GOD WILL UNLEASH DIVINE WRATH UPON HIS CORRUPT HOLY CITY
[Outline borrowed from sermon by Michael Crawford. This is the third oracle of judgment from chapter 22.]
This is a famous scripture text: “Who will stand in the gap?” The various categories of leaders are taken to task for their promotion of sin, idolatry, social injustice and any number of other transgressions that cause a nation to spiral downward away from allegiance to God. Once again, it should be no surprise that judgment is deserved; judgment is coming soon; and judgment will be severe on Jerusalem.
Galen Doughty: Leaders are held to a higher standard by God than the people they lead. Ezekiel demonstrates the principle here that the behavior of the people is a result of the behavior of the leaders. When leaders are corrupt they corrupt the people. All are guilty before God, leaders and people alike. Therefore all will be judged and punished for violating God’s covenant.
Michael Crawford: The situation portrayed here in the Promised Land with its focus in the capital city of Jerusalem applies to a covenant people who should demonstrate a fully integrated political, judicial, revelatory and worship culture. Everything is out of whack and the Lord speaks words of indictment and condemnation as He exposes corruption, oppression and destructive behavior on all levels of society.
Leslie Allen: The final oracle in this series of three, vv 23–31, reasons back from consequence to cause. The catastrophe of 587 b.c., was an outworking of divine indignation (vv 24, 31). The tradition of covenant curse or blessing whereby rain was the reward of loyalty to Yahweh and drought was a reprisal for unfaithfulness (cf. Lev 26:4, 19: Deut 11:14, 17; Amos 4:7) is here taken up by way of metaphor. Fallen Jerusalem is rhetorically bidden to reflect on the fact that its experience had been nothing less than divine judgment.
Derek Thomas: A society is only as good as its leaders. Various people held power in ancient Israel, including kings, civil servants, military leaders, priests, prophets, rich landholders and the wise men. The fall of the Roman Empire is laid at the door of bad government. Roman skill at government soon gave way to expediency when later emperors tried to force revenue out of people who could not pay. Bad leadership explains the fall of Jerusalem, too.
Lamar Cooper: This passage depicts the tragic and total disintegration of every area of leadership that should have given moral and spiritual guidance to Judah. Their failure in these areas made judgment inevitable. No one escaped arraignment for responsibility of the moral and spiritual delinquency of the nation. . .
Those who have places of leadership also are doubly responsible. They are responsible for their own lives, but they also are responsible for those whom God places under their charge. When those who lead distort or misrepresent the truth of God, they not only deceive themselves but others also (22:23–31; cf. Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:1–5).
III (:23-31) THE FAILURE OF JERUSALEM’S LEADERS DEMANDS GOD’S IMMEDIATE AND SEVERE JUDGMENT
“And the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:24-29) Comprehensive Indictment of Jerusalem
1. (:24-28) Summary Indictment
a. (:24) Evident Culpability of the Nation
“Son of man, say to her, ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’”
Feinberg: the land had had neither human tending nor the blessing of God in rain. According to Old Testament promise rain was one of the blessings in the material realm which attended a walk of obedience. It was withheld to turn their hearts back to the Lord.
Constable: Judah’s moral uncleanness had accumulated because it had not benefited from God’s periodic cleansing of the land through its leadership.
Peter Pett: God gives warning that the rains which were the lifeblood of the land will fail in ‘the day of indignation’, the day of His anger (compare Isaiah 5:6; Zechariah 14:17). Notice the comparison of the falling of rain with the cleansing of the land. This will be taken up in Ezekiel 36:25. As the rain fell and life was renewed it was seen as a purification and a regeneration. (This would later be central in the teaching of John the Baptiser). But for this land in its evil there was to be no purification, no regeneration. It is in direct contrast with the ‘showers of blessing’ in Ezekiel 34:26 producing great fruitfulness.
b. (:25) Primary Failure Attributed to False Prophets Exploiting the People
“There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst,
like a roaring lion tearing the prey.
They have devoured lives;
they have taken treasure and precious things;
they have made many widows in the midst of her.”
