FALSE PROPHETS AND PRACTITIONERS OF THE OCCULT MUST BE CONDEMNED FOR THEIR LIES AND EMPTY PROMISES THAT ORIGINATE FROM THEIR OWN CRYSTAL BALL
Ezekiel had just finished refuting the false claims of those who either denied the certainty of coming judgment or its soon arrival. Now he turns his attention at the direction of God to condemning the actual false prophets and female practitioners of the occult for counterfeiting the truth. They had not been sent by God and did not speak with His authority. Their false messages of hope and peace were a product of their own imagination and inspiration. They had done great damage by leading people astray and God’s judgment on them would be violent and severe.
Constable: This chapter follows quite naturally from the previous one. There God corrected the mistaken views of His people, and here He rebuked those who were responsible for those views. In this section, God pronounced judgment on the false prophets who were responsible for the Jews’ false sense of security (cf. 12:21-28; Jer. 14:14; 23). He dealt with two groups of false prophets in this chapter: the males (vv. 1-16) and the females (vv. 17-23).
Peter Pett: Ezekiel has depicted the failure of the leaders of the people, the princes, the priests and the elders. Now he turns his attention on ‘the prophets’, probably the cult prophets. They too have failed Israel. These men had been appointed by, and attached to, the temple, or to other recognised sanctuaries, who paid their wages (compare Zechariah 11:12), and they were supposed to have some gift of divine inspiration. Many had gone into exile with the others. But Ezekiel is to point out that they really speak their own ideas, and not Yahweh’s, for they say only what men want to hear. They are not opening themselves to the inspiration of Yahweh in accordance with His teachings and with His word. The denunciation is then also applied to the prophetesses who use doubtful means to establish their ideas (Ezekiel 13:17-23).
Wiersbe: Ezekiel had answered the shallow selfish thinking of the exiles and the people in Jerusalem, but now he attacked the source of their blind optimism: the messages of the false prophets.
Daniel Block: Although both groups, the male and female prophets, oppose the ministry to which God has called Ezekiel, the oracles incorporated in this single literary unit are obviously not identical twins. They address two sides of a single issue facing the prophet: how to counteract the influence among the Israelites of charlatans, false claimants to the prophetic office. The male prophets contradict Ezekiel’s message of inevitable national judgment with false messages of hope. Their female counterparts undermine his mission of announcing life to the righteous and death to the wicked (unless they turn from their wickedness) by killing those who should not die and keeping alive those who should not live (v. 19).
I. (:1-16) CONDEMNATION OF MALE FALSE PROPHETS
A. (:1-7) Promote Lies Rather Than Proclaim Truth
1. (:1-5) Promote Their Own Independent Visions
a. (:1-2) Counterfeit the Word of God with Independent Visions
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, Listen to the word of the LORD!’”
Peter Pett: Note Ezekiel’s continuing emphasis on the word of Yahweh coming to him. We can tend to forget that he was under the constraint of silence all this time and could only speak when he had a word from Yahweh. But when Yahweh came to him he had to speak. This was the difference between him and the false prophets he was speaking about. He was constrained to speak because of Yahweh’s Spirit working within him. In the words of Amos 3:8, ‘the Lord Yahweh has spoken who can but prophesy?’
David Thompson: These false religious leaders were inventing things and saying they were inspired by God. They were making this up. They were telling people God gave them some extra Biblical revelation when in fact they invented it in their own minds. Their words and their messages came out of their own hearts and minds, not out of God’s Word.
Wiersbe: Four times in this paragraph God declares that the false prophets saw vanity (nothingness) and spoke lies. God hadn’t called them (Jer. 23:21-22) and God didn’t give them their messages, yet they claimed to be His prophets. They spoke out of their own imaginations and their “inspiration” was self-induced. He compared them to foxes and to workmen who failed to build something that would last.
b. (:3) Lack Genuine Spiritual Insight
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe to the foolish prophets
who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing.’”
c. (:4-5) Operate as Selfish Parasites Rather than Courageous Edifiers
“O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins.
You have not gone up into the breaches,
nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel
to stand in the battle on the day of the LORD.”
Peter Pett: The picture is a vivid one of foxes running around in the ruins of a city. They build their dens in the ruins, and forage and scavenge, but they do nothing about the state of the city. So it is with these prophets. They have ignored the gaps in the understanding of the people, and have not built them up ready for what is coming, for they have not seen it themselves. Nor have they caused them to physically strengthen the walls of the city by their warnings. Instead of ‘rebuilding the walls and filling in the gaps’, by preparing the people for the coming ‘day of Yahweh’ about to fall on them, they are like foxes who make comfortable holes for themselves in the ruins and scurry around building nothing, scavenging for what they can find, making false promises that will not be fulfilled. They are nothing but parasites.
