KING ZEDEKIAH AND THE JEWS STILL IN JERUSALEM SHOULD FEAR IMMINENT DEPORTATION
– IT IS CERTAIN
– IT WILL BE DEVASTATING
Much false confidence and false optimism and arrogance can be traced to what seems to be a delay in God’s guillotine of judgment executing the condemned. Those Jews who remained in Jerusalem along with King Zedekiah did not believe Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s prophecies of imminent deportation. They looked with derision at those exiles already dispersed into Babylon. They imagined that their connection to God’s sacred city and His holy temple would spare them such humiliation and defeat. But these two sign-dramas acted out by Ezekiel at the command of the Lord were designed to pop their balloon of false optimism and force them to face the coming harsh reality of deportation. Deportation is both certain and it will be devastating.
Keil: The purpose of the whole [section (chs. 12—19)] is to show the worthlessness of this false confidence, and to affirm the certainty and irresistibility of the predicted destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, in the hope of awakening the rebellious and hardened generation to that thorough repentance, without which it was impossible that peace and prosperity could ever be enjoyed.
Feinberg: Chapters 4—11 have repeatedly shown the certainty of Jerusalem’s destruction; chapters 12—19 present the necessity for it. The emphasis in these chapters is the moral cause of the exile.
Daniel Block: The boundaries of this literary unit are set by the word-event formula in v. 1 and a complex version of the recognition formula in vv. 15–16. The break after v. 16 is reinforced by a new word-event formula in v. 17.
Douglas Stuart: In chapter 12 the topic is deportation, both its inevitability and its proximity in time. Not only will the survivors of siege in the city be taken into exile, but this whole disastrous sequence of events is near at hand! Every generation realizes that sometime in the future, wars or disasters are going to take place. Ezekiel’s generation, like others, had the sense that peace would not prevail forever. They knew something about history and realized that good times tend eventually to give way to bad times. But every generation hopes that it will be later, not sooner, that things get worse. Everyone wishes that the inevitable hard times will not come until he or she is off the scene. . .
But the deportation of Jerusalem wasn’t going to wait. It could not be delayed by anyone other than God, and through Ezekiel He makes clear in this chapter that the nation must prepare for the inevitable.
Derek Thomas: The ritual has all been about Israel’s ‘prince’ (King Zedekiah, the current, and last, monarch of Judah and Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘puppet’ following the surrender of Jehoiachin), together with the people of Jerusalem who survive the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar; they will be taken into captivity (12:10). What Ezekiel has performed is a ‘sign’ of this deportation (12:11).
The whole pathetic story is recalled in 2 Kings 25, where Zedekiah made an attempt to leave at night, disguised so as not to be seen. The Babylonians captured him and he was led away to Riblah, Nebuchadnezzar’s headquarters. There his sons, together with seventy other leaders of Jerusalem, were executed before him. Zedekiah was blinded and led off to Babylon where, following a period in prison, he too was executed (Jer. 52:7–11). Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled. And it was only four years away (c. 588 B.C.). Those deluding themselves that these events were far away were entirely wrong.
I. (:1-16) SIGN-DRAMA #1 = CARRYING PACKED LUGGAGE INTO CAPTIVITY – DEPORTATION IS CERTAIN
A. (:1-7) The Command
1. (:1) Introductory Refrain
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
2. (:2) Receptivity to the Prophecy Impacted by Rebellious Heart
“Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house,
who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear;
for they are a rebellious house.”
MacArthur: “rebellious house” — The message of Ezekiel was addressed to his fellow exiles who were as hardened as those still in Jerusalem. They were so intent on a quick return to Jerusalem, that they would not accept his message of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Iain Duguid: This saying of 12:2 underlies the sign-acts that follow it. This section is made up of a sign-act of exile (12:3–7), the interpretation of this sign-act (12:8–17), and a second sign-act of fear and trembling (12:18–20). The dominant motif throughout is of looking and not seeing. Repeatedly, Ezekiel is instructed to carry out his actions “as they watch” (leʿênêhem, seven times in 12:3–7). His actions are not particularly obscure, depicting as they do an event in which the exiles had all personally taken part. Yet the result of his actions, noted by the Lord in verse 8, is not dawning comprehension on the part of the exiles but inability to understand. They ask him: “What are you doing?” Nor does the second sign-act make things clearer to them. Though they have seen with their eyes what he has done, they still do not get the message.