Poole: The conspiracy: A contrivance, or framing among themselves a design, to speak all alike flattering, smooth words, and give out promises of peace and safety, when there was no peace.
2. (:26-28) Indictment of All Classes of Rulers
a. (:26) Indictment of the Priests —
Blurring the Distinction Between the Holy and the Profane
“Her priests have done violence to My law
and have profaned My holy things;
they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane,
and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean;
and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths,
and I am profaned among them.”
Daniel Block: This verse represents the only text in chs. 1–39 that casts members of Ezekiel’s own social class, the priesthood, in a negative light. Here Ezekiel charges the religious functionaries with a series of crimes, all related directly to the discharge of professional duties.
First, they are accused of violence toward Yahweh’s Torah. This is one of only six occurrences of the verb ḥāmas, “to treat wrongly, to do violence to,” in the entire OT, and one of only two occurrences of the phrase ḥāmas tôrâ. The unusual association of such a strong verb with the Torah highlights the priests’ blatant disregard for the substance and intent of the Mosaic law. Although the present context places the emphasis entirely on ceremonial aspects of the Torah, presumably their crimes extended to violations of ethical regulations as well (cf. Mal. 2:5–9).
Second, they have desecrated the qodāšîm, which in Ezekielian usage includes both sacred objects and donations. While these first charges are borrowed directly from Zephaniah, the next three are new, and may be viewed as expansions on the second.
Third, they neglected to maintain sacred and profane distinctions. Although the language plays on the same roots (qdš, ḥll) as the previous charge, this charge derives ultimately from Lev. 10:10, which occurs immediately after the account of Nadab and Abihu’s use of alien fire before Yahweh.
Fourth, they failed to instruct the people in the regulations concerning ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness. Sacred-profane and clean-unclean issues often overlap. However, the latter tended to involve diet, hygiene, and other practices affecting health (Lev. 11–15). The accusation of neglect in pedagogical duties touches on an issue that receives surprisingly little attention in the Pentateuch. The charge to Aaron in Lev. 10:11 to teach the Israelites all the statutes spoken by Yahweh through Moses is the most explicit. But Moses places this burden on the tribe of Levi in his final blessing: “They shall teach your ordinances to Jacob, and your law to Israel” (Deut. 33:10).
Fifth, they have led the way in the neglect of the Sabbaths, referred to earlier in v. 8. The odd expression “to hide the eyes from,” whose form recalls Lev. 20:6, denotes not only personal violation of the Sabbaths but also a failure to prosecute offenders of the Sabbath laws.
Peter Pett: The priests also come under heavy criticism. Doing violence to the Law may suggest that they have distorted it in their teaching (as the Pharisees would later) or it may signify that that they have done violence to it by repressing it and not teaching it at all. The profaning of holy things suggests carelessness in their approach to them, and a tendency to treat them lightly. This is amplified by pointing out that they did not distinguish what was holy according to the Law from what was common, and that they failed to teach the people what was ritually ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’. This failure would go along with idol worship.
David Guzik: They have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy: This was one of the important jobs of the priests of Israel. They were to help the people understand how the law of God applied to their daily lives by declaring things and conduct as holy or unholy, as unclean or clean. But they did not know the difference themselves and so could not instruct the people they were intended to serve.
Mike Miller: There IS a difference between the holy and the unholy.
A. There ARE things that are CLEAN and there are things that are UNCLEAN!
B. Holiness has to do with the conformity of our life to God and his ways.
C. Holiness is a measure of how much our life reflects the truth about God to others.
D. Holiness is about what is inside AND what is outside. 1. Some focus on the inside and some focus on the outside – but true holiness includes BOTH at the same time.
E. So then holiness must be considered in every area of our life and what others see and know about us.
b. (:27) Indictment of the Political Rulers –
Destructively Seeking Dishonest Gain
“Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey,
by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain.”
Leslie Allen: By a terrible Jekyll and Hyde transformation the civil authorities who should have been shepherds with the welfare of their flock at heart changed into wild beasts preying on the sheep (cf. 34:8).
c. (:28) Indictment of the Prophets –
Covering Up for Corrupt Leadership
“And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them,
seeing false visions and divining lies for them,
saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the LORD has not spoken.”
