REJECTION OF GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD CONFIRMS BOTH THE REMNANT IN JUDAH AND THE EXILES IN BABYLON ON THEIR PATH TO CONTINUED DIVINE JUDGMENT
Ezekiel prepares to deliver six messages related to Israel’s ultimate restoration to the Promised Land. But his first message must focus on the fundamental problem facing both the remnant remaining in Judah and the exiles dispersed in Babylon. They have a heart that rejects God’s prophetic word. The remnant likes to pick and choose their theology based on their grid of nationalistic privilege and false security as descendants of Abraham. Thus they excuse their sinful actions. The exiles pretend to pay attention to Ezekiel’s renewal of stirring messages, but their heart stubbornly resists applying God’s Word to their own lives and obeying His commands. They are motivated by greed and sensuality and only value the entertainment appeal of the preaching.
Constable: RESTORATION TO THE PROMISED LAND (33:21—39:29) —
Ezekiel next recorded six messages about Israel’s restoration to the Promised Land. . .
This first message dealt with a serious defect in the Israelites. The Jews still in Judea were not listening to the whole counsel of God, but were picking and choosing what they would obey (vv. 23-29). The Jews in exile were listening to Ezekiel, but they were not responding (vv. 30-33). If they were to profit from the messages of hope that Ezekiel proceeded to give them, all the Jews needed to respond to those he had already delivered by repenting. Thus this first message in this series prepared them for those that followed. The first step on the road to hope was a change in their attitude toward God’s word.
Daniel Block: Following the narrative note of vv. 21–22, these oracles orient the reader to the mentality prevailing among two remnant Judean populations after the national tragedy: those who remained in the homeland after the destruction of the city and the deportation, and the exilic population in Babylon. In demonstrating the hardened condition of the people, both segments function more naturally as conclusions to the first phase of Ezekiel’s preaching than as preludes to the second. Like the loosing of the prophet’s tongue and the announcement of Jerusalem’s fall, the people’s persistent recalcitrance confirms the veracity of the divine word (see 2:1–3:15). On the other hand, by placing these prophecies immediately before the salvation oracles, the editor(s) affirms that Ezekiel’s messages of hope are not preconditioned by a repentant people; it required only the external fulfillment of his word of judgment.
Douglas Stuart: A special emphasis of this section is that nothing has changed in terms of the people’s relationship to God. Jerusalem has fallen, but the contrition and repentance that should have ensued are missing. The very things people were doing to bring on the great punishment that God had unleashed are still going on. The people’s selfish irresponsibility continues.
Iain Duguid: The following two sections make it clear that the hearts of God’s people have not been fundamentally changed even by this radical act of judgment [fall of Jerusalem]. Both back home in Judah (33:23–29) and among the exiles (33:30–33), it is business as usual.
(:21-22) DATE AND SETTING OF MESSAGES REGARDING ISRAEL’S RESTORATION TO THE LAND
A. (:21) Date – Report of the Fall of Jerusalem
1. Calendar Timeframe
“Now it came about in the twelfth year of our exile,
on the fifth of the tenth month,”
2. Historic Reference Point
“that the refugees from Jerusalem came to me, saying,
‘The city has been taken.’”
Constable: Ezekiel’s last prophecy about the judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem ended with an announcement that a fugitive would escape Jerusalem’s destruction and come and report the city’s fall to the exiles (24:25-26). At that time, God would open Ezekiel’s mouth, and he would be mute no longer (24:27). Now the messenger arrived, and God opened the prophet’s mouth.
Douglas Stuart: Ezekiel and his fellow exiles now had official confirmation from an eyewitness of what the prophet had faithfully, and unpopularly, predicted for years. Jerusalem had indeed succumbed. The nation of Judah, the remainder state of Israel, was no more.
B. (:22) Setting – Renewal of Prophesying for Ezekiel
“Now the hand of the LORD had been upon me in the evening,
before the refugees came.
And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning;
so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer speechless.”
Iain Duguid: A survivor brings an eyewitness testimony of the city’s fall. This is the radical turning point in the fortunes of God’s people and in Ezekiel’s own life. His dumbness, which has been with him since his commissioning as a prophet in 3:26–27, is now removed, just as the Lord promised in chapter 24. The prophet has finally been released from his divinely imposed bondage. The possibility of a new beginning for God’s people similarly exists. But which will they choose: life or death?
I. (:23-29) PROPHECY REBUKING THE FALSE SECURITY OF THE REMNANT IN JUDAH –
HOW DID THEY REJECT GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD AND WHAT WERE THE CONSEQUENCES?
