jerusalem had by now grown openly cynical of their blood-brothers and sisters in exile, claiming that the land belonged to them only (11:15).
Leslie Allen: It must be Yahweh who speaks, in view of the divine commission to prophesy in v 4. A general characterization of the men is given, citing their involvement in morally evil projects. The first phrase, “making iniquitous plans,” and the subsequent mention of “evil” seem to be deliberate echoes of Mic 2:1. Their policy is explained by a resolution in v 3a, which is supported by a metaphorical saying in v 3b. The resolution has been variously interpreted (see Zimmerli 258). The initial echo of the accusation in Mic 2:1–2 provides the clue: there the evil schemes of the powerful were to seize the houses of others, which they coveted (Ohnesorge, Jahwe gestaltet 69; cf. Fuhs 60; Fohrer 60; Greenberg 187). These city planners had no scruples in attaining their selfish ends, as the more specific accusation in v 6 will reveal. Their illegal seizure of the property of other citizens made it unnecessary to engage in further building. The epigram in v 3b is harder to interpret. The immediate context and the denial of the validity of the saying in v 11 (cf. v 7) make it clear that a positive, smugly reassuring comment is being made. One can imagine it being said with a knowing grin. The imagery is used differently in 24:3–11, as a metaphor of judgment relating to the siege of Jerusalem: Yahweh would make it hot for the citizens of Jerusalem! Here the thought may be that the caldron protects its contents from the fire (Keil 145; Bertholet  61). It is more likely, in the light of v 7, that there is an implicit contrast between meat, which corresponds to the best cuts of meat and choicest bones in 24:1 that are put into the caldron, and offal that has no right in the pot (Greenberg 187). The plotters are contrasting themselves with their victims, whose rights to live in the city they have denied.
Douglas Stuart: Their byword was the enigmatic saying of verse 3, which seems to be a boast of some sort, an arrogant expression of confidence that they, as the new overlords of the city and territory, had now been given “the land as a possession” (v. 15) and that it would never be taken away from them. The Hebrew wording of their boast is difficult to understand. It says literally, “Not build houses near? It is the pot, we are the meat!” The English translations all attempt to smooth out this terse aphorism, but its exact sense must remain a matter of conjecture. Perhaps it implies that the people could go ahead to build, that is, making long-term plans (cf. Jer. 32:6–15) because they belonged in Jerusalem like meat in a cooking pot whereas the exiles were like the entrails, hooves, etc. of an animal—discarded as unfit to go into the pot for cooking.
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel was told these men were “plotting evil” and giving “wicked advice” in Jerusalem (v. 2). As leaders they were responsible for the moral, social, and spiritual direction of the people. God gave Ezekiel two illustrations of their bad counsel. First, “Will it not soon be time to build houses?” (v. 3). As translated in the NIV the phrase suggests that the crisis would soon pass and life would return to normal. It is also possible that this was a denial of the crisis and should be translated, “The time (of destruction) is not near; let us build houses.” Another possibility is that it is a reference to house-building in the exile. Thus the phrase would mean, “The time is not near to build houses (in exile).” Still another interpretation is that it may have been a declaration of defiance against Babylon. The meaning would be, “It is not time to build houses (but time to prepare for battle).” Of the possible interpretations this last one seems to fit the context best.
The second phrase, “This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat” (v. 3), is equally enigmatic. At face value it seems to be a reference to the judgment of Judah, but the context suggests the opposite. Most interpreters agree that the cooking pot, a clay vessel for cooking food, was used to protect the choice meats from the fire while being prepared. The city, with its walls and fortifications, was the protection of the people from the “fire” of Babylon’s armies. This interpretation fits the statement in v. 11 that the “city will not be a pot for you, nor will you be the meat in it.” If true, this meant they were relying on the inviolability and military fortifications of Jerusalem for their security and protection. This was a condemnation of the misplaced trust because Judah should have relied on God. We are to trust God and not our own ability or understanding (11:1–3; cf. Prov 3:5–7). He will direct our lives and give us the keys for knowing and doing his will (Rom 12:1–8).
Peter Pett: But the central point is the same in all views. That they were being presumptuous, that they were relying on the fallacy of the inviolability of Jerusalem, that they were exalting themselves, and that they were ignoring Yahweh’s words through His prophets. They were frighteningly blind to their own failures and self-satisfied in spite of their iniquitous behaviour.
3. (:4) Imploring Ezekiel to Condemn Them
“Therefore, prophesy against them, son of man, prophesy!”