Douglas Stuart: False prophets outnumbered true prophets during most of Israel’s history (cf. 1 Kin. 18:22; Jer. 23:9–40), and true prophets were often suppressed because their message was one of judgment rather than complacency (e.g., Amos 2:12; 7:10–17). Thus verse 28 says that the prophets “whitewash” (“plastered them with untempered mortar,” v. 28) the sins of the various leaders, instead of condemning them as they ought.
3. (:29) Indictment of the People of the Land –
Oppressing the Vulnerable and Denying Justice
“The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery,
and they have wronged the poor and needy
and have oppressed the sojourner without justice.”
Lamar Cooper: What kind of people would such leadership produce? It should be no surprise that the people were extortioners, robbers, oppressors, the inhospitable, and subverters of justice. Their society was a showcase of violence, greed, graft, indifference to suffering, and general neglect of God’s word. There was no discipline in the homes (22:7). Moral and sexual perversions and indiscretions were commonplace (22:9–11). Crime and general lack of moral restraint was the order of the day (22:12).
B. (:30) Futile Search for a Rebuilder / Advocate
1. Recruitment Effort = Focused Internally
“And I searched for a man among them”
2. Job Description = Critical Roles
“who should build up the wall”
Ralph Alexander: The current context argues that there was no person to take the lead and lead the nation into confession and a resulting righteous life among the people that would turn away God’s wrath.
“and stand in the gap before Me for the land,”
Daniel Block: The accusations against the nobility of Judah climax with Yahweh’s expression of dismay over the absence of spiritual leadership in the nation’s critical hour. To clarify the divine disposition, Ezekiel borrows a metaphor from his older contemporary, Jeremiah, who was commanded to scour the streets of Jerusalem in search of anyone who practiced justice and pursued truth (Jer. 5:1–6). The image of Yahweh searching for someone to man the breach is military. pereṣ denotes a hole in the city wall, resulting either from neglect or from assault by the enemy’s battering rams. Unless the gap was quickly repaired or armed men were stationed in the gap, the invader would have easy access to the city. What kind of person the figure of speech anticipated is not specified. On the basis of the Jeremianic antecedent, he must have been looking for someone who would stand up for justice, call a halt to oppression, break the spiral of increasing violence, and appeal for repentance. If only there had been a voice to announce the certain judgment of God in the face of their criminal activity, to warn the people of Yahweh’s approach (cf. Ezek. 3:17; 33:7). But like the false prophets in 13:5, the leaders were all too preoccupied with their own affairs to worry about the welfare of the city.
3. Urgency of the Search = High Stakes
“that I should not destroy it;”
4. Futility of the Search = No Viable Candidates
“but I found no one.”
Wiersbe: God searched among His people for one person in authority who would stand in the gap so that the enemy wouldn’t penetrate the wall and invade the city, but He found none.
Constable: Moses had been a “gap man,” in his day (Exod. 32:11; cf. Gen. 20:7). He had turned aside the Lord’s wrath from the Israelites with His intercessory prayers. God responded to Moses’ pleas for mercy because the people were still malleable enough to repent. He did not respond to Jeremiah’s prayers for mercy because the Judahites were now hardened in opposition to His will (Jer. 7:16-17; 14:11-12).
C. (:31) Fiery Divine Wrath Justifiably Unleashed
“’Thus I have poured out My indignation on them;
I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath;
their way I have brought upon their heads,’ declares the Lord God.”
Feinberg: With the entire nation so given over to every displeasing act, and no one to intervene for them, judgment alone remained for them. So sure was this visitation that Ezekiel thrice expressed it as having already occurred. The judgment had to overtake them, and it did in the calamitous fall of the kingdom and monarchy in 586 B.C. Since Israel’s true King and Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, was rejected in His earthly ministry, the effects of this disaster go on to this hour.
Morgan: Thus, the reprobation of Israel was vindicated, not only on account of its pollution, but in order to its ultimate restoration, for there was no force in her which could lead her back to the God from Whom she had departed.