DIVINE JUDGMENT EXALTS THE SUPREMACY OF THE LORD IN THE EYES OF BOTH THE JEWS IN ISRAEL AND THE EXILES DISPERSED AMONG THE NATIONS
What a horrifying picture – God setting His face in judgment against His own people and His holy city Jerusalem. It speaks to the level of abomination and depravity that characterized the sins of God’s elect nation. The folly of idolatry is once again exposed for its futility and impotence. The various types of judgment deployed by God cover every possibility – from warfare to sickness to famine and to any other affliction. But these severe judgments have a divine and redemptive purpose:
“thus they will know that I am the LORD.”
Leslie Allen: [Quoting] Parunak (“Structural Studies” 187) has drawn attention to the stylistic patterning that unites the oracles, an A B B´ A´ chiastic arrangement in which A / A´ stand for cultic references within vv 1–7 and 13–14, and B / B´ represent references to human suffering in vv 8–10 and 11–12. One may also observe the use of כל תועבות “all the abominations” in vv 9 and 11 as a hinge that connects the two oracles.
Daniel Block: The boundaries of the present literary unit are set by the word-event formula, wayĕhî dĕbar yhwh ʾēlay lēʾmōr, “The word of Yahweh came to me saying,” which appears in 6:1 and in 7:1, as the opening to the next oracle. After the introduction the prophecy proper subdivides into two parts (6:2–10, 11–14), each of which commences with a hostile physical gesture and concludes with the recognition formula.
Lamar Cooper: The message of Ezek 6 is transitional. It moves from the purely dramatic forms of the messages in Ezek 4 and 5, combines dramatic and vocal elements, and anticipates the visions and messages that follow. This message also contains a thematic transition from the sins of the nation in general (chaps. 4–5) to the mountains and high places and “detestable practices” (6:11), which were associated with pagan worship. Thus the focus of chap. 6 is on the individual responsibility of the people and prepares the way for the subsequent spoken messages.
This drama has four divisions:
• First, the prophet is commanded to preach to the mountains of Israel (vv. 1–2).
• Second is a warning of approaching destruction of places of idolatry (vv. 3–7).
• Third, there is a brief interlude of hope—a repentant remnant will be preserved in exile (vv. 8–10).
• Fourth is a mocking lament of the devastation Israel’s idolatry will have caused (vv. 11–14).
Merrill: Judgment is a pervasive theme of all the prophets of Israel, but none exceeds Ezekiel in the abundance and intensity of his messages of divine retribution. Moreover, none reiterates as much as Ezekiel the pedagogical purposes of the visitations of the Lord: ‘that they [Israel and the nations] might know Yahweh.’ Judgment, then, is not only retributive but redemptive. God’s purpose in judgment is not to destroy the peoples He has created but to bring them back into harmony with His creation purposes for them.
Christopher Wright: At this point in the book, the message is of unrelieved judgment and doom. In the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem, however, Ezekiel was told to address these same mountains again. This time, in chapter 36, his message is one of restoration. The hills of Judah will again be inhabited and prosperous. Both chapters, in their portrayal of judgment on the land and then of restoration to the land, strongly echo the language of Leviticus 26, which seems to have had a major influence on the theology and vocabulary of Ezekiel.
Peter Pett: ‘And they shall know that I am Yahweh.’ This is the constant refrain in Ezekiel. This was God’s purpose. That they might know Him for Who and What He was, One Who demanded obedience to His covenant, One Who demanded righteousness and holiness, One Who hated idolatry and what it did to His people, and yet as One Who in the end would show mercy on them, for that was why He had chosen Ezekiel as His prophet.
I. (:1-10) PRONOUNCEMENT OF JUDGMENT TEMPERED WITH REMNANT PROMISE
(:1) Revelation Pronouncement
“And the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:2-7) Pronouncement of Judgment
1. (:2-3a) Directed Against the Mountains
a. (:2) Command to the Prophet to Prophesy
“Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel,
and prophesy against them, and say”
Leslie Allen: The target of the oracle is “the mountains of Israel,” a phrase that appears frequently in the book of Ezekiel and nowhere else. The term alludes to the land of Israel, partly as characteristically mountainous terrain and partly in differentiation from the monotonous Babylonian plain in which Ezekiel and his fellow exiles now lived. It expresses such nostalgia as a native of Switzerland feels who has to reside in Holland, or a Welshman who must live in East Anglia. It also expresses the loss of a grandeur that was the gift of God to his people (cf. Vawter 51). Yet the notion of majestic privilege is here blatantly overridden by a message of judgment. For all its magnificence, the land must suffer as a result of Israel’s sinning.