Lamar Cooper: The verb form (related to nābîʾ, “prophet”) was used twice for emphasis and to stress the urgency of the assignment.
Leslie Allen: The citation of the proud claims of the powerful elite has launched a disputation to which Yahweh will give a vigorous and reasoned response. The quotation also constitutes an accusation that triggers an oracle of judgment. Ezekiel is commissioned to transmit the oracle.
Daniel Block: It was the leaders’ erroneous interpretation of their status in Jerusalem and presumably with God (cf. vv. 14–21) that provoked a response from Yahweh.
B. (:5-12) Testifying against the Wicked Leaders Remaining in Jerusalem
1. (:5-6) Exposure of Their Wicked Thoughts and Harmful Effects
“Then the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and He said to me, ‘Say, Thus says the LORD, So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts. 6 You have multiplied your slain in this city, filling its streets with them.’”
Constable: Ezekiel was to prophesy against these leaders. The Spirit came upon him and instructed him to tell them that the Lord knew what they were thinking (cf. 2:2; 3:24; 13:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:21). God always knows what His people are thinking (cf. Ps. 139:1- 6; Dan. 2:30; Acts 1:24). In this case their thinking was in rebellion against what He, through Jeremiah, had told them to do. Furthermore, they had slain many innocent people in Jerusalem by perverting justice and taking advantage of the weak.
MacArthur: Leaders who misled Israel by inciting false expectations of a victorious defense, rather than peaceful surrender, were responsible for the deadly results. Many people died in resisting Babylon.
Leslie Allen: The mention of Yahweh’s knowledge of the officials’ schemes and feelings of security serves to express their responsibility to a higher, moral power.
Sheol and Abaddon are visible to Yahweh:
how much more human minds! (Prov 15:11)
Here the term for “minds” is רוח, the very word used earlier in the verse for the prophetic spirit. There seems to be a conscious polarization between the two mainsprings of speech, the human spirit that expresses itself in self-assured statements of abuse of power and the divine spirit that finds expression in criticizing and countermanding the schemes of its human counterpart. The officials are strikingly addressed as “community of Israel”: as officials of the people, they act as representatives. The vocative has an ironic ring. They were certainly not living up to their responsibilities as members of God’s covenant people.
The role of v 6 is to dispute the thesis propounded by the city leaders. It cannot be valid, because the activity that underlies the thesis is morally wrong. Lives as well as houses were involved in the real estate deals implied in v 3a, just as the disposal of Naboth’s vineyard was facilitated by his assassination in the name of legality (1 Kgs 21:1–16). In this case, however, not an individual but large numbers had suffered. Eissfeldt (Studies 77–81) showed that חלל “slain” relates not only to the war dead but also to civilians who wrongfully lost their lives by murder or political execution (cf. Deut 21:1–6; Jer 41:9). . . In terms of an oracle of judgment, v 6 functions as accusation, while in terms of the disputation, it gives reasons for denying the validity of the initial thesis.
Daniel Block: Yahweh’s verbal response to the quotation is divided formally into two parts, each introduced by the citation formula (vv. 5, 7). The function of the first is not to attack the logic of the leaders’ thesis but to challenge its basis: their conduct has violated Yahweh’s laws so flagrantly that they have no grounds whatsoever for their confidence in their security and their invulnerability. The dispute bifurcates here.
First, Yahweh declares that his gaze penetrates the human mind, and that he is aware of the motives underlying the leaders’ smugness. As in v. 3, the verb ʾāmar, normally rendered “to speak,” here describes the cognitive function that precedes decision and action, hence “to consider, to reflect, to think over.” This interpretation is confirmed by the following reference to maʿălôt rûḥăkem, “the thoughts that arise in your mind.” This expression involves a clever play on rûaḥ, which now appears for the third time in this text, and with a third significance. Whereas in v. 1 the rûaḥ had functioned as the agency of conveyance, and in v. 5a as the agency of inspiration, now the word denotes the seat or organ of mental activity, and serves as a variant for lēb, “heart, mind,” which occurs in v. 19. But the point of v. 5b is that Yahweh is aware of the motives of the leadership in Jerusalem without their mouths even opening to declare them.