Daniel Block: These statements appear to draw on a well-known proverb to highlight the fundamental problem of Ezekiel’s audience: they refuse to respond to external stimuli. Although the motif of dulled sensory organs seems to have been a prominent element in prophetic preaching, the present formulation seems to have been influenced by Jer. 5:21b in particular, since, except for the infinitives in the middle, the construction is identical. Indeed, Jeremiah had employed the saying to explain both the people’s senselessness (v. 21a) and their stubborn rebellion (vv. 22–28). But the rhetorical function of the proverb is not limited to linking this accusation with previous prophecies; it also introduces the Leitmotif of this passage. Unlike earlier texts, which had focused on having ears but not hearing (2:7; 3:27), here the issue is having eyes but not seeing.
Ezekiel does not elaborate on the way the exiles demonstrated their rebellion or their obtuseness. Was it their fundamental refusal to acknowledge Yahweh’s redemptive and covenantal activity on their behalf (see Deut. 29:1–12 [Eng. 2–13])? Was it their unwillingness to accept the conquest of Jerusalem in 598/597 B.C. and their own deportation as acts of divine judgment on them? Were they expecting an early reversal of their misfortune? Had they heard of Zedekiah’s revolts against Nebuchadnezzar, and were they now anticipating the imminent liberation of Jerusalem and the call for them to return (see Jer. 27:16; 28:3–4; 29:31)? Or was this comment provoked by the rejection of Ezekiel’s own message, both the visual performances (chs. 4–5) and the oral pronouncements? Perhaps all of these played a part.
John Taylor: Jesus’ use of the parabolic method of teaching is further indication of the principle that in God’s service the preacher’s knowledge that his words will be ignored is never to be used as an excuse for not uttering the words (cf. Matt. 13:13–15; Mark 8:18; John 12:37–41). Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, had to be reminded that it was always possible that some would understand, and in this he may be regarded as the exemplar for all Christian workers in seemingly impossible situations or in singularly unfruitful spheres of service. There must always be the element of perhaps they will in such a ministry. And even though the result may still be negative, the obligation to speak is still there, if only to justify the hearer’s condemnation.
3. (:3-6) Details of the Command to Act Out the Sign-Drama
a. (:3) Overview: Show Everyone Preparations Must be Made for Deportation
“Therefore, son of man, prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; even go into exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house.”
Daniel Block: The article in question is illustrated in a series of neo-Assyrian monumental reliefs that portray captives being led away in procession with large bags slung over their shoulders. The packs were made either of durable cloth or skin, and loaded with such bare necessities for survival during the long trek as could be salvaged from the ruins of a conquered city.
b. (:4) Two Stages: Daytime and Nighttime Scenes
“And bring your baggage out by day in their sight, as baggage for exile. Then you will go out at evening in their sight, as those going into exile.”
Leslie Allen: Further unfolding of the symbolic procedure now appears. It is to fall into two stages, and it is reaffirmed that in both stages Ezekiel is to make himself a public spectacle. As the first stage, he is ostentatiously to carry out his pack during the day. The second stage is the enacting of the start of the actual trek into exile, in the evening, no less conspicuously.
c. (:5) Digging an Exit Hole – Desperation and Secrecy
“Dig a hole through the wall in their sight and go out through it.”
d. (:6) Additional Details of This Sign-Drama
“Load the baggage on your shoulder in their sight, and carry it out in the dark. You shall cover your face so that you cannot see the land, for I have set you as a sign to the house of Israel.”
Constable: He was to dig a hole in the sun-dried mud brick wall of his house (Heb. qir), perhaps the wall around the courtyard of his house, as the people watched, and pass through it. This unusual method of departure pictured desperation and secrecy. He should load his baggage on his shoulder and carry it away as night set in. He was also to cover his face so he could not see the land. This may represent the inability of the exiles to see their land any more or his shame at having to depart or his attempt to conceal himself from the enemy. He was to do all this because God was using him as a lesson to the Jews.
David Guzik: Ezekiel was also to act out a person desperately escaping from a city under siege. These also could end up as exiles, leaving with their face covered in shame (cover your face, so that you cannot see the ground).
Peter Pett: The houses in Babylonia would be made of sun-dried brick which, with some effort, would not be difficult to hack through, removing the bricks in order to make a way through. The covering of the face was probably to indicate that he was not expecting to see his homeland again so that he could not bear to look at the ground as he left (see Ezekiel 12:11), and it may possibly have also been intended to indicate secrecy and disguise.
4. (:7) Obedience to the Command
“And I did so, as I had been commanded.
By day I brought out my baggage like the baggage of an exile.
Then in the evening I dug through the wall with my hands;
I went out in the dark and carried the baggage on my shoulder in their sight.”
B. (:8-16) The Interpretation – Clearly Applied to King Zedekiah and His People
1. (:8) Introductory Refrain
“And in the morning the word of the LORD came to me, saying,”
2. (:9) Receptivity to the Prophecy Impacted by Rebellious Heart
“Son of man, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house,
said to you, ‘What are you doing?’”
