JERUSALEM DESERVED THE FURNACE OF GOD’S JUDGMENT BECAUSE OF HER DOCUMENTED ABOMINATIONS
God’s indictment against His people consisted in summary form of two basic categories of violations: shedding blood and making idols. These abominations then receive more specific delineation. There can be no question that Jerusalem is being judged for contemporary sins rather than just her history of apostasy. All false security and pompous self-righteousness have now been stripped away so that the nation is left trembling in fear in light of the coming crucible of God’s fiery judgment. The effects of the dispersion will be long lasting and will make God’s chosen people the object of derision among the nations.
Leslie Allen: Chap. 22 is composed of three prophetic units, vv 1–16, 17–22 and 23–31, each introduced by the message reception formula and focusing upon Jerusalem. The first is a proof saying, as the recognition formula of v 16b shows. It is basically a judgment oracle addressed to Jerusalem, with accusations leveled in general terms in vv 3ab–4a and in detail in vv 6–12, while sentence is passed in vv 13–15. Interim judgment, which lies in the past, is cited in vv 4b–5. Vocatives begin and end vv 3ab–5, which are thus characterized as having an introductory role in relation to the oracle as a whole. The divine saying formula in v 12 provides a caesura for the first half of the main oracle. An affirmation formula occurs near the end, in v 14b.
Douglas Stuart: Seven times in this prophecy the word ‘blood’ or ‘bloodshed’ (Hebrew, dam and damim) occur as characterizing the crimes against God’s covenant that had been occurring routinely in Jerusalem. These words have a special idiomatic meaning in Hebrew that their usual translation does not entirely convey in English. They connote ‘harm’ or ‘hurt,’ and that is what much of verses 1-16 is about: the harm or hurt done by people in power in Jerusalem (and by implication elsewhere in Judah) to those who have no power, such as the poor, the sick, the uneducated, etc. By extension, ‘blood’ and ‘bloodshed’ also come to mean in Hebrew anything ‘violent’ or just simply ‘vile,’ even if it does not actually involve causing physical harm to another person.
Iain Duguid: In this chapter, the prophet is called on to act as prosecuting counsel, making known to Jerusalem in detail her detestable ways, which form the basis for both the actuality and the immediacy of divine judgment. The comprehensive nature of her sins means that judgment is necessary and judgment is now.
Ralph Alexander: Though Israel’s history of wickedness demanded discipline (chs 20-21), it was the abominations of contemporary Israel and her rulers that had ignited the punishment. Since the people had failed to see this fact, God directed Ezekiel to deliver three judgment messages to make this clear once more.
– The first detailed the manner in which the nation, led by her leaders in the capital city, Jerusalem, had broken the Mosaic covenant (vv. 1-16).
– The second emphasized God’s burning judgment that would display the people’s impurity (vv. 17-22).
– The third message stressed the failure of every aspect of Judah’s society – especially her leadership – to follow God’s ways (vv. 23-31).
I. (:1-16) THE FOCUS OF GOD’S JUDGMENT WAS THE MULTITUDE OF ABOMINATIONS COMMITTED BY JERUSALEM
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
Daniel Block: The internal structure of the first oracle is clear:
(1) The call for Jerusalem’s arraignment (vv. 1–2)
(2) The summons to Jerusalem (v. 3)
(3) The announcement of the charges (vv. 4–5)
(4) The presentation of the evidence (vv. 6–12)
(5) The announcement of the sentence (vv. 13–16)
A. (:2-5) Staging of the Trial –
Social Sins and Cultic Sins Lead to Guilt and Defilement
1. (:2) Call for Judgment of the Bloody City
Based on a Multitude of Abominations
“And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city?
Then cause her to know all her abominations.”
Constable: Another message came from the Lord instructing Ezekiel to remind the residents of the bloody city of Jerusalem about all their abominations (cf. 20:4). A list of specific sins was necessary for him to pronounce judgment on them. Jerusalem was bloody because of all the blood its residents had shed, the blood of innocent people (cf. Nah. 3:1).
Shedding blood was Jerusalem’s primary offense, according to this prophecy (cf. vv. 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 13), and it had its roots in idolatry. The pagan religious practices that God’s people had adopted did not curb their abuse of other people, much less encourage altruistic living. Idolatry even promoted the taking of other people’s lives through human sacrifice. Whenever people disregard the revealed will of God, crimes of violence and bloodshed follow.