Second, Yahweh charges the leaders of the people with a crime that disqualifies them from any claims to protection: they have filled the city with corpses. Although the designation for the victims, ḥălālîm, usually has military overtones, the word is not restricted to those fallen in battle, as Eissfeldt has demonstrated. It also denotes victims of judicial murder, that is, those who have been sentenced to death by corrupt courts. But exploitative rulers do not need to wait for court decisions to perform their deadly acts. They may simply eliminate any who stand in their way. This problem is illustrated in 19:3, 6, where kings are charged with devouring humans, and in 22:27, which explicitly compares Jerusalem’s officials (śārîm) to ravenous wolves tearing their prey, shedding blood, and destroying life in their ruthless quest for gain. Far from being the special objects of divine protection within the walls of Jerusalem, these rulers have become the targets of his ire.
Wiersbe: The Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy against those evil leaders and point out that they weren’t the meat – they were the butchers! They had killed innocent people in Jerusalem and stolen their possessions, and even if the leaders weren’t slain in Jerusalem, they would not escape judgment. They might flee the city, but the Babylonians would catch them at the border, pass sentence on them, and kill them; that that is exactly what happened (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jer. 39:1-7; 52:1-11, 24-27). Then the Jewish officials would learn too late that Jehovah alone is Lord of heaven and earth.
2. (:7-12) Expectation of Punishment
a. (:7-8) Destined for Destruction
1) (:7) Removed from the Protection of the Pot
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God,
‘Your slain whom you have laid in the midst of the city
are the flesh,
and this city is the pot; but I shall bring you out of it.’”
Douglas Stuart: Verses 6 and 7 are predictive. The policies of the city’s leaders have made it inevitable that large-scale slaughter of the remaining populace will take place. And the leaders, so secure that Jerusalem is for them a safe haven, will not be able to stay in the city but will be taken out by the enemy and killed (v. 9). This prediction was fulfilled in 586 b.c. at Riblah in Hamath (west Syria) when the city’s leaders were killed in the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (2 Kin. 25:18–21). The very sword (warfare) that they feared in verse 8 would come upon them in verse 10. The city would not be a refuge (v. 11), but they would be, as it were, thrown out of the pot as meat unfit to eat.
Why? Because of disobedience. In virtually every generation of ancient Israel, orthodox Yahwism, the true revealed religion of the Mosaic covenant, was ignored by a majority of people. Much as in America today, true devotion to God was practiced by only a minority. The “customs of the Gentiles” (v. 12) prevailed. Those included materialistic idolatry, exploitation of the poor, ritual sex as a part of worship, and so on (cf. 2 Kin. 23).
Daniel Block: vv. 7-11 — The commencement of Yahweh’s counter thesis is signaled by lākēn, “Therefore,” in v. 7. The refutation of the leaders’ claims consists of two parts (vv. 7–10 and 11–12), each of which concludes with the recognition formula. The first of these is divided further into two equal parts (both twenty-one words) by the signatory formula nĕʾum ʾădōnāy yhwh, “the declaration of the Lord Yahweh,” at the end of v. 8. The unexpected insertion of the formula in the middle of a speech reinforces Ezekiel’s claim to inspiration (v. 5) and emphasizes that the word he declares bears the signature of Yahweh himself.
2) (:8) Relegated to Death by Sword
“’You have feared a sword; so I will bring a sword upon you,’ the Lord God declares.”
b. (:9-10) Delivered over to Slaughter by Foreigners
1) (:9) Chased out of Jerusalem
“And I shall bring you out of the midst of the city,
and I shall deliver you into the hands of strangers and execute judgments against you.”
2) (:10a) Caught and Slaughtered
“You will fall by the sword.
I shall judge you to the border of Israel;”
3) (:10b) Recognition Refrain
“so you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Leslie Allen: The oppressors’ membership in the community of Israel (v 5) would not save them from a judicial death in Israel. They would suffer the punishment meted out by the God of the land (cf. 6:7, 11–14). The recognition formula in v 10b turns the oracle of judgment into a divine-proof saying. The punishment would be a means to a particular end, the proof of the moral authority of Yahweh, willfully overlooked before his forceful intervention into Judean affairs
c. (:11-12) Deserving of Judgment
1) (:11) No Refuge
“This city will not be a pot for you, nor will you be flesh in the midst of it, but I shall judge you to the border of Israel.”
2) (:12a) Recognition Refrain
“Thus you will know that I am the LORD;”
Peter Pett: The result of what was to happen to them would bring home to them that Yahweh was not there to be trifled with. They would know that He was Yahweh. He was their covenant God, the One Who was there, the One Who controlled their destiny.
3) (:12b) No Different from Surrounding Pagans
“for you have not walked in My statutes nor have you executed My ordinances, but have acted according to the ordinances of the nations around you.”