3. (:10-14) Clear Explanation
a. (:10) Sign-drama Applies to King Zedekiah and His People
“Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
This burden concerns the prince in Jerusalem,
as well as all the house of Israel who are in it.’”
Feinberg: The prince, specifically, was Zedekiah. The subject of the message was King Zedekiah, who was always spoken of by Ezekiel as prince, never king. Jehoiachin was regarded as the true king (Ezekiel 17:13).…In ration tablets found by archaeologists in Babylon, Jehoiachin was still referred to as the king of Judah.
Douglas Stuart: Thus Ezekiel’s “burden” (v. 10), that is, prophecy, pointed to the fact that both king and people would be taken prisoner, the government and the resident citizenry being, for all practical purposes, eliminated. The end of the nation of Judea as an independent state was at hand.
Iain Duguid: Though the imagery is complex, the essential message seems reasonably straightforward. Not only will there be a further exile, bringing out those still remaining in Jerusalem and Judah, but this anti-exodus will center on the person of the prince, Zedekiah. His personal transgressions have not yet been the object of Ezekiel’s prophecies (though they will be later on, e.g., in Ezek. 17 and 19). Here he is in view primarily as the representative of the people. Because he shares their inability to see the coming judgment, that judgment will take the form of no longer being able to see the land, that is, he will never return from exile
Daniel Block: On the basis of content, one may divide the address into two parts, the first focusing on the fate of the Jerusalemites from the perspective of their own experience (vv. 10b–12), and the second (vv. 13–14) highlighting the involvement of Yahweh. . .
This juxtaposing of king and nation reflects the ancient Near Eastern view of kingship, according to which the king’s role extended beyond conducting wars and administering justice. He modeled the ideals of the citizenry and embodied their collective honor and aspirations. As the king went, so went the nation. Consequently, the capture of the king becomes a symbol of the captivity of the nation. Ezekiel’s identification of the king and his people with the knapsack portrays them as so much baggage that must be removed from the house. That being the case, the prophet himself must represent God, who, as will be seen in v. 13, deliberately lays a snare for his victim.
b. (:11) Certainty of Deportation
“Say, ‘I am a sign to you.
As I have done, so it will be done to them;
they will go into exile, into captivity.’”
c. (:12-14) Specific Details Applied to King Zedekiah
1) (:12) His Departure
“And the prince who is among them will load his baggage on his shoulder in the dark and go out.
They will dig a hole through the wall to bring it out.
He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land with his eyes.”
Peter Pett: Breaking through the wall indicated the extremity they would have come to. It was an ignominious flight. The gates would be heavily guarded by the enemy. See 2 Kings 25:4-6; Jeremiah 39:4-5; Jeremiah 52:7-8 for its fulfilment.
2) (:13) His Capture and Captivity in Babylon
“I shall also spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare. And I shall bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there.”
Constable: Ezekiel was to explain to his audience that he was a sign to them of others who would go into captivity. He was not representing his fellow exiles who would leave Babylon and return to Judea. He represented what Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem would do. Zedekiah would try to escape under cover of darkness through a hole in a wall with his face covered to make himself unrecognizable (cf. 2 Kings 25:4-6; Jer. 39:4- 5; 52:7-8).
Nevertheless the Lord would snare Zedekiah like a bird in a net and would bring him to Babylon. Ancient art pictured deities as hunting and snaring their enemies. Yet Zedekiah would not see the land of Babylon even though he would die there (cf. 2 Kings 25:5, 7; Jer. 39:6-7; 52:8, 10-11).
Josephus wrote that Zedekiah heard about this prophecy by Ezekiel but did not believe it because it seemed to contradict Jeremiah’s prophecy about what would happen to him. This apparent contradiction was the reason Zedekiah gave for rejecting both prophecies. Both prophecies proved true: the Chaldeans took Zedekiah to Babylon, but he never saw the country because Nebuchadnezzar blinded him at Riblah.
3) (:14) His Supporters Dealt With
“And I shall scatter to every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops;
and I shall draw out a sword after them.”
MacArthur: God’s hand was to be with the enemy as His rod of correction, with only a few left.
4. (:15-16) Divine Purpose
a. (:15a) Recognition Refrain
“So they will know that I am the LORD”
b. (:15b) Devastation of the Dispersion
“when I scatter them among the nations,
and spread them among the countries.”
c. (:16a) Testimony of the Remnant
“But I shall spare a few of them from the sword, the famine, and the pestilence that they may tell all their abominations among the nations where they go,”
Alexander: The deportations were designed to show the deportees that the Lord was the faithful, loving, and powerful God over Israel they should return to. Lest the foreign nations misunderstand Judah’s dispersion, God had the exiles testify that their abominations precipitated the deportations. In this way the nations would realize that the Lord was holy, righteous, and cared for his people, Israel. He was not one who allowed them to be conquered because he did not care. This latter notion was very common in the ancient Near East. Each nation was uniquely related to its patron deity. If a nation was defeated in battle or decimated by famine and disease, this meant its god was weak and incapable of protecting and caring for its people. To prevent such a misconception, the Lord would send a remnant of Jews among the nations to witness that they were in exile only because of their own iniquity, not because of the Lord’s failure.