Daniel Block: As in 20:4, the prophet is ordered to enter into legal process with his rhetorical audience, here identified as the bloody city (ʿîr haddāmîm), the capital representing the state of Judah as a whole. The present expression is shocking, not merely for its characterization of Jerusalem, but also for the company into which it places the city. Ezekiel seems to have borrowed this phrase from Nahum, who had in the previous century arraigned Nineveh as “the bloody city” par excellence. By borrowing this expression our prophet invites a comparison of the crimes being perpetrated in the Judean capital with Assyria’s brutal treatment of conquered peoples.
2. (:3) Charged with Social and Cultic Sins
“And you shall say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, A city shedding blood in her midst, so that her time will come, and that makes idols, contrary to her interest, for defilement!’”
Daniel Block: Idolatry and bloodguilt are particularly grave crimes because they strike at the foundation of Israel’s covenant communal life. The former, a violation of the first four terms of the covenant, undermine the nation’s vertical relationship with Yahweh; the latter, shorthand for all kinds of social ills, undermines the members’ horizontal social relationships. Together they declare the total absence of love for Yahweh and love for one’s neighbor, viz., a disregard for the Great Commandment.
3. (:4a) Condemned with Execution of Judgment Imminent
a. Guilty and Defiled
“You have become guilty by the blood which you have shed,
and defiled by your idols which you have made.”
b. End of the Line
“Thus you have brought your day near
and have come to your years;”
Peter Pett: So by their behaviour they had ‘caused their days to draw near’, the days when they had to give account, and had ‘come to their years’, the time when they would have judgment passed on them. Both had been hastened by their evil behaviour. They had no one to blame but themselves. And that is why God was making them a reproach in the eyes of the nations, a mockery to many countries, for these would mock at the desolation of Jerusalem and of Judah. Countries both near and far would mock because she had defiled her name and was full of violence and tumult, and had brought judgment on herself.
Daniel Block: The day of judgment, the appointment with Yahweh, is imminent.
4. (:4b-5) Castigated by the Nations
“therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations,
and a mocking to all the lands.
Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you,
you of ill repute, full of turmoil.”
Leslie Allen: The state of moral guilt and religious impurity that resulted from the capital’s behavior could not go unchecked by Yahweh as upholder of the social and sacred obligations he had laid on his people. Their wrongdoing would catch up with them; in fact they were inviting the onset of retribution (cf. Amos 6:3b). Already evidence was not lacking of such reprisal from Yahweh’s hand (cf. Hos. 4:3.) . . . Loss of face was dreaded in Israelite culture, yet this had been what Jerusalem had incurred (cf. 16:57). Jerusalem the golden, “she that was great among the nations” (Lam 1:1; cf. Ezek 16:14), had to learn to live with the consequences of a new reputation, for religious and social shortcomings.
Iain Duguid: The prophet begins by presenting his indictment in outline form (22:3–5): Jerusalem’s sins involve both social sins—that is, sins against humanity (e.g., “shedding blood,” 22:3)—and cultic sins—that is, sins against God (e.g., the manufacture of idols, 22:3). These two broad classes of sins have resulted in two respective consequences: social sins lead to “guilt” (ʾāšam, 22:4), the forensic state of deserving punishment, while cultic sins lead to “defilement” (ṭāmēʾ, 22:4), the ritual state of being unfit to appear in the presence of God. The combination of these in Jerusalem’s case means that she has brought on herself her “doom,” or more literally, “her time” (ʿittāh, 22:3); her days have come to a close, and the end of her years have come (v. 4).
Like a virus in the bloodstream, Jerusalem’s defilement and guilt have built up to the point where they now initiate a life-threatening crisis. Now the hour of her judgment has struck. The result of that judgment will make Jerusalem into an “object of scorn” to the nations around her. Both those near at hand and those far away will mock her as being an “infamous city” (22:5), that is, famous for her cultic and social sins, which have led to her downfall.
Lamar Cooper: Because of its wicked, violent reputation, nations near and far made Jerusalem an object of scorn. The phrase “O infamous city full of turmoil” (v. 5) is specific in the Hebrew text and can be translated “O defiled of the Name, abounding in tumult.” This literal translation shows the ungodly, violent reputation of Jerusalem. They defiled “the Name,” meaning the person and character of God, especially his holiness. “Name” regularly was used with the definite article (“The Name”) as a substitute for the personal name of God, Yahweh, which represented his holy nature and character.