Derek Thomas: 2 Reasons for Judgment:
1. They had disobeyed God —
Sin is lawlessness and lawlessness is sin (1 John 3:4). God has laid down what he expects of those whom he has created; sin is man’s rebellion against these laws. “The plain truth is”, wrote Bishop Ryle at the end of the last century, “that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.”
2. They had also become worldly —
They had adopted the lifestyle of the ‘Gentiles’ (‘the nations’, 11:12). God’s people are called to be different. They were meant by their lifestyle to be set apart from the other nations. They were to be holy (Lev. 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). But it was manifestly obvious that they were no different at all! They had assimilated the gods of the Gentiles. They behaved like pagans; they were pagans! Since they had abandoned his covenant, God was about to leave them.
C. (:13) Traumatized by the Death of Pelatiah
1. Statement of the Death
“Now it came about as I prophesied, that Pelatiah son of Benaiah died.”
This is a transition verse. It serves as the epilogue to the previous section and the introduction to vv. 14-21.
Daniel Block: The epilogic conclusion to this literary unit reminds the reader of the visionary context within which this disputation with the leaders of Jerusalem transpires. Even as Ezekiel is prophesying, Pelatiah dies. The prophet immediately grasps the significance of this event: the man’s decease functions as a down payment or deposit of the fate of the leaders announced in the speech.
Douglas Stuart: Arrogance, self-confidence, and willful disobedience are the triple sins of the non-exiled Judeans described in this passage. Each of these sins by itself is dangerous, but together they cry out for the wrath of God to be imposed upon the nation. That the leaders are mentioned by name is no accident. Large groups always have leaders, people who function as the catalysts for the actions and perspectives of a class or category. For a society to be so led astray, as the society of ancient Judah was, that it would neither expect nor fear the coming judgment of God, it had to give a lot of credence to its leaders. Yet all societies tend to do exactly that: they allow to rise to leadership the sorts of people who reflect, appeal to, and will carry out the values and expectations of the majority. The passage thus is not just about corrupt leaders but is about them as reflections of and manifestations of a corrupt society. That is why Ezekiel can discern in the death of one the coming death of all.
As for arrogance and self-confidence, it is remarkable how often such attitudes are found in people least qualified in actual fact to hold them. The truly skillful, able, gifted person is free to be humble and to acknowledge the grace of God in his or her accomplishments. As for disobedience, it is the foolish, not the wise, who fail to learn from the punishments of the past. Ezekiel’s contemporaries in Jerusalem saw no danger in disobedience to the divine covenant. They obviously could not imagine themselves getting into trouble for what they were doing. Underestimating the power of God to enforce His Law, they became the objects of the enforcement! But disobedience to divine commands never goes unnoticed.
David Guzik: Ezekiel asked God the same question he asked earlier in the vision (Ezekiel 9:8). Stunned by the depth and the breadth of God’s judgments, he wondered if any would remain.
2. Wrestling with the Significance of the Death
“Then I fell on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Alas, Lord God! Wilt Thou bring the remnant of Israel to a complete end?’”
II. (:14-21) PROMISING FUTURE REGATHERING AND RESTORATION OF THE REGENERATE REMNANT DESPITE THEIR PRESENT EXILE IN BABYLON
A. (:14-16) Special Protection for the Exiles Despite Their Humiliation
“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,”
Leslie Allen: vv. 14-21 — The anguished prayer of v 13 echoes down the years. This next oracle is meant to serve as a virtual reply. It has an independent, non-visionary agenda, as its separate message-reception formula in v 14 attests, but it functions here as a literary answer that honors the spirit of Ezekiel’s petition.
1. (:15) Exiles Scorned
“Son of man, your brothers, your relatives, your fellow exiles, and the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the LORD; this land has been given us as a possession.’”
Douglas Stuart: As far as we can tell, it would have been the farthest thing from Ezekiel’s mind, and certainly as well from the minds of his fellow Israelites in exile, that they might be the ones to re-inhabit Jerusalem and Judah and prosper again there as a people. If any group could survive all the coming miseries at the hands of the Lord and His human agents of punishment, the Babylonians, surely it would have to be some of the people who were left in Judah and Jerusalem, not yet scattered among the nations by the awful punishment of exile. There seemed to be no likelihood that people deported and resettled throughout the seemingly all-powerful Babylonian Empire, hundreds of miles from home, second-class citizens in the places where they now lived, stripped of all political influence, could ever hope to return from exile and repopulate the holy nation.