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:24) Thesis – The Promised Land Belongs to Us
1. Addressing the Prophet
“Son of man,”
2. Targeting the Remnant in Judah
“they who live in these waste places in the land of Israel are saying,”
3. Quoting their Boastful Slogan – Reflecting False Security
“Abraham was only one, yet he possessed the land;
so to us who are many the land has been given as a possession.”
Constable: The Lord informed the prophet about the attitude of the Jews still in the land. The few Jews who still lived in the waste places of the Promised Land were claiming that, since God had promised that land to Abraham, they were right in staying in it (cf. 11:15; Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:33, 39). If He had given the land to one man (Abraham), surely He would not remove it from them (the many sons of Abraham). Jeremiah had told the Jews in the land to submit to the Babylonians (Jer. 40-44), but they wanted to regain control over the land.
Peter Pett: Those who now remained in the land, ‘the poorest of the land’ who were left to become vinedressers and ploughmen (Jeremiah 52:16), began to boast of their new inheritance. They were able to take over large tracts of empty land, land which had been wasted by war, and boasted that in comparison with Abraham they were many and were thus in a better position than he. They thus saw themselves as having been left there by God as inheritors of God’s promises, and indeed had some grounds for optimism had they been faithful to the covenant (Jeremiah 42:10-12).
Leslie Allen: Ezekiel somehow hears of a false hope that, theologically grounded as it was, had to be exposed as not of God. At an earlier period the prophet had to disabuse the non-exiled Judeans of the notion that, while the deportation of 597 b.c. spelled divine rejection, staying in the land was an earnest of God’s providential favor (11:15). Such theological naivety was being used again, in a post-587 b.c. situation, to bolster a self-centered resilience that merely indicated that Yahweh’s purpose had not yet been understood (cf. v 29; cf. Isa 9:8–10). Those still in the land saw themselves as religious pioneers, typologically reliving not the occupation achieved by Israel under Joshua, but Abraham’s earlier occupation (cf. Gen 15:7, 8; Exod 6:8). This parallel, rather than the other, made their hopes seem more likely to be fulfilled.
Douglas Stuart: God describes to Ezekiel a new slogan that had become popular in Judah in the months since the fall of Jerusalem: “Abraham was only one … But we are many …” (vv. 23–24). . . They were left to control what Abraham had been promised. Shouldn’t they, who after all numbered in the thousands, have a greater right to the land than Abraham, who was only one person? The argument was silly, of course, but it made a nice-sounding slogan.
Iain Duguid: The people are, in fact, corporately in a situation analogous to the first case study described by Ezekiel. They are relying on earlier righteousness—in this case, that of Abraham—to see them through in the face of present disobedience.
B. (:25-26) Dispute – Do They Really Deserve to Possess the Land?
“Therefore, say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’”
Leslie Allen: The prophet counters this optimistic bandying of theological language with a rhetorical disputation. He argues that its proponents have disqualified themselves from such a promise. . . His argument is a pragmatic one. “You shall know them by their fruits”! Here the fruit was not promising, for it violated traditional standards of religious and moral propriety. In 22:3–4, 6–12 this test had been applied to the yet unfallen Jerusalem, and its truth had not ceased to be valid, although the lesson of the capital’s destruction had not been learned. Here both specific covenant rulings (cf. Lev 18:20; 19:26) and more general deviations are combined in a vehement double protest at the incompatibility of claims and way of life. The reference to the sword seems to relate to social unrest in which might was right.
1. (:25b) First Argument – Specific Sins Disqualify them from the Promise
“You eat meat with the blood in it,
lift up your eyes to your idols as you shed blood.
Should you then possess the land?”
David Guzik: Should you then possess the land? God repeated this question twice to emphasize that they would not possess the land. God’s promise to restore Israel and Jerusalem would be accomplished, but not through ungodly men like these.
2. (:26) Second Argument – Additional Sins Disqualify them from the Promise
“You rely on your sword,
you commit abominations,
and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife.
Should you then possess the land?”
Peter Pett: But they were not faithful to the covenant. They ignored the ban on eating the blood of slain beasts, they worshipped idols, they brought violence and death to the land. To ‘stand on the sword’ probably meant that they relied on it and resorted to it. To work abomination was to engage in the sins described in Ezekiel 18:10-13. And they especially engaged in illicit sex, probably connected with Canaanite religious rites. All these things meant that God would not allow them to possess the land, which in the end explains why they found refuge in Egypt against God’s express command after a short civil war (Jeremiah 41-43).