Daniel Block: The accusation concludes with an elaboration of the nations’ response to Jerusalem’s fate. Those near (ḥaqqĕrōbôt) and far away (hārĕḥōqôt) represent a merismic word pair for “all nations” who mock (yitqallĕsû) her for her “defiled reputation” (ṭĕmēʾat haššēm) and the “magnitude of her tumult” (rabbat hammĕhûmâ). Although Ezekiel employs vocabulary different from Deuteronomy, the present statement reflects intense disappointment over Jerusalem’s failure to achieve the Deuteronomic vision for the nation: to be exalted over the nations for praise (tĕhillâ), fame (šēm), and honor (tipʾeret) (Deut. 26:19; cf. Jer. 13:11; 33:9). Now she must prepare for the full force of the covenant curse: becoming the object of astonishment/horror (šammâ), a proverb (māšāl), and a byword (šĕnînâ). Yahweh cannot stand idly by while life is cheapened and his claim to exclusive allegiance is trampled underfoot. When he is through with the city the din of rebellion within her walls will have been exchanged for the external taunts of the nations.
B. (:6-12) Presentation of the Evidence –
The Forgetting of God Leads to All Kinds of Sin
1. (:6) Shedding of Blood Starts with the Rulers of Israel
“Behold, the rulers of Israel, each according to his power,
have been in you for the purpose of shedding blood.”
Constable: In verses 6-12 Judah’s rulers are the main focus of indictment. The rulers of Israel had been guilty of shedding blood, each in his own sphere of authority, through the misuse of power (cf. Exod. 20:13). Evidently judicial murders were common (cf. 2 Kings 21:16; 24:4) as were child sacrifice (16:21; 20:26, 31; 23:37) and acts of personal violence.
Feinberg: This section (vv. 6-12) presents an itemized list of the moral arrears of the nation. The words are first addressed to the princes of Israel, the very ones were expected to uphold the dignity of the law, yet were the most to blame. Nor was this an occasional lapse, for according to their power (literally, arm) they carried out their wicked designs. With them might was right. Also, their actions were arbitrary in the extreme. The only restraint on their deeds of evil was the limit of their ability. . .
The basic cause of their wickedness was diagnosed as forgetfulness of God. Since God is at the center of all moral relations, all social and moral rights and proprieties are secure only when God is recognized in His sovereign rule. The application to our own hearts and our own day is obvious.
Daniel Block: vv. 6-12: This panel is held together by the repetition of key expressions: lĕmaʿan šĕpok dām, “in order to shed blood” (vv. 6, 9, 12); bāk (9 times) and its stylistic variant bĕtôkēk, “in your midst” (vv. 7, 9). Apart from the formulaic framework, this document subdivides into three parts:
(a) an opening thesis-type statement (v. 6);
(b) the catalogue of specific crimes (vv. 7–12a);
(c) a concluding summary statement (v. 12b).
Underlying Ezekiel’s ministry is the assumption that Yahweh has revealed his will to his people, that this will is preserved in the traditional national legal codes, and that this law is binding for him and for his audience. These convictions determine the seriousness of the charges. The catalogue of evils portrays a nation in revolt, not against civil authority but against the divine Lord.
David Guzik: Instead of caring for families (father and mother) and the vulnerable of society, they used and despised them.
2. (:7-12a) Catalog of Specific Abominations
a. (:7a) Disrespecting Family Authority
“They have treated father and mother lightly within you.”
b. (:7b) Oppressing Foreigners
“The alien they have oppressed in your midst;”
c. (:7c) Exploiting the Most Vulnerable = Orphans and Widows
“the fatherless and the widow they have wronged in you.”
d. (:8) Offending God by Disregarding Holiness
“You have despised My holy things
and profaned My sabbaths.”
Daniel Block: These two violations struck at the heart of the relationship between Yahweh and his people. While seven-day units of time are known from the ancient world outside Israel, the conception of the week and the sabbatical cycles is a wholly and all-pervasively Israelite innovation. All of life revolved around the Sabbaths. Indeed, the Sabbath was a gift to the nation, a sign (ʾôt) of her covenant relationship with Yahweh (Exod. 31:13–17), analogous to the bow’s relationship to the Noachian covenant (Gen. 9:12, 13, 17), and even more to circumcision and the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:11), since it called for a response. The weekly Sabbaths represented institutionalized reminders of God’s role in creation (cf. Exod. 20:11), as well as his gracious salvific actions on Israel’s behalf (cf. Deut. 5:15); the septennial sabbatical years should have reminded the nation of her total dependence on Yahweh for sustenance (Lev. 25:1–7). The Sabbaths served as tests of faith. Could the Israelites trust him to care for them even when, at his direction, they were not cultivating their fields? This generation of leaders obviously could not.
e. (:9a) Slanderous Treachery
“Slanderous men have been in you
for the purpose of shedding blood,”
f. (:9b) Blatant Idolatry
“and in you they have eaten at the mountain shrines.”
g. (:9c-10) Inappropriate Abominations
“In your midst they have committed acts of lewdness.