This passage thus represents an ironic reversal: the promise of death and exile to those who have escaped it, and the promise of life and a return home to those facing death in exile. Such ironic reversals are common in Old Testament literature (e.g., the story of Joseph’s rising from slavery to international power, the protection of Moses within Pharaoh’s household, the choosing of David over his brothers) and the New Testament as well (“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first” [Matt. 19:30] ).
Galen Doughty: The residents of Jerusalem show by their speech they have become paganized. Pagan religions believed that the gods were territorial and only had power in their own territory. That is why pagan nations wanted to expand their territory by conquest because then they expanded their god’s territory as well. Ezekiel has already shown through his visions that the glory and presence of the Lord is not limited to the land of Israel. He is in Babylon too because he is the Creator of all lands and nations. The prophets helped to expand Israel’s understanding of God beyond a localized deity to the Creator of all. The idolatrous Jews in Jerusalem thought God still protected them and would show them favor and because the Jews in Babylon were far away from God’s land they were now beyond his reach and under the gods of Babylon. Their view of God was way too small and God sent Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Habakkuk to correct it and give them the larger understanding of who God is and Israel as his people.
2. (:16) Exiles Sheltered
“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, Though I had removed them far away among the nations, and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.’”
B. (:17-20) Secure Future for the Repentant Remnant
1. (:17) Regathered to Possess the Promised Land
“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘I shall gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I shall give you the land of Israel.’”
Leslie Allen: V 17 has a change of perspective: the exiles, who are the real recipients of the oracle as a whole, are now addressed. Yahweh’s personal intention was to return them to their homeland. In so doing, it is implied, he would act as their gō˒ēl or redeemer, and claim back the land for his people (Liwak, “Probleme” 118–19). What Ezekiel could not do for his family (v 15a), Yahweh himself would undertake for his people. The beginning of the message, v 15a, had raised hopes for the exiles that redemption was part of God’s continuing purposes for Israel, which he would accomplish as the spiritual patron of the exiles.
2. (:18) Repented
“When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it.”
Douglas Stuart: Arrogantly critical of those in exile, the present citizenry of Jerusalem wanted nothing to do with the exiles, mistakenly assuming that fortune had smiled upon them so that they had escaped the first exile. But God had other plans. No matter how distant or how widely dispersed His people were, He would bring them home (vv. 16–17; cf. Joel 3:6–8), and it would be they who would rid Jerusalem and Judah of the idolatry and religious heterodoxy practiced there (v. 18). This is exactly what happened historically. When the Jews began to return from captivity after the decree of Cyrus in 539 b.c. (Ezra 1, 3) they found Jerusalem to be continuing in the corrupt practices and false religion that had caused the Lord to abandon it in the first place. As late as the time of Ezra (Ezra 6–10) and Nehemiah, that is, 458–420 b.c., Jews returning to Zion from exile were correcting abuses and reestablishing righteous religion and obedience to the Mosaic Law. It turned out to be the exiles who, after living in pagan lands so long, came back pure enough to clean up Jerusalem (v. 18). God had shown them in exile how offensive full-blown pagan idolatry really was (Deut. 4:27–28), and in their distress they had repented and converted to true worship of the Lord (vv. 19–20, fulfilling Deut. 4:29–30), something those who had lived all along in the Holy City had never humbled themselves to do.
Ezekiel had learned what may be considered a key message of the book: he and people of like mind were at the center of God’s will even though their circumstances made them seem like castaways and a bunch of nobodies. The leaders of Jerusalem, on the other hand, looked to the casual observer as if they had it made and could expect to enjoy a long and prosperous life in the capital of Judah. In reality, they were the castaways! Their days were numbered, and in a few short years the horrible miseries of siege and bloody defeat predicted in chapters 4–7 would come upon them.
3. (:19-20) Regenerated – Blessings of the New Covenant
a. (:19) New Heart
“And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,”
b. (:20a) New Commitment
“that they may walk in My statutes
and keep My ordinances, and do them.”