David Guzik: These self-proclaimed prophets also lacked courage. Trained and courageous soldiers rush into the gaps along the line of battle. The false prophets did not have the courage to stand and strengthen Israel in the time of crisis.
2. (:6-7) Promote False Hope
a. (:6) Despite No Divine Authority
“They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying,
‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them;
yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word.”
Peter Pett: The false prophets have given people false hope with false visions and lying divination. The word for ‘divination’ is regularly used in a bad sense of using false means to obtain ‘divine’ guidance (Ezekiel 21:21-22; 2 Kings 17:7; Jeremiah 14:14; Numbers 22:7; Numbers 23:23; Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 15:23), usually through special techniques such as familiar spirits, worked up trances, examining entrails of a sacrifice and throwing sand on the ground. But the fact that here it is called ‘lying divination’ seems to contrast it with the true reception of prophetic truth by men like Ezekiel (never directly called divination), obtained directly through Yahweh.
The result of the false visions and lying divination is that the people are deceived and expectant of something that will never materialise, will never ‘be confirmed’ by fulfilment.
b. (:7) Despite Relying on Lies
“Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The LORD declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?”
B. (:8-16) Indicted by the Supreme Judge Who Executes His Wrath
1. (:8-9) Permanent Rejection from Covenant Blessing
a. (:8-9a) Opposed by God
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,’ declares the Lord God. So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations.”
They love popularity and acceptance; but they have made God their enemy.
Constable: The Lord told these false prophets that He opposed them for what they had done. He would act against them by removing them from positions of influence among His people, depriving them of the rights of citizenship in Israel (cf. Ezra 2:62; Luke 10:20; Rev. 3:5; 20:15), and preventing them from returning to the Promised Land. They had failed as “watchmen” over the house of Israel (cf. 3:16-21). The fulfillment of these judgments would prove to them that Yahweh was Lord (cf. Exod. 7:5).
b. (:9b) Outcasts from the Community of God’s People
1) No Place in Leadership
“They will have no place in the council of My people,”
Lamar Cooper: The phrase “counsel of my people” probably refers to places of leadership and may be compared to the counsel of the elders (Ps 107:32; cf. Ps 111:1).
2) No Place in Membership of Covenant Community
“nor will they be written down in the register
of the house of Israel,”
3) No Place in Residence in Promised Land
“nor will they enter the land of Israel,”
Peter Pett: The denunciation of the prophets for speaking empty words and ‘seeing’ what is vain, and ‘seeing’ what is false and ‘divining lies’ (compare Ezekiel 13:7), putting forth fabrications as an oracle from Yahweh, has brought on them the enmity of Yahweh. They have brought on themselves exclusion from the leadership of Israel, which they no doubt coveted, exclusion from the roll of those who are full members of the house of Israel, a blow to their self-respect and hopes, and exclusion from the land of Israel, that is, final exclusion from the recognised benefits of the covenant. For being blotted out of ‘the roll of Israel’ compare Exodus 32:32-33. This also will demonstrate that God is truly the Lord Yahweh, with all that that means.
Daniel Block: These three punishments strike at the heart of what it meant to be an Israelite.
c. (:9c) Recognition Refrain
“that you may know that I am the Lord God.”
2. (:10-12) Phony Façade that Misleads the People
a. (:10) Whitewashing Critical Defects
1) Deception by Contradicting the Truth
“It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace.”
Morgan: That is the essence of false prophesying. Men, who have no Divine message, but pose as though they had, seek to find favour with those to whom they speak, and so agree with them in their desires and policies.
2) Deception by Covering up the Truth
“And when anyone builds a wall,
behold, they plaster it over with whitewash;”
Constable: The metaphorical interpretation, which most commentators took, and which I prefer, understands God to be saying that these false prophets were putting a good front on the situation in Jerusalem, saying peace rather than judgment was coming. They were compounding Israel’s difficulties by hiding problems that needed to be exposed and corrected. Ezekiel was to tell them that invasion would come, like a rainstorm with hailstones and violent winds, and that their facade of a future for the people would then come crashing down (cf. Matt. 7:24-29).
Peter Pett: The word for whitewash comes from a root meaning to talk nonsense. Some in Israel have built up for themselves ideas, empty hopes, which are the equivalent of a flimsy wall which will not stand the test (compare Ezekiel 13:5 and Ezekiel 13:16) and the prophets contribute to their folly by whitewashing it to hide the cracks. What they speak is nonsense. They declare peace, but there will be no peace. They promise safety and prosperity for Jerusalem when there will be no safety or prosperity. Thus they lead the people astray.
b. (:11) Wiped out by God’s Violent Judgment
“so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall.