In you they have uncovered their fathers’ nakedness;
in you they have humbled her who was unclean in her menstrual impurity.”
Douglas Stuart: Ritual sex was another great attraction of idolatry. Most of the ancient Near Easterners believed that all things that came into being were born into being. This was a major tenet of their belief system. They believed that not only animals were born, but also plants. (This is the reason that they ‘sowed their field with two kind of seed,’ i.e., male and female seed as they thought of it; see Lev. 19:19.) What was born into being started, they believed, with sex on the part of the gods— specifically Baal and Asherah, the god and goddess of fertility according to the Canaanites. They also thought that if a person bringing an offering to Baal and/or Asherah would have ritual sex with a prostitute at the shrine as part of worship (!) this would help stimulate the divine powers of nature to have sex, and thus more animals and crops would be born, and the agriculture would flourish. Outlandish as this sounds to us, it was the pinnacle of theology among the Canaanites—and was what the Israelites readily accepted at Baal-Peor.
h. (:11) Sexual Sins
“And one has committed abomination with his neighbor’s wife,
and another has lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law.
And another in you has humbled his sister, his father’s daughter.”
i. (:12a) Financial Improprieties
“’In you they have taken bribes to shed blood;
you have taken interest and profits,
and you have injured your neighbors for gain by oppression,”
Leslie Allen: vv. 9-12 — The second block of accusations is a catalog of three types of social disorder. The first recalls Lev 19:16, a prohibition of slander that could become the basis of false accusation at a trial for a capital offense. A religious wrong follows, mentioned earlier at 18:6, 11, 15, the eating of sacred meals at illicit shrines (cf. Hos 4:13). V 9bβ provides a headline (Zimmerli 458) for a series of five sexual crimes detailed in vv 10–11. They implicitly appeal to such traditions as are concentrated in Lev 20:10–18 (cf. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation 293). In Israelite thinking they stood on the borderline between social and sacred wrongs and partook of both: accordingly the term “unclean” is used of two of them. Three cases relate to incest, one to adultery and one, no less real a taboo in Israel’s culture, to intercourse during a wife’s period, while she was ritually unclean.
The third type of wrongdoing is mercenary. Bribery with a view to the fatal miscarriage of justice and capitalizing on another’s misfortune had featured in Israel’s legal traditions (see especially Exod 22:24 ; 23:8). Here it is accompanied with a general charge of racketeering. The switch to direct address paves the way for the final charge (to be repeated in 23:35) of forgetting Yahweh (cf. Hos 2:15 ). Here too Yahweh’s revelation of his comprehensive will in Israel’s law codes is presupposed.
3. (:12b) Root Problem
“and you have forgotten Me,’ declares the Lord God.”
Constable; At the heart of all this, the Jerusalemites had forgotten about Yahweh. This was the root problem, and the Lord presented it as the last nail in Jerusalem’s coffin.
Feinberg: Since God is at the center of all moral relations, all social and moral rights and proprieties are secure only when God is recognized in His sovereign rule.
Peter Pett: They would, of course, have protested that they had not forgotten God. That the daily sacrifices were still offered, that they still gave some recognition to the God of Israel. But God’s point was that they had not remembered Him as He was, a holy and righteous God. The Yahweh they ‘worshipped’ was but a pale, undemanding shadow of what He really was. And that applied to Ezekiel’s listeners as well.
Daniel Block: When one realizes that “to forget Yahweh” is equivalent to abandoning the covenant, however, the theological significance of the foregoing catalogue of crimes becomes obvious. These offenses represent much more than the mere violation of specific articles of a legal code; they were symptomatic of the nation’s, specifically the leaders’, spiritual decline. For all their claims to security based on the covenant promises of Yahweh, their failure to keep the covenant stipulations had absolved Yahweh of all obligations. Nonetheless, as vv. 13–16 demonstrate, that Yahweh had been forgotten by his covenant partners did not mean that he had forgotten them.
C.. (:13-16) Announcement of the Sentence –
The Failure of the Covenant Nation Results in Widespread Dispersion
1. (:13) Convicted of Shocking Financial Corruption and Physical Violence
“Behold, then, I smite My hand at your dishonest gain which you have acquired and at the bloodshed which is among you.”
Constable: vv. 13-14 — The financial corruption and physical violence that marked Jerusalem disturbed God so greatly that He pictured Himself as striking His palm with His fist (an anthropomorphism). The hearts of the people would not be able to bear up under His coming judgment of these sins nor would they be able to maintain their physical strength.