Daniel Block: The lack of spiritual sensitivity and the smug self-interest evident in the quotation contrast with Abraham’s total dependence on God. Ironically, those whom others describe as “the poorest of the land” (2 K. 25:12) have succumbed to the temptation of hubris. The faith of Abraham has been replaced by Darwinian materialism—the fittest have survived. This reorientation is evident also in the survivors’ disposition toward the exiles. Whereas 11:14–21 had portrayed the Jerusalemites looking down their noses on their deported kin, now the latter are out of the picture entirely. There is no thought for the welfare of their compatriots nor any anticipation of their return. The survivors’ world has shrunk to the physical property on which they are trying to scrounge a living.
C. (:27-28) Counterthesis – Guarantee of Severe Judgment on the People and the Land
“Thus you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’”
1. (:27b) Guarantee of Severe Judgment on the People
“As I live, surely those who are in the waste places will fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in the strongholds and in the caves will die of pestilence.”
David Guzik: Those who are in the ruins shall fall by the sword: The survivors did not truly escape God’s judgment; it was only delayed it for a short time. The same judgments of the sword, the beasts, and pestilence would strike them in time. Jeremiah 40-44 proved this to be true.
2. (:28) Guarantee of Severe Judgment on the Land
“And I shall make the land a desolation and a waste,
and the pride of her power will cease;
and the mountains of Israel will be desolate, so that no one will pass through.”
Constable: God promised to desolate the land completely and to humble the pride of His people (cf. Lev. 26:19, 33). Even the mountains would be desolate, and travelers would not even pass through the land. Then they would know that He is God, when He desolated their land.
Peter Pett: This is a vivid picture of the situation in the land. Those in waste places were those trying to reclaim the land that had been wasted by war, they would fall by the sword in civil war; those in the open fields probably scavenged for food and were themselves regularly attacked by hungry and scavenging beasts who had moved in to an area made empty of man; those in the strongholds had found refuge in holes and ruins in the devastated strongholds, those in the caves had returned to primitive ways of living. Both the latter would suffer pestilence because of the conditions. Thus the land would be desolated, an astonishment to all round about. ‘The pride of her power’ (Ezekiel 7:24; Ezekiel 30:6), the authorities in the land, will be no more. The mountains will be empty and desolate, peopled no more.
D. (:29) Purpose of Severe Judgment for their Abominations
1. Recognition Refrain
“Then they will know that I am the LORD,”
2. Deserved Judgment
“when I make the land a desolation and a waste
because of all their abominations which they have committed.”
John Taylor: The passage illustrates with remarkable aptness the overweening arrogance of the minority who wake up one morning and find themselves in the majority. Moreover, like so many minorities, they live in the past and endeavour to draw on ancient precedents to buttress insubstantial claims for the present. Our Lord had to answer similar claims from the Jews of his time (John 8:33–40), as did John the Baptist before him (Luke 3:8). Ezekiel’s answer was the bitter accusation that morally and religiously they had not a leg to stand on (25, 26). Their sins were the very same sins as had brought destruction upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem (22:6–12; cf. 18:10–13). Therefore their chances of escaping scot-free were nil.
II. (:30-33) PROPHECY REBUKING THE SUPERFICIALITY OF THE EXILES –
HOW DID THEY REJECT GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD AND WHAT WERE THE CONSEQUENCES?
A. (:30) Professed Renewal of Interest in God’s Word
1. Addressing the Prophet
“But as for you, son of man,”
2. Targeting the Exiles in Babylon
“your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls
and in the doorways of the houses,”
3. Quoting their Professed Interest in Prophecy – Reflecting Superficiality
“speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now,
and hear what the message is which comes forth from the LORD.’”
Leslie Allen: The primary message of vv 24–29 must have been to reassure the exiles that the spiritual future, in terms of return to the land and to God’s favor, lay with them rather than with those still in Judah.
Douglas Stuart: in verses 30–33 he hears a word about his own ministry—advising him not to be taken in by the fact that the people listen to him very attentively now that his prior messages have been confirmed by events.
Daniel Block: The opening As for you, human (wĕʾattâ ben-ʾādām) refocuses the audience’s attention on the exilic situation, specifically the prophet and his relationship to his people. The genre of this fragment is unique, being cast as a report, presented by a superior to his officially designated spokesman. On the surface, that Yahweh should describe for Ezekiel the disposition of the exiles toward his ministry seems superfluous. Surely he cannot have been oblivious to their rejection of his ministry. But the aim of this report is clear: to offer the prophet encouragement at the conclusion of the first phase of his ministry. Ezekiel had been forewarned of public opposition at the time of his call and commissioning, but he had also been promised that faithfulness in fulfilling the prophetic charge would be rewarded with a recognition of his prophetic status. Now, at the end of the most difficult phase of his service, Yahweh returns with a personal word for his spokesman, reassuring him of his awareness of all he has endured and reminding him that his status as prophet has been vindicated.