A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall;
and a violent wind will break out.”
David Thompson: Their messages had no substance to them. They did not make the people strong. They put religious whitewash on the wall but when the storm came there was no strength and the people realized it was all a show (v. 11-12).
c. (:12) Without Any Explanation for Their Falsehoods
“Behold, when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked,
‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?’”
Daniel Block: The message is clear. An attractive external appearance is no substitute for intrinsic soundness. The prophets have been daubing plaster over a society that is fundamentally corrupt. Instead of exposing its decadence, with their reassurances of “peace,” they have created a false sense of optimism and well-being. No amount of plaster can defend the house against the impending storm. When the test comes, neither society nor prophecy will survive.
3. (:13-14) Precarious Lack of Substance Leading to Sudden Destruction
a. (:13) Violent Divine Assault
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume it in wrath.’”
Feinberg: When God signified in verse 13 the threefold judgment that awaited them, namely, the stormy wind, the overflowing shower and great hailstones, He specified that each would be accompanied by His wrath and anger. When the wall would e utterly flattened and its foundation uncovered, the wicked prophets would be buried in the ruins. By divine justice they would be undone by their own godless doings, and there would be a complete annihilation of the false spiritual structure they had erected. Finally, Ezekiel laid aside the use of figures and pointed out the false prophets as those who had been doing the disastrous plastering he had mentioned.
b. (:14a) Total Destruction
“So I shall tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst.”
c. (:14b) Recognition Refrain
“And you will know that I am the LORD.”
4. (:15-16) Punished by God’s Wrath
a. (:15) Stripping Away All Pretenses
“Thus I shall spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I shall say to you, ‘The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone,’”
b. (:16) Exposing False Promises of Peace
“along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem,
and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’
declares the Lord God.”
Daniel Block: These verses represent an addendum, reiterating the role of Yahweh and clarifying his intentions. In the judgment Yahweh’s wrath toward the wall (Israel) and its plasterers (the prophets) will be fully vented. The oracle reaches its climax with Yahweh, the judge and executioner, announcing in direct speech the total achievement of his objectives: No more wall and no more plasterers! Those who had pacified the people with empty utterances of well-being will themselves meet a devastating end. Unlike their fraudulent pronouncements, Ezekiel’s oracle is sealed with the authentic signature of Yahweh.
III. (:17-23) CONDEMNATION OF FEMALE FALSE PROPHETESSES
A. (:17-19) Exposing Their Occult Practices
1. (:17) Misdirected Authority
“Now you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who are prophesying from their own inspiration.”
Daniel Block: Although a limited number of oracles directed at women are found in the OT, the present prophecy against female false prophets has no equal.
David Guzik: Examples in Scriptures of women prophets:
• Miriam, the sister of Moses (Exodus 15:20, Numbers 12:2).
• Deborah (Judges 4:4).
• Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).
• The wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3).
• Noadiah, a false prophetess (Nehemiah 6:14).
• Anna, the daughter of Phanuel (Luke 2:36).
• The four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).
2. (:18) Malevolent Intent
a. Prophesy against Them
“Prophesy against them, 18 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’”
b. Proclaim Woe against Them
“Woe to the women who sew magic bands on all wrists,
and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature
to hunt down lives!”
Lamar Cooper: The activities attributed to these women suggest that they were more like witches or sorcerers than prophets [cf. 1 Sam. 28:7].
Peter Pett: Those being prophesied against clearly participated in magic practises. The passage is difficult to translate simply because we do not know enough about magic practises in ancient Palestine. In Babylonia the magical binding of the wrists is witnessed, the purpose of which was to ‘enforce’ the binding power of a spell or incantation. That may well be what is in mind here. The ‘shrouds’ are long pieces of cloth that went over the head and reached down to the ground, covering the person from head to foot. They were used in order to ‘hunt persons’. Possibly the purpose of these was to enable the person so covered to reach out magically through spells or curses, while insulated against the natural world, to cause harm to their enemies. Perhaps it was to give the illusion of astral travel, the body supposed to disappear while under the shroud, and travelling magically to do its evil work on the enemy. Alternately it may be that the shrouds were impregnated with magic and thrown over the victim, or over some effigy or object belonging to him, ‘imprisoning’ him within the spell.
Wiersbe: They practiced the magical arts they had probably earned in Babylon, all of which were forbidden to the Jews (Deut. 18:9-14). They manufactured magic charms that people could wear on various parts of the body and thus ward off evil. They also told fortunes and enticed people to buy their services. Like the false prophets, they were using the crisis situation for personal gain and preying on the fears of the people.
c. Prosecute Their Guilt and Evil Intentions
“Will you hunt down the lives of My people,
but preserve the lives of others for yourselves?”