Charles Dyer: God would strike His hands together (cf. 6:11; 21:14, 17) in derision against Jerusalem. The proud and insolent people who treated God’s commands lightly would not be able to dismiss His judgment. Their courage would vanish when God would disperse them among the nations. Moses had warned Israel that national disobedience would eventually lead to dispersion (cf. Lev. 26:27-39; Deut. 28:64-68). Israel had defiled God’s Law; now she would be defiled in the eyes of the nations. After the nation was dispersed she would understand the character of the God she had scorned and forgotten: you will know that I am the Lord.
2. (:14) Powerless before God’s Unrelenting Wrath
“Can your heart endure, or can your hands be strong,
in the days that I shall deal with you?
I, the LORD, have spoken and shall act.”
3. (:15) Dispersed among the Nations
“And I shall scatter you among the nations,
and I shall disperse you through the lands,
and I shall consume your uncleanness from you.”
MacArthur: Ezekiel saw not only the punishment in the immediate future, but the worldwide dispersion of the Jews still going on today, which continues for the purging of Israel’s sins.
Leslie Allen: Verse 13 acts as the link between the accusation and the threat of punishment, summarizing the accusation by putting together the last charge (“unjust gain”) with the first (“blood you have shed in your midst,” cf. v. 3) in a reversed arrangement to form a chiasm. Because of these things the Lord will now act, dispersing Judah among the nations and scattering them through the countries (22:15). In this way, the Lord will bring an end to Judah’s uncleanness (22:15). Though such a fate for the Lord’s people would be “defiling” to the Lord6 in front of the nations, it was a necessary price to pay. As Leslie Allen puts it, the Lord’s defilement through Judah’s exile “was the lesser of two evils that he was prepared to endure as the price to pay for making his forgetful people remember who and what he was.”
But this scattering is not the only dimension of judgment threatened. Paradoxically, there appears also a “gathering for judgment,” as the house of Israel is gathered into Jerusalem, into the heart of the smelter’s furnace, to experience the destructive impact of the full outpouring of the Lord’s wrath (22:18–22). This is paradoxical not merely because “gathering” is the logical opposite of “scattering,” but also because the terminology of gathering is elsewhere normally used in a positive sense.
Ralph Alexander: The judgment would be threefold:
(1) dispersion among the nations (v. 15a),
(2) cleansing of Jerusalem’s impurity (v. 15b), and
(3) Jerusalem’s desecration before all the nations by the Babylonians (v. 16a).
God’s primary purpose in judgment, however, was to cause his people to know that he was the Lord, the only true God (v. 16b).
4. (:16a) Exposed before the Nations
“And you will profane yourself in the sight of the nations,”
5. (:16b) Recognition Refrain
“and you will know that I am the LORD.”
II. (:17-22) THE FURNACE OF GOD’S JUDGMENT DESTROYS WORTHLESS DROSS
“And the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:18) Rejection Valuation – House of Israel is Dross
“Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are the dross of silver.”
Anton Pearson: Dross was a symbol of worthlessness (cf. Ps 119:119; Prov 25:4; 26:23).
B. (:19-22a) Refinery Process in the Furnace of God’s Judgment
1. (:19) Gathered for the Purpose of Refining
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Because all of you have become dross, therefore, behold, I am going to gather you into the midst of Jerusalem.’”
2. (:20) Melted by God’s Wrath
“As they gather silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into the furnace to blow fire on it in order to melt it, so I shall gather you in My anger and in My wrath, and I shall lay you there and melt you.”
3. (:21) Gathered, Burned and Melted
“And I shall gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you will be melted in the midst of it.”
Peter Pett: It is important to see that, unlike other Old Testament passages, the idea here is not that they will be refined, but that they will be destroyed as worthless dross.
4. (:22a) Melted in the Furnace of God’s Judgment
“As silver is melted in the furnace,
so you will be melted in the midst of it;”
Daniel Block: The image of the refinery turns on its head Israel’s view of itself as Yahweh’s prized possession. Egypt had traditionally been perceived as the smelter in which the elect nation had been refined and transformed into the people of Yahweh (Deut. 4:20; 1 K. 8:51; Jer. 11:4). In a radical skewing of the image, Ezekiel casts Jerusalem in the role of Egypt. The nation may consider itself precious metal in God’s sight, but this is a delusion. In order for the people to become what God wants them to be, they must be subjected again to the refiner’s fire. This time, however, it is the fire of divine wrath.
C. (:22b) Recognition Refrain
“and you will know that I, the LORD, have poured out My wrath on you.”