Leslie Allen: The second aspect of fellowship that Yahweh and his people would enjoy was to be in terms of general obedience to his will. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel were aware that the radical deviation of late preexilic Israel from Yahweh’s revealed will required an equally radical solution. Ultimately what needed to be removed lay not outside them, as in v 18, but inside, and only God could do that. The heart stands for the will: Israel’s hearts had been hard and wanton (2:4; 3:7; 6:9). “Stone hearts” refer to that which is unconscious, immobile, and so unresponsive to God (cf. Exod 15:16; 1 Sam 25:37). By contrast, “hearts of flesh” relate to that which is tender, yielding, and responsive. What was needed was a transformation wrought by God, replacing unresponsiveness with a new compliance to the will of God. This compliance meant obedience to the Torah, the revelation of Yahweh’s will for Israel. God had to break in, to do “what the law could not do …, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled” (Rom 8:3–4). The old divine standards were to continue (cf. 20:11, 19), and the human condition was to be eschatologically changed to rise to their sublime level. “The same law by which the people were judged becomes the law to which they were saved” (Raitt, Theology of Exile 182). If v 19 represents a removal of Israel’s former unreceptive hearts, v 20a corrects the disobedience deplored in 5:6–7.
c. (:20b) New Relationship
“Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.”
Leslie Allen: The old covenant formulation of Yahweh’s commitment to his people in Exod 6:6–8 is here revived and made the object of hope. The motif of God’s claim on his people has been incorporated into this re-presentation of his initial pledge of divine patronage. The intrusion does not jar, for the divine claim was to be facilitated by divine enabling.
C. (:21) Severe Retribution for the Unrepentant
“’But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things
and abominations, I shall bring their conduct down on their heads,’
declares the Lord God.”
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel saw a new day when God’s covenant people would again be in the land, devoted only to the Lord and enjoying fellowship with him (v. 20; cf. 14:11 and note there). After the exile when many Jews returned to a restored province of Judah in fulfillment of prophecy (Ezra 1:1), they were careful to avoid idolatry (Ezra 4:1–3; 6:19–21; Neh 8–10). Nevertheless, their obedience was not complete (Ezra 9:1–2, 10–15; 10:15, 44; Neh 5:1–9; 13:7–29), nor was their experience of promised blessings (Ezra 9:8–9; Neh 9:32–37). Thus the radical spiritual transformation of the people and the associated physical blessings promised in this and other prophecies of the new covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 34:20–31; 36:24–38; 37:15–28) await fulfillment in a future messianic age. Such promises, however, would be only for those who would receive the new heart and spirit by faith (18:31). Those who refused would be judged and eliminated (11:21). The remnant would be made up of those who repented and returned to the standard of the single heart (cf. 34:17–22). Single-hearted devotion is what God expects from us. Whenever we fail to give him our single-hearted commitment, we invite the chastening of God.
III. (:22-25) PICTURING THE FINAL REMOVAL OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD OUT OF JERUSALEM TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES AS THE VISION CONCLUDES
A. (:22-23) Final Removal of the Glory of the Lord from Jerusalem
1. (:22) Glory of the Lord Taking Off
“Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.”
2. (:23) Glory of the Lord Relocating to the Mount of Olives
“And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city,
and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.”
Douglas Stuart: Now it was time for God symbolically to abandon His headquarters. The throne-chariot, conveyed by the cherubim, took off (v. 22) and could be seen by Ezekiel clearly outside the city limits (v. 23). This was a sign that the rejection of wicked Jerusalem had finally come to pass. Ezekiel felt himself brought back home to Mesopotamia (Chaldea) and the vision was over (v. 24). The faithful prophet then relayed to all who would listen what he had seen (v. 25).
B. (:24-25) Final Conclusion to the Vision of Ezekiel
1. (:24a) Return of Ezekiel
“And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision
by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea.”
2. (:24b) Retirement of the Vison
“So the vision that I had seen left me.”
3. (:25) Retelling the Prophetic Vision to the Exiles
“Then I told the exiles all the things that the LORD had shown me.”
Leslie Allen: vv. 24-25 — As in 3:14–15, the close of the vision is marked by the spirit’s transportation of Ezekiel back to the settlement where he lived with his fellow exiles. Here, however, v 24b serves to confirm that his visionary experience had occurred in a trancelike state, unlike the vision of chaps. 1–3. Taylor (113) and Greenberg (191) have compared the “rising” of the vision with the ascent of the divine figure at the close of a theophany (Gen 17:22; 35:13). The elders have been waiting for an oracle (8:1). They now receive it in their capacity as “exiles,” as representatives of the exilic community. The prophet returns to consciousness of his natural surroundings and of his mission. The elders heard in the telling of the vision the chilling message of Yahweh’s indictment and final judgment of the city to which they had been hoping to return and resume their normal lives.
David Guzik: Ezekiel wasn’t given this message for his own amazement, but to instruct and warn the people and elders of Israel. They were perhaps shocked at the depths of Jerusalem’s depravity, the severity of the coming judgment, and the promised departure of God’s glory.