David Guzik: This prophecy was directed against the mountains because they helped define the geography of Israel, and more importantly, they were centers of idol worship – the infamous high places mentioned many times in the Old Testament.
b. (:3a) Command to the Mountains to Listen
“Mountains of Israel, listen to the word of the Lord God!
Thus says the Lord God to the mountains, the hills,
the ravines and the valleys:’”
Douglas Stuart: The fact that it was the majority view, however, in no way made idolatry right. It represented the most basic sort of covenant disobedience (Ex. 20:3–5) and required judgment. Because idolatry was practiced mostly on the hilltop shrines (the infamous “high places”) in Canaan (1 Kin. 14:23; 2 Kin. 7:10), it was appropriate for the Lord to instruct Ezekiel to face west toward the mountains of Israel in order to denounce Israel’s idolatry and to predict desolation as a result of it (v. 2). His prophecy against the mountains (v. 3ff.) is thus a literary device (cf. 2 Sam. 1:19, 21, 25) and not intended to suggest that the mountains themselves were guilty. The real guilty party was the idolaters themselves, not an aspect of the geography. Indeed, by including also the ravines and the valleys, the prophecy shows that Israel in general—meaning the nation as a whole—is to suffer destruction.
2. (:3b) Destructive in its Intent
“Behold, I Myself am going to bring a sword on you,
and I will destroy your high places.”
Peter Pett: The invading armies would penetrate the mountains and hills and would destroy their high places, their incense altars and their idols, and would slay the worshippers around them and offer them in disdain to their gods who had been able to do nothing for them. These high places were the continual bain of the prophets and of the good kings of Israel and Judah. They had largely been Canaanite shrines and were so popular that few kings dared to touch them (the exceptions were Hezekiah and Josiah. But they were quickly restored once they had died). At them men often professed to worship Yahweh, but they incorporated naturism, and fertility rites, and idolatry, with all their sexual connotations. They represented at their best debased Yahwism and at their worst the full abominations of the Canaanites, including perverted sex and possibly child sacrifices and ancestor worship.
3. (:4-7a) Defiling and Desecrating in its Execution
a. (:4-5) Defiling and Desecrating Your Idolatrous Altars
“So your altars will become desolate,
and your incense altars will be smashed;
and I shall make your slain fall in front of your idols.
I shall also lay the dead bodies of the sons of Israel in front of their idols;
and I shall scatter your bones around your altars.”
Daniel Block: A more caustic comment on idolatry can scarcely be imagined. Yahweh’s treatment of these images will involve not only their “smashing” (šābar) and “obliteration” (šābat), but their exposure as powerless figments of the human imagination. The destruction of the images testifies to the deities’ impotence to defend themselves, and the slaughter of the devotees to the gods’ inability to defend their worshipers.
Bruce Hurt: As Babylon’s stranglehold on Jerusalem tightened, people were starving, yet they continued to turn to idols for deliverance. So in this verse there is a bitter irony when God says that the very idols which you have bowed before to save you, will be the place where you shall be slain. God gives a clear indication that these empty, lifeless figures are impotent and devoid of saving power.
Alexander: The ‘scattering of bones’ is a phrase used for judgment in which uncleanness and shame are conveyed (cf. Psalm 53:5; 141:7). The bones would be those of the Israelites who had become engrossed in these pagan practices.
b. (:6-7a) Defiling and Desecrating Your Dwellings, Cities and High Places
“In all your dwellings, cities will become waste and the high places will be desolate,
that your altars may become waste and desolate,
your idols may be broken and brought to an end,
your incense altars may be cut down,
and your works may be blotted out.
And the slain will fall among you,”
Feinberg: Because the land had been defiled by idols, the idols themselves would now be defiled by the corpses of the worshipers, a retribution in kind. This would be the height of desecration, replacing the fragrance of incense with the odor of putrefaction.