B. (:31) Exposure of their Hypocrisy
1. Outwardly Desirous of Hearing God’s Word
“And they come to you as people come,
and sit before you as My people,
and hear your words,”
2. Exposed as Hypocrites by their Failure to Obey God’s Commands
“but they do not do them,”
David Guzik: In a superficial sense Ezekiel was popular as a prophet. People talked about his prophetic words and gave lip-service and the words being from God. Yet it was a very superficial sense; they heard, but they did not really listen or do them.
Feinberg: They enjoyed and delighted in his new message of restoration and blessing for Israel and predictions against hostile nations, but they would not obey the moral implications of the prophecies which were prerequisites for personal participation I the blessings. They had no concern for the subject of it. The melody meant everything to them, the words or meaning, nothing. But their reaction to the message would not hinder its fulfillment which was eminently certain.
3. Inwardly Driven by Greed
“for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth,
and their heart goes after their gain.”
Daniel Block: Two symptoms of their attitude are cited.
– First, the people’s presence before the prophet is motivated by a craving for the sensuous and sensational. Erotic speech is on their lips, and he has become for them a singer of erotic songs. Ezekiel’s oracles titillate his hearers, offering temporary satisfaction, but like any other addiction, they drive the audience back for more.
– Second, they are motivated by greed. Their heart commitment (ʾaḥărê biṣʿām libbām hōlēk) is to gain, and any means, violent or unjust, is to be used to satisfy their avarice (cf. 22:13, 27). These then are the twin sins of insincerity: sensuality and greed. The former explains the people’s interest in Ezekiel’s message; the latter their refusal to heed it.
C. (:32) Exposure of their Shallowness
1. Attracted by the Sensuality of the Prophetic Word
“And behold, you are to them like a sensual song
by one who has a beautiful voice
and plays well on an instrument;”
Not enough for a message to make us feel good or to entertain us.
Iain Duguid: Nor are matters any better among the exiles. The news of Jerusalem’s fall appears to have given Ezekiel’s message a certain popularity and topicality. He is now the subject of conversation in the cities and doorways (Ezek. 33:30). To use a contemporary analogy, he is the toast of the talk shows. But the interest is superficial: The people listen to his words but do not put them into practice, regarding them as an intriguing phenomenon rather than a life-changing reality. His fame is like that of a pop star, whose declarations on spiritual matters may arouse curiosity but are scarcely accorded authoritative status. People may have been humming along to his tune, but they are paying no attention to the true meaning of his lyrics.
John Taylor: Ours is not the only age that treats God’s spokesmen as if they are public entertainment.
2. Exposed as Shallow by their Failure to Obey God’s Commands
“for they hear your words,
but they do not practice them.”
Constable: They listened to Ezekiel as they listened to entertainers, singers or instrumentalists. Entertainers expect no response to their performances beyond applause, but preachers expect people to change. The exiles admired Ezekiel for his content and delivery, but they did not put into practice what he told them to do (cf. James 1:22-25). They did not apply it to their own lives and change. Consequently, when what Ezekiel promised came, namely, judgment for personal responsibility (vv. 12-20), they would know that a prophet, a spokesman for God, had been in their midst, not just an entertainer.
D. (:33) Alternate Recognition Refrain
“So when it comes to pass– as surely it will—
then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.”
David Thompson: Now in verse 33, God says to Ezekiel there will come a day when the people will know you were not an entertainer; you were a prophet. The problem is the day they finally figure out you are a prophet of God, it will be their judgment day.
Iain Duguid: Time, however, will prove the power of the word of the Lord through Ezekiel: “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (33:33). In that day, just as all will know experientially the power of the Lord, so they will also be forced to recognize the authenticity of the Lord’s prophet.
Lamar Cooper: God was not through, however, making himself known to his people. There was much yet to be revealed in word and in deed. Since Jerusalem had already fallen, “when all this comes true” may refer to the further prophecies Ezekiel was about to proclaim (v. 33). God’s closing words to Ezekiel in chap. 33 are similar to those given him in his call in 2:5. Whether or not the people would hear and respond, Ezekiel was to continue proclaiming God’s word. By his faithful ministry they would know that a “prophet had been among them.” Faithfulness to God by believers often means that the unbelieving world will not take them seriously (v. 32). But faithfulness will one day be vindicated by God (v. 33; cf. Gal 6:9).
Daniel Block: those who are called by God as his spokespersons may find security in him. The challenge for the communicator of divine truth is to be as gripped by the message as is the divine commissioner himself, to cast that message in as effective a form as possible, and then to commit the results to God.