Daniel Block: In an unexpected turn Yahweh holds out a glimmer of hope. The triad of divine agents, sword, famine, and plague, will take their horrendous toll, but Yahweh will personally intervene to rescue a remnant. The statement makes no allowance for any personal merit behind God’s saving action. On the contrary, those few that are spared experience this reprieve that they might publicly acknowledge their abominable past. In so doing, two purposes will have been served: Yahweh will be vindicated for his harsh treatment of his people, and the people will demonstrate that the problem described in the accusation has been answered. They not only recognize the character of Yahweh; they also acknowledge their own sin.
d. (:16b) Recognition Refrain
“and may know that I am the LORD.”
II. (:17-20) SIGN-DRAMA #2 = EATING AND DRINKING IN FEAR AND ANXIETY – DEPORTATION WILL BE DESERVED AND DEVASTATING
A. (:17-18) The Command
1. (:17) Introductory Refrain
“Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
2. (:18) Details of the Command
“Son of man, eat your bread with trembling,
and drink your water with quivering and anxiety.”
Wiersbe: He was illustrating the tragic condition of the people in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege. They would have very little food and would eat it with fear and trembling because it might well be their last meal.
Leslie Allen: Ezekiel is commanded to represent them by acting out that foreboding in an exaggerated physical counterpart, a pitiable trembling that presumably showed itself in spilling his drink and missing his mouth with his food.
B. (:19-20) The Interpretation
1. (:19-20a) Reason for Fear and Anxiety
a. (:19) Deserved Violent Retribution
“Then say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord God concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel, They will eat their bread with anxiety and drink their water with horror, because their land will be stripped of its fulness on account of the violence of all who live in it.’”
b. (:20a) Devastation of the Cities and the Land
“And the inhabited cities will be laid waste,
and the land will be a desolation.”
Iain Duguid: To this initial sign-act and interpretation, a further one is then added: Ezekiel is to eat and drink with trembling and shuddering, depicting the anxiety that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah will feel. The violence with which they have filled the land will return on their own heads, with the towns being destroyed and the land devastated. This time, however, those emerging from the devastation with a knowledge of the Lord’s preeminence are not those in Judah but “the people of the land” (v. 19), that is, the exiles. The land of Judah and all who remain in it are doomed. They are not to be the objects of envy, as the exiles must have been tempted to view them, but rather of horror and pity. At the same time, those whom the inhabitants of Judah would have regarded as landless unfortunates will turn out to be the inheritors of the land (11:16–17).
God is not impotent even in the face of ears that will not hear and eyes that will not see; one way or another, he will get his message through. The exiles will come to see that they indeed are the fortunate ones who have escaped the total judgment of God on his rebellious people. But in order for them to receive their inheritance in the land, God must first of all act in judgment on those who remain. It is this unpalatable truth that they are so reluctant to see.
Daniel Block: In previous reports of sign-acts the prophet’s role in the performances has alternated between representing God and representing the objects of his wrath. This time his identification with the victims is unequivocal. Like the performance of a professional actor, Ezekiel’s dramatization would have been passionate. After all, he is a priest and the inhabitants of Jerusalem are his fellow Israelites. Nevertheless, the prophet’s personal emotional reaction to his message is irrelevant. At issue is the passion of the One who had commissioned him to execute this drama, and the response of the audience when the events it portended would occur. The conclusion affirms that when the inhabited cities lie in ruins and the land itself is wasted, then they (the exiles) will acknowledge the person and presence of Yahweh.
2. (:20b) Recognition Refrain
“So you will know that I am the LORD.”
Douglas Stuart: The present passage is made up of two distinct revelatory messages to Ezekiel, verses 17–20 and verses 21–28. The first message calls for fear on the part of the people of Jerusalem and Judah (called Israel here again) since in fact the doom of the land is about to take place. The second message confirms that the punishment will come soon, rather than in some future time and to some distant generation of Israelites.
John Taylor: The sufferings that the population will have to undergo are attributed directly to the sufferings which they have inflicted on others. Violence breeds violence. If anyone dares to question his fate, the answer will be found within himself. Human perversity often imagines that, given reasonable luck, it is possible to sin with impunity. Ezekiel declares that in this instance at least oppression will get its due reward. In so doing God will show himself righteous, and the sinner will at last realize that I am the Lord (20).