3. (:19) Mercenary Motivation
“And for handfuls of barley and fragments of bread, you have profaned Me to My people to put to death some who should not die and to keep others alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies.”
Lamar Cooper: By their forbidden activities in Israel they profaned God for a “few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread” (v. 19), which was the price of their services. Perhaps in addition to promises of peace their lies consisted of predicting death for some and life for others regardless of guilt or innocence. Thus they “disheartened the righteous” and “encouraged the wicked,” enticing both to trust in them and their magic rather than in God and the words of his prophets. But God warned these false prophetesses that he was going to take away their clients (v. 21), an obvious reference to the captivity. He said, “You will no longer practice divination” (v. 23), meaning his judgment on Judah would put them out of business.
B. (:20-23) Opposing Their Harmful Impact on God’s People
1. (:20-21) Rendering Them Impotent
a. (:20) Counteracting Occult Practices
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against your magic bands by which you hunt lives there as birds, and I will tear them off your arms; and I will let them go, even those lives whom you hunt as birds.’”
b. (:21a) Protecting God’s Covenant People
“I will also tear off your veils and deliver My people from your hands, and they will no longer be in your hands to be hunted;”
Constable: The Lord promised to oppose their practice of using magic bands to hunt down innocent lives. He would tear these bands from their arms and release the people that these false prophetesses had snared like birds. He would also tear off the veils they used to hunt the innocent and free those whom they had hunted down. These women were using some sort of magic to control people. Then these false prophetesses would know that the Lord was God.
c. (:21b) Recognition Refrain
“and you will know that I am the LORD.”
2. (:22-23) Removing Their Platform
a. (:22) Exposing Their Negative Impact
1) Negative Impact on the Righteous
“Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood
when I did not cause him grief,”
2) Negative Impact on the Wicked
“but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his
wicked way and preserve his life,”
b. (:23a) Emancipating God’s People
1) Stopping the False Female Prophets
“therefore, you women will no longer see false visions
or practice divination,”
Douglas Stuart: Modern-day fortune tellers are rather similar to the women described in this passage. Fortune tellers, interestingly, are usually women, and they tend to dress in a rather elaborate manner, often wearing clothing or jewelry associated with the occult arts, comparable to the ‘muffs’ on the prophetesses in ancient Israel (v. 18). They tend to give their advice in darkened rooms, where the attitude of the inquirer is influenced in an eerie way, and this corresponds to the veil put over the inquirer in Ezekiel’s description (v. 18). They are paid for what they do, just as the ancient women were (v. 19), and their advice is always dangerous (v. 19) because it leads people astray from the truth of God, that truth being the only way to live and not die eternally. They are frauds, who envision ‘lies’ (NKJV, ‘futility,’ v. 23) because their predictions are fabrications made up from their own minds (v. 17), just as was done in Ezekiel’s time.
Feinberg: What is unmistakable is that they degraded the name of the Lord by linking it with superstitions and magical practices.
2) Saving God’s Covenant People
“and I will deliver My people out of your hand.”
MacArthur: Certainly this was true I the restoration after the 70 years in Babylon, but will be fully true in Messiah’s kingdom. God’s true promise will bring an end to sorcery and false prophecy (cf. Mic. 3:6, 7; Zec. 13:1-6).
Douglas Stuart: The ultimate judgment for such phonies and deceivers was death and destruction, just as it was for all the other evildoers in Jerusalem (cf. also Lev. 20:27), and the death penalty was also reserved for those who visited such false prophets seeking information (Lev. 20:6). These capital punishments are not mentioned in the present passage because they were so obvious that they required no statement. What instead was predicted was the end of witchcraft, so that God’s people could be free from its “snare” (vv. 20–21). These women practitioners of the occult had corrupted the nation. Their advice discouraged good people and encouraged wicked people (v. 22), and the nation needed rescue from them (v. 23).
c. (:23b) Recognition Refrain
“Thus you will know that I am the LORD.”
Peter Pett: So God was building up a picture as to why Jerusalem had to be destroyed. He had outlined the detail of the different forms of idol worship going on in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:5-18) and its surrounds (Ezekiel 6:1-7), which involved both priesthood (Ezekiel 8:16) and laity, with its resulting descent into all kinds of wickedness, He had described the evil ways of the civil leaders, with the resulting violence (Ezekiel 11:1-13), and now He had demonstrated the evil of the false prophets, and the wicked practises of the prophetesses. The whole city was a mass of wickedness, ripe for judgment.