Lamar Cooper: Judgment was described in graphic terms depicting the destruction of the sacrificial altars, incense altars, and idols (vv. 4, 6). Whereas these worship centers usually had animal bones scattered about, Ezekiel said, “Your bones” (v. 5) will be scattered around these pagan altars. Through the passage the emphasis shifted from the mountains, to the worship centers, and then to the people who were directly responsible. The message of judgment reaffirmed the sovereignty of God by his rejection of pagan worship.
4. (:7b) Recognition Formula
“and you will know that I am the LORD.”
Douglas Stuart: In other words, the Israelites would know that the Lord was the same Lord who had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, had brought them miraculously into the Promised Land, had defended them supernaturally from their foes, and, indeed, controlled the destinies of all nations. Israel had to a substantial degree forgotten just who their Lord was and desperately needed reminding.
B. (:8-10) Remnant Promise
1. (:8) Remnant Preserved but Dispersed
“However, I shall leave a remnant, for you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries.”
Douglas Stuart: Against this complete distortion of true religion that now dominated the practices of His own people, the Lord could only bring judgment. The “adulterous heart” (v. 9) that had led Israel to reject its covenant with God would have to learn its lesson. But even in the awful destruction that was coming, there would be some who would be spared, since God had long ago promised not to annihilate His people utterly (Deut. 4:27–31). And so here again He promises through Ezekiel that a remnant (vv. 8–9) would escape to witness the whole process of desolation and subsequent deliverance, and to realize that God did not take lightly His own commitment to enforce His covenant.
Peter Pett: God’s mercy still reached through His judgments. There would be those who survived, captives scattered among the countries, and then they would remember Yahweh and recognise what they have done to Him (see also Ezekiel 12:16; Ezekiel 14:22).
Daniel Block: Verses 8–10 function like a new scene in the prophecy, shifting the reader’s attention from the devastation on the “mountains of Israel” to the survivors scattered to the four winds. The tone also shifts inasmuch as this surviving remnant represents a minuscule but real glimmer of hope in a very dark world. But Yahweh continues to function as the primary actor.
2. (:9) Repentant and Remorseful
a. Owning Their Spiritual Adultery
“Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols;”
Douglas Stuart: What idolatry most reveals about the people who practice it is not merely another faith, but also an actual lack of faith. Modern idolatry, like the ancient Israelite-Near Eastern kind, is essentially materialistic (1 John 2:15-17; 5:21). Instead of full reliance on God, while we may not deny His existence, we don’t trust Him to take care of us materially. Thus we do everything we can to gain worldly possessions, to secure our future, to have a ‘comfortable’ retirement, to succeed in a competitive world. With this comes the danger of ‘losing our own souls’ because we cannot serve God and money (Matt. 6:24). When we fail to trust God for our needs, we go far beyond the bounds of providing for our basic requirements and can thus trap ourselves in modern idolatry, which is nothing other than materialism (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
b. Loathing Themselves
“and they will loathe themselves in their own sight
for the evils which they have committed,
for all their abominations.”
Galen Doughty: God says when the captives arrive at the nations to which God has sent them, namely Babylon, then they will remember the Lord. They will finally understand how rebellious they have been. Their “adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me” and their lust for their idols have grieved God. They will loathe themselves for all the evil they have done. God says at least some of the exiles will repent of their sin. Their guilt will not produce despair and doubt but godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Paul speaks of this kind of godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7. Their sorrow over their sins will lead them back to God in repentance. That is exactly what happened with some of the exiles and out of them God preserved a remnant of his people with which he could start over and preserve until he could send their Messiah, Jesus, 500 years later.
3. (:10) Revering the True God
a. Recognition Formula
“Then they will know that I am the LORD;”
b. Basis for the Fear of God
“I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.”
II. (:11-14) PUNISHMENT OF GOD’S COVENANT PEOPLE DESIGNED TO REINVIGORATE THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
(:11a) Revelation Pronouncement
“Thus says the Lord God,
A. (:11b-12) Punishing God’s Covenant People
1. (:11b) Shocking Devastation Corresponds to Evil Abominations
“Clap your hand, stamp your foot, and say,
‘Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel,’”
Douglas Stuart: This is not intended to convey God’s delight at the misery His people would endure, but symbolically represents the sort of taunting rejoicing that Israel’s enemies would have at their downfall because of the nation’s idolatrous unfaithfulness. Ezekiel was later commanded to sing a number of taunt songs or mocking dirges against Israel’s foes (e.g., chs. 27, 28, 31, and 32), but here, since Israel itself had become a foe of the Lord by its constant, repeated disobedience, it deserved a taunt of its own.
Galen Doughty: This behavior is not cheering for something but grieving over people or a situation. In context it sounds like these actions depict shock and great sadness. God tells Ezekiel to respond this way because of the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel. Here again Ezekiel emphasizes all of Israel and not just Judah. He is not prophesying against the north kingdom but the whole people of God.
Lamar Cooper: The prophet was told to clap his hands, stomp his feet, and cry, “Alas” as signs of excitement and emotion used to decry the abominations and idolatrous practices of the Jewish people (v. 11). While some have attributed these actions to malicious delight of the prophet at the prospect of severe judgment, the use of the term “alas” would suggest otherwise since it is a word of lamentation and judgment.
Daniel Block: Ezekiel’s gesticulatory performance is driven by two rhetorical goals: to capture the audience’s attention, and to convey the divine disposition toward his people. One can envision the prophet’s neighbors asking one another, “What is this man so upset about now?” But these are more than the antics of an entertainer (33:30–33). Ezekiel is playing the role of God, and as his audience observes him, they should imagine Yahweh clapping his hands, stomping his feet, and sighing in anger over all their evil abominations.
2. (:11c) Standard Catalog of Covenant Punishments
“which will fall by sword, famine, and plague!’”
Douglas Stuart: These three miseries, that is, war, starvation, and disease, were three major kinds of covenant punishments. The three together were sometimes used by the prophets to convey the full range of punishments mentioned in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28–32 (cf. 2 Sam. 24:13; Jer. 27:13; 29:17). God’s word to Ezekiel then elaborates on these three traditional punishments in a manner designed to give them even more of an impact: no matter where the Israelites are, one way or another they will die (v. 12). Even if they are not present at the siege inside Jerusalem, they will still meet their end. God’s anger at disobedience must be satisfied, and He promises that it will be. Some individuals might escape by His grace, but the nation in general must be annihilated.
3. (:12a) Slaying All Hope of Escaping Destruction
“He who is far off will die by the plague,
and he who is near will fall by the sword,
and he who remains and is besieged will die by the famine.”
Douglas Stuart: Perhaps the most intriguing theme of the passage is found in verse 12, where the inescapability of God’s judgment is made evident. Naturally, people a long distance from Jerusalem, or Judah, would tend to think of themselves as secure from any disaster that might befall that area as a result of the Babylonian invasion and siege. Some actually inside Jerusalem might also have thought themselves to be protected, as they relied on the city’s massive walls and extensive defense preparations to save them. But hope in human means of escape was useless in the face of divine wrath. The only means of escape from divine wrath is divine mercy. God Himself must make the rescue possible. Nothing human can be counted on. In Christ’s death and resurrection this has indeed been accomplished. Whether people are “far off” or “near,” they are still in danger of destruction unless they find forgiveness, and the only source of it is the grace of God as a result of trusting in Christ. That way alone, an otherwise inevitably desolate life, followed by an in evitable death, can be avoided. Hope in God is the human being’s only true, fruitful hope.
4. (:12b) Spending Divine Wrath
“Thus shall I spend My wrath on them.”
B. (:13-14) Reinvigorating the Knowledge of God
1. (:13a) Recognition Formula
“Then you will know that I am the LORD,”
2. (:13b) Exposing the Impotence of Their Idols
“when their slain are among their idols around their altars,
on every high hill, on all the tops of the mountains, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak– the places where they offered soothing aroma to all their idols.”
3. (:14a) Executing Devastating Judgments
“So throughout all their habitations I shall stretch out My hand against them and make the land more desolate and waste than the wilderness toward Diblah;”
4. (:14b) Recognition Formula
“thus they will know that I am the LORD.”
Taylor: The words typify Ezekiel’s message and longing, that Yahweh may be known by all men, Israelite and non-Israelite, for what he is—the one true God, the God of the world, the God of history, the God who speaks and does not speak in vain.
Lamar Cooper: The point, of course, was that people will know him either through response to his loving attempts of salvation and fellowship or through judgment. God’s preference, as that of the prophets